By Dr. Jerry Gillis
Restraint is not a particularly popular word in the English lexicon anymore. The word itself implies that there are impulses that must be held back or controlled, and that you can't always get what you want (to quote the Stones). That is not an enjoyable thought for a generation of people that have what they want whenever they want - at least to a degree.
While you could probably think of a hundred examples to every one I mention, the fact that we have what we want whenever we want can be seen readily:
* If you want food, pick up a phone and have them bring it to you.
* You need to buy a Christmas present? Just log on, buy it, and have them send it to you.
* No need to stop and ask for directions ever again (awesome! now I don't have to interact with humans!), just use your GPS.
* Need anything else? There's an app for that.
You have thought of a zillion more examples I'm sure. And all of those examples makes the word restraint seem so antiquated...so irrelevant....so....dial up.
But the ancient wisdom writer who penned Proverbs 23 knew that restraint was one of the most important principles that we could embrace. He realized (sooner or later) that having everything you want all the time doesn't yield the life you hoped to have - in fact, it steals it....sours it.
I don't often ask you to do this (or, for that matter, to do anything), but if you are reading this, would you be so kind to grab a Bible (some of you, like me, have the Bible on your phone - you can get it for free you know...just sayin'...). I want to show you the examples of restraint that the wisdom writer uses in Proverbs 23.
1. He teaches us to have restraint when we eat (v.1-3,6-8) - Wow, who ever said the Bible wasn't relevant? We live in a culture (America) that is growing alarmingly obese. I don't know all of the reasons, but I do know the common sense one - we eat way too much. We don't show any restraint at the table. Could it be that this is a product of having whatever we want whenever we want it? I don't think it is the sole reason, but I do think it is a major contributor.
2. He teaches us to have restraint in our pursuit of money (v.4-5) - Riches are temporary, not eternal. Riches can't satisfy the human soul, it can only temporarily appease the cravings of our sinful flesh (and the more we feed those cravings, the bigger the appetite becomes). It is a monster that can never be fed enough - it will just continue to consume. Restraint teaches us to know when we have enough, and to be content with it.
3. He teaches us to have restraint with our power (v.10) - Just because we can overwhelm someone with our power (our wealth, our position, our influence, our strength) doesn't mean we should. This is an issue of justice, and justice is something God takes seriously. God will defend the cause of the powerless, and He will be their justice (either now or later), so those who have power should use it to serve and love, not to domineer or promote selfish gain.
4. He teaches us to have restraint as a parent (v.13-18) - Part of restraint is discipline. As parents, we are instructed to discipline our children (in love, not in wrath). Some parents, through either laziness or a philosophy that doesn't worry about restraint, let their children run their lives (and seemingly the lives of everyone around them - they live on planet "ME"). Kid CEO's in the house is a bad philosophy according to the Bible - our role as parents is to restrain them in arenas that are harmful to them, and we foster that through loving discipline.
5. He teaches us to have restraint with strong drink (v.19-21,29-35) - If you read this (and I hope you are), you see a bleak picture of the person who drinks too much. It almost seems comical when we read it, but it is not meant as comedy. Alcohol is an escape for many people - they want to forget their problems or responsibilities.
The problem is, they create new problems for themselves and others. I watched my boys listen to some of the drunks at the Bills game- guys and gals who were making no sense, speaking jibberish, and acting ridiculous. It's a sad reminder of the way we try and fill the gaping hole in our heart.
6. He teaches us to have restraint sexually (v.26-28) - Though this is taught from a father to a son, it is applicable for men and women (or boys and girls as it were). Interesting, wouldn't you say, that a teaching from 3,000 years ago still has as much relevance today (if not more relevance). Sexuality outside the plan of God in marriage of a man and woman is a grenade with the pin pulled looking for a place to detinate. Enjoy all that comes with marriage - have a blast, be creative. But keep the fire in the fireplace because that is where it belongs - if the fire gets into the rest of the house you have huge trouble on your hands. Having all we want whenever we want it in this area is death to us.
There are a few others in this chapter I could draw out, but you get the sense of the chapter. I don't want to apologize for restraint. It's not a bad word. It's a word associated with wisdom. So, while you and I enjoy life, live it to the full and for the glory of God, and drink in the experiences that God gives to us, let's make sure that walking alongside us in this life is the beautiful lady called "Wisdom" who loves to whisper a word in our ear - Restraint.!
—Jerry Gillis is Lead Pastor of The Chapel at Crosspoint in Getzville.