Summary: Self-discipline is an important aspect of our running teh Christian race.
Any of you remember what it was like to get your driver’s license? The lessons, the practice, the look of terror on the face of the driving instructor, the look of regret on the face of your parents when you proudly waved that newly-obtained license under their noses? But, finally you had gained control over this 2000-pound monster called an automobile. It took a while, but you got it all figured out -- which pedal to push, and when, which direction to turn the wheel, and how far; how to get that beast to back up in a straight line, maybe even to parallel park.
You are in control. That automobile does what you want and when you want it to do it.... well, at least most of the time. Isn’t it great? You’re in control. It feels great to be in control of something that powerful. Solomon said in the book of Proverbs, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32).
Solomon says, “It’s great to have power. It’s great to have control. But if you can’t control yourself, it’s not worth much.” That’s so true. Conquering a city is nothing compared to conquering the habits that enslave you. Controlling an automobile is nothing compared to controlling your temper or your tongue.
I. What is Self-Discipline?
Doing those things involves self-control, or self-discipline. When you think about the word "discipline", there are probably several different things that come to mind. To a child, it probably means getting a spanking for doing something he shouldn’t have done. To a soldier, discipline means conforming to the regulations, obedience to orders, K.P. duty, and reveille on cold mornings. To a student, discipline means a class with a lot of work and exams. To a Christian, discipline usually brings to mind disfellowshiping someone who has been unfaithful.
And all of these are correct. All of those are aspects of discipline. But all of those things are examples of imposed discipline in which one person or group forces or pushes another person to follow or obey. A parent disciplines his child to teach him obedience. The Army disciplines the soldier to teach strict obedience. A school disciplines by making students do the work. And the church disciplines in order to encourage members to remain faithful. It’s imposed discipline.
It’s like controlling your dog with a leash or a chain. You go for a walk and you put him on a leash. He’s controlled. His freedom is restricted, and no matter how much howling or barking occurs, no matter what his impulses may tell him, he is forced to obey you and stay put, or keep up with you, as the case may be.
And we could take the same approach in dealing with the need to control aspects of our lives. Take self-control over eating, for example. If that’s a problem for you, you could place a large chain and padlock around the refrigerator and give the key to your husband or wife with absolute instructions never to tell you where the key is. That’s one way of doing it.
If you tend to have a problem driving over the speed limit, you 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.
But imposed discipline has only limited value. There’s another kind of discipline that’s much more important to us as Christians and that is self-discipline. The Bible uses the words "self-control" and "temperance" to describe this quality. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23). It is one of the Christian graces that we are to grow in. "Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control...." (II Peter 1:5-6).
Self-control is extremely important. And the reason self-discipline is so important for us to develop is that we don’t have anybody telling us what we have to do to live the Christian life. By that I mean I don’t have anybody telling me how many hours a week I have to read my Bible.... or anybody making me attend all the worship services.... or anybody telling me how many hours a week I ought to pray.... or anybody making me invite so many neighbors to worship.... or anybody telling me how much I have to give to the Lord.... or anybody telling me I can’t watch a certain TV show or movie.... or anybody making me visit those who are sick. There’s only one thing that will keep me doing all these things, and that one thing is my own self-discipline.