Editor’s Note: This week welcome guest blogger, David Hundert. David is a current Master of Divinity student at Evangelical Seminary.
In his book, The Three Edwards, Thomas Costain describes the life of Raynald III, a 14th century duke in what is now Belgium. Grossly overweight, Raynald was commonly called by his Latin nickname, Crassus, which means “fat.”
After a violent quarrel, Raynald’s younger brother Edward led a successful revolt against him. Edward captured Raynald but did not kill him. Instead, he built a room around Raynald in the Nieuwkerk castle and promised him he could regain his title and property as soon as he was able to leave the room.
This would not have been difficult for most people since the room had several windows and a door of near-normal size, and none was locked or barred. The problem was Raynald’s size. To regain his freedom, he needed to lose weight. But Edward knew his older brother, and each day he sent a variety of delicious foods. Instead of dieting his way out of prison, Raynald grew fatter.
When Duke Edward was accused of cruelty, he had a ready answer: “My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so wills.” Raynald stayed in that room for ten years and wasn’t released until after Edward died in battle. By then his health was so ruined he died within a year, a prisoner of his own appetite.
In Galatians 5:23, the last characteristic listed is self-control which is the Greek word enkrateia. Enkrateia is defined as “the trait of resolutely controlling one’s own desires (which would produce actions); especially sensual desires.”
Why is self-control so important? Does Scripture have much to say about self-control?
In Proverbs 16:32 we read, “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” You can’t really add much to that. This “better than” proverb shifts our attention from the writer of Proverbs as the exalted teacher, to people exercising self-control as the ones who are to be emulated. To the disciple, this reminds him that the foundation of righteousness is his ability to rule over his naturally unruly spirit when provoked.
One commentary states, “Without the disciplined, wise conquest of oneself, mastery of the external world and its problems—in any area and of every sort—is not possible.” This proverb encompasses a battle of the inner self; it considers self control as the highest kind of human power. “The taking of a city is child’s play, compared with this ‘wrestling over flesh and blood.’ Comparing the taking of a city, which might only take a day. The wrestling over control of one’s natural desires is the battle of your entire life.”
Next consider Proverbs 25:28, “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” Here, the fool is portrayed as lacking self-control. In the Ancient Near East, in order for a city to be built, the potential location needed to have four things. It needed to have a good water source, a good place to raise and cultivate food, it needed to be near an area or have access to an area for commerce, and it needed to be defendable. The chief of these, was the city’s defense. The decisive characteristic of a city is its protective wall. If the enemy destroys it, the city is left defenseless and open to all sorts of mischief. The subject of this particular verse, is the person who lacks self control. This, coincidentally, presents a person who seems to has no ability to defend against his enemy from without. Their unchecked desire drives them like an attacking enemy. Unless one can master their lust, their temper, and their evil tendencies, sin will overpower them.
So, with that happy little bit of news, let’s look at the New Testament, to Matthew 19:8-12.
“Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery. The disciples said to him, ‘If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.’ Jesus replied, ‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’”
In this passage, there are three reasons given why a men might be a eunuch. One was by birth, one was because it was inflicted upon them, the last was by choice. The second one is probably the most understood, because the deliberate castration of men in order to provide “safe” attendants for married women or over a harem was widely practiced. A person born that way was indicative of someone born with a condition rendering them physically incapable of procreating. However, to refer to those who choose to live that way, is not an indication of someone who mutilates oneself, but rather chooses to live a celibate life, to master one’s natural inclinations to live a life holy to the Lord. Proverbs 6:27 reads, “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?” This is suggestive of what can happen when one looses control of one’s passions. So here, Jesus indicates that choosing to bridle and gain mastery of ones passions is choosing to do so for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Why is self-control so important? Talk about eunuchs and castration… That’s all pretty drastic! You would think that if self-control was that important, we would have heard more about it, right?
In the next post, we’ll try to answer those questions!
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash
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