Knowledge and Self-Control

Let’s return to the list of faith-“supplements”: make every effort to supplement your faith with…and knowledge with self-control.

Now, this list and these pairings are only examples of the kinds of movements involved in life-long discipleship. They are only examples. But still, they are examples worth reflecting on. They are models for how we grow. And, as I’m finding is often the case for me, they may even be applicable to us today.

So Peter says, “Knowledge needs self-control.” By “knowledge” he doesn’t just mean book-learning, but rather all the knowledges we have that make us wiser servants and more effective helpers.

How does knowledge need self-control?

First, it needs to be controlled so that it applies its knowledge to the situation at hand—to make knowledge relevant and helpful. Knowledge needs to be brought down. It’s the old saw about how, if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Sometimes our experiences and insights shine back and blind us to the actual situation. For example, when someone is grieving and we come by with a well thought through explanation of God’s Sovereignty. We know better than to do that! What they need is a hug, a listening ear, or our silent presence. But sometimes knowledge wants to get loose and do its thing, regardless of whether it does any good. Self-control helps our knowledges do great good.

Second, knowledge needs to be disciplined so that it actually serves. Knowledge tends to withdraw into itself—to theorize and head off on its own self-oriented quest: more knowledge! Just as knowledge sometimes needs to be brought down, sometimes it needs to be stirred up. It’s easy to sit back like Job’s “friends” and discuss the character of God or the right-ordering of the universe; it’s easy to settle down into a hobbit-like existence, knowing what we know and being well-pleased with ourselves. So knowledge needs discipline. It needs to get off its backside. All things suffer entropy—they lean back, close their eyes, and nod off into self-possessed fantasy. Thus knowledge needs self-control. Self-control helps our knowledges do great good.

Self-control tries to keep my self from acting in self-indulgent ways. And self-control tries to stir my self to act in others-serving ways. Without self-control my self will be no good for anyone. It is self-control’s job to bend me toward utility rather than indulgence.

And self-control is necessary in situations where my self would like to rise up and take over. Situations where I “lose control of my self” are situations where I say or do things that I’ll regret. “Fine! Let me tell you something, buddy!” Why am I tempted to this? Because I think they deserves it. They don’t deserve my “better” self—my “self” that knows better. My knowledgeable self is not present. It is not under my control; I am out of control. Self-control works to present my knowing-self in the moments when he’d rather just watch the fireworks.

Our knowledges, supplemented with self-control, will do great things. God has given us the Spirit of Power! And the Spirit has given us our knowledges and gifts in order to “edify” others. But knowledge without self-control becomes unhelpful and irrelevant. “You know things? So what. Bring it to us. Make it relevant. Help.”

What’s the difference between a lazy river and a powerful one? Width. Narrow the banks. Control the flow. And the result is spectacular.

God has given you spectacular knowledges, graces and gifts and insights and strengths and wisdom.

Wait… I mean, God has given us spectacular graces and gifts in you.

So as your faith becomes love, consider the ways self-control can help our knowledges do God’s great good.
To Consider:
What “knowledges” do you have?
Do you feel more like your knowledge needs to be “brought down” or “stirred up”?
What are some ways God might want to use you for good?
What would you like to ask God about, or for, now?

Photo by Andre A. Xavier on Unsplash