September 10, 2013
“Those who restrain desire do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.” William Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”
There is a very intriguing passage in the book of Acts, (the historical account of the early church that Jesus birthed before He ascended to heaven), which informs us that the apostle Paul had an audience with a government ruler named Felix toward the end of his life. Here is what Doctor Luke – the author of the book of Acts says about Paul’s conversation with Felix, “But as he was discussing righteousness, self control and the judgment to come Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”
Now if you had an audience with a government leader, why would you discuss self control with him? Felix was not a Christian, nor a disciple of Jesus Christ. Well here’s my take on that and its relevance for us.
Paul knew that God loves cities and nations and sees them as an entity – whose overall health affects everyone in the given city or nation. Not only that – Paul also knew God was going to judge cities and nations as an entity (along with his judgment of individuals).
God ordained government leaders to protect and to provide basic services for communities and cities to function (see Romans 13:1-4). Government leaders have a huge influence over the general welfare and prosperity and values (or lack of) of the citizens/peoples of these cities and nations. Perhaps you have heard the saying regarding leadership, “Whatever is at the top trickles down.” The worldview, values, attitudes and character of a government official or any leader in society have a definite impact (positively or negatively) on those they serve/lead.
Because the problems in any community or city or nation today are very complex and often overwhelming – the focus and attention and diligence of the said gov’t official is a must. When he or she does not exercise self control in their personal lives, it has a huge effect on their service and performance, and that has a huge effect – especially on the marginal in our societies.
For instance, when Bill Clinton chose to get sexually involved with one of the white house interns named Monica Lewinsky during his first presidential term, and that news leaked out to the public, damage control became his obsession for many months after that. Some have even postured that one possible reason he did not order the killing of Osama Bin Laden when he had multiple opportunities to do so was because he was so distracted with the Lewinsky affair. The consequences that some believe at least partially resulted from that lack of action will again be mourned here in our nation this coming Wednesday.
I was in a conference in Dallas this last week wherein a very diverse gathering of disciples of Jesus Christ (economists, accountants, politicians, educators, health workers, clergy, businessmen, etc.,) gathered to discuss the very probable coming implosion of the United States in the next decade or so due to its refusal to deal with its astronomical debt problem (though it could be argued that that is just a symptom of more root issues).
Politicians for some decades now have known we were headed for a very dangerous fiscal cliff, but because they have never developed self control (not to mention courage, integrity and other important characteristics) they just continue to spend as if there is no tomorrow. And of course they do not want to discuss the gravity of this situation because fear adversely affects financial markets, etc. (I realize there are exceptions to this trend, though not nearly enough).
Because of this out of control spending, government services in our communities and cities that more and more people have grown dependent upon, are going to sooner or later have to be discontinued (at least partially) due to lack of funding. As that happens the church must be ready to step in and help in any way possible. And the good news is there are some wonderful things going on in various cities in our nation due to men and women who obey the greatest commandments (see Luke 10:27), and who walk in self control, and thus have time and energy and focus for solving real problems.
While our gov’t is quickly running out of money (actually it ran out of money a long time ago), God has plenty of it. The question is: Who can He entrust it to? Or asked in another way, where are the Daniels and Josephs who can come alongside gov’t leaders or business leaders, and not be tempted or taken up with their power and influence and wealth, and selflessly serve them, and speak truth to them – backed up by a lifestyle that among other things is characterized by self control?
From all that I have read and learned from others over the years, most government leaders or business leaders or leaders in education know few people that they can truly trust – who will not be enamored with their stuff – but who will selflessly, honestly and faithfully serve and support them with no strings attached. Self control enables we disciples of Jesus to be those kinds of people. Self control enables us to have access to all kinds of things ( in Joseph’s case – even Potiphar’s beautiful, available wife – see Genesis ch. 39) but not abuse that access, and thus be able to focus, concentrate, and produce 24/7.
The good news in the kingdom of God is self control comes with a relationship with the King, and unlike the kingdoms of the world – every citizen of the kingdom of God can have relationship with the King of this kingdom. The apostle Paul says self control is a “fruit of the Spirit” in his letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 5:22,23). As we learn to depend on Him (the Holy Spirit) and submit to Him and follow His lead and value the things He values, we find ourselves developing more and more the ability to say no to the things we need to say no to, and yes to the things we need to say yes to. Few characteristics are more desperately needy in our day.
I close with wisdom from good ole Benjamin – “Educate your children to self-control, to the habit of holding passion and prejudice and evil tendencies subject to an upright and reasoning will, and you have done much to abolish misery from their future and crimes from society.” Benjamin Franklin