Dads: Don't Overlook This Virtue

Dads: Don't Overlook This Virtue

Author: Pastor Jonathan Edwards
June 01, 2023

June Blog Post: Dads: Don’t Overlook This Virtue

What is the difference between knowing something is true and then practicing that same truth? In my experience, I have found that there are many ideas that people hold as true, but which they don’t practice. Here are some examples: eating healthy and exercising are good for you; I should read more books and watch less TV; I should go to bed earlier and get plenty of rest. In addition to these, I’m sure you could think of your own examples. Perhaps you even have your own areas of life where you know you should do something, but you don’t follow through on a consistent basis. I’m also confident that many of you reading this have that one friend who just seems to be able to do all these things – you may be jealous of him, or annoyed by him, or even frustrated by him! Have you ever stopped to consider what it is that separates those who do from those who just know? It’s not a secret: it’s the cultivation and application of self-control.

Self-control is the overlooked virtue. Rather, it may be more accurate to say self-control is the red-headed stepchild of virtues, because many of us know that it exists, but we don’t want to deal with it (if we’re being honest!). Notice the importance that the apostle Paul places upon this virtue: it finds its way into the list of the “fruits of the Spirit” found in Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Notice the last of these fruits? It is the fruit of “self-control.” At first glance, it doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the fruits. The other fruits focus on our demeanor, our attitude, and our interactions with others. Yet this overlooked fruit is really the key to unlocking the other fruits – and it is a key character trait that Christian fathers must develop if they are to lead their families in a God-honoring way.

One Bible dictionary defines self-control in this way: to exercise complete control over one’s desires and actions. The authors go on to give some illustrations that describe this definition: “to hold oneself in...to make one’s heart obedient...to be the master of what one wants.” Notice how the virtue of self-control should touch every aspect of your life: it is complete control over both desires and actions. Put simply, it means that you will take control of your thought life and your external actions. Thus, you will judge every thought – and if a thought that you have is sinful, you will rebuke it by taking that thought captive and banishing it from your mind. Practicing self-control requires that you rein in your emotions – it doesn’t mean that you can’t have them, but you’re not going to be enslaved to them. You’re not going to act like the toddler who’s throwing a tantrum; instead, you will have and keep control of your emotions so that you can accurately and correctly deal with any situation that arises. Finally, you’re going to rein in your actions; your external behavior should flow from how you’ve taken every thought captive in obedience to the truths revealed in God’s Word. Self-control is the all-encompassing virtue!

To practice self-control at this level requires discipline and training. Paul was aware of the need for discipline, and he wrote to Timothy: “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness...” (1 Tim. 4:7) Discipline is a similar concept to self-control, but the focus is slightly different. Where self-control focuses primarily on taking every thought and action captive to obedience to Biblical truths, discipline focuses on the training needed to grow in both moral and physical strength. To exercise discipline is to practice the right habits many times, until those habits become second nature to you. If you discipline yourself to grow in godly habits, self-control is the inevitable result.

What, then, are the habits that you should discipline yourself to perform? You must spend time reading God’s Word and discerning the truths found therein. You must pray, learning how to communicate with God through active, but often silent, conversation. You must attend a local church, for the church is the place where you receive encouragement from others, hear the preaching of God’s Word, and practice your spiritual gift for the benefit of all. You must be willing to accept correction that steers you towards Christlikeness. How do you do this? You must be prepared to make one thousand small steps, in order to achieve the greater goal. All this work, performed in small doses every day, will establish patterns of discipline that result in doing what is good and honorable in the sight of Christ our Savior. Where to begin? Begin small, and then increase the amount of time or the number of times you practice any given habit of godliness. I would suggest five minutes per day, for five days per week, if you’re just beginning to build the habit of Bible reading and prayer. As time goes on, you can increase the time, or the number of days per week, or both. This daily training will forge in you a willingness to do what is true and right, even when that may not be the easy path. Greater discipline will enable you to grow in self-control!

As a father, the level of self-control that you display has a great impact on your family. Many have observed that in parenting, more is “caught” than “taught.” This means that your children will pick up on the things that are important and valuable to you without you ever telling them. It also means that you can’t have a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. Do you tell your children it’s important to learn Biblical patterns of money management? Beware, for they are watching how you spend your money and the value that money has in your heart. Do you want your children to work hard and contribute to chores around the house? They’re watching how you treat chores. Do you want your boys to respect women (in particular, their mother)? They see how you talk to her and what you say to her. How do they see you handle unforeseen, difficult circumstances? How do you respond when something of value breaks? For every situation, the Bible speaks truth regarding how to respond in a way that honors Jesus. You can read the Bible to your children and make them memorize verses, but if you don’t exercise self-control in how you practice God’s truth in your life, you’re undercutting the message you’re trying to send. Fathers, I challenge you: grow in the virtue of self-control and set a worthy example for your children and your spouse!

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