In Detroit in the 1930s three young men picked on a man sitting at the back of a bus. Even with the continual taunting and provocation, the man sat silently. When the bus neared his stop, he stood up (at 6 feet 1.5 inches), handed them his business card, and departed. The card read: Joe Louis. Boxer. He was the world heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949, the longest single reign in boxing history. Louis was known to devastate his opponents with one punch.
Fortunately, those young men didn’t see a demonstration of this power. He had every right to defend his honor and may have been justified to “knock some sense” into the three knuckleheads. Yet he maintained his dignity and manifested a command of self in a more powerful way than if he had got up and flattened all three. It was his self-control that made him great.
It’s at unexpected moments, such as when sitting at the back of a bus, that attacks come flying at your “self.” Ego is bruised; your sense of justice is fired up; and the voice of knuckleheads, who didn’t exist two seconds ago, now hijack the body, mind, and heart. Here is a sample of the temptations that threaten my sense of self-control:
1. “You can’t do that to me. You really don’t know who you’re dealing with, do you?”
2. “I’m not responsible for this; it’s the ‘others’ who are causing this!”
3. “Everything must be my way. Why wasn’t I contacted or included? I didn’t approve.”
4. “This church/family/business would fall apart if I weren’t around.”
5. “This is beneath me. You are beneath me.”
6. “I’m going to hold on to this. I’m making a list (and checking it twice). I’m not going to forget or forgive.”
7. “I don’t care that you’re a talking donkey! I’m not going to listen to your counsel!”
Joe Louis had his three tormentors; I have these seven and, undoubtably, more. And before you judge, know that if you are shocked at one, or all of these, it may be because those same temptations have hijacked you, too.
In Philippians 2, Paul points to the greatest Champion in history, who “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, . . . and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:7, 8).
Though taunted and provoked, He remained silent and handed over a card that read: Jesus Christ. Creator, Savior, and Lord. Though He could devastate humanity with His pinky toe, His love restrained Him. Though warranted to use His divinity to combat any personal injustices, He maintained His dignity in the most profound way. The Commander Supreme of heaven became the carpenter servant of Nazareth and submitted Himself to the will of the Father. It was His loving self-control that made Him absolutely worthy of worship. In an age of being easily triggered, tempted, or tired, we are in awe of truly great, influential people who manifest self-control under provocation, temptation, and chaos. The next time you want to react to three knuckleheads, think of Christ’s withholding of divine self for humanity’s good. This precious fruit of the Spirit causes us to surrender our rights, points to total obedience, sparks the willingness to die to self, and epitomizes the beauty of true character. Ultimately, self-control reflects the humble character of Jesus, which forgives us for our past punches and offers peaceful power to pull our punches. He offers us His business card so that we don’t have to muster up ours.