Themes in Proverbs: Self-Control

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When we think of the phrase self-control, the first thing that comes to mind is control of the bodily appetites. We think of resisting temptations to lust or to gluttony. But that is not the only concern of Proverbs when it comes to learning how to control oneself. Many of the passages dealing with lack of self-control have to do with the control of temper.plant-from-bible

The Text:

“He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Prov. 25:28).

Summary of the Text:

Notice that a man who is not self-governed is compared in the first instance to a man who is defenseless. Not having rule in his own spirit, which means he does not have rule over his own spirit, means that the walls of his “city” are little more than rubble. Now this means that self-control is a wall, a bulwark, and you should want walls like Babylon had, where four chariots could drive abreast around the top of them. Now that’s a wall. But there is more. The man who has “no rule” is a man who has no rule over his spirit. In other words, the problem is that his soul is tempestuous. He lets others live in his head rent-free. This is the man who is defenseless.

Someone who is self-controlled in his spirit is someone who is a warrior. His city is not defenseless, but this control is not just a defensive posture. Note what Proverbs tells us elsewhere. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; And he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Prov. 16:32).

A man with self-control in his spirit can defend his city, but more than this, he can take a city.

Northern European Stock

Now this is decreasingly true, but this congregation is still largely made up of Northern European stock. So I would like to speak to that for a moment. One of the ways we sons of the north lie to ourselves, or make excuses for ourselves, is by saying that we are “not very emotional.” Right. Like anger is not an emotion?

We are “not very emotional” when it comes to giving the kids a hug, or an affirmative attaboy. That is what we say. But we forget all that when someone crosses us and we find ourselves in the middle of an incandescent warp-spasm. And as the berserker is laying waste to the living room, and to all who dwell within it, many of them are thinking that it is a good thing “we’re not an emotional people.” What would this little drama be like if we were?

Folly Does Not Know How to Defend Itself:

When you are angry, it is extremely easy to make foolish decisions, decisions you will later regret. Anger is not only unkind, it is also stupid. “He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly: And a man of wicked devices is hated” (Prov. 14:17).

Being slow to anger is described as wisdom. The trait of being “hasty of spirit” means being hasty into anger. And to be that way exalts folly. “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: But he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly” (Prov. 14:29). When you exalt folly, you promote it. You enthrone it. You crown it. And because you are hasty in spirit, you rush to do so.

Strife Confuses Everything:

One of the things that strife does is that it complicates things. And the more complicated they are, the easier it is for everything to go wrong. But this is what happens. “A wrathful man stirreth up strife: But he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife” (Prov. 15:18). Anger and strife go together, which is why anger and bad decisions go together. The man who is slow to anger keeps things calm. He appeases strife, and this means that things are kept manageable.

Everything is calm beforehand, when it seemed like a good idea, but things are not nearly as calm after you blow up the dam. “The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: Therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with” (Prov. 17:14). Many people have unleashed destructive forces that they had no idea were coming.

True Honor

One of the tricks that the hot-tempered have used over the centuries is the idea that senseless quarrels should be construed as affairs of honor. And while there is a time and a place for conflict—and the wise know when and where—the whole idea of conflicts over trifles is antithetical to biblical wisdom.

“The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; And it is his glory to pass over a transgression” (Prov. 19:11).

Notice. It is a glory to overlook an insult. This is not universally true (these are proverbs, after all), but there are many occasions when it is in fact true.

“It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: But every fool will be meddling” (Prov. 20:3). “An angry man stirreth up strife, And a furious man aboundeth in transgression” (Prov. 29:22). It is honorable, Scripture says, to walk away from strife. Have nothing to do with it. Walking away from strife in this sense is what a warrior does.

Why Does This Keep Happening?

“Make no friendship with an angry man; And with a furious man thou shalt not go: Lest thou learn his ways, And get a snare to thy soul” (Prov. 22:24–25).

There are two ways this happens. First, people learn how to become angry easily, and secondly, they learn how to put up with it when others get angry. If you are friends with an angry man, you will become like him. In other words, there is the anger, and there is the social reinforcement. There are the people who get angry, and there are the people who pick up after them, making excuses. “He’s a little cranky. He hasn’t had his nap today.” “But he is twenty-five.”

“A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: For if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again.” (Prov. 19:19).

No Rider But Christ

James tells us that it is hard if not impossible to get a bit and bridle on the tongue. This is borne out by the book of Proverbs. “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles” (Prov. 21:23). “A fool uttereth all his mind: But a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards” (Prov. 29:11). “Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? There is more hope of a fool than of him” (Prov. 29:20).

In fact, it does seem impossible to us. But what is impossible with men is not impossible with God. And He has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts to teach us self-control. This is either the grace of the Lord Jesus, or it is nothing at all.

Jesus was probably angry when He cleansed the Temple, but we are not told that explicitly. The one place where it says He was angry was in the incident with the man who had a withered hand (Mark 3:5). When Jesus got angry, things improved. Man’s anger does not serve God’s righteousness (Jas. 1:20), and yet we are told to be angry without sinning (Eph. 4:26). If you want to stay away from the insanity that is man’s temper, and you want to be discipled by the Spirit of Christ, then follow Jesus. Do not get angry in His name or on His behalf (Luke 9:55); get angry in obedience. Follow Him.

And of course the foundational answer to our ungodly anger is the wrath of God that was poured out upon it in the cross of Christ. The anger of God answers ours, and forgives it.

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4 years ago