Series: Preacher: Date: November 10, 2013 Scripture Reference: Proverbs 25:28

As a young baseball fan, I remember that Nolan Ryan was one of my favorite pitchers.  I am not the only one who held that opinion, because Nolan Ryan is one of the greatest pitchers baseball has ever seen.  He said to have thrown the fastest pitch ever clocked: 108.1 MPH! [1]  Ryan’s prowess on the mound is what led Hall of Famer and hitting great Reggie Jackson to say this: 

“(Nolan) Ryan’s the only guy who puts fear in me. Not because he could get me out, but because he could kill me. You just hoped to mix in a walk so you could have a good night and go 0-for-3.” [2]

The Ryan Express, as he has been dubbed, was always known for his speed but not necessarily for his accuracy.  In his autobiography, he writes of a high school district championship game that would determine who would go to the state playoffs:

By then I was pretty well known for my fastball, but I was wild.  It worked to my advantage that day.  I hit the first kid up squarely in the helmet and split it.  I hit the next guy in the arm and broke it.  The third kid went and begged his coach not to make him hit.  That coach assaulted him verbally in front of everyone and shamed him into standing in there.  I had them after that.  If I didn’t walk them, I struck them out because they were up there at the edge of the batter’s box on their toes, ready to bail out.  They were so far from the plate that the inside corner was outside to them.  I had no strategy and no finesse.  I just kept winging them in there, trying to get as close to the plate as possible.  They’d forgotten to win the district.  They just wanted to go home without any more injuries. [3]

As any major leaguer would admit, a pitcher can only make it so far before he needs to learn control over his pitches.  Nolan Ryan may have had some early success despite his wildness, but he never would have progressed without learning control.  He never would have reached those hallmarks of his success, like throwing 7 no-hitters, striking out over 5,000 batters, or appearing in a gazillion Advil commercials!

Without control, trouble comes.  Most brawls in baseball happen after a pitcher loses control and hits a batter.  This happened to Nolan Ryan 20 years ago.  The veteran was still pitching at 46 years of age and hit the young, 26-year-old Robin Ventura, in the arm.  It was arguably the most infamous brawl in major league history, particularly because Nolan Ryan calmly took the charging young Ventura under his wing – via headlock – and proceeded to literally beat some sense into him.  It all happened due to a loss of control: Ryan’s pitch and Ventura’s temper.

It isn’t uncommon for us to have the same sort of self-control issues.  Like the high school version of Nolan Ryan, our lack of self-control may seem to help us for a little while, but over time it becomes a deterrent to our success.  Some people struggle with controlling their emotions.  They have learned that an angry temper yields some short-term gains, but they haven’t realized the long-term ramifications that come from hurting loved ones.  Others may do the same thing with the opposite emotions to gain sympathy from others.  Some people do not control their willpower and desires, so they give in to whatever comes next.  Like a family without a budget who has no reserve funds, everything might seem okay, but at the first emergency, they face ruin.  Without self-control, we face ruin.  This sad principle plays itself over and over in countless lives each day.  We see the public examples in a constant barrage.  Just this week Toronto Mayor Rob Ford admitted that he lost control and used crack cocaine a year ago. [4]  We don’t have to look too far before finding other examples like Mark Sanford, John Edwards, or Anthony Weiner.

So at first we might wonder why Paul included self-control in his list of the Fruit of the Spirit, but then we see all of the broken lives left in the wakes of those who lack it.  An uncontrolled life has no place among Christians.  This is perhaps why it becomes the end cap in Paul’s list in Galatians 5:22-23.  Our text today, however, is in the Old Testament.  Turn with me in your Bibles to Proverbs 25:28.  We find ourselves in a section of Proverbs written by Solomon, son of the great King David.  Each one of these proverbs stands on its own and contains a nugget of spiritual truth.  Look in your Bibles or on the screen as I read Proverbs 25:28.

Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control. (Pro 25:28 NIV).

And this is the Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

We see a fairly straightforward comparison in this verse.  As a matter of fact, reading it as it was originally written would sound something like this:  “A city broken into without a wall, a man who has no control over his spirit.”  Solomon holds both of them up side to side and places them on a scale to show they are even.  The picture painted is bleak and desolate.  Is it fair to compare a person lacking self-control to a city whose defensive walls have been breached?  We might be tempted to downplay the effects of uncontrolled lives, but the parallels go deep enough to help us understand this word picture.  Just as walls protect a city, self-control protects a person.  So how do we go about developing self-control in our lives?

Accept the Fact That Self-Control is Not Automatic or Easy

The first thing that we can do is accept the fact that self-control isn’t automatic or easy.  Whenever we make this sort of assumption, we accept a caricature of Christianity, which is dangerous.  A hidden expectation that our self-control will come to us naturally sets us up for disillusionment when we learn otherwise.  It puts us in danger of thinking that maybe our faith is wrong or that the Holy Spirit doesn’t actually produce this sort of fruit in us after all.  But why did Paul write to the Galatians about the Fruit of the Spirit?  Was it to let them know that this fruit would automatically be produced in them and that they needed only to sit back and enjoy the show?  Of course not!  They were told that as Spirit-filled believers they needed to partner with God in producing this fruit in their lives.  Paul tells them,


“Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16 ESV)


It is a command that comes from a new way of living.

So a romanticized version of Christianity won’t do.  Becoming a Christian does not mean living happily ever after; it means entering a war zone.  We can either walk by the Spirit, or we can give in to our fleshly desires.  In The Fruitful Life, Jerry Bridges declares,

“Self-control is necessary because we are at war with our own sinful desires.”  He writes, “This may not sound very spiritual, but neither does Paul’s exclamation, ‘I beat my body and make it my slave’ (1 Corinthians 9:27).” [5]

It takes effort to live out our faith in a self-controlled way.  It is spiritual warfare.  That’s why Solomon uses a war-ravaged city as an example.

When the Israelites used the word city, it could mean the high, protective walls of Jerusalem, or it could mean the protected encampment of a few dozen people.  The word really means a group of people who are protected.  Thus, the city he describes in his proverb is actually an oxymoron.  A city that lacks its protective walls is vulnerable and not much of a city at all.  In the same way, a person without self-control lacks essential characteristics to personhood.  When the security of a city fails, everything is thrown into chaos.  In the ancient Middle East, a city ravaged by warfare was all too common.  For is it is largely hypothetical, but for them it was a consistent reality.  What would a city be like if its walls were broken into and destroyed?

Imagine the inhabitants of this city.  Instead of spending their time going through the normal parts of life, they are probably in hiding, struggling to get through their days.  They once were able to go to the market to buy food, able to go to work and be productive to make a living, able to spend time together at home each night.  Now things are different.  The market is like a ghost town.  Shops are boarded up, and only a few people are selling.  They eye everyone suspiciously, and they have raised the prices for the most basic necessities.  People are no longer able to be productive in their work.  Few are buying their goods, leaving them at near poverty levels.  At home, after a meager meal, more energy is spent bolting down doors and strengthening existing bars over windows.  Stress is high, and fear is in the air.  During the night, the slightest noise causes them to wake in panic, ready to flee in fright.  The mere removal of safety throws everything else into chaos, leaving a city that is barely able to function and desperately clinging to its own title.

In 2010, an ancient city wall was discovered in Jerusalem, and it was dated to the 10th century BC.  This 230 foot section is thought to have been built during the time of Solomon.  As the already fortified city of Jerusalem expanded, new sections of wall had to be built.  It is conceivable that Solomon saw the breaches in Jerusalem’s wall when he penned this proverb, or perhaps he was overseeing the new wall construction and was inspired to write it.  It takes a well thought-out plan to do any sort of city engineering, a fact not lost on Solomon who could easily spot the vulnerabilities of uncontrolled expansion or building.  1 Kings 11:26-28 records some of the repairs that needed to be made on the City of David, and Solomon placed Jeroboam over the labor force to manage the projects.  Jeroboam was the man who rebelled against Solomon and later became king of ten tribes of Israel.  All of that came as judgment from the Lord, because toward the end of his reign Solomon turned away from the one, true God and began worshiping the gods of neighboring countries.  Imagine that as Solomon looked over large gaps in a wall being built and penned these words about a city ruined by a lack of protection, he could have been looking at the man who take away his family’s power because of his own lack of protection in his life.

Without self-control, we face ruin.  We employ self-control as a defensive strategy.  There is an enemy, and he wants to attack us.  The alcoholic has trouble holding down a job, because his addiction severely impacts his ability to handle work duties or even arrive for work on time.  The person addicted to gossip craves juicy tidbits of negativity and finds herself in a secret cycle of petty comparison and baseless competition.  The student who continually seeks academic short cuts will never understand the material and likely wind up in trouble for cheating.  We need to build up our defenses through a lifestyle of Spirit-empowered self-control.

Identify Personal Areas Lacking Self-Control

We can understand that self-control is spiritual warfare and that the better trained we are all around, the more we are protected against enemy attacks.  If we think of a city’s walls of defense, we know that the entire perimeter must be in place.  If most of the perimeter is fortified and virtually impenetrable, that will make little difference if there is a ten foot section where the wall is missing.  This is why we can’t simply pat ourselves on the back for being mostly self-controlled.  Whatever area in our lives is weak is the area that will be attacked.  A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and a person is only as protected as his least controlled area.  A conscientious city government would make regular, sometimes daily rounds to inspect the walls of the city and spot vulnerabilities.  Some sections of walls might need additional stones or masonry work.  Other sections benefit from posting a permanent guard as they are inherently more vulnerable.  As warfare changed and the city changed, so did the defensive needs.  We need to do the same thing.  We need to identify personal areas lacking self-control.  When Solomon mentioned self-control – or control over one’s spirit – he used a term that encompasses a person’s mental acts or moral character.  It can also refer to specific emotions, such as an angry temper, impatience, or general disposition.

What self-control areas do you need to shore up?  Jerry Bridges defines self-control as “the governing of one’s desires.”  He identifies three major categories to govern:  body, thoughts, and emotions. [6]  Knowing that self-control is not automatic or easy helps us realize that we have desires that do need to be governed.  As we inspect our lives we find weakened areas of defense.  What are bodily desires?  They can include gluttony, laziness, and sexual impurity.  Every day, people give into these desires to their own peril.  Which one might be a struggle for you?  Some people are lazy, but they mask it through other activities.  Are you familiar with the Facebook game Farmville?  In it you create your own virtual farm by planting, watering, and harvesting your own crops.  Some people are addicted to it.  I read about one woman who finally realized it was taking over her life.    She shares how it took over her working life and her social life.  She found herself faking stomach pains when out with friends so that she could go home and harvest her crops before they withered.  Meanwhile, her life was withering all around her. [7]  When we can spend hours online or watching TV, but we struggle spending ten minutes studying God’s Word or praying, we know we need to cultivate new habits.

The desires we face in our thought life are often more difficult to spot.  Proverbs 4:23 says,

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

We have to control what we take in as a way of controlling what we think about.  When you watch negative news broadcasting all the time, you end up thinking negatively.  When you spend time around people who speak impurely, you begin to think and speak impurely.  Paul tells Timothy to flee such lifestyle choices.  Bridges writes,

“Solomon said to guard; Paul said to flee.  Both verbs convey a much stronger reaction to temptation than most Christians practice.  Instead of guarding the gates of our minds, we actually open them to the flood of ungodly material coming to us through television, the Web, video games, newspapers and magazines, and the world’s conversations that often surround us.  Instead of fleeing from temptations, we too often indulge them in our thoughts.” [8]

At any point, we can allow attack on our lives if we remain uncontrolled.  I have come across some people who, when running errands, always leave the car unlocked and the keys in the ignition, sometimes even leaving their cars running!  I spoke with one man who declared his trust in other people as his reason for doing this.  I will just tell you that this is not me!  I lock my car door and put the windows up out of habit, but even I have been the victim of attack in this area, on church property, no less!  It happened a couple of years ago that my car was vandalized.  The outside was defaced, and it was obvious that this was no accident.  I was horrified to learn that the inside of the car had suffered the same fate as the outside.  Invaders in my own vehicle!  They had sat in my driver’s seat as they did their deed.  Somehow the seat didn’t

CIMG0223feel like it was tailored to me anymore.  Would I ever be comfortable driving alone in my own car again?  Would the culprits be held accountable?  How could this have happened?  Did someone use a tool to break in?  Were my keys taken, or did I forget to lock the door?  I have security buttons by the door handle, so maybe the code was compromised.  It doesn’t matter, because the invasion occurred and I was left to pick up the pieces.  Now I know our youth today would never toilet paper my car ever again (!), but it reminds me that at any point we are vulnerable if we do not keep watch over key access points in our lives.

Make Effectiveness for Christ Your Goal, Not Personal Success

As we seek to develop self-control in our lives, we need to ensure that we do it for the right reasons.  We must make effectiveness for Christ our goal, not personal success.  It is true that self-control in our lives will make us more stable, healthier, more financially responsible, and more able to enjoy life.  This is because as we follow a biblical principle our lives become ordered more like God intended.  But these are not the goal.  As Christians, we want to be used for God’s glory.  The person with a well-ordered life will stand out to the rest of the world and actually have a platform to share the transforming message of Christianity.  Even the struggles we deal with are ways we can show that, with Christ’s power in us and the transformational truth of Scripture, the gospel makes us whole.

Our youth ministry recently went through a series on media and its influence on our lives.  I have heard a lot of feedback on this series, and a couple of neat stories along the way.  One student dramatically cut back her media usage, which was really difficult to do at first.  But this was an identified self-control issue for her.  Once she got used to it, she remarked at how she was able to get so much more accomplished.  Another guy in our ministry cut back in a similar way.  After about a week, he began to realize that his media usage had kept him from having his own, original thoughts.  He also began to hear God’s voice where it used to be drowned out by other distractions, and he has begun creatively using his talents for the Savior again.

Our ordered personal lives are what enable us to branch out and serve our King.  When we fail to do that, we end up constantly putting out the fires caused by careless lifestyles.   That reduces our effectiveness and makes us vulnerable to attack.  Because without self-control, we face ruin.

[3] Ryan, Nolan. Miracle Man Nolan Ryan:  The Autobiography. Word Press, Dallas.  1992. 57-58

[5] Bridges, Jerry.  The Fruitful Life.  Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2006.  p. 154.

[6] Ibid, p. 156.

[8] Bridges, Jerry.  The Fruitful Life, p. 161.

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