Yielding to God
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV).
Self‑control is self‑discipline coming from a sound mind. Practicing self‑control does not mean a person is emotionless or robotic. It means that they are governed by God’s control of their life, overruling their desire for control.
Fear can challenge self‑control. While godly self‑control allows us to stop and listen for God’s voice, fear can cause us to lose self‑control and react without thought or prayer. The faithful women of the Bible in the examples included below had every natural reason to be fearful. Nevertheless, some acted with godly self‑control, while others did not.
The faithful women in the Bible who are examples of self‑control are women who yielded their control for God’s ultimate control. They did not surrender to the spirit of fear that was surely bubbling up in their heart. They relied on God’s word to direct their actions, and on His word, to manage all things.
Eve (Genesis 3‑4)
“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him’ ” (Genesis 2:18 ESV). God’s plan from the beginning was a partnership between men and women. In today’s world, “helping” is thought of as a position of inferiority. However, God considers service positions the most important (Matthew 20:20‑28). God allowed Adam and Eve to work together, support each other, and converse with God by giving each to the other for companionship.
Eve made her first mistake by relying on herself when confronted with Satan’s temptation. She should have taken her question to her Heavenly Father and Creator right away. In our desire to be in control, we are prone instead to “self‑reliance.” Eve’s next mistake was taking this matter into her own hands without prayer or discussion with her spouse, her godly friend.
Eve was taken in by Satan’s lie. He convinced her that God was keeping something good from them. Satan planted the seed that God did not have their best interests at heart. Fear of missing out, first took control of Eve’s mind, and then took control of her actions. When fear is allowed to grow in our minds, our impulse may be to take matters into our own hands. Self‑control based on sound‑mindedness, is then replaced by self‑reliance. But when we keep our minds fixed on the fact that God is love, His perfect love will cast out any fear in our hearts that may cause us to trip on our self‑reliance. Our reliance on God through Christ quells our fears and provides the self‑control needed to rely on God’s control (Romans 8:37 ESV).
Abigail (1 Samuel 25)
“Now the name of the man was Nabal, and the name of his wife, Abigail. The woman was discerning and beautiful, but the man was harsh and badly behaved” (1 Samuel 25:3 ESV).
In the story of Abigail, we find a woman not only described as outwardly beautiful, but discerning, wise, and perceptive. These additional qualities are found in a person who possesses self‑control. In the story of Abigail’s encounter with David, she is the primary example of self‑control. During the escalating conflict, her wise, discerning temperament contrasted with her husband Nabal’s churlish and evil doings, as well as with David’s fiery reactions.
David and his men had been in the land owned by Nabal, Abigail’s husband. While there, they protected Nabal’s shepherds and flocks from Philistine raids. David sent a word of kindness to Nabal, asking him for a simple act of hospitality for his men (which was common in this culture and time). Nabal reacted harshly and foolishly and sent an insulting and dismissive answer back to David. After David was given the report from his men, he was also overtaken by anger and a lack of self‑control. David told 400 of his men to strap on their swords and follow him to Nabal’s house (1 Samuel 25:13).
During the experience, Abigail is told of David’s plan. This is the moment of her victory of self‑control. It is when what Abigail knew to be true, outweighed her natural feelings of fear and dread. Abigail sent out servants with a caravan of food to David and his men, while she followed behind (1 Samuel 25:18‑20). In the verses that follow, Abigail’s faith in the Lord God of Israel directed her gift of food to David and his men. Her words to David quelled his immediate feelings for revenge, and in the verses which follow, David praises Abigail for her calming wisdom.
Abigail believed that God’s faithfulness to her in the past would not fail at this moment amid great turmoil. The same is true for all followers of the Lord who strive first to put their trust in the steadfast promises of God. The harsh storms of life may momentarily shake us and make us feel like our life is in turmoil, but our faith keeps us anchored to the solid rock, our Heavenly Father, through Christ Jesus (Hebrews 6:19 NIV).
Sarah (Sarai), Wife of Abraham (Genesis 16‑17)
What happens to self‑control when disappointment creeps into our lives? These are the times when self‑control needs to be His control. Abram’s wife, Sarai, knew the feelings of frustration and disappointment after decades of infertility. She knew of God’s unconditional promise to her husband that his descendants would become a great nation and bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 15:4‑6 NIV). Still, she believed her years of bearing children had seemingly been wasted.
In Genesis 16, we see that in her frustration Sarai takes matters into her own hands and gives her maidservant Hagar to Abram to provide that offspring. Unfortunately, there is no account of Sarai or Abram asking for God’s direction before proceeding with this plan. When we let our feelings of sadness and frustration gain a foothold in our minds, we may be led to take matters into our own hands. In these moments, our efforts of self‑control are genuinely focused only on ourselves.
When Sarai sees that Hagar has conceived, Sarai now despises her. Sarai’s hurt and anger take over once again. Her frustration with the situation manifests itself in anger toward Abram and Hagar. Hagar is caught in the middle, struggling to obey her mistress while fearing the consequences of Sarai’s anger. When we let our negative emotions put our brains into fight or flight mode, self‑control is lost, and we hurt ourselves and our loved ones.
Sarai should have reflected on the faithfulness of her heavenly Father in her past experiences to give her the faith she needed for this experience. She had experienced the deliverance of the Lord several times before. God had protected Sarai, Abram, and their household from famine, she had been rescued from the ill intentions of the Pharaoh of Egypt, and God had blessed them with a foregleam of His promised land. Similarly, God has given us exceeding great and precious promises (2 Peter 1:4) to keep us grounded in self‑control and His faithfulness even when our natural feelings may indicate otherwise.
Ruth the Moabitess (The Book of Ruth)
God‑given self‑control can lead us to do courageous things by taking faith‑filled steps all along the way. In the story of Ruth, we see a woman whose self‑discipline and ever‑growing faith led her to a richness of knowing the one true God.
Ruth was a Moabite woman who was the wife of a Jewish immigrant named Mahlon. Mahlon was the son of Elimelech, who had fled to Moab with his family during the famine in Israel. While in Moab, Ruth, her sister‑in‑law Orpah, and her mother‑in‑law Naomi, were all widowed. At this point, Ruth has the choice of whether to stay in Moab or travel to Judah with her mother‑in‑law, Naomi. At this moment, Ruth decides to be guided by godly self‑control rather than fear of the unknown.
Ruth was impacted by Naomi’s relationship with God throughout the ten years together in Moab as a family. Naomi still honored and loved the Lord even after losing her husband and two sons, and the feeling that “the LORD’s hand has turned against me” (Ruth 1:13 NIV). Naomi’s faith was such an example to Ruth that she wanted Naomi’s God to be her God (Ruth 1:16 NIV). Those around us should be able to look at our lives in the same way, as faithful followers of God, who will inspire them to want to know our God better.
As Ruth’s story progressed in Judah, Naomi counseled Ruth to find favor in the sight of Boaz, Ruth’s goel, or kinsman‑redeemer. Legally, Ruth had the right to expect Boaz to marry her and raise a family to perpetuate the name of Elimelech. However, Ruth took Naomi’s advice and exercised her self‑control by not demanding her rights. As Naomi suggested, Ruth came to Boaz humbly and trustingly.
Many times, the practice of self‑control is tested when we perceive that our “rights” are being challenged. The fear of losing out on something we feel entitled to may outweigh our ultimate trust in God. We forge ahead to our detriment. Ruth shows us the beautiful example of a woman of self‑discipline who is willing to take wise counsel and walk humbly according to her new‑found faith. Whether our faith is new or if we have been walking with God for many years, the example of Ruth’s quiet confidence and her self‑control in the face of life‑altering circumstances is lovely and powerful.
The Apostle Paul uses the analogy of a marathon runner when he describes our need for self‑control to guide us in running the Christian race. “Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:24‑27 NIV).
These faithful women in the Bible teach us to look to our Heavenly Father and to practice godly self‑control instead of self‑reliance. Even the poor example of some is helpful in seeing what can prevent us from exercising godly self‑control. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3 NIV).