#356 Timothy: Learning Self-Control

August 23, 2023

As he developed his leadership capacity one of the areas that Timothy needed to learn was the discipline of self-control. Consider these instructions from Paul to the young leader:  

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy (2 Timothy 1:3–4, NIV).

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:25–26).

Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly (2 Timothy 2:16).

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives tales; rather, train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4:7).

These passages reveal three areas in which Timothy learned self-control.

Timothy learned to control his temper.  

Paul remembers Timothy’s tears and urges him to instruct “gently” when he would be tempted to lash out in anger.  Sorrow and anger are two of the many emotions that every leader faces. Paul does not rebuke Timothy for these emotions, but tenderly encourages self-control, one of the fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23). Anger is perhaps one of the most potentially destructive emotions for leaders. No one wants to follow a leader who cannot control their temper and a lack of self-control in this area has hindered the effectiveness of many leaders.   A temper out of control is a leadership nightmare.

But serving leaders both acknowledge and control their emotions. They are not afraid to reveal their tears and they learn to keep their anger from being destructive.  They acknowledge that they can’t serve others when they lose their temper.  

Timothy learned to control his tongue.   

We have already observed Paul’s instruction for Timothy to instruct his opponents “gently”. Paul recognized that it requires great self-control to speak gently when there is direct opposition! The tongue often verbally expresses the anger in the heart and will not lead to the repentance encouraged by a gentle tongue. Paul also warns Timothy against “godless chatter….godless myths and old wives tales..” He is referring broadly to speech that is not helpful. While words spoken in anger are obviously harmful, other speech is simply not helpful and Paul cautions Timothy to control his tongue so as to avoid this kind of speech. Many leaders have tongues that are as unpredictable as the weather and are more harmful than helpful. But serving leaders seek to control what comes out of their mouths so that it is never harmful and always helpful.

Timothy learned to control his time.   

Part of Paul’s instruction to Timothy to “avoid godless chatter” and “old wives tales” is a direct challenge for him to use his time well. Here and in other places Paul urged Timothy to be diligent in focusing his time and attention to the things that matter and to avoid distractions. In some cases Paul urged Timothy to “Come quickly” while at other times not to be “hasty” (see 1 Timothy 5:22 and 2 Timothy 4:9). Timothy had to learn to manage his time well. If these instructions were given today we might hear Paul say, “Don’t waste your time on useless conversations and following the latest controversies on social media!” Many leaders allow the tyranny of the urgent to keep them from the most effective use of their time. Serving leaders learn to control their schedule so that they are doing the things that best bring value to those they serve.

For further reflection and discussion:

  • Which of these three areas (temper, tongue and time) are most difficult for me to control right now? Reflect on the question below for that area:

*Temper. When have I lost my temper in leadership and how did it impact my influence with others?

*Tongue. In what way do I use my tongue in ways that are not helpful for those I lead? What do I need to do to more fully allow God to help me develop self-control in this area?

*Time. What are my greatest time wasters? What do I need to do to develop greater self-control in this area?

  • Reflect on those you lead. How do I encourage them to develop control of themselves that goes far beyond obeying external instructions? Which of these three areas should I be talking about with my key leaders?        
  • In addition to the verses we used in this issue, consider the following: 1 Timothy 5:22; 2 Timothy 2:4; 4:2, 9-12, 21. What additional insights do you find from these verses about how Timothy learned self-control?           

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

In the next issue, we’ll look at how Timothy became a role model to others.