“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32). And on the other hand, “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (Proverbs 25:28).
Self-control is a mighty good thing to have. And as rare as Spanish doubloons in the Sunday offering.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). So, the much-desired quality of self-control is found among the nine traits making up the “fruit of the Spirit,” which is also a pretty solid description of Christlikeness.
The ability to master one’s own spirit is not as recognizable as its opposite, the failure or inability to control one’s inner self. That trait–a spirit out of control–is quickly on full display whenever its owner is offended, attacked, questioned, called to account for something he/she has done, or otherwise challenged. The uncontrolled spirit has no defenses against temptation, no muscles for hard tasks, and no patience with difficult people. “Love one’s enemies”? (Luke 6:27) The uncontrolled spirit has difficulty loving its own friends and thus nothing in reserve for its opponents.
The angry motorist determined to set another driver straight cannot control his own spirit. The disgruntled employee who returns with a gun to settle accounts cannot control his own spirit. The gossip who simply cannot resist the urge to pass along the juicy morsel about someone cannot control their spirit.
The list is endless. And so depressing.
So, let’s take the positive approach! Here, straight out of the wonderful book of Proverbs, are ten traits of the person in control of his/her own spirit.
One. You can take chastening from the Lord and appreciate discipline when you have it coming.
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves, He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12).
Ask any employer. Having to deal with an employee who is doing wrong but cannot take criticism well is one of his/her hardest jobs. That’s why Proverbs makes so much of the ability to take correction.
Two. You do not take offense easily. You are hard to offend.
“The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Proverbs 19:11). “Love…is not provoked” (I Corinthians 13:5).
“He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive (“short of spirit” literally) exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29). This is the description of a person strong in self esteem, certain of their mission, and settled in their inner spirit. It’s how we want to be. (Want to see that very description of our Lord? Look at the first four verses of John 13. This is what gave Jesus the strength and humility to wash the feet of the disciples.)
Three. You can receive criticism without feeling you have to defend yourself.
“Rebuke a wise man and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8). “A fool despises his father’s instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent” (Proverbs 15:5). And, “Rebuke is more effective for a wise man than a hundred blows for a fool” (17:10).
I have yet to meet the man who enjoys being criticized. And yet, it’s a constant in any life. There is no position worth having in this world where criticism is not a fact of daily existence. So, anyone who intends to do something of value in his lifetime would do well to master the art of receiving criticism without feeling the need to defend. Even if you say “I was only responding to the points he made,” to many it will appear you are defending yourself. (And yet, there are times when we must explain and even defend. Pray for wisdom.)
Four. You can choose your words carefully.
“A man has joy by the answers of his mouth, and a word spoke in due season, how good it is!” (Proverbs 15:23). “Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20).
The person who takes the time to consider what he is about to say and then speaks wisely is in control of his own spirit. How often have we heard people bragging about their inability to do this very thing: “Well, that’s who I am! If I think it, I say it!” (The rest of us roll our eyes and think, “Dear Lord, deliver me!”)
Of Proverbs 31’s “virtuous woman,” it was said, “She opens her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is the law of kindness” (Pr. 31:26). May that be said of us.
Five. You guard your tongue.
“Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 21:23). A prayer I’ve prayed almost daily for decades is Psalm 141:3 “Set a guard upon my mouth, O Lord. Keep watch over the door of my lips.”
Fully one-half of the problems I have had throughout my long life were self-inflicted, and most of those involved the inability to keep my mouth shut. They said of Job, “Your words have upheld him who was stumbling; and (by your words) you have strengthened the feeble knees” (Job 4:4). Somewhere I found a variation of that, which says: “Your words have stood men on their feet.” I like that so much, it has been my verse and my constant prayer. (We’ve all seen the power of words to knock people off their feet! The stories we could tell! But here and there among us you will find those golden individuals with the power to stand people back on their feet using nothing more than words. I want that to be me! And so do you, I wager.)
Six. You are in command of your appetite.
The appetite is a spirit within us, and sometimes it feels demonic, demanding, out of control! We smile at Proverbs 23:1-2. “When you sit down to eat with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you, and put a knife to your throat if you are a man given to appetite.” To be sure, the control of the appetite at all times–for food, success, glory, sex, anything!–is a huge accomplishment.
Seven. You can do good deeds without mentioning it to anyone.
“Whoever falsely boasts of giving is like clouds and wind without rain” (Proverbs 25:14). But that’s “falsely boasting.” What about if I really gave that much money? Made that great sacrifice? Did that sacrificial act? Can’t I tell that? Answer: Only in extreme situations. Only when doing so helps others and honors God.
Our Lord said, “Let not your left hand know what your right is doing” (Matthew 6:3). Do your good deeds in secret, Jesus said (Matthew 6:2-18).
Eight. You can resist the urge to meddle in another’s business.
“Whoever passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears” (Proverbs 26:17). John MacArthur notes: “The dog was not domesticated in Palestine and thus to grab any dog was dangerous. The aggressor deserved to be bitten for his unprovoked act.” (Ask any law enforcement officer about having to walk into a domestic fight. Many an innocent person has paid the ultimate price.)
Nine. You are able to respond to a harsh putdown with gentleness.
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Sometimes, when an anonymous critics leaves a devastating criticism of something I’ve written on my website, the temptation to respond ‘in kind” is powerful. But how much stronger–and more difficult–it is to say simply, “Thank you. You may be right.” And perhaps, “Pray for me.”
Ten. You can make yourself do the hard tasks, rather than give in to the urge to take the easy path.
“He who has a slack hand becomes poor, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4). “The hand of the diligent will rule, but the lazy man will be put to forced labor” (12:24).
One who rules his spirit can make himself get out of bed and go to work, get in the car and seek out a difficult person in order to make peace, and write a check to a great ministry when he wants so much to indulge himself with that money.
One who rules his own spirit can be gentle with others and strong with himself.
A prayer I once heard and have used ever since says: “Lord, give me a heart of fire toward Thee, a heart of flesh toward my neighbor, and a heart of iron toward myself.” Amen to that.
Good Words! Thank you!
Thank you! Need to remind myself every day.
Thank you, good advice
Thank you!!! You get the nail right on the head… I hope I can absorb it all, and pray with me that I can live it all.
How do you rule your spirit?
Thank you rule my spirir
Hi my name is John l do not get involved in others desputes l can take harsh criticism l do tell others if l do a good deed my brain is wired to make impulsive decisions l like to encourage others l also make poor executive decisions l had my right frontal lobe removed in 1986 and part of my right temporal lobe removed in 1981 l can take criticism and chastening from the lord l can and have prayed for people who treat me unfairly l think lf they treat me like this how do they treat there wife and children .l dont get mad at other drivers a former pastor think of it as they cut me off because they were rushing their pregnant wife to the hospital
Thanks for hope installed
this lesson is an example of being guided by the spirit for the benefit of brethren and the glory of God.thank you for being a willing and obedient vessel.
Wow! I’m so blessed . Thanks sir
Excellent! Thank you so much. Really value the fact that you used the word to speak the word. Thank you.
This was wonderful sir, it is truly and really inspiring. More grace to you sir, for more great words like unto this one.
I really enjoyed this and my hearts desire is to apply rule my own spirit by controlling my self talk we have two choices good and evil choose good.
Wow…. This is a word for me…. I really do trust God to help me…
Thank you so much for this exposition, I pray the grace to abide with them be release to us from above.
Good day. I thank God Almighty for people like you, who are obedient to do His will. Today I’m so greatful to get such inside especially positive approach in ruling my own spirit. May God Almighty help grow me into His word daily. Indeed knowledge is sweet. May you stay blessed and be increased too in Jesus Christ’s mighty name, amen.
More than 3 years after this message, I stumble upon it and I’m immensely blessed.
Thank you sir, and God bless you.
Thank you. The website onto which you “stumbled” has messages going back to 2003. Scroll down the page to “archives” and then to the bottom. You are encouraged to use (reprint, etc) anything that the Lord gives you.
Thanks so much for this great piece. I love the last prayer…a heart of fire for God, heart if flesh for my neighbour and a heart of iron for my own self. Am indeed blessed.
Thank you. I enjoyed reading and re reading this – needed and empowering for my life journey🙏🏾
This topic came in at the right time for my church and I
Thank you for this sir, God bless you
Excellent and timely for me. Thanks for sharing.