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What does it mean to exercise self-control (1 Corinthians 7:9)?

exercise self-control

Self-control is encouraged in the Bible and is listed as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). Exercising self-control essentially entails learning to say “No” to our desires when indulging them would be inappropriate and contrary to God’s design. The need for self-control encompasses both our sinful inclinations and legitimate desires. For instance, sexual desire is a legitimate urge, being part of God’s inherently good creation; however, it must be restrained unless it can be expressed within proper boundaries. In contrast, the desire to steal is an illegitimate urge and is inherently wrong. In both cases, self-control is essential.

Interestingly, while modern culture generally applauds self-control in many aspects of life, it often fails to do so in the context of sexual activity among unmarried adults. The prevailing notion is that, since our sexuality is an integral part of our identity, we need not exercise restraint unless it ventures into illegal territory. However, disregarding God’s boundaries always leads to negative consequences (see Hebrews 13:4). In 1 Corinthians 7:9, Paul says regarding unmarried individuals, “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” The two biblical options for the unmarried are 1) get married or 2) exercise self-control. Self-control is important in matters of sexuality.

Ironically, contemporary culture is increasingly fixated with sex but rather dismissive of marriage. Recent statistics reveal that “2 in 5 adults think marriage is an outdated tradition” (, accessed 4/29/24). With divorces being more newsworthy than good marriages, the situation looks bleak. However, marriage is God’s idea (Genesis 2:24). While some individuals possess the gift of celibacy, our sexual desires inherently point toward a fulfilling covenantal marriage. Marriage is not a quick fix for sexual immorality, but it remains the appropriate context for the expression of our sexuality.

Even in marriage, the virtue of self-control must not be denied. Adultery is a grave sin, often stemming from a lack of self-control. Thus, while Paul acknowledges the challenges of practicing self-control, it remains a fruit that manifests in our lives as we strive to please the Spirit rather than succumbing to our sinful nature.

Exercising self-control yields numerous benefits, not only for the self-controlled person but also for society at large. This reinforces the idea that God’s commandments are for our well-being. Of course, our motivation for exercising self-control isn’t solely based on benefits accrued; it is our goal to become more like Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Everyone, regardless of marital status or life circumstances, must learn self-control. “The grace of God . . . that offers salvation to all people . . . teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11–12).

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What does it mean to exercise self-control (1 Corinthians 7:9)?
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This page last updated: May 21, 2024