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We learned the 5 Ws’ (Who, What, When, Where and Why) in elementary school. It was fun and even helpful when we had to draft those reports in our English or Literature classes. It’s still being taught today, but today the same questions gain a different meaning and present some unique challenges to our relationships and our leadership. At home or work, we hear questions and answers like: Who said I had to do it? It’s not my turn. What is wrong with my clothes? They’re clean and fit fine. When is it due? I have too many things on my plate. Where do want to go on vacation? I need to plan and request time off.  Why do we need to have so much conflict and drama? Obedience, why does it have to be so hard?

I expect we’re all too familiar with these or similar questions. The answers may range from they are young and inexperienced, our expectations are too high, or we’re just set in our ways. Sometimes, our response to the question or challenge is, “Because I said so; it’s my way or the highway.” The meaning is clear, disobedience and the failure to submit or comply, has consequences.

The reliance on power or authority can be appropriate in the short-term or during critical moments. To use a military analogy, in the middle of the battle you don’t have time to explain why it’s important, you just have to take the hill. But relying too much on power and authority, especially in our relationships, has consequences. These can be as subtle as a disapproving look, snide or disparaging words, withdrawal or isolation and, in extreme circumstances, physical or emotional abuse. Using power and authority may result in momentary compliance but, as psychologist Bruno Bettelheim reminds us:

“Punishment may make us obey the orders we are given, but at best it will only teach an obedience to authority, not a self-control which enhances our self-respect.”

We will face many challenges in building and fostering our relationships, none as difficult, or important, as self-control. It can be tempting, and expedient, to rely on power and authority to get things done but relying on power or authority points more to a lack of self-control than leadership. Proverbs 25:28 reminds us: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”

What exactly do we mean by self-control? The Oxford Dictionary defines self-control as “the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behavior, especially in difficult situations.”  Another definition, at wellness website (, states “self-control is the ability to regulate and alter your responses to avoid undesirable behaviors, increase desirable ones, and achieve long-term goals.”  However, Self-Control and the Power of Christ,  explains , “Christian self-control is multifaceted. It involves both “control over one’s behavior and the impulses and emotions beneath it” (Philip Towner, Letters to Timothy and Titus, 252). It includes our minds and our emotions — not just our outward actions, but our internal state.”  Author David Mathis offers a more practical and applicable definition of self-control for those seeking to lead like Jesus:

“True self-control is not about bringing our selves under our own control, but under the power of Christ.”

We don’t need to look any further than Jesus for the perfect model of self-control. Jesus had “been given all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18. MSG). Jesus could have easily forced us to obey God’s commandments; just call down a legion of Angels and it’s a safe bet people will obey. Yet not once did He use His power against us or force us to do anything. He always used His power for our benefit. When Jesus saw pain, He healed. When He saw a raging storm, He calmed the sea. When He saw hunger, He fed. When He saw sin, He forgave. And when He saw we needed saving, He died.

Jesus could have forced compliance, instead He teaches us to use self-control in service of, and for the benefit, of others. Is self-control easy? Not by a long shot. It can be painful psychologically (mind), physically (body) and emotionally (spirit). Yet, even when facing crucifixion (Luke 22:42-44), Jesus understood and surrendered to God’s will.

Jesus focused on a purpose, a mission greater than Himself, serves the needs and works for the benefit of others, holds us accountable, forgives our mistakes, and loves us unconditionally. Isn’t this what we long for in our relationships, and our leaders?

Challenge:  There are more than 100 references to self-control in the Bible. This article is Part 1 of a 2-part series about self-control. Jesus modeled self-control because He knew that it was God’s will that mattered, not His own. True leadership is about influence. It’s not about us, but beginning with ourselves, it’s about those we lead. Next month we’ll begin to explore how to apply these and other strategies and behaviors to improve our relationships (with each other and God). I hope you’ll join me.

Do you know Who your are and Whose you are? Join our Encounter workshop and find out more. 

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