At Work & Theology 101

Self-Control in the Workplace

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In the age of social media, few qualities are more important than self-control. At our fingertips we have the ability to say anything we want to anyone we want anywhere in the world. Within seconds, we can type a message and someone on the other side of the world can read it instantaneously (or at worst within seconds). This level of communication is a relatively new phenomenon as individuals did not have the same capability to communicate to the world through most of human history. The age of technology has brought unparalleled opportunities for communication, and it is imperative that we as Christians demonstrate unparalleled self-control as we navigate a tech-driven society.

We are in a series on the application of the fruit of the Spirit in the workplace, and this final installment focuses on the characteristic of self-control. In Galatians 5:22-23, the Apostle Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . .” (ESV). Self-control in this context is defined as the ability to take authority over our thoughts, words, and actions. Self-control is a characteristic of the fruit of the Spirit, and our ability to control our thoughts, words, and actions is hinged to our willingness to invite the Spirit’s presence into our daily lives.  

The Power of Our Words

As an example, our words can be controlled for good or can be unleashed for destruction. Self-control is the ability to control our words even when someone else cannot control theirs. James provides a great reminder of the power of the tongue when he writes, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (Jam. 3:6). A lack of control over our words will not only harm us, but it will harm those with whom we live life. 

As Christians, the inability to control what we say can bring disunity in the body of Christ, and this is the very thing Jesus prayed against in John 17:11. In the workplace, a loose tongue can push colleagues apart which disrupts the efficiency of our work. Self-control allows us to remain on task, but a lack of control causes our mission to drift. We have all seen and heard of countless examples where the mission of a business, sports team, or ministry was derailed because of a lack of self-control among its members. As Christians, we are called to control our thoughts, words, and deeds, and this is accomplished when we invite the Spirit’s presence into our daily lives.      

In 2018, Dr. Ed Stetzer, who is the current dean of the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at Wheaton College, wrote a book entitled, Christians in the Age of Outrage. It is true we should not judge a book by its cover, but this book communicates a clear message with its cover art. Pictured is a sheep with a wolf’s mouth, and this picture can be a metaphor of many Christians “in the age of outrage.” Consumed by anger, technology is often used as a means for lashing out at people, and this can cause significant problems for our Christian testimony if we are the ones lashing out.  

In describing this “age of outrage,” Stetzer writes, “One of the most startling and disconcerting features of our age is how outrage tends to build, slowly mounting into wave and counter-wave and counter-counter-wave that consume everything in their path” (Stetzer, 40). We have all seen this on our social media platforms, but it is also possible we have seen this in our workplaces. The lack of self-control in a workplace can prevent an entire organization’s mission from being accomplished. As Christian leaders in the workplace, we are called to demonstrate self-control that transcends and transforms the environments we work in. When a colleague lacks self-control, that is an opportunity to invite the Holy Spirit’s presence into that situation so we can bring reconciliation.

A Self-Control Self-Assessment

As we conclude this series on the application of the fruit of the Spirit in the workplace, it is important to assess how well we are controlling our thoughts, words, and deeds at work. We can conduct a self-assessment by asking ourselves several questions. 

First, what is consuming my thoughts at work? Is my focus on something that honors the Lord, or is it on selfish ambitions? The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that we are to do everything, including our work, for God’s glory, and glorifying God begins with making Him lord over our thought lives.

Second, are my words giving life or death at work? We all have moments where we speak too soon, and when we do, we should repent and ask forgiveness. Simultaneously, if we are making a habit of tearing people down with our words, we need to go back to the first question and revisit our thought life. Then, we need to invite the Spirit’s presence into our communication by asking the Holy Spirit to direct what we say. As the Psalmist says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:14). May this be our prayer too.

Lastly, are our actions at work worthy of Christ? We can talk a good game, but if we are doing things that do not honor God or our colleagues, we are lacking self-control. Like our words, taking control over our actions begins with our thought-life. However, self-control is more than trying not to sin. Self-control involves being a good steward of our abilities so we can serve those around us. If we can meet the needs of a colleague, then we need to use the resources God has given us to serve them well, and self-control positions us to exhibit the love of Christ by preferring others over ourselves. As we invite the Holy Spirit’s presence into our work, we will produce the fruit of the Spirit which “is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . .” 

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