Self Control: The Number One Quality of a Leader

We’ve been discussing the character qualities necessary to both survive the turbulent 2020’s and also to thrive in advancing God’s Kingdom purposes on earth.

Our first article discussed the primacy of virtue–having a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Last week we looked at developing truthful knowledge in our lives–though deeper thinking, reading, writing and choosing your sources of input carefully.

Now we turn to the quality necessary for achieving the above.

It’s also the number one quality of a leader.

Self control.

Self Control: The Number One Quality of a Leader

James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, was amazingly prophetic when he said nearly two hundred years ago:

We have staked the future of American civilization not upon the power of government–far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the 10 commandments of God. (Emphasis mine.)

Failure to obey God’s commands in our daily lives has brought anarchy and havoc. Self-control is a pillar of a free society.

Christ-like character begins in the heart with virtue and then goes to the mind through knowledge. Next, it is rooted in the will through self-control. We are told in 2 Peter 1:6:

“To your knowledge, add self-control.”

Self-control is often regarded as a negative thing, like over-indulging on sweets. But this concept is backwards. Self-control is not primarily “resisting temptation or evil.” It is possessing right with such conviction that resisting wrong is the natural result.

We’re born with a bent toward selfishness called moral depravity. Simply stated, it’s easier to do wrong. Selfishness pulls us along like gravity–like it’s easier to run downhill. The key to going against the pull is a conviction that the hill is worth climbing.

When we’re committed to right living, the resistance to temptation becomes an automatic response to a choice already made. That’s why virtue in the heart must precede self-control.

Control Your Tongue

Our ability to communicate through speech is a wonderful gift. Our words are also one of the places we are most often tested. Who among us is perfect in our words?

James says nobody (excluding Jesus).

We all make many mistakes. If people never said anything wrong, they would be perfect and able to control their entire selves, too… A ship is very big, and it is pushed by strong winds. But a very small rudder controls that big ship, making it go wherever the pilot wants. It is the same with the tongue. It is a small part of the body, but it brags about great things. A big forest fire can be started with a little flame. And the tongue is like a fire…The tongue is set on fire by hell, and it starts a fire that influences all of life (James 3:2-6).

Exhibit A: Chris Rock and Will Smith.

All of us say things we wish we could take back. Whether it’s taking God’s name in vain, lying (including fibs or “little white lies”), speaking before we think, telling jokes at someone else’s expense, using sarcasm that hurts, or lashing out in anger, we’ve all been guilty of not controlling our tongues.

Jesus said in Matthew 12:36 that “God will hold us responsible for “every careless word we have said.” That’s a strong enough incentive to make sure that what we say will “always speak with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6).

Begin your development of self-control with the greatest challenge–your speech. Commit yourself to absolute honesty. Be quick to listen and slow to respond. Always seek to build up, never to tear down. You will never be perfect. But you can increase your awareness of the power of words.

Control Your Conduct

While changing planes in Chicago, I noticed a group of young people in the waiting area. They slouched on chairs, wrestled on the carpet, threw spit wads and paper airplanes, and made a general nuisance of themselves.

I was embarrassed by their poor example. I’d traveled enough to know that the “ugly American” image was often earned.

Our entire culture needs a good lesson in behavioral self-control. Paul said to his young friend Timothy many years ago, “Be an example to the believers with your words, your actions, your love, your faith, and your pure life” (1 Timothy 4:12).

The choice to control our actions, according to the commandments of God, is a decision we must make constantly. The right choices can only be made if, out of our love and commitment to Jesus, we “want to do right more than anything else” (Matthew 5:6).

As believers, we need to aim for the highest standards. We need to choose daily to govern ourselves by the principles of God’s Word. In the words of the apostle James:

Are there those among you who are truly wise and understanding? Then they should show it by living right and doing good things with a gentleness that comes from wisdom…But the wisdom that comes from God is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, and easy to please. This wisdom is always ready to help those who are troubled and to do good for others. It is always fair and honest. People who work for peace in a peaceful way plant a good crop of right-living (James 3:13, 17,18).

Control Your Time

A final area of self-control is in the effective use of time. In fact, no area more clearly shows our sense of godly perspective than the way we use the precious minutes that God has given us.

The older I get, the more I realize that if we don’t learn to control our time, then we lose control of our lives. Paul said it this way in Ephesians 5:16,17:

Use every chance you have for doing good because these are evil times. So do not be foolish but learn what the Lord wants you to do.

Time is a non-renewable resource. Today’s opportunities are tomorrow’s memories. The consequences of lost opportunities can be eternal.

The Number One Quality of a Leader

I enjoyed the privilege of working with Loren Cunningham, the founder and president of Youth With A Mission, in the 1980s. I once heard Loren make a statement on leadership that made a lasting impression on me. He said, “The number one quality of a leader is self-control.”

For a while I questioned that statement. What about faith? What about love? Why single out the characteristic of self-control as number one?

The answer related to the nature of leadership. A leader, by definition, “goes before” as a guide for others through example and personal conduct. He’s the model to which others should conform. If they are a good model, then people feel protected under their leadership. But if they fail in their personal life, they bring others down with them.

The governing quality of a leader’s life must be self-control. As Baptist minister Gordon Hanstad puts it:

The greatest gift I can give to my people is my own personal holiness.

That’s true of your own circle of relationships or followers also.

In reality, we must surrender our lives to God’s control and guidance, then through the power of the Holy Spirit, choose to regulate our speech, conduct and time out of love for Him.

That kind of living overcomes the world.

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