What gives you pleasure?
What is a pleasure so valuable to you that you do irrational, silly, and sometimes down-right stupid things to get?
In the past couple millennia, humans haven’t changed much. Sure, we might have better means of transportation, better medicine, better technology, and more, but these are all tertiary in the grand scheme of things. We humans, as far as our nature is concerned, have stayed pretty much the same in one very important aspect: our pursuit of pleasure.
Is this a problem (other than the times we do silly or stupid things)?
Is it a problem to pursue pleasure?
For the hedonist (one who believes that the pursuit of pleasure is the ultimate good), it is most certainly not a problem. Instead, it is the most important pursuit of our lives.
Most of us, however, aren’t hedonists, (or at least we don’t want to be).
So, what do we do with the things from which we derive pleasure?
We’ve been promised freedom through Christ, so does it sometimes feel like we aren’t free?
Over the past couple weeks, we’ve been discussing the things with which the Apostle Peter told us to supplement our faith.
First, he told us to supplement our faith with virtue (holiness) and our virtue with knowledge (of God) and now, we come to the third thing.
5For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5-7, ESV)
So, we supplement our intimacy with God with self-control.
What is self-control?
It seems obvious. It just means controlling yourself, right?
Yes, but it’s a little more specific than that.
Of course, keeping control of yourself in relation to how many cookies or slices of pizza you have, while a worthy goal, doesn’t seem to be what Peter was getting at here.
Instead, it’s a little more than portion control on a diet or telling yourself “no” to some pleasurable thing you desire.
Self-control, in fact, is the gateway to a freedom that many of us choose not to experience.
Theologian Charles Ellicott wrote of self-control, “Self-mastery is to the world at large the opposite of liberty; to the Christian it is another name for it – that service which is perfect freedom.”
Yes, Ellicott wrote that when we control ourselves – when we deny ourselves some of the pleasures we desire – we experience perfect freedom. It seems, in a sense, paradoxical. To the world – those who are unsaved – it is silly. Why would you prohibit yourself from certain behaviors (especially ones that cause no apparent harm to others)?
The answer is simple: because if we don’t learn self-control, we will live our lives rehashing the guilt that comes with betraying the God we love.
No Christian enjoys that guilt, and every Christian has experienced that guilt.
So, why does Peter tell us to supplement our knowledge of God with self-control?
Peter does this because a simple way to hurt your knowledge of God, or your intimacy with him, is to give into your appetites. When we – as Christians – give into these appetites, we tend to cause more separation between us and God. Our guilt overtakes us, and because of this, we drift away from him.
Our prayers are less frequent, the time we spend with God dwindles, and ultimately, we lose our desire for him and for those around us due to our overwhelming guilt.
We don’t want this, yet we also want to experience freedom.
At some point, however, we have to choose on or the other. We cannot continue to follow Jesus hoping to live in the false freedom that is pursuing selfish pleasure while at the same time hope that we will experience the freedom he offers us and the intimacy for which we were created.
Methodist minister and theologian Joseph Benson wrote of self-control, “[self-control], indeed, includes the voluntary abstaining from all pleasure which does not lead to God.”
What pleasure in your life are you pursuing that does not lead directly to God?
Take 5 minutes (right now) to pray and ask God to reveal that pleasure.
Identifying this thing is the first step toward the perfect freedom that is self-control and leads to a richer and more satisfying knowledge of God.
This week, let’s practice what Benson asked the people in his day to practice, mainly, voluntarily abstaining from this pleasure.
Each day, you’ll want to write two journal entries. Once in the morning, and once in the evening.
In the morning, write which pleasure you are going to voluntarily refuse that day.
In the evening, write about whether or not you were successful in self-control.
By the end of the week, read back through all your entries to see what progress you might have made.