The Gift of Self-Control

Story about sun exposure – how it takes effort and paying attention to keep yourself safe.

If you aren’t focusing on the task at hand… at the goal – you will lose sight of what is important.

This morning we heard the familiar story of Samson and Delilah – of a man who was tempted into giving up his secret strength.

But to understand this story we need a little bit of background.

There was a man named Manoah whose wife was barren. Try as they might, they could not have a child. But one day, an angel appeared to the woman and promised her that a child would be born to them – a child that would be holy – a child that would save Israel from their enemies. But in order for this to come to pass, the child must be set apart as holy and must live a certain way. This vow – this promise was called the Nazarite vow.

And so even before this child was born, the mother lived according to the Nazarite vow and then when the child Samson came into the world, he was declared a nazarite. Now, being an infant – he couldn’t choose this himself – but according to the tradition – a father can declare his son a nazirite. Samson had the right to refuse this status and to end his promises, but nowhere in the scriptures does it say that he does this.

Now, what it meant to BE a nazarite meant that he had to follow three rules. First, he had to abstain from any fruit of the vine. He couldn’t eat grapes or drink wine or even use wine vinegar with his food. Second, he had to refrain from cutting his hair. As time went on, the long hair on his head would have been a sign of his vow. Third, he had to avoid dead bodies.

So Samson took on these vows and grew and God blessed him with strength as a result of his faithfulness.

However, Samson had a weakness. He had a distraction in his life. And that distraction was women.

It’s not so much that his love for women was a bad thing. But time and time again, his weakness for the members of the opposite sex put him in terrible situations.

And eventually, as we heard this morning, Samson was tempted away from his Nazarite pledge by losing sight of what was most important. He put this woman, Delilah, before the pledge that he and his parents had made to God. As soon as he let Delilah cut his hair, his strength vanished, he lost his control over the situation, and was captured.

In our gospel reading from Luke, we are reminded not to worry… but I think in light of this discussion on self-control today, maybe a better way to understand this passage is to not be distracted.

You see, if we look at this whole speech that Jesus gives, he’s not trying to save us from anxieties and troubles by reminding us everything will be okay. No, Jesus is trying to tell us to stay focused on what is most important. This advice not to worry about food and clothing and tomorrow end with the powerful statement: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…. And verything else will take care of itself.

In other words, focus on God and what God asks of you…

The key to self-control really is to allow God to have the central place in our lives. The key to self-control is to allow God to guide our every action.

I learned as I was studying for this week that the word for demons in the bible – daemonia – actually means “to be controlled by another.” And every time we let food, or worry, or power, or security become the focus of our lives… those things begin to control us.
As one preacher reminded me – people used to assume that there were spirits that caused us to indulge in pleasure, so anytime someone succumbed to a temptation – they saw it as a demonic possession. “We no longer believe that but their insight was right about the [spiritual fact that] cravings… become compulsions. At some point… they begin to control us. At some point, our character becomes misshaped and misaligned in order adjust itself to increasing demands our compulsions put on us. We are no longer free, but are driven by our compulsions. The Biblical insight is right that these forces become bigger than us which is why we need to be intentional about them.”

It’s not that things like eating and drinking and sex are evil… but they can spiral out of control if we allow them to be the central objects of our lives.

What we need is discipline ourselves, set up walls of guidance – boundaries and barriers in our lives to keep us focused on what matters most.
Perhaps that is the simple injunction given by Jesus: Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. Maybe it is the sort of guidelines that a Nazarite chose to live by – avoiding grapes and wine, not cutting his hair, and avoiding the dead. Maybe it is some other kind of rule or order in your life, like setting aside 15 minutes every morning to pray… whatever it is, having an order, a discipline to follow is the key to self-control.

In Proverbs 25:28 tells us what a life without self-control looks like… a city broken down without any walls

Self-control is a barrier – a protective fence – blinders to keep us focused on what is most important.

Something about how a horse wears blinders to focus only on what is in front of it.

So we must be reflective and honest about the things that put cracks in our barriers. What are the things that weasel their way in and distract us from doing God’s work in the world? What keeps us from being in control of our actions? And how can we turn those things over to God?

As J. Hampton Keathley puts it…

Samson, a man raised up by the Lord as a deliverer and judge over rebellious Israel. Samson strangled a lion; yet he could not strangle his own love. He burst the fetters of his foes; but not the cords of his own lusts. He burned the crops of others, and lost the fruit of his own virtue when burning with the flame kindled by a single woman.

It only takes one thing… one thing to lead us off of the beaten path.  Let go of your desires. Turn your heart over to God. And seek his Kingdom. Amen.

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