Message 8: A "Sophron" State of Mind

Sept. 30, 2017 Mary Kassian

Session Transcript

Mary Kassian: Look at this . . . mmm. (laughter) If you are watching TV, and I put a big bowl of chips in front of you, and I said to you, “Bet you can’t eat just one!” Do you think you would be able to stop munching after just one chip?

That slogan: “Bet you can’t eat just one!” was one of the longest running ads in television history. The series of potato chip commercials launched in the mid-60s, and the first one featured a split screen of a well-known actor and then the actor dressed up as the devil.

So the devil—the red-horned, pointy-tailed demon—tempts the look-alike with an open bag of chips. “Bet you can’t eat just one!” And after the first bite, the actor grabs the chips out of the devil’s hands and wolfs the rest of them down. They are irresistible. No one can eat just one.

Over the past fifty years, we’ve seen a parade of actors and athletes and well-known celebrities in the commercials. All of them tried to stop after eating one, but—guess what? They couldn’t! The urge for another chip was so strong that they couldn’t resist.

It’s a clever slogan. And I think the reason it’s had such a successful run is that it’s true. It’s hard to eat just one. It’s tough to eat one. You open the bag, and you tell yourself, “Oh, I’m just going to have a few.” And before you know it, you’ve eaten them all. Has that ever happened to you?

Chips aren’t really my thing. But ice cream? Boy! Give me some ice cream, and . . . yes! It happened to me the other week. It was gone before I knew it!

It’s not just food that’s difficult to resist. It’s hard to put on the brakes in other areas of our lives as well—like anger or lust, resentment, self-pity, addiction, overspending, self-indulgence, procrastination. The problem isn’t that we don’t know that these things are bad for us. We know that they are. The challenge is having the self-control to do what we know we ought to do.

Paul tells Titus in chapter 2, verses 4 and 5, that “older women are to train the young women to be self-controlled.”

Now, the quality of self-control isn’t just for women. It’s mentioned in the book of Titus for elders and for older men and for younger men. Everybody needs self-control.

But I think there are aspects of self-control that a woman who’s been there, done that, can teach another woman more effectively than a man.

  • For example: How to exercise self-control at “that time of the month.”
  • Or during those years of exhaustion—nursing babies and carrying for toddlers.
  • Or when our hormones are completely rewiring our emotional systems.

As a woman, we can help each other. As women, we can help each other handle the challenges of life from a woman’s point of view. A girlfriend can tell you, “Honey, that’s just your hormones talking.” Can you imagine if your husband tried to tell you that? (laughter)

Self-control isn’t exclusive to womanhood, but it does have a unique gender-specific application. And that’s why Paul instructed older women to teach the younger women this very important trait.

Now, self-control is the “I will” power to say "yes" to what’s good and the “I won’t” power to say "no" to what’s bad. I can’t claim to have arrived. Self-control is a battle for me as I’m sure it is for you. There are some areas in my life—exercise, for example—where I constantly take two steps forward and a step-and-a-half back, sometimes three steps back.

  • When we know what we ought to do but don’t do it, we lack self-control.
  • When we’ve had more than enough to eat, but we have another serving anyhow, we lack self-control.
  • When we stay up late watching TV when we know we have to be up early the next morning, we lack self-control.
  • When we procrastinate in paying our bills and get slapped with late penalties, we lack self-control.
  • When we spend, spend, spend and never save, we lack self-control.
  • When we can spare hours for social media but not a minute for reading our Bible, we lack self-control.
  • When our emotions are controlled by circumstances, we lack self-control.
  • When we spend rashly without thinking, we lack self-control.
  • When we’re big on intent and small on follow-through, we lack self-control.

Every new year scores of people make resolutions to exercise greater self-control, but a staggering 92% of resolutions are never kept; 80% fail in less than three weeks. People just can’t seem to do what they want to do.

Self-help books coach us to come up with better strategies to increase our willpower and increase the odds of our success, but this doesn’t generally address the underlying problem.

According to the Bible, self-control is more of a mind and a heart issue than a matter of personal management.

Self-control is a lifelong challenge and a lifelong pursuit, and thankfully, we can, through God’s power, experience significant progress and victory in this area of our lives.

The Greek word for self-control is sophron, and the definition is hard to capture in just one English word. The first part of the word, so, means "safe or sound." The second part, phren, means" mind," which likely comes from an ancient Greek word, phreo, "to reign in or to curb."

Essentially, sophron means "having a safe, sound, reined-in mind." Sophron is a person who acts like they’re in their right mind, spiritually speaking. It’s an adjective. It describes who we are more than it describes what we do.

Sophron enables us to have self-controlled behavior, but it all starts with a sound and self-controlled, reigned-in mind.

Women, let me tell you that in your battle against sin, the victory will be won or lost on the battleground of your minds.

It’s interesting to me that the modern Greek uses the word phrena for car brakes. It’s also interesting that the word for hand brake in Spanish is—what?—phrena demano. The word for brake in these modern languages comes from the same root as that second syllable of sophron. The concept I want you to remember and to grasp is that self-control involves putting on the brakes.

Brake failures are so dangerous. Just recently, sixteen middle school children were on a school field trip. They were all on a swim team. They suffered injuries and were all taken to the hospital when their bus experienced brake failure and turned over just down the road from here.

Without self-control, we have little or no defense against sin and temptation. And just like when brakes fail on a vehicle, there’s nothing to prevent an impending disaster—fractured relationships, affairs, broken marriages, abortions, STDs, pornography, addictions, debts, eating disorders.

I hear so many heartbreaking stories from women in messy, difficult situations. Often it’s because they’ve had some sort of brake failure in their lives. Unlike the crash of the school kids and the bus, the crashes in our lives generally aren’t caused by a one-time big brake failure. More often, they’re the result of a series of small failures along the way—when we failed to put on the brakes in the little things.

A relationship just doesn’t grow cold overnight. It happens gradually. The couple fails to put on the brakes with their attitudes, with their words, with their actions, and hundreds of small, seemingly insignificant failures accumulate to sour the relationship and make it ugly. And often the couple can’t even identify where it was that they got off track.

A woman doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide, “Oh, I think I’ll have an affair today.” No. The affair happens when day after day she fails to put on the brakes with her thoughts and her fantasies and sexual boundaries. It’s only after she’s made a wreck of her life that she asks herself, “What was I thinking?”

Have you ever gotten yourself into a predicament and afterwards asked, “What was I thinking?” Well, the problem was you weren’t thinking, or at least you weren’t thinking correctly.

Self-control flies over the window when we put our brains in park and we let our emotions drive us around.

The prerequisite for right living is right thinking—sound thinking that’s based on sound doctrine.

Sometimes we focus too much on trying to change the behavior when we don’t think about what the thinking is that caused that behavior in the first place. We need to stop and go back and find out and explore that thinking. It would be very helpful to enable us to address the behavior. It’s much easier to fix the “what” if we understand the “why.”

Why did you lash out at your mother? Well, because she made a cutting, sarcastic comment. No. What happened is that the situation revealed your unsound thinking. You think you have the right to retaliate for past hurts and return tit for tat. You do not have a sophron state of mind.

Why did you scream at your child? Well, because he drew a mural on the wall with a permanent marker. No. What happened is that the situation revealed your unsound thinking. You think life should be easy. You blame fatigue and stress for your over-reaction. You blame your child for the way you react to him. You do not have a sophron state of mind.

Why did you blow your budget and buy yet another pair of shoes? Well, because they were so cute, and they were on sale—60% off—and they were calling my name! (laughter) No. What happened is that the situation revealed your unsound thinking. You feel discontent, entitled, and you think that indulging is better than holding out You do not have a sophron state of mind.

Do you see how wrong thinking leads to wrong behavior? Your behavior would have probably been a lot different in those situations if you had just taken a moment to correct your thinking with truth of the Word of God—just a moment to check if your thinking was right.

Someone says something that aggravates you. If you have a sophron state of mind, you might have Ephesians 4:29 on the tip of your tongue: “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” If that was on my mind, my reaction would likely be quite different

Gaining self-control isn’t easy. It’s a lifelong pursuit. But thankfully God hasn’t left us to acquire it by sheer willpower or determination.

As Paul makes clear in Titus, a sophron mindset is initiated, produced, and enabled by God’s Spirit and His grace. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11–12).

Aren’t you glad that this directive to develop self-control is wrapped up in an abundance of grace? I am! I have difficulty resisting temptation. So do you. Sometimes we start, and we just can’t put the brakes on. We just can’t put the brakes on with our behavior.

Well, this directive to develop self-control isn’t a stick to beat you over the head and to make you feel guilty and to make you feel condemned for your failures. You know what this is? This is a promise, a beautiful promise that the grace of God is sufficient, and the grace of God trains us, and the grace of God teaches us.

I don’t need to develop more self-control. I need more of Jesus! I need to lean into Him and experience the fullness of His grace in my life, to think the way that He thinks, to be in His Word, to have a sophron mind. And the promise is that the fruit of the Spirit is self-control, and that He has given us everything that we need for life and godliness through Jesus.

The brakes on my mountain bike were worn, but I didn’t have time to get them replaced before we left for the mountains. Biking up and down steep hills, taking in the spectacular view and the fresh mountain air of the Canadian Rockies is something my husband and I love to do each summer.

The brakes weren’t much of an issue when I was riding on pavement. I just had to squeeze a little bit harder to make my bike slow down. But when we went off road, down a back-country trail, I really started to notice the deficiency.

I hardly need to tell you what happened. You can see it coming. My brakes weren’t strong enough, and I ended up going faster and faster, and I lost control of my bike and smashed into a tree. The front of my bike took the impact. I flew over the handle bars, narrowly missed hitting the tree with my head. It took a long time for all those scrapes and bruises to heal. I have a scar on my leg to this day.

How foolish of me to think that I could safely navigate that trail without properly functioning brakes.

Ladies, some of you are living with bumps and bruises and scars because of the brake failures in your life. The good news is that the grace of God will come and flood your spirit, and the grace of God will help you live a self-controlled life. It helps you put the brakes on so that you can say yes to the good and no to the bad. Without sophron, I bet you can’t, but with sophron, I bet you can. Amen.