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(120) Inscription 25: Samson's Self-Control Problem

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Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds

Part 25: Samson’s Self-Control Problem

Judges 13-16

July 4, 2010




Scripture reading: Romans 6:11-14 (Marilyn)


4th of July, Mélodie going home.

Intro: Follow your heart?

Q   Do you talk to your TV?

I do – I provide running commentary and loud expressions of dissent. It’s like watching with the director’s commentary.

This last week we were watching “Glee.” One of the key plots (as of episode 13) is a blooming romance between Will Schuester (who’s married to dysfunctional Terri) and Emma. 

·         I don’t know what happens next because that’s the last DVD and I am not paying $10 for Hulu!

It highlights my biggest pet peeves, this common theme in the majority of Hollywood romances:

·         Follow your ________! 

What a load of bull! What makes us think our heart is a reliable guide? Our hearts represents our passions and desires, why should we trust that?

Q   Have you ever seen a person suffer from following their heart when it told them date the bad boy or have an affair?

Q   Have you ever suffered from following your heart?

·         If I followed my heart and did everything I felt, I’d be a morbidly obese alcoholic, divorced, with lots of kids.

Just once I would like to see a realistic movie with a touching “follow your heart” thing (with a song) and then their heart leads them into a world of hurt.

Samson: The Movie

We could make that movie about Samson, the most prominent of the Judges, but you’d have to be sneaky about it:

Cast him as an insanely talented musician who takes the industry by storm, but whose life is a disaster because of broken relationships, addictions, a raging temper, and revenge.

·         Reading Samson’s story is like watching a train wreck – a man lead by his passions down a very destructive path.

Today, we will study his train wreck and hopefully learn how to avoid our own!

Promising start

Samson started off as the most promising judge:

Judges 13:2-5  A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was sterile and remained childless.  3 The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, “You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son.  4 Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean,  5 because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

To my knowledge, he is one of only 4 people to have an angel announce his birth, the other four being Isaac, John the Baptist, and Jesus. You kinda expect great things from this guy.

This guy has got the goods, massive strength undefeatable. But he has got one massive, fatal character flaw that renders everything all but useless: He completely lacks self-control.

·         We wants what he wants, when he wants it, and if he doesn’t get it, someone’s gonna get hurt.

Judges 14:1-3  Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman.  2 When he returned, he said to his father and mother, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.”  3 His father and mother replied, “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me. She’s the right one for me.”

Never mind that the Philistines are the enemy, they’re oppressing his people. Never mind that he is an Israelite and was supposed to only marry in the faith. He wanted her.

As I was studying Samson, I was reminded of a proverb:

Proverbs 25:28 Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.

Walls were a vital part of cities in that day. If you didn’t have walls, even a small band could come invade. But with walls you could hold off even a major army for a couple of months.

Walls protected you and kept the enemy out. The proverb means that without walls you any desire or thought can come in any take you over. Without self-control you are weak and vulnerable.

·         Self-control is simply the ability to master your own desires and passions (i.e. heart), and he lacked that completely.

You have two choicesmaster your passions or they will master you. That’s it. You control them or they control you.

The Rider and the Elephant

I am not saying remove your passions. Self-control does not mean “ignore your heart.” God gave us emotions and desires. He wants us to enjoy them, he wants us to desire him with them.

·         The point is we need to control our passions and emotions.

Imagine an elephant and rider: The rider represents our reason and will, the elephant represents our passions and heart.

The elephant has tremendous power and you can get a lot more done with one. But it needs direction and motivation to go the right direction. Our reason and will provide that.

·         Self-control is the ability to master and guide the heart.

Q   Are you guiding your elephant or being drug behind him?

Imagine how different Samson’s life would have been if is controlled himself. Imagine how different his story would have been if he had his power combined with Joseph’s integrity.

Q   How different would your life be if you were in control?

Off a cliff

But I need to stop here: This is not a self-help sermon about how you can live better sermon.

We can use self-control to lose five pounds, save for a new car, or keep your house tidy, but then we have completely missed the point and put the cart in front of the horse (or elephant).

·         Self-control, by itself, is useless.

Self-control is a means to an end. You might be steering that elephant with perfect control, but it won’t matter if you are steering him off of a cliff.

Self-control is all about steering your passions for the glory of God. It’s not about denying your passions for its own sake, but denying them to find something even better.


Furthermore, as I talk about self-control, the point is not “Make yourself better”:

The key point of Christianity is both the elephant and the rider are headed in the wrong direction; sin reigns in our intellect and passions. We need a new heart.

·         We are incapable of doing this on our own, we need God’s grace and the Holy Spirit in us.

A man out of control

Let hit a little closer to home and look at three specific self-control problems that we share with Samson:

1. Uncontrolled Appetite

Remember how Samson was supposed to be as a Nazirite? That meant he was not supposed to 1) touch any grape product, 2) eat anything unclean, 3) drink any alcohol, or 4) cut his hair.

Judges 14:5-10  5 ¶ Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him.

He is not supposed to so much as touch a grape, what is he doing around a vineyard? One commentator suggested that the lion wsa God’s not so subtle reminder.

 6 The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done.  7 Then he went down and talked with the woman, and he liked her.  8 Some time later, when he went back to marry her, he turned aside to look at the lion’s carcass. In it was a swarm of bees and some honey,  9 which he scooped out with his hands and ate as he went along. When he rejoined his parents, he gave them some, and they too ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the lion’s carcass.

This isn’t just gross, it is unclean. By eating something that was in contact with a carcass, he was violating his Nazirite vows, and he knew it.

  10 ¶ Now his father went down to see the woman. And Samson made a feast there, as was customary for bridegrooms.

The word for feast literally means “drink” – he’s basically holding a kegger.

We’ve only just met Samson and he’s already violated three of the four conditions of being a Nazirite. What’s the only one left? His hair – interesting. I wonder how that will play out.

Q   Who’s running this show, Samson or his elephant?

His appetite was his master. It had more power over him than God. He valued that honey and wine more than his calling. He had been set apart from birth, but he didn’t care.

Unhealthy obsession

Let’s get personal here:

Q   Does your appetite control you or do you control it?

I love food, I am controlled by food. Set some food in front of me, and I will eat is, regardless of how hungry I am.

·         Joke of the pastor and peanuts – I’m that guy.

But I am not alone. America is obsessed with food. Food surrounds us and dominates our life. We have one of the highest obesity rate in the world.

Q   Let’s broaden it: Do you control your appetite, for food, coffee, chocolate, beer, etc, or does it control you?

·         I know of a person that spent $25,000 on surgery, but stayed obese by eating 24/7 – this being mastered by food.

It’s not that eating is bad, or enjoying it is bad, it is a gift from God that is to be enjoyed with thankfulness (see 1 Tim. 4:3-4). The problem is when your appetite controls you.

Philippians 3:19-20   19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.  20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ...

·         Either Jesus is your God or your stomach is.

Healthy obsession

But don’t congratulate yourself if you are in perfect shape. In our culture, health is just as much a god as food – they both are about worship our bodies. We become obsessed with:

·         The perfect weight – anorexia means you’re being controlled by not eating.

·         Healthy eatingveganism is a new religion.

·         Exercise (I am going to play it safe and not exercise).

Fasting for control

Q   What controls you – eating, drinking, not eating, exercise?

Here’s how you can find out if something is controlling you – how do you respond if you are deprived of it?

It can be as simple as a cup of tea in the morning – if you are really “put out” by not getting it, then it controls you (illustration: the Sauna).

Q   What can you do about it?

I think you know the answer, you just don’t want to hear it: go without – fasting.

·         I’ve started fasting until dinner once a week and it has had an unintended effect of making me less obsessed with food.

As you look at your appetites and how they control you, serious consider fasting from it for a while. I am serious. Yes you can do it, you won’t die.

2. Uncontrolled Tongue

Samson also had a problem controlling his tongue:

Judges 14:11-14  11 When he appeared, he was given thirty companions.  12 “Let me tell you a riddle,” Samson said to them. “If you can give me the answer within the seven days of the feast, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes.  13 If you can’t tell me the answer, you must give me thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes.” “Tell us your riddle,” they said. “Let’s hear it.”  14 He replied, “Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.” For three days they could not give the answer.

Was that really a good idea? He is on their territory. His cockiness cannot end well.

They can’t figure out the riddle, so they threaten his wife with death, she gets the answer, and tell them. When they answer his riddle, he gets mad, goes to the next town over and kills 30 guys and steals their clothes, and things go down from there.

We do not need the Bible to tell us that our tongue gets us into a lot of trouble, but it has a lot to say about the subject. This is one of my favorite ones:

Proverbs 10:19   19 When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

When we talk a lot, something ungodly will likely come out. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” and our heart is full of pride, bitterness, and more, so it’s no surprise.

A vital aspect of selfcontrol and godliness in general is controlling your tongue.

Think again of the elephant and rider – your Spirit directed will having to guide your emotions. Just because you think or feel it does not mean you should say it.

·         Perhaps a fast from talking might be a good idea!

Not only that, it is just so wearing on everyone around us!

Q   Do you have anyone that you avoid calling because you know that it will be a 30 minute call (on your cell phone)?

Q   Are you that person? (Ask the person next to you.)

3. Uncontrolled Desires

Samson was a man controlled by women. Samson was bold before men, but weak before women.

Judges 16:4-9  4 ¶ Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah.  5 The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, “See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.”  6 So Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.”  7 Samson answered her, “If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs that have not been dried, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”  8 Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh thongs that had not been dried, and she tied him with them.  9 With men hidden in the room, she called to him, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” But he snapped the thongs as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered.

This scene is repeated two more times but with new ropes and a waving loom, until finally:

Judges 16:15-17  15 ¶ Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.”  16 With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death.  17 So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”

When we read this, we think “What a moron! Why did he tell her?” But really, is it surprising she got it out of him? Here is a women who knows how to use sex to get what she wants. She got him so charged up that he couldn’t say no.

·         It’s not surprising that he gave in, but that he went back to her after the other three times.

Q   When put ourselves in a bad situation, is it any surprise that that bad things happen?

When you want a sexual fix and get on the internet “to check your e-mail,” is it a surprise you end up looking at porn?

When you are angry at your spouse and you confide in a friend of the opposite sex, is it any surprise that feelings develop?

When you are lonely and go to a party hosted by people who don’t share your beliefs, is it any surprise when you end up getting drunk and doing things you regret?

And worse part is that like Samson, you have been down this road before, yet we go back in them and act surprised when the same thing happens. We are the morons!

That’s a big elephant

Here is how you exercise self-control in those situations: Don’t get in those situations!

·         It’s not an exercise of self-control; it’s an exercise in futility!

Don’t forget that elephant is way bigger than you are! They weigh 10,000 lbs, and you weigh – less. Once you get that far down the road, you are powerless to stop yourself.

Reading about pastors who have affairs, I have realized their failure happened long before their failure. By the time they got the point of decision, they had already made their decision.

So much of self-control is simply “not going there.” (Illustrations: Me and TV):

1. Set up guidelines that keep you away from the fire.

2. Know the moods and warning signs that mean you need to stay away from otherwise acceptable things. 

3. When you are upset with your spouse, go to red alert – an attack is coming.

Otherwise, you may become another tragic character like Samson:

An unhappy ending

Judges 16:19-21    Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him.  20 Then she called, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you!” He awoke from his sleep and thought, “I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had left him.  21 Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison.

Samson began with such promise, but ends a disappointment. A man whose name means “Sunny” ends up blinded. A man who was a mighty warrior ended up grinding wheat by hand – women’s work.

·         He lost his calling and became a slave to his enemies.

You may not get your eyes gouged out (unless your wife is really jealous), but your life may become be a train wreck.

God has built into us such promise, such purpose. It is my hope that we do not similarly defeat ourselves because of our lack of self-control, because we are controlled by our passions.

·         Since he can’t keep us out of heaven, the enemy wants to make us ineffective, and lack of self-control makes it easy.

Each of us struggle with self-control, and the tragedy is that no matter how strong or gifted you are, it can be neutralized without self-control.

Yes, God redeemed the situation. God renewed Samson’s strength so he could literally bring the house down on thousands of his enemies, but it’s hardly a happy ending.

·         It is my hope that all of us avoid his fate, that we cross the finish line strong, honoring God. 

Q & A

Call to worship

Passion is a good thing – God wants us to want him. Worship is an emotional experience.


Objectives of sermon:

·         Teach us to control our passions, to the glory of God, by his power.

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