(June 4, 1989)
Self-discipline has been on my mind lately but I’m discovering this matter requires more than mere thought. (By the way, if you have a problem in this area, you may not want to read on!) This week I learned that action instead of reflection would have been money in my pocket. Instead, my dentist got it.
One night I dove recklessly into a rather large bowl of popcorn - when my conscience said, “...a small one is enough.” When I was nearly to the bottom, that same conscience whispered, “...you’re going to chip a tooth.” Again, I didn’t listen. Sure enough, an unpopped kernel did me in. A few dollars later and a little wiser? I hope so.
Self-discipline means, among other things, listening to that inner voice. It may only be common sense talking, yet the exercise of a little common sense never hurt anyone.
That inner voice could also be God’s Holy Spirit. He speaks quietly in my mind too, even about things like eating too much popcorn. Surprised? Well, there aren’t exactly any verses in the Bible that mention popcorn but there are principles that cover inner attitudes and outward behavior.
The verse that got me was this: “All things are lawful unto me, (Paul the apostle writing to some selfish Christians in Corinth) but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”
Now of course Paul didn’t mean we could do ANYTHING and say it is lawful. He was talking about anything that is not forbidden by God. While some might think scripture is a whole list of things we can’t do, anyone who reads it will realize after all the “thou shalt nots” are considered, there are a great many activities that are quite all right.
In the context of this verse (1 Corinthians 6:12) Paul was referring to quite ordinary physical appetites: food and drink. He made it clear that it’s okay to eat any food, but be careful that someone else is not offended by what you do. Same with beverages.
We could add all sorts of things to the “lawful list” — anything from bird watching to knitting an afghan, but the point Paul was trying to make is that even the unforbidden is not entirely wide-open to us.
Just as sinful desires and actions can control our lives, so can ordinary, normally not-sinful desires and actions. God’s intention is that we be under His lordship, not governed by our appetites or by anything else.
So what is the big deal about a few extra handfuls of popcorn? Just this: eating, drinking and many other “okay” activities can easily slide over the line, running interference with the Holy Spirit. He is leading me into moderation and greater self-control in ALL areas of my life. I’m supposed to listen, and in this case, save my teeth.
Besides, my on-going ability (or lack of it) to say “no” to indulgence in anything I CAN have, closely parallels my ability to say “no” to the temptations concerning things I OUGHT NOT have. In other words, discipline in the freebies strengthens discipline in the forbidden.
It boils down to this: too much popcorn, an extra slice of pie, that extra piece of chocolate cake that I don’t need does more to my life than chip my teeth or add a few extra calories. Such indulgence quickly translates itself into other undisciplined behavior, such as saying unkind words or holding grudges or being unforgiving towards other people — and they don’t need that either.
So the next time someone offers me a big bowl of popcorn, unless they can be convinced to put a cup or two in a smaller dish, I think I’ll pass.