When I worked in horticulture years ago, I learned an invaluable truth: “A weed is an undesirable plant.” Think about it. A weed is a plant, perhaps replete with shiny green leaves and colorful flowers, alluring in its own right—just like other plants. Yet, there is that word “undesirable.” How so? Well, a prominent attribute of a weed is that it is invasive. A weed saunters into the garden, surveys all of the beauty, and says, “I am taking over.” The prideful weed chokes out beauty and creates aesthetic chaos. A weed demands control.
This helps us when we think of all of the desires God has planted in us as human beings to cultivate as image bearers of our Creator. Food, drink, and sex are all good things in their God-given boundaries. Money is useful as an instrument in God’s kingdom. Fear keeps us from jumping off cliffs to our death. But think for a moment about the invasive nature of taking that extra plate of dessert, indulging in just one more drink, taking another lustful look, or allowing intrusive fears to set up camp in our minds and control us with anxiety. In other words, ordinarily good gifts from our Creator can become unruly thorns in the very core of our souls.
The Bible uniformly maintains the godly necessity of self-control. Proverbs 25:28 says, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Living without a defense brings perilous consequences—the weeds of our impulsive thoughts, words, or actions take over all that is beautiful and good and choke it out. In contrast to the pagan philosophers, who extolled stoic restraint through effort alone, the believer’s confidence is not gained through mere arduous exertion. Rather, self-control is animated by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22–23).
Yet the Apostle Peter exhorts us to godly effort even as the Spirit is working. “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness” (2 Peter 1:5–6). Lack of self-control leads to ineffectiveness and lack of fruitfulness, Peter says. Even worse, it may lead to our destruction. Remember Achan’s craving for the devoted things in Joshua 7? In stark disobedience to the Lord’s command, he coveted the beautiful cloak, two hundred shekels of silver, and a gold bar of fifty shekels, and he seized them against the Lord’s clear command. His lack of self-control proved devastating to himself and his entire family.