I would like us to consider this morning the world's weakest strong man - Samson. Samson was a remarkable man whose history is recorded in the pages of inspiration. Before his birth, he was dedicated to God, and set apart as a Nazarite. Now, a Nazarite was a person who was entirely consecrated to God, and in token of his consecration, he drank no wine; and allowed his hair to grow, untouched by the razor. God endowed Samson with supernatural strength. It was not the build of Samson's body that made him strong; it wasn't by the size of his biceps that he smote the Philistines; it was the power of God that dwelt within him, a continued going forth of the omnipotence of God, which made him mightier than thousands of his enemies. He judged Israel for thirty years. It must have been incredible to be around him and watch the strength he displayed. At one time, he was attacked by a lion.
Judges 14:5-6 (NKJV) So Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came to the vineyards of Timnah. Now to his surprise, a young lion came roaring against him. 6 And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion apart as one would have torn apart a young goat, though he had nothing in his hand. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done.
Later, his countrymen bound him and delivered him up to the Philistines.
Judges 15:14-16 (NKJV) When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting against him. Then the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him; and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds broke loose from his hands. 15 He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached out his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it. 16 Then Samson said: "With the jawbone of a donkey, Heaps upon heaps, With the jawbone of a donkey I have slain a thousand men!"
With a jawbone, he wipes out 1,000 men that had helmets on their heads, weapons in their hands, and were girded with greaves of brass. This is no ordinary man.
One of his greatest exploits was performed when he was trapped in the city of Gaza:
Judges 16:1-3 (NKJV) Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her. 2 When the Gazites were told, "Samson has come here!" they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the gate of the city. They were quiet all night, saying, "In the morning, when it is daylight, we will kill him." 3 And Samson lay low till midnight; then he arose at midnight, took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two gateposts, pulled them up, bar and all, put them on his shoulders, and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.
The gates of Gaza had heavy beams studded with metal that were sunk into the ground as posts to support them. Samson arose in the middle of the night and ripped the whole gate structure out of the ground. He terrified the guards who were stationed on every side, and marched off up a hill with this great weight on his shoulders. The man was extraordinary!
It must have been a fascinating thing to watch this man, especially if he was on your side. To have him for a friend and to stand with him in the day of battle, was to feel that you had an army in a single man which would strike thousands with terror.
Samson, however, though he had great physical strength, had very little self-control and was easily overcome by temptation. He is easily enticed and led astray. This great strong man falls into the hands of Delilah. She is bribed with an enormous sum, and she endeavors to get from him the secret of his strength. He foolishly toys with the danger, and plays with his own destruction. At last, provoked by her insistence, he lets out the secret which he ought to have confided to no one. The secret of his strength lay in his hair. Not that his hair made him strong; but that his hair was the symbol of his consecration, and was the pledge of God's favor to him. While his hair was untouched, he was a consecrated man; as soon as that was cut away, he was no longer perfectly consecrated, and then his strength departed from him.
Judges 16:20-21 (NKJV) And she said, "The Philistines are upon you, Samson!" So he awoke from his sleep, and said, "I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!" But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him. 21 Then the Philistines took him and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza. They bound him with bronze fetters, and he became a grinder in the prison.
His hair is cut, and he becomes as weak as other men. The Philistines capture him, and his eyes are burned out with a hot iron. How are the mighty fallen! Samson, the great hero of Israel, is seen with a shuffling step walking towards Gaza. With his feet bound together with brazen fetters, you see him walking along in the midst of a small escort towards Gaza. And now he comes to the very city out of which he had walked in all his pride with the gates upon his shoulders; and the little children come out, the people of the city gather around him, and point at him--"Samson, the great hero, has fallen!" What a spectacle! A mere handful of men now guard him; they would have fled before him in his brighter days, but now a child might overcome him. They take him to a place where a donkey is grinding at the mill, and Samson takes the donkey's place. The mighty Samson is now a beast of burden. The great destroyer of the Philistines is made to grind at the mill. This is the tragic result of a man with no self-control. Giving in to his desires has cost him greatly.
Today I'm going to talk to you about a subject that you don't hear preached on very much; yet it is an important matter. With it, our lives can run smooth and abundant. Without it, our lives are a mess, full of turmoil and destruction. My topic today is: Self-Control.
As we have seen in the story of Samson, a lack of self-control can get us into a tremendous amount of trouble, it can cause us much pain and suffering.
Alexander the Great, was a man known for a quick temper. He would fly off into a fit of rage when upset. One day a dear friend of his made some comment that set him off. Quick as a flash, Alexander grabbed the spear of a near by soldier and hurled it at this friend. Alexander's aim was true to the mark and the spear pierced into the body of his friend. Alexander quickly came to his senses, but it was too late, there lay his friend in a pool of blood, dying. All of Alexander's regret, and all of Alexander's sorrow and heartache over his act could not bring his friend back to life. Alexander's impulsiveness, lack of self-control, lead to an act that he had to live with for the rest of his life.
Samson strangled a lion, but did not strangle his passion. He busted the chains of his foes, but not the cords of his own lusts. He had great physical strength, but his lack of self-control caused him to become a blind poisoner.
Many of us could tell similar stories. We could share how our lack of self-control has caused us great difficulty and heartache. A lack of self-control can lead to:
Unruly Impulses - the gluttonous urge to overeat, or the angry impulse to verbally or physically attack someone.
Harmful Feelings - twinges of envy or impatience, contempt or revulsion, which are at odds with our more considerate sense of how we ought to regard other people.
Passionate urges -a compulsion like gambling, or an erotic captivation that must not be allowed to take its course.
The book of Proverbs teaches:
Proverbs 25:28 (NKJV) Whoever has no rule over his own spirit Is like a city broken down, without walls.
In ancient times, the walls of a city were its main defense; without them, the city was easy prey to its enemies. So is a man without self-control an easy victim when attacked by his desires and impulses.
Nothing would ever destroy Samson from the outside; he was invulnerable to attack. But he destroyed himself by his lack of self-control.
Far too many of us struggle with self- control. In a department store, a young husband was minding the baby while his wife was making a purchase. The infant was wailing, but the father seemed quite unperturbed as he quietly said, "Easy now, Albert." He murmured, "keep your temper." A woman passing by remarked, "I must congratulate you! You seem to know just how to speak to a baby." "Baby nothing!" came the reply. "My name is Albert!"
How many of us have wrestled with a similar dilemma? How many times have we allowed our natural impulses to go unchecked, to lead us down paths that we should not go down, and to react in ways that we should not react?
One of the marks of great men is the character trait of self-control. Harry S. Truman said, "In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves...self-discipline with all of them came first." Truly great men have learned how to say "no" to their desires. Someone said, "Real strength is the ability to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands, and then eat just one of those pieces." Think about how much better quality our lives would be if we exercised greater self-control.
At times our lack of self-control can be annoying, at other times it can hurt or destroy friendships, and it is even possible that our lack of self control can cost us our lives.
Last November, heavy traffic, long delays and lack of self-control on Alabama's Interstate 65 drove two female commuters to their limits, leaving one dead and the other facing a murder charge.
"It appears one cut the other one off and then a series of events took place after that," said Randall Hillman, assistant district attorney for Shelby County, Ala.
Gena Foster, 34, was racing to pick up one of her three children from day care in her Pontiac Grand Prix.
Meanwhile, Shirley Henson, 40, was anxiously heading home to her family in her Toyota SUV. Both were working mothers on the road at the end of a long day. Witnesses say Foster cut Henson off and then slammed on her brakes. Henson's attorney, David Cromwell Johnson, said Foster was so angry at Henson that she threw a soda bottle at her.
"The anger level slowly increased and increased over a four or five mile stretch of interstate," says Hillman. Then both drivers took the same exit. Witnesses said Foster, whose car was in front, got out.
"She is yelling profanities and obscenities. And she gets close. Shirley rolls down the window," said Johnson. Unfortunately, Shirley Henson had a gun. "And she could have driven away, but she chose not to do that, she chose to use a handgun and shoot the victim in the face," says Hillman.
Another motorist, Lisa Adney, saw Foster's body on the ground and Henson frantically trying to call 911. "Mrs. Henson really got upset. She was She'd been screaming the whole time, 'I shot her. Oh, my God, I shot her, I can't believe I shot her,'" recalled Adney.
Could this happen to you? Have you ever lost control of your anger on the highway? Just two moms on their way home from work, and because of a lack of self-control, one is dead and the other is in jail.
HOW DO WE LAY HOLD OF SELF-CONTROL?
1. Take responsibility for our actions.
People are always excusing their behavior. "It's not my fault. I couldn't help myself." We're like comedian Flip Wilson, pushing the responsibility off ourselves, saying, "The devil made me do it!" We rationalize by putting blame somewhere else. "I was overcome with desire, with emotion." "I just couldn't help myself."
It is important that we take responsibility for our actions. No one can make us do anything. We allow ourselves to be dominated by our feelings, our desires. It is a choice! We are not overpowered.
Jan Paderewski was asked by a fellow pianist if he could be ready to play a recital on short notice. The famous musician replied, "I'm always ready. I have practiced eight hours daily for forty years." The other pianist said, "I wish I had been born with such determination." Paderewski replied, "We are all born with it. I just use mine." Self-control is a choice.
We are commanded in Scripture to add self-control to our faith.
2 Peter 1:5-7 (NKJV) But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.
To have self-control is something that we are responsible to do. Let's take that responsibility seriously.
2. Trust God to give you self-control.
The Bible teaches that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Paul writes:
Galatians 5:22-23 (NKJV) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
What precisely do we mean by self-control?
I control my dog with a leash and a prong collar. When we go for a walk and he isn't listening very well, I put on the prong collar. His freedom is restricted, and no matter how strong his impulses are to chase a cat or squirrel, he is forced to obey me and stay by my side.
Take self-control over eating, for example, I could control gluttonous urges by placing a large chain and padlock around the fridge and giving the key to my wife with absolute instructions never to tell me where the key is. I could blockade my eating behavior.
If I tended to be a speeder, I could have the mechanic install a governor on the motor, preventing it from going over a certain speed, putting a leash of sorts on the car.
Perhaps some of these things may be helpful from time to time. But this is not the sort of self-control the Spirit provides.
The word Paul uses for self-control is the Greek word, enkrateia, which contains a root word meaning: "power." Self-control is to gain POWER over one's life. For me to allow my impulses and desires to run uninhibited is to have lost power over them. Lusts of various sorts are in control. But to simply box myself in, to chain the fridge or such like, gives me no extra control. I simply have added another layer of control over myself, namely the chain and the padlock.
Self-control is gaining power over all the different forces and desires found within. It becomes, then, something far greater than merely a simple act of RESTRICTING activity, like placing the leash on the dog or a chain on the fridge. It becomes a matter of living under the control of the Spirit of God who gives us power to overcome wrong desires.
Now, if self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, shouldn't it be something that we automatically have if we are Christians? After all, all Christians have the Spirit.
Romans 8:9 (NKJV) But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
So, if all believers have the Spirit, why don't all believers have self-control? Self-control is a product of the Spirit controlled life. Though all Christians have the Spirit, not all Christians are living under his control.
Ephesians 5:18 (NKJV) And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,
This is a command to believers. The word "filled" is the Greek word pleroo, [play-ro'-o] which means: "controlled." Believers who have the Spirit are commanded to be controlled by Him. As the Spirit controls us, one of the fruits or products of the Spirit will be self-control. So, the question is how are we controlled by Spirit? The Spirit's control is not an automatic, mechanical control. The Spirit's control is brought about by means. We must take possession of the divine strength He has made available to us in Christ. We appropriate the controlling grace of the Spirit through the means of: Bible study, prayer, and fellowship.
Why is it important for us, as Christians, to read and study the Bible? It is important because the Bible is a means of appropriating God's enabling power. To be controlled by the Spirit is parallel to the word of Christ abiding in you.
Colossians 3:16 (NKJV) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
Compare this to the Ephesian 5 text, and you will see that they are parallel passages.
If we are to appropriate the grace (enabling power) of God, then, we must spend time in our Bibles. We must seek to know and understand the great truths of Scripture.
The Bible is more than just a book of objective truth; it is actually life-giving and life-sustaining.
John 6:63 (NKJV) "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
Growth in the grace of God requires time spent in the word of God. God works in our lives through His word.
1 Thessalonians 2:13 (NKJV) For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.
I'm sure that those of you who regularly spend time in God's word understand that it is a means of God's enabling power, it is a means of the Spirit control. It is through His word that he strengthens us, encourages us, controls us. Truly God's word is a means of grace. If we are going to appropriate God's grace, we must spend time in His word. The Bible is food for our soul; it builds us up and makes us stronger. I cannot begin to tell you how many times people testify to the difference a daily quiet time alone with God and His word makes in their lives.
Prayer is another means of appropriating God's enabling power. Please look at:
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NKJV) For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
This is a call to prayer. We obtain grace to help in time of need; that is God's enabling power, through prayer. We are to ask for grace; that is the power to deal with life's circumstances.
R.A. Torrey said, "Prayer is the key that unlocks all the store houses of God's infinite grace and power. All that God is, and all that God has, is at the disposal of prayer." It is difficult for us to succumb to temptation while we're praying.
Please remember that prayer is primarily a declaration of our dependence and not a means of getting things we want. Often, things we want are not at all good for us.
Garth Brooks has a song in which he thanks God for unanswered prayers. It's the story of a man who in high school had fallen in love with the most beautiful girl in the school, and prayed every night that God would let him marry her. As the song goes on, however, it turns out that he's back at a high school reunion with his wife, whom he loves and has made a wonderful life with. He sees the beautiful girl and realizes what an awful experience it would have been to have married her and gotten what he had wanted in high school. The refrain of the song is: "I thank God for unanswered prayers. Just because he don't answer doesn't mean he don't care."
Fellowship is another means of appropriating God's enabling power. Please look at:
Hebrews 10:25 (NKJV) not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Look to support from fellow believers. We can make ourselves accountable to them. They can encourage us at those times we are discouraged. The fire of a brother's faith can light our fire.
Have you ever been able to overcome temptation because of the accountability of a friend? God uses His word and prayer to strengthen us, but He also uses "our friends." God uses our friends to minister grace to us, they help hold us accountable to God's Word. Fellowship is an important means by which the Spirit of God controls our lives.
We can live a life free from the control of our impulses. They no longer have to dominate us. There is liberty found in Jesus Christ. If we live under the control of the Spirit of God, we will have self-control.
Self-control is not a one-time act. It is an on-going process, like athletic training. Stop the exercise and those iron pecs will begin to sag, the bulging biceps will begin to droop. Stop the Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship; and you will loose the Spirit's fruit of self-control. And a lack of self-control can be very costly.