Last week my year-old grandson Finn finally got it figured out– he learned to walk. Understandably, there was a lot of excitement around here, although this certainly wasn’t our first grandchild accomplishment. Finn is the sixth of our grandchildren to accomplish this amazing feat (pun totally intended), but with all the cheering and clapping you would have thought it was the first time for us to see it happen! I’m truly amazed that it just never gets old.

But why it’s always such a cause for such joy, I’ll never understand, because just as I could have predicted, this new skill he’s acquired brought about a very clear change in his attitude almost immediately. Just last week, he was still insecure enough to perpetually crawl up to me and sign for “Please,” dependent on me to pick him up to provide him with a proper view of life going on around him. With his new-found independence, however, this morning he signed for me to put him down so he could explore all by himself. I watched as he toddled along the sidewalk, touching flowers, chasing bees, feeling the bricks under his little feet. Finn was experiencing the liberating sensation of being in control, and clearly, he loved it!

From this point on, I suspect the little guy is going to work pretty hard to maintain that euphoric sense of satisfaction in being the one who’s “in control.” His parents will likely find many new challenges now that Finn has tasted what it’s like to be the one calling the shots– which he will undoubtedly try to do regularly. Welcome to the human race, Finn!

All the way back since the Garden of Eden, that driving desire to be in control has consumed the heart of every man and woman on the earth. Some actually take pride in their ability to stay in control and not panic when the unpredictable hits, while still others are just not content unless they are not only in control, but are controlling everyone around them too. (Come on, admit it– you know people like that…)

“Control” is one of those love-hate ideas that infiltrates our whole world and our whole culture. We sure do love to be in control– but we sure do hate being controlled! What a confusing paradox! Even in the Bible, control is both a valued virtue, and a horrible sin. How can it be both? Our dilemma is to know and practice control that is Godly, yet repent and turn from sinful control. So– which is which?

Habitual control in the hands of someone who is self-seeking or strong-willed is just plain annoying. It’s easy to recognize. But sometimes, control sneaks its way into our lives, and is much harder to define or properly understand.

Someone once told me of how she found she had fallen headlong into a pattern of being controlled by her well-meaning husband during a very difficult time in her life. By making decisions for her when she was emotionally overwrought and unable to think, initially it had been his act of love for her, of protecting and caring for her in a tough time. Yet over time, as she healed from the trauma, she realized she was struggling to regain control after she began to feel the confines of someone else’s grip. Though it had started out as such a good thing, control had become a frustrating pattern in their relationship– something that needed to be broken.

In truth, there is only one legitimate form of control that we are called– in fact, commanded– to practice. Galatians 5:22 speaks of the virtuous aspect of “control” that demonstrates to others the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives: self-control. Some refer to it as self-government. It’s the ability to govern our own selves according to the standards and precepts set out for us in the Bible, giving glory to God by the way in which we live every detail of our lives.

Never are we called to control anyone other than ourselves. Never. That’s when it becomes sin.

We can administrate, organize, train, or lead others– but we are never to control them. Managers can control their schedules, but not their employees. Teachers can control their curriculum, but not the students. Congress can control the budget (though apparently they’re not very good at it) but not the people. Pastors cannot control; husbands cannot control, and neither can wives.

Even parents are not to control their children. They can control the course and direction their home will take, but they are never called to control their children– they’re commanded to teach and train them to become self-controlled individuals themselves. (Proverbs 22:6.)

I’ve seen adults who as children had been subjected to controlling parents (and you have too)– generally, they are the timid individuals who are too afraid to try anything for fear of failing. They’ve grown up being constantly overly-corrected, told how to comb their hair, what to wear, what to eat and what music they must listen to, micro-managed in every detail of their lives until they finally lose the ability to function without outside help.

Not even civil government has the right to control us. The responsibility of civil government is to do everything in its power to help the people exercise self-control. This is diametrically opposed to anarchy– “everyone doing what is right in his own eyes” is the chaotic result of having no standard of measurement with which an individual must control himself. When America rejected God’s standard of measurement, anarchy quickly resulted, and that’s what we’re seeing today. Everyone doing what’s right in his own eyes. But it won’t be truly made right until we get back to our source– the comprehensive standards of God’s Word by which we are to control ourselves.

A self-controlled nation begins with self-controlled individuals. It starts right here.

In 1654, Hugo Grotius wrote:

“He knows not how to rule a kingdom, that cannot manage a province;
Nor can he wield a province that cannot order a city;
Nor he order a city that knows not how to regulate a village;
Nor he a village that cannot guide a family,
Nor can that man govern well a family that knows not how to govern himself,
Neither can any govern himself unless his reason be lord,
Will and appetite her vassals. 
Nor can reason rule unless herself be ruled by God,
And wholly be obedient to Him.”

Okay, Finn– you’ve mastered the concept of being in control. Now for the rest of your life, you will learn to hone the skill into the fine art of self-control–and believe me, many, many others will benefit from it.


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