Are you a slave to food, sleep, clutter, or entertainment? Or, are you able to deny yourself those things at the drop of a dime? Do you regularly over-indulge in the enjoyments of life or exercise self-discipline in order to strengthen you ability to restrain? Previously, we talked about self-mastery of the mind, or having controlled thinking. This time, as we walk through the qualities of a godly person in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, we will stick with the matter of self-mastery and how it relates to our body. We are told to be “self-controlled.”
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”1 Timothy 3:1-7
What is a Restrained Appetite?
You might be familiar with the famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment where children were left alone in a room with a single marshmallow and given two options: eat the marshmallow, or refrain from eating the marshmallow for 15 minutes to be rewarded with more marshmallows. It was a test of self-control and a commitment to delayed gratification.
The long-term results of this experiment indicated that “preschoolers who waited longest for the marshmallow went on to have higher SAT scores than the ones who couldn’t wait. In later years they were thinner, earned more advanced degrees, used less cocaine, and coped better with stress,” according to the New York Times. What they discovered has long been written about in the pages of the Bible, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Prov 25:28).
In the gospel accounts, Jesus invited a crowd to follow him by denying themselves, and said something similar, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Matt. 16:25). Paul wrote to this end as well, “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:7-8). Mastery of self-denial and delayed gratification will earn a greater reward and more success in life.
The term “self-controlled” comes from the Greek word meaning “temperate” and describes someone who is able to control the appetites of his body and not give into excess. It refers to someone who can maintain balance and sobriety in life. The person is stable, circumspect, and self-restrained when dealing with his own desires, cravings, and impulses. In other words, he is able to say “no” when it is right to do so.
When it comes to things that are good and right, he exercises moderation. And, when it comes to things that are bad and wrong, he exercises abstinence. A godly man controls his appetites, his appetites don’t control him.
Four Major Categories of Life
It has been rightly said that we are typically challenged in four categories of life when it comes to self-restraint: rest, food, organization, and entertainment.
When it comes to rest, a lack of restraint can result in laziness. Scripture says, “Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread” (Prov. 20:13). We need sleep. Our bodies need rest. And, a godly person rests in order to become more productive. He is able to recognize when it is time to retire, set the alarm, and get back to being productive. In fact, he is able to delay his rest when life demands it, even after fatigue sets in.
When it comes to food, a lack of restraint can result in gluttony. A proverb tells us to “be not among drunkards and among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags” (Prov. 23:20-21). The heavy eater becomes slothful and tired, preventing him from being productive. The godly man is able to push himself from the dinner table. He is also able to deny himself food in order to build a stronger restraint. He can say “no” to the donut.
When it comes to organization, a lack of restraint can lead to disorder and chaos. The Bible tells us that “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). And, “the one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much” (Lk. 16:10). Disorder is a sign of unrestrained appetites. Our homes, our workspaces, our schedules need to be well organized for ultimate productivity. A godly person keeps a schedule. Perhaps, he has a daily to-do list or planning book. He also keeps his appointments. As one person said, “If you don’t control your time, everything and everyone else will.”
Finally, when it comes to entertainment, a lack of restraint can lead to idolatry. Again, Scripture speaks to this as well, “Do not be isolators as some of them were, as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (1 Cor. 10:7). In other words, don’t let entertainment control you. Live to be productive, even when you have free-time. Consider forms of entertainment that provide significant contributions to your life like reading a book, taking a walk, having a conversation with someone. These things are stimulating and creative. They enhance your well-being.
Do you regularly feed your body at the expense of your soul? Do you eat whatever is put in front of you? Do you engage in forms of entertainment that are sinful? Are your days disorganized and chaotic? Then, you need to work on building a restrained appetite. Here are five ways for you to get started.
Watch Yourself Closely
Think carefully about areas of your life where your appetites tend to control you. Be honest. It is only you who loses when you are not. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). These are areas where you need to be most watchful and exercise restraint. Write them down in a journal in order to work at crushing them.
Deny Yourself Often
Followers of Christ are marked by self-denial. Jesus said, “if anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself” (Matt. 16:24). We tend to think of this in the more noticeable things of life, not the mundane. But, if you can start denying yourself in the small things, you will be prepared for the big things. So, skip a meal, stop drinking sodas, wake up sooner, or something similar.
Embrace Hardship Fully
Our culture despises hardship. We will do whatever we need to do in order to have a comfortable time doing it. Yet, it is in our pain that we develop self-discipline and godliness (1 Cor. 9:26-27). So, practice doing things that you don’t like, but are good. Clean up the trash around the church, go on a mission trip in a third-world country, subject yourself to the sick who need prayer. Again, it is the small things that prepare you for the bigger ones.
Prioritize Contentment Always
We have a natural desire to have more, which introduces discontentment in our lives (1 Tim. 6:6). So, we need to wage war on that desire and remind ourselves that in everything we must be content with what the Lord has given us. We must be grateful for what we have, not longing for what we don’t have. Make it habit to say a quick prayer under your breath throughout the day when you receive something, “Lord, thank you for this.”
Treasure Christ Completely
If you make Christ your supreme pleasure, your time with him will produce a satisfaction that spills over into the rest of your life making it easier for you to say “no” to other things because you are already satisfied (Phil. 3:10). This is easier said than done, for sure. It will require you getting a healthy diet of truth about Christ and all that He is and desires to be in you. And, you will need to ask the Lord daily to satisfy you. Only God can make this happen.