2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body. (James 3:2–3, NKJV)
The mighty steed obeys the bridle and bit. It is impressive to see such a powerful animal controlled and steered by such a small object. But, one must be skilled in using the bridle and bit to prevent the horse from stumbling (or even running wild). “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things” (Jas. 3:5). The analogy calls on us to control our words and thereby direct our conduct so that we do not stumble. Self-control (heart control) is at the core of tongue control (Matt. 12:34-35). Controlling our words requires controlling our emotions. In the heat of the moment, our words can come from anger, bitterness, spite, etc. and cause us to stumble into more sin (in addition to the sinful attitudes the words express). Sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing at all (Prov. 29:11). We can avoid allowing our tongue to steer us into trouble and stumbling by refusing to be hasty with our words (Prov. 29:20). By controlling our emotions, we will have time to think before we speak. That alone can keep us out of trouble. Therein lies a mark of maturity (the “perfect,” complete person). Remember, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (Jas. 1:19, ESV).
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, (Ephesians 5:18, NKJV)
Christians are to fill themselves with the Spirit, not with wine and its riotous excess. We do so by putting His word, the word of Christ, into our hearts and lives (Col. 3:16). Yet, a growing number of Christians justify the moderate consumption of intoxicating beverages. I wonder, do they also advocate for only being moderately filled with the Holy Spirit? If just a little alcohol is okay (as long as you don’t get drunk), then it follows that only a small amount of the Spirit in your life is okay (as long as you are not full of the Holy Spirit). Absurd? Absolutely. But, that is the consistent application of Ephesians 5:18 and the logical extension of the reasoning that promotes moderate alcohol consumption. The apostle contrasts being filled with wine and being filled with the Spirit. The fact that God’s word condemns drunkenness does not mean the drinking that leads to drunkenness is acceptable. The Scriptures must show it to be good, not merely asserted to be good (1 Thess. 5:21-22). Other passages teach us to be sober-minded, to use sound judgment, and to exercise self-control (Gal. 5:23; Titus 2:2, 6, 12). Consuming alcohol deconstructs and destroys these qualities the Spirit teaches us to possess. How can that be good? Drinking alcohol satisfies the desires of the flesh, but it is inconsistent with the mind of Christ and being filled with the Spirit of God (1 Pet. 4:1-4; Rom. 8:9-14).
101 I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word. 102 I have not departed from Your judgments, for You Yourself have taught me. (Psalm 119:101–102, NKJV)
Self-discipline is essential in keeping the word of God. Discipleship requires discipline, both to order one’s life after the Master’s teachings and to refrain from conduct that is against the Master’s instruction (Lk. 6:40; Jno. 13:13-17). Pride is ever ready to puff up our confidence in ourselves. It deceptively assures us we could never deny our Lord (Matt. 26:35; cf. Prov. 16:18). Therefore, since “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak,” we must continually “watch and pray, lest (we) enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). Utter commitment to God’s judgments (determinations) must governor our choices to refrain from evil and pursue good (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Pet. 3:8-11). When we argue with God’s word to justify our sinful choices and conduct, we have allowed personal judgments to control us instead of the decisions of God. (That’s pride at work.) Jeremiah said, “O Lord, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23). God does not delight in those whose evil (sin) is called good (Mal. 2:17). Self-disciplined faith in God helps us guard against reversing God’s judgments and calling good evil, and evil good (Isa. 5:20-21; Prov. 17:15). God is our teacher, and His word shows us what is evil and what is good. Walking in God’s word is how we “watch” and avoid entering into sin.
A quick-tempered man acts foolishly, and a man of wicked intentions is hated. (Proverbs 14:17, NKJV)
Reason and good judgment exit the scene when anger enters the stage. “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly (Prov. 14:29). The short fuse of anger and wrath destroys relationships we claim to be valuable to us – family, friendships, brethren. We have chosen foolishness and evil intentions over discretion and peace when we lose control of our emotions and let anger rule our spirit (Jas. 1:19-20). Anger expresses ill will, even hatred, toward others. Getting angry does not remove being accountable for our words and actions. Cain was very angry and hated his brother Abel, leading to murder (Gen. 4:5-7; 1 Jno. 3:12-15). His anger led to great folly. It is not enough to know we should not lose our temper. Knowing this, we must add self-control to our knowledge to help us master our emotions (2 Pet. 1:6). Even when others hurt us we dare not be quick-tempered and play the fool. “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Prov. 19:11).
37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that it was already filling. 38 But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm. 40 But He said to them, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said to one another, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mark 4:37–41, NKJV)
Christians can yield to the temptation to throw out sober-minded faithfulness at moments of uncertainty, difficulty and disagreement. Fear and doubt can motivate unwholesome and ungodly words and actions. We must exercise self-control in all things (1 Corinthians 9:25; Titus 2:1-8). The abiding presence of the Savior is a calming influence over the fear of uncertainty and the passion of over-heated emotions. Jesus is watching, and this should temper unwise and sinful words and deeds. The promises we have in Jesus soothe our souls, invigorate our hope and help us patiently endure moments of trial (Hebrews 6:13-20). Christ’s power overcomes the storms of life with peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:6-7). The assurance of peace we have in Christ frames and fashions faithful conduct in the midst of doubt.
8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:8–9, NKJV)
After affirming the value of both marriage and celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, Paul gives divine counsel to those who are not married and those who are (as well as to subgroups of each) in 1 Corinthians 7:8-16. To the “unmarried and to the widows” Paul rehearsed the benefit of remaining single while exercising self-control against fleshly temptations. (Recall the context of “present distress” that further explains his divine advice, 1 Corinthians 7:25-40). It seems plausible that they had asked Paul whether a person should marry at all (7:1). He answered that remaining without a spouse was a virtuous choice, while being careful not to deny the God-given right to marry, particularly in light of its benefit against the temptations of sexual immorality (7:2). Without a doubt, if the unmarried and widows were to marry it must be a God-approved marriage. You see, not every marriage has God’s approval (Mark 6:17-18; Romans 7:3; Matthew 5:32; 19:9). We cannot legitimize any marriage that God calls “unlawful” and “adultery” without incurring His displeasure and wrath (Ephesians 5:5-7). Whether or not we are married, we must make choices that enhance and protect our moral purity.
6 But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. 7 For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. (1 Corinthians 7:6–7, NKJV)
Paul had commanded sexual purity in 1 Corinthians 6:18 when he wrote, “Flee sexual immorality” (fornication, KJV). While acknowledging the virtue of celibacy, Paul explained that marriage is a God-given means of avoiding fornication (1 Corinthians 7:1-2). But, with marriage also comes responsibilities for which one is accountable to God (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). Now, the apostle hastens to explain that he is not commanding people to marry. We have permission to marry, but marriage is not mandatory. Paul’s stated preference (that all could exercise self-control against the sins of the flesh and remain unmarried as he was) is readily understood in the context of the “present distress” (which he would develop later in this chapter, 1 Corinthians 7:25-26, 28-29, 32, 35). Some are favored with the ability to live free of sexual immorality without marriage. Others, who do not have this ability, choose to marry and live free of sexual immorality. Whether married or not, one must refrain from sexual sin. Whether married or not, we must glorify God in our body, which belongs to God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).