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David Hegg: The value of self-control, not self-expression

Posted: January 13, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 13, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Perhaps the first philosopher to assert self-control as a virtue in any meaningful way was Aristotle. He put it this way: I count him braver who conquers his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self.


I suspect that, were this great philosopher to be teaching today, his classes would be poorly attended for the simple reason that self-expression, not self-control, has become the battle cry of our day.


What the Greeks understood as self-control was expressed by the Greek word egkratais.


It simply meant "self-power" and described that state in which one’s emotions, thoughts, desires, and actions were not stimulated by outside sources but rather were the result of internal convictions and values.


Self-control was not primarily about restraining hurtful thoughts and actions as much as producing and acting on thoughts and convictions that were virtuous and laudable.


Self-control was, thus, indispensable to the construction of meritorious character, itself essential to a life of great worth and valor.


Self-controlled individuals were ones controlled from the inside out rather than pushed around by winds of circumstance.


They were recognized for their calm assurance and focused thinking and their ability to fend off temptations to compromise.


Their controlling element was the self, and the self, fueled by virtue and conviction, was a strong and competent master enabling the self-controlled individual to "conquer his desires."


Today it seems that too many have decided self-control amounts to a loss of freedom. They will have no restrictions put on them lest their rights as individual selves be somehow diminished by society. After all, desires are there to be fulfilled not conquered!


Even more frightening is the war on values being played out across our nation.


Values such as the sanctity of the unborn, sexual purity and faithfulness in marriage, living within one’s means, taking care of one’s neighbors, sacrificing for the good of others, hard work, and keeping promises are either being marginalized or downright ridiculed today.


Try talking with a typical teenager about the benefit of abstaining from sexual activity until after marriage and you’ll see what I mean.


The great problem here is that values are what form the basis for self-control. Without convictions there can be no control.


The control of self depends on the presence of bedrock convictions to which the individual is radically committed.


It is this radical commitment to something that will keep an individual from giving in to just anything.


But, in a day when even the idea of lasting values is scoffed at, can it be surprising that self-control is so rare?


Can we be surprised that many of our teens succumb to the pressures of drugs, sex, alcohol and serial deceit when the values of chastity, abstinence, respect for law, and honesty are no longer considered essential elements of parenting?


In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul used this same word in his list of those characteristics formed and maintained through the indwelling Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22,23).


Paul took the Aristotelian concept and poured into it the idea that such laudable self-control was possible if God were at work in one’s life.


Self-control is built on the foundation of truth and conviction, and America’s steady slide away from an acknowledgement of God as the ultimate truth-giver is a hazardous sign that we should expect more chaos and less self-control in the future.


David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. "Ethically Speaking" runs every Sunday.



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