After watching my grandkids go through the drama of potty training I’m glad that I don’t recall my own journey in that area of life. The amount of tears and praises that go into learning that seemingly simple yet life-altering task is staggering. I think we would all agree that being potty trained, having self-control of our bathroom habits, is a good thing. Obviously, however, Peter did not have potty training in mind when he wrote, “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5–8, NASB95) While we need to exercise self-control in many areas of life, Peter specifically links self-control with knowledge.
What we do with what we know requires self-control. Instead of exploring the ethical side of academic learning, how about we bring this closer to home. A friend shares with you a struggle they are having. You now have the knowledge, what you do with it reveals your self-control. To gossip about your friend’s predicament would be an out-of-control response; it would be like pooping in their living room. Prefacing gossip with “so you can be praying” is like trying to spray Febreze in an out-house to mask the stench; the smell may be gone but the mess remains. To responsibly, prayerfully, hold on to what you know is an in-control response.
Another part of our self-control of knowledge we have gained is recognizing what we don’t know. A little knowledge out of control can be deadly. I can teach you how to start a chainsaw in about three minutes. Learning how to use a chainsaw safely and effectively takes a great deal more time. In other words, after three minutes you know just enough to be dangerous. Knowing the limits, and dangers, of our knowledge, requires self-control.
There are, of course, other areas of life which require self-control such as emotions, time, the spending of our resources, sex, food, and other desires. The same basic principle applies to all of them as to potty training. In all these areas we must ask ourselves – Are we messing in our pants or exercising self-control?
Having willpower and growing in self-control, while similar in appearance, are not the same thing. The difference is where the “I” is placed. Willpower is all about how strong I am, being self-controlled is all about dying to self. Self-control means that we restrain or sacrifice for the good of another. Willpower means becoming so self-focused that no one else matters. Self-control, instead, lovingly balances our needs with those of our world by focusing on others. Some may think that the sacrifice of “I can do what I want when I want” required by self-control would be stifling and boring. However, they fail to see that living in self-control, like being potty trained, opens the door to greater freedoms with a lot less stink to put up with.