Enough Is Enough: Craving, Contentment, and Self-Control
Once upon a time, a little boy went out for ice cream with his family after a long walk on a hot summer’s day. The ice cream shop they went to made a point of selling massive sized soft serve cones. You could get your small, medium, and large, but it went up from there, all the way to an extra-extra-large cone that towered eight or more inches above the lip of the cone.
This little boy was very hot, and very thirsty, and he liked ice cream very much, and so begged and begged his mom for the biggest cone on the menu. She tried to warn him that his eyes were bigger than his stomach, and there’s no way he’d be able to eat and enjoy all that ice cream, but he didn’t believe her, and continued to argue, confidently, that he needed that big cone.
So his mom did something very wise. She told her son, “You have a lesson to learn today, son. You’re not willing to listen to my words, but that ice cream itself is going to teach you the lesson.” And she bought him the towering, monster cone, that he had been lusting after.
The first two or three inches went really well. But soon that boy’s stomach reached capacity. He was full. But he had a point to prove. So he kept eating. And eating. And a few minutes later, there he was, standing in the middle of a hot day, sick to his stomach, on the verge of vomiting everywhere, his head swimming from a sugar overload, melted ice cream running down his arm because he couldn’t keep up with the hot sun, and still several inches of ice cream cone left to eat.
His mom was right. More is not always better.
I wish I could tell you that this little boy learned his lesson that day. That from that day on he was always content, and never wanted more than his fair share. That he never again struggled with envy, that he never craved what wasn’t his to have, and that he was always happy to wait for good things in the right amount at the right time.
I can’t tell you that, because that little boy was me, and my life has been full of struggles with envy, and contentment, and self-control, and patience. But the money my mom spent on that giant ice cream cone was not a waste. It gave me a reference point for these matters which my mind has gone back to again and again over the years.
And I went back there again this week as I was studying what Proverbs has to say about cravings, and contentment, and self-control. I saw the authors of Proverbs trying to help their disciples learn the same lesson my mother so longed for me to grasp years ago. The lesson of knowing when enough is enough. That we don’t actually need everything we want.
And these are’t just lessons for children, are they? We live in the western world, in a culture drowning in excess. We’re surrounded by too much of everything. Too much entertainment, too much information, too much stuff, too many temptations, too many choices.
And all of these options tempt us to believe that what we need is more. What we need is that one thing we don’t have yet. We need the new thing, the other thing, the different thing, the one more thing.
Our culture is drowning in cravings and desires and envy and lust.
A. The Folly of Destructive Desires
But this isn’t just a new problem. It’s a problem as old as the Garden of Eden. Eve was surrounded by trees that were pleasant to the eyes and good for food (Genesis 2:9), but she wanted more. She wanted the one fruit that she wasn’t allowed to have (Genesis 3:6). And this craving for more, this craving for what we’re not supposed to have, has been a part of our sinful condition ever since.
Proverbs describes this problem starkly when it says that “Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man” (Proverbs 27:20). Sheol and Abandon are the places of death and destruction, gobbling up the wicked and never getting full or having enough. And Proverbs says that our eyes are just like that. We look at things, and we want those things, and yet when we get them, we’re not satisfied. And so we look around for more.
Our eyes are as hungry as literal hell.
So right out of the gates, we know that Proverbs isn’t messing around. Envy, lust, covetousness, our wild cravings—however you describe it, it’s a big deal. And it’s not okay.
“Whoever is wicked covets the spoil of evildoers, but the root of the righteous bears fruit” says Proverbs 12:12. It is the wicked who want what the wicked have. In other words, envy isn’t neutral. It’s dead wrong.
And not only is wanting what is not ours wrong, it’s harmful. “A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot” says 14:30. Wanting what you don’t have will eat you up from the inside out. And what’s why 23:17 exhorts, “Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.”
We’re going to come back to this idea several times today—how the solution to envy is a proper relationship with God. But hear the plea here. Don’t give in to envy. It’s poison. And on your handout, you can see several more passages that describe this ugly sin of envy, and call us to run from it (24:1-2, 27:4, 28:25, 30:15-16).
So on the one hand, we have these poisonous cravings for more. On the other hand, there is the way of wisdom. And what does wisdom look like when it comes to our cravings and desires? How does a wise person respond to a world of “more”? Proverbs shows us that the way of wisdom is three-fold. First, instead of envy, wisdom seeks contentment.
We see this spirit of contentment in a passage we considered a few weeks ago: “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:7–9).
The wise person fears God, and knows that all things come from God, and they will seek from God what they need—and nothing more. Because the wise person knows that what they need is all that they need. They will be content with having their basic needs met, because they know that having more and more and more will ultimately cause them to forget God.
The apostle Paul embodied this contentedness years later when he said, “But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:8–9).
Desiring more than you need is like taking a nose-dive into the concrete. It will destroy you. A wise and godly person will be content with what God gives them.
The second strand in wisdom’s handling of desire is self-control. Self-control is about knowing when to say “no” to yourself. A self-controlled person knows how to hold tight to their own reigns. They know how to not do everything they feel like, and not to grab onto everything they want.
Proverbs 21:20 tells us that “Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.” A fool can’t store up good things because he just eats them all right away. He has no self-control, so he spends all of his money and eats all off is food and has nothing to show for it.
A wise man knows how to say “no” to himself, so he limits how much he spends and eats, and therefore he has some left over.
25:28 tells us that “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” In the ancient world, a city without walls was vulnerable to enemies and criminals strolling in and doing whatever they wanted. And that’s what it’s like when someone does whatever they want. Our desires will destroy us if he can’t say no to them.
A self-controlled person, on the other hand, is like a city with a wall. They’re protected, and safe, and secure into the future.
There’s a third strand here to the way of wisdom, and it’s patience. Sometimes, we may have a desire for something that is not wrong in and of itself. But a wise person knows how to trust God and wait for His timing, instead of charging ahead to grasp for it as soon as they want it.
Proverbs 19:2 tells us that “Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.” Even with the things we think we need, when we rush and grab them, we’ll end up making big mistakes. Wisdom adds knowledge to desire, and knows how to wait on the Lord. Wisdom knows how to be patient.
So, thus far we’ve seen, in broad strokes, the lay of the land. On the one side is envy and wild cravings and impatience, and on the other side is contentment, self, control, and patience.
And thankfully, the book of Proverbs doesn’t leave it general like that. It gets very specific on what this war of desire looks like when it comes to some very particular issues. And that’s why the next section of the message is called “Battlefronts.” Here, we’re going to see what this tug-of-war between wisdom and folly looks like in several aspects of real life.
The first battlefront is food. Food is one of the main areas where the craving for more battles against contentment, and self-control, and patience.
Think of what Proverbs 25:16 says: “If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it” (See also 27:7).
God promised to lead Israel into a land flowing with milk and honey. But evidently he want them to lay down and let all of that honey flow into their mouths all at once. They needed to be content with their fair share. They needed to be self-controlled to know when to stop.
Proverbs 23:1-3 describes someone who sits down to eat with a ruler, and a rich banquet is spread out in front of them. And the average person in that spot might be tempted to dig in and pig out. But verse 2 warns against this in the strongest language possible: “put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite.” If would be better to slash your own throat than to gorge at that table.
And the reason seems to be that this ruler is watching you. He wants to see how you respond to this rich meal. He’s watching to see if you are wise and self-controlled or not. “Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food” says verse 3. A wise person is able to reign in their appetite despite being surrounded by luxury. (See 21:17 and 23:6-8 for similar lessons.)
23:19-21 give a direct word about gluttony: “Hear, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.”
Gluttony will result in poverty. So stay away from it and those who practice it.
Gluttony was a temptation for Israel, seeing how God had promised to bless them with lots of food. Gluttony is a surely a temptation for us today. It is easy for us to eat more than we need as often as we want. And Proverbs call us to be content with the portion that we need, and self-controlled in knowing when to stop.
The next battlefront Proverbs describes for us involves alcohol. Alcohol was plentiful in the ancient world. They didn’t have fridges or water treatment plants, whereas fermented grape juice was safe to drink and could be preserved for some time.
And when we read the Bible, it’s impossible for us to say that alcohol is always, in and of itself, bad. Proverbs 3:10 promised that those who honoured the Lord with their wealth would have vats “bursting with wine.” Psalm 104:15 says that God gave “wine to gladden the heart of man.” In the New Testament, Jesus’ first miracle was making wine (John 2:1-11), and in 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul specifically told Timothy to “use a little wine” for his stomach problems.
So we can’t say alcohol is always, in-and-of-itself wrong. It can be a good thing and a gift from God.
However—and there’s a big “however” here—we also can’t say that alcohol is no big deal, and we should feel free to have as much as we want as often as we want. Proverbs makes it very clear that wine is a battlefront where the craving for “more” can be deadly, and where self-control is so important.
20:1 says it starkly when it says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” There he’s clearly describing what happens when people drink too much alcohol.
They lose perspective, and they lose self-control, and they very often start to throw things around, starting with their fists.
Six verses in chapter 23 describe the dangers of too much alcohol, and it’s worth us hearing them all together:
“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. ‘They struck me,’ you will say, ‘but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink’” (Proverbs 23:29–35)
There is so much pain awaiting those who don’t know when to stop with alcohol. And we continue to see this in our world today, don’t we? Think of the lives destroyed by alcoholism, the damage that people have caused to others while under the influence.
And this is what has led many Christians to conclude that alcohol should not be a part of their life. Timothy was one of those people—which is why Paul had to tell him to drink a bit for medical reasons. Even in today’s secular world, more and more people embracing sobriety as the best choice for them.
But we have to be careful. We can’t say that alcohol is always wrong in any amount. There are Christians who are able to enjoy small amounts of alcohol in moderation and in ways that don’t cause others to stumble. And if that’s you, then hear the warning from Proverbs. Understand the danger, and make sure that you know when enough is enough.
3. Money & Possessions
The third battlefront we meet this morning involves money and possessions. Once again, money and possessions are not wrong in and of themselves. But they are a battlefront where lust and contentment wage war against each other.
For starters, Proverbs tells us that those who want to have lots of money and stuff, particularly those who want lots of money and stuff fast and quick, are going to suffer. “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:11–12).
These two Proverbs fit together. They tell us that get-rich-quick schemes almost always fail, and cause people to feel sick at heart when their hope is pushed away from them. Those who have the patience and self-control to gather little-by-little usually find their desires fulfilled.
21:5 tells us the same truth: “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” Remember, these aren’t promises, they are general principles. But in general, they are telling us an important lesson.
And you need to remember this lesson the next time you get an email in your inbox that says, “I work four hours a week selling this new miracle product and I made five figures last month.” It’s a lie. It never works that way.
Proverbs warns us against the desire to get rich quick. But it goes further. Proverbs warns us against the desire to get rich in the first place. “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven” (Proverbs 23:4-5).
Don’t work just to accumulate wealth. Why? Because it’s fickle. It can disappear over night. The stock market can crash. Thieves can break in and steal. Moth and rust can destroy.
Yes, I’m quoting Jesus there because what He said is so similar to what we just read here in Proverbs. Don’t store up for yourself treasures on earth, because they won’t last.
So instead of craving more and more, what are we to do? We are to be content, and recognize that being wise and godly is far, far more important than having lots of stuff. Listen to these next proverbs, and the word “better” repeated again and again, and hear the call to contentment:
- “All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast. Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it” (15:15-17).
- “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice” (16:8).
- “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife” (17:1).
- “Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool” (19:1).
- “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold” (22:1).
You know how we can sum up these proverbs? “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). These proverbs call us to get our priorities straight. Instead of craving more and more stuff, we are to seek wisdom and godliness and be content with what God has provided for us.
4. Our Sexuality
The fourth battleground is in our intimate relationships. Our sexuality. Two years ago, we studied the first few chapters in Proverbs, where the call to contentment in this area rang out again and again.
“Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth…Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” (Proverbs 5:15-20; see also 6:20-7:27).
Proverbs 23:28 and following give us this same call once again: “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways. For a prostitute is a deep pit; an adulteress is a narrow well. She lies in wait like a robber and increases the traitors among mankind” (Proverbs 23:26–28, 22:14)
We heard earlier that the eyes of man are never satisfied, and nowhere do we see this more clearly than in the area of sexual lust. Single people are tempted to crave and take what God has not given them, or not yet given them, and married people are tempted to be dissatisfied with the one whom God has given them.
And please note: lust doesn’t go away when you get married, because lust by its very nature is never satisfied. It always wants something more, something new, something different, than what God has chosen to give you right now.
And that’s why Eve wasn’t content with all the trees in the garden. It’s why Solomon couldn’t stop at 699 wives. Lust always demands more.
And if you want a refresher on where lust will land you, go back and read those opening chapters of Proverbs. Look at what happens to those who aren’t content, who don’t have self-control, who aren’t patient to wait for God to give them what they need.
“All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life” (Proverbs 7:22–23).
How we need God to give us contentment, and patience, and self-control when it comes to our sexual desires.
5. Our Temper
The fifth battleground in Proverbs is with our temper or our anger. “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29).
Proverbs tells us how important it is to stop and think and control ourselves instead of reacting in anger. “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32). “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). (See also 15:18, 22:24-25, 29:22, 30:32-33.)
Way too many people give themselves way too much permission to feel and express anger, when instead they should be exercising patience and self-control to reign in their tempers.
In marriage, there’s the myth that “fighting is okay, as long as you make up afterwards.” I’ve heard moms talk about how good it feels to yell at their kids and just get their emotions out. Or when I worked construction, how normal it was for guys to get angry and swear when the tools or materials weren’t working exactly how they wanted them to.
And these things aren’t okay. Fighting is never okay. Yelling is never okay. Getting upset at inanimate objects which were simply obeying the laws of physics is never okay. Any time we let our anger off the leash, it’s wrong and it’s damaging.
It doesn’t mean that we’ll never feel our anger tugging at the leash, but a wise person hangs on—sometimes for dear life—and goes to the Lord to deal with their hearts.
6. Our Age
The sixth and final battleground we see this morning has to do with our age. You might think that this feels a bit out of place in this list. But there’s these two proverbs which address age, and they speak to the temptation that young people have to look down on older people for being old. And they also speak to older people who might wish that they could be young strong again.
Here’s what they say: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31). “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair” (Proverbs 20:29).
Do you hear the call their for both old and young to be content with where they are in life? Young men are generally strong, but old men should have a splendour that comes from a life well lived. An older person should carry with them a lifetime of wisdom and perspective. And rather than being discontent that they’re not young and strong anymore, they should be content with the legacy that they’ve been given to pass on.
Younger people also need to be content with the fact that they aren’t old, and they have far more to learn than they even know, and that this learning can’t be rushed. The wisdom of age comes with age. We must be patient as we gain what only the years can bring.
The Good News
So what do we see here, all together? Don’t we see that contentment and self-control and patience touch all of life? At every turn, envy and lust and the craving for more are waiting to ambush us. And Proverbs calls us to walk the wise path of being content with what God has given us. To be self-controlled as we keep our desires in order. And to be patient as we wait for good things.
Now what if that was it? What if we stopped here this morning? We certainly would have heard some good advice this morning. But I’m so glad that God’s word doesn’t just give us good advice. It gives us good news.
And don’t we need good news? Don’t we know that, left to ourselves, contentment, patience and self-control are always out of our reach? Left to ourselves, our sinful desires will overpower our hearts and we’ll be consumed with envy and lust?
We need the good news of a Saviour who lived a perfectly self-controlled life and never once gave in to lust or envy. We need the good news of a Saviour who died to pay for every time we’ve given in to sinful cravings. We need the good news of a Saviour who offers us forgiveness, and a mercy that is new every morning. And we need the good news of a Saviour who comes to live in our hearts by His Holy Spirit and helps us actually do these things that we can’t do on our own.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:16–26).
Jesus expects His disciples to be content and patient and self-controlled. But Jesus enables His disciples to be these things as He fills them with His Spirit.
And so that’s the call for us this week. We can do what Proverbs is calling us to do by the Spirit whom Jesus has given us.
So walk by the Spirit this week. Feel your dependance on Him. Seek the Lord in prayer. Be filled with the words of the Spirit in Scripture. That’s so vital: the Sword of the Spirit is your weapon in this battle. Dig in deep to Christian community. And watch what happens as the Spirit’s fruit grows.