Self- Control


The King James Version of the Bible never uses the word “self-control.”  The reason it does not is easily explained.  When the King James Version was translated in 1611, the word “temperance” meant self-control.  Today the word “temperance” is applied primarily to refraining from strong drink or using it moderately.  The King James Version uses a number of synonyms of the word “self-control.”  For example, Paul asked the Corinthians: “Do you know that they who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain.  And every man who strives for the mastery is temperate in all things” (1 Cor. 9:24-25).  The Greek verb translated “temperate” means self-control.  This verse could be translated:  “Every man who strives for the mastery exercises self-control in all things.”  Several modern versions of the Bible so render the Greek.


A brief examination of some New Testament words should help us in understanding today’s topic, “Self-Control.”  Paul explained to the Corinthians God’s will concerning the intimate relationship in marriage.  He stressed the truth that the husband owes his wife sexual fulfillment and the wife has a reciprocal duty to her husband.  He says the wife’s body does not belong to her alone, but to her husband, also.  The same is true of the husband’s body: it does not belong to him alone, but to his wife, also.  If the husband and wife decide to refrain from sexual intimacy for a specified time, they must both agree.  After the specified time has elapsed, they are to continue sexual communion, so that Satan will not tempt them for their incontinency (1 Cor. 7:1-5).  The word “incontinency” comes from the Greek akrasian and means lack of self-control.


Acts 24 tells of Paul’s appearance before Felix, a governor of Palestine, who had persuaded Drusilla, the wife of the king of Emesa, to become his wife.  Drusilla, incidentally, was one of the three daughters of King Agrippa I, the king who killed John the Baptist.  Ananias, the high priest, appeared before Felix to prefer charges against Paul.  Ananias brought with him an orator named Tertullus who was given the responsibility of presenting the case to Felix.  After Tertullus had spoken, Felix commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty.  The officers were not to prevent Paul’s acquaintances from visiting him.  “And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ” (Acts 24:1, 23-24)


If you were given the opportunity to speak to an audience that included a notorious adulterer like Felix, what would you say?  Would you emphasize the great love that God has manifested toward men in sending his Son Jesus Christ into the world?  Would you speak on subjects that would not offend Felix and Drusilla?  Can you think of any more offensive ideas than those Paul actually discussed?  As Paul “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go your way for this time; when I have a more convenient season, I will call for you” (Acts  24:25).  I have no idea what Paul said on these topics, but I know why those topics caused Felix to tremble.  Felix was not a righteous man; he had not exercised self-control, and if there is to be judgment to come, Felix would probably rather be elsewhere.


In his letter to the Galatian churches, Paul contrasted yielding to the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21) and producing the fruit of the Spirit.  “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23).  Temperance or self-control is one of the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit.  The apostle Peter provides for us what we commonly call the “Christian graces.”  He urges us to add to our knowledge temperance or self-control (2 Pet. 1:5-7).  One other word needs to be mentioned.  Paul used the Greek akrates which literally means without power, but is translated “incontinent” in the King James Version and “self-control” in most modern versions.


There are many areas of our lives where Christians and others should exercise self-control, but sometimes fail to do so.  For example, we often use our tongues in destructive ways.  We use filthy and suggestive language or we spread rumors about our friends or family members.  We may also fail to control our sexual appetites.  As important as all these matters are, I shall devote the remainder of our time in this study to some people’s failure to control their use of beverage alcohol.  We need to realize that probably as many as 100,000,000 people in the United States alone abuse and misuse beverage alcohol.  It would be encouraging if we could see some silver lining on a very dark cloud, but that is not the case, at lease, not in many sections of our nation.  Actually, the cloud seems to get darker with each passing year.  I urge you to listen carefully as I review some of the tragedies associated with strong drink.


On the same day (Friday, November 22, 2002), The Tennessean published three articles dealing with strong drink.  On the front page of the paper was an article with the title, “Drink too much? Get a free ride, tow.”  I plan to review this article very shortly, but I shall mention the other two articles before I do.  The other articles have the titles, “MADD gives Tennessee C-, promotes 5 get tough plans” and “Drunken-driving deaths rose in ’01, MADD says.”  Both articles appeared on page 2-A. I sincerely hope these newspaper articles alert Tennesseans to the danger of using beverage alcohol.  Maybe “hope” is not the right word because there is little expectation that the situation will improve in the immediate future.


According to the article, “Drink too much? Get a free ride, tow,” the Nashvillians who are unable or unwilling to control their drinking will have available a way to get home and to have their cars towed.  The program, developed by the Governor’s Highway Safety Office in the Tennessee Department of Transportation, is called “Tow to Go.”  Other cities in the United States, including Atlanta, have already adopted the program.  It will be available from November 26 through January 5.  Nashville saloons and beer taverns will advertise the service.  The state of Tennessee, the AAA Auto Club South and Budweiser will finance the operation.  It is expected that a substantial number of potential drunk drivers will be kept off Nashville streets during these Holiday periods (p.1-A).


I have no doubt the leadership in Nashville and in Tennessee would like to curtail drinking and driving.  Driving under the influence of alcohol is a major problem in Tennessee and in other states in our union.  But are the cities and states really helping the problem when they make it so convenient for men and women—both old and young—to drink like fish and not have to pay for their stupid behavior?  Do we no longer believe in individual responsibility?  Do immoral and illegal acts have no consequences?  Will the “tow to go” arrangement actually decrease the number of drunks on the highways and streets of our state?


There will be thousands of Tennesseans who will drink too much during the holidays.  Imagine being so foolish and uninhibited that you have to call for someone to drive you home and to tow your car to your house.  It seems to me it would be very embarrassing for a grown man to get so drunk he cannot drive his own automobile.  Do intelligent people not know what their alcohol limits are?  If they do not know—and most of them do know and do not care—they ought to stay in the safe environment of their own homes.  Getting drunk in a tavern or in a beer joint and having to have someone take you home makes absolutely no sense.


There are a great number of problems associated with drinking.  Many people honestly believe they are better drivers when they have had a few drinks.  About twenty-five years ago, Molly and I owned some sporting goods stores in North Georgia.  One of our stores stayed open late at night to accommodate the hunters and fishermen who often had to work late at night, but wanted to get started hunting or fishing early the next morning.  One night a neighbor came to the store just to pass the time.  He was so drunk he could hardly stand without holding to the counter.  Had there been any other people in the store I would have asked him to leave.  We talked awhile and then he left.  On his way home, the police stopped him and charged him with driving under the influence of alcohol.  A few days later he came by my store and asked, “Did you turn me in to the police last Saturday night?” Maybe I should have called the police, but I assured him that I did not.  He said he could not understand why one of the city policemen stopped him.  He said he was driving very carefully and very slowly.  I asked the name of the policeman who stopped him.  He told me the man’s name.  A few days later, that policemen came into my store.  I asked him about my drunken neighbor.  I told him the drunk had said that he was driving very carefully and very slowly.  The policeman said that was true.  But he was driving on the wrong side of the street.


There will be Nashvillians who will know they have had too much to drink and will call for help.  There will be others who have also had too much to drink but whose judgment has been seriously impaired by their drinking.  They will not know whom to call or even if they ought to call.  So, while the streets of Nashville may be a little safer, there will still be dangerous drunks driving deadly weapons—their automobiles.  And I wonder how the “tow to go” program will affect the young people of Nashville and of Tennessee.  Will it tell them they need not control the amount of strong drink they imbibe? Just get drunk and someone will take care of you.


Why is not every person who gets drunk arrested for public drunkenness?  There ought to be a policeman at every door of every tavern, beer hall and saloon in the city.  If a person is drunk when he walks out the door of any of these sleazy establishments, he ought to be arrested for public drunkenness.  Why do we coddle people who have so little self-control?  If they must get drunk, let them do it at home.  No one has a right to drink and endanger the lives of their families and others.  Drunken drivers have adversely affected my family.  I cannot readily overlook such unconscionable behavior.


Not long after Molly and I married, a drunk ran over her eighty-five year old grandfather and killed him instantly.  About twenty years later, another drunk killed her mother, her older sister and severely injured her brother-in-law and two nieces.  My Molly suffered the rest of her life because of the tragedies that occurred in the family.  Will there be a substantial number of deaths and injuries in our state and throughout the nation during the holidays?  Hundreds, maybe even thousands of families will almost unquestionably be adversely affected by drunken drivers.  If people would simply exercise self-control, these tragic events would not happen.


The two other articles in The Tennessean pertained to information provided by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  One of the articles says that Mothers Against Drunk Driving gives Tennessee a C- for its past dealing with drunken driving.  In 2001, MADD reported that drunks killed 537 people on Tennessee Highways. Nationally, drunks killed 17,448 an increase of 876 over the year 1999.  Wendy Hamilton, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, blamed the increase in deaths from drunken driving on complacency.  In very simple language, Americans do not care enough to stop driving under the influence of alcohol.  She says the war on drunk driving is stalled (p.2-A).


While I was thinking about examining self-control as it pertains to drinking, I bought and read a very disturbing book, Dying to Drink: Confronting Binge Drinking on College Campuses (Rodale:2002).  Dr. Henry Wechsler, Director, Harvard School of Public Health, College of Alcohol Study, and Bernice Wuethrich, a prominent science writer, collected an amazing amount of information about binge drinking on American college and university campuses.  They define binge drinking as follows:  For a man it means “having five or more drinks in a row at lease once in the prior two weeks” and for a woman” having four or more drinks in a row” (p.xiii of the Introduction).  These authors report on one study that puts the cost of underage drinking at around $53 billion a year, including $18 billion associated with traffic accidents.  They say that 57% of regular binge drinkers and 40% of occasional binge drinkers admit driving after drinking.


The authors of the book, Dying to Drink, discuss some of the reasons binge drinking is so rampant of American college and university campuses.  There is what these authors call “a culture of alcohol” surrounding most major colleges and universities.  In the communities where some colleges and universities are located, there are dozens or even hundreds of licensed alcohol dealers.  Wechsler and Wuethrich say they found 185 licensed alcohol dealers within two miles of one campus (p.6).  Would it surprise you that those dealers want to make money from their investments?  So they sponsor drinking parties where alcohol flows freely.  They have drinking contests to see who can drink others under the table, figuratively speaking. Because the competition is so fierce around some college campuses, the dealers offer two drinks for the price of one or they cut the price of beer to twenty-five cents a can.  The beer companies cooperate with the dealers in the ridiculous practices.  The breweries and the beer distributors want to make money, regardless of the cost in human lives.


Many universities take large sums of money from the breweries and from other producers of alcoholic beverages.  They allow the manufacturers of alcohol to advertise during ballgames, in the college newspapers and in other places on campus.  As a result, the students accept drinking as being perfectly legitimate.  Some of the breweries sponsor events that appeal to women, such as breast cancer runs.  The breweries and other producers of beverage alcohol do all within their power to sell as much alcohol as possible.  So what if some students become addicted to alcohol and some die from alcohol poisoning? When the makers and distributors of alcoholic beverages ask their customers to drink responsibly, you can rest assured those companies could not survive if their customers followed that advice.  The beer, whiskey, wine, and vodka manufacturers make money only when their customers drink enthusiastically and heavily.  So-called “moderate drinking” would put all of the manufacturers out of business.


Do you remember the tragedy that occurred at Texas A & M University in College Station? Beginning in 1909 the students at Texas A & M have built an enormous bonfire before the season’s final football game with the University of Texas.  In 1999, the bonfire wood had grown to massive proportions.  The structure reached a height of sixty feet and weighed around two million pounds. While the students were working on the structure, it collapsed and killed twelve students. Twenty-seven others were severely injured.  Was alcohol in some way implicated in this tragedy?  Wechsler and Wuethrich say that “alcohol use was substantial, although student leaders prohibited alcohol” (p.11). One of the students who died in the bonfire accident had blood alcohol content of .392.  Can you imagine the damage a student like that would do on the highway?


My heart goes out to the parents who lose their sons and daughters because our colleges and universities are oceans of beverage alcohol.  I can just imagine the hurt those parents experience.  There is no excuse for this to happen in our great nation.  If we did not know what alcohol does to the human brain or to other systems in our bodies, there might be some room for wondering about the damage alcohol does.  But scientists have shown over and over what drinking does to the brain, to the heart, to the lungs and to the liver.  We also know the heartaches drinking causes our families and society in general.  If we do know, our ignorance is willful.


If you are about to send your son or daughter to college, should you not check on the drinking practices of that school? If there is a “culture of alcohol” surrounding the college or university, you might want to send your child to another college.  Many colleges are offering dormitories that are alcohol free.  Should you not know what challenges your child will be facing? Besides, some drunken bum may rape your daughter.  Or she may be run over by a drunk.


If you are preparing to send your child to college, you should buy and read the book, Dying to Drink by Henry Wechsler and Bernice Wuethrich.  It just might help you save your child’s life.


Then you should seriously consider these words from king Solomon. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging; and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Prov. 20:1).


Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334

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