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The Fruit of the Spirit - Self-Control

Governing Your Life by the Power of God

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The 21st Winter Olympics are scheduled for February 2010 in Vancouver, British Columbia. For most athletes hoping to compete, that date is now extremely near! They know that to be the best in any sport, they must train for many years.

The apostle Paul compared life to a race. He wrote: “Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such as way that you will win. All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.

“So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step … I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 24 Know you not that they which run in a race run all, but one receives the prize? So run, that you may obtain. 25 And every man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 26 I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beats the air: 27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
American King James Version×
, New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).

In the greatest of all races, the race for eternal life, everyone can be a winner. Thankfully, there is no need to compete with another person. In fact, we should be coaches and cheerleaders for one another! But Paul said “run in such a way”—as an Olympic athlete competing for a gold medal.

Those of us who want the “eternal prize” should ask ourselves some questions:

• Am I as dedicated and zealous as an Olympic athlete?

• Do I study the Holy Scriptures as much as any athlete studies how to perform well in his sport?

• Am I quick in seeking advice (through prayer and Bible study) from my Coach?

• Do I stay focused on my long-range goal?

• Am I willing to make sacrifices to reach my goal?

• Am I determined to endure to the end —to cross the finish line of life—and to never quit? (Matthew 24:13 Matthew 24:13But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
American King James Version×
).

We probably can’t say yes to all those questions every day. But we surely must be heading in that direction. This requires taking charge of our lives—the final listed aspect among “the fruit of the Spirit.”

Self-control: last but not least

Paul listed nine godly virtues that constitute the fruit of God’s Spirit—the inward and outward effect of having the gift of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. They are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 Galatians 5:22-23 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
American King James Version×
).

What a stark contrast they are to the actions of man’s sinful nature that Paul listed in the previous three verses!

(Where the New King James Version has “self-control,” the earlier King James Version used the word “temperance,” meaning self-restraint. Today, however, this word usually has the narrower sense of moderation or, when referring to alcoholic drinks, total abstinence. Therefore, as commonly understood today, temperance is only a small part of self-control.)

Is the sequential order of the nine godly virtues significant? The first listed, love, is clearly the most important (1 Corinthians 13:1-2 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
American King James Version×
, 1 Corinthians 13:13 1 Corinthians 13:13And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
American King James Version×
). Is self-control, then, last because it’s least important? On the contrary, self-control is extremely vital. Paul emphasized it alongside “righteousness … and the judgment to come” (Acts 24:25 Acts 24:25And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go your way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for you.
American King James Version×
).

Perhaps self-control is listed last as the capstone—since it takes a lot of self-control to exercise the other eight virtues! It takes a lot of self-control just to “bridle” one’s tongue (James 1:26 James 1:26If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridles not his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.
American King James Version×
; James 3:2 James 3:2For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.
American King James Version×
). Maybe Paul was thinking of love and self-control as the two great bookends for the set.

Clearly these nine virtues work together and support each other. Consider long-suffering, which is the opposite of short-tempered. Many people are ruled by their feelings and can’t control their anger . In fact, one measure of maturity is emotional control. Some adults still have temper tantrums!

The best form of self-control may be  fleeing

We all face temptations to sin—all our lives. When confronted with temptation, we must strive, as far as possible, to get away from it— flee! Even if you think you have a lot of self-control, don’t put it to the test unnecessarily.

Consider some of the things we are told to flee: “Flee” from a “stranger” (a teacher of lies), “flee sexual immorality” (as Joseph had to literally flee, Genesis 39:12 Genesis 39:12And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.
American King James Version×
), “flee from idolatry,” flee “all kinds of evil,” “flee also youthful lusts” (John 10:5 John 10:5And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
American King James Version×
; 1 Corinthians 6:18 1 Corinthians 6:18Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is without the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body.
American King James Version×
; 1 Corinthians 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:10-11 1 Timothy 6:10-11 10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 11 But you, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
American King James Version×
; 2 Timothy 2:22 2 Timothy 2:22Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
American King James Version×
).

We need self-control to avoid not only outright evil but also too much of the good things. Proverbs 25:16 Proverbs 25:16Have you found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for you, lest you be filled therewith, and vomit it.
American King James Version×
cautions: “Have you found honey? Eat only as much as you need, lest you be filled with it and vomit.”

People often lack the self-restraint to stop when they should. People overeat, over-drink, overspend and overindulge in lots of things. We must rule over our appetites rather than letting our appetites rule us. Overindulgence can lead to intoxication and/or addiction. In either case, the person is then really out of control!

Self-control often means resisting sexual temptations, a subject addressed many times in the Bible. Tragically, standards of morality and modesty are plunging around us. Sexual sins are especially damaging—physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually (1 Corinthians 6:13-20 1 Corinthians 6:13-20 13 Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. 14 And God has both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power. 15 Know you not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. 16 What? know you not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, said he, shall be one flesh. 17 But he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit. 18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is without the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body. 19 What? know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own? 20 For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
American King James Version×
).

Because of lust, even smart people do stupid things. Just think of all the prominent people who’ve been caught cheating on their spouses! They may be “ruling” over many people, but they fail to rule their own lives. They trade integrity for instant gratification, and everyone loses.

Jesus and the apostles made it clear that God holds us strictly accountable for even sinful thoughts as well as sinful actions. We must wage spiritual warfare, “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) 5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;
American King James Version×
).

Jesus said, “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 Matthew 5:28But I say to you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
American King James Version×
). We should follow the example of Job, who said, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1 Job 31:1I made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I think on a maid?
American King James Version×
, New International Version).

And women need to understand how easily they can be partly responsible for men sinning in their minds. When a woman is exposing parts of her body that only her husband should see, others can be tantalized and tempted. Women who want to please God should “resolve this, not to put a stumbling block [a temptation] or a cause to fall [into sin] in our brother’s way” (Romans 14:13 Romans 14:13Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
American King James Version×
).

Is willpower powerful?

The Greek word translated “self-control,” egkrateia, is derived from two other Greek words— en and kratos . En means “in” and kratos means “strength” or “power.” From kratos we get such English words as “democracy” (power or rule by the people) and “theocracy” (government by God).

From these Greek roots we see that egkrateia essentially means power or strength within. But whose power?

Even apart from God’s direct help, some people have relatively strong character. Their good habits may be the result of good upbringing plus wisdom gained from experience—perhaps combined with innate determination. But we shouldn’t confuse this with the erroneous New Age claim that everyone has a reservoir of righteous power deep within himself just waiting to be tapped.

Paul plainly said that “the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so” (Romans 8:7 Romans 8:7Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
American King James Version×
, Holman Christian Standard Bible). Thus, the normal human mind by itself is not capable of being in complete subjection to the law of God! Therefore, we need “power within” that comes from God!

Jesus said, “The spirit [one’s attitude] indeed is willing but the flesh [human willpower] is weak” (Matthew 26:41 Matthew 26:41Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.
American King James Version×
). For example, 11 of Jesus’ disciples intended to stick by Him, but when things got really scary, they all deserted Him (Matthew 26:56 Matthew 26:56But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled.
American King James Version×
).

Therefore, “self-control” can be somewhat misleading. Effective self-control is not ultimately self controlling self. To have truly effectual control over our lives, we need God’s power to be in control.

“Power from on high”

Just before Jesus’ ascension to heaven, He said to His disciples, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8 Acts 1:8But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come on you: and you shall be witnesses to me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth.
American King James Version×
). Luke 24:49 Luke 24:49And, behold, I send the promise of my Father on you: but tarry you in the city of Jerusalem, until you be endued with power from on high.
American King James Version×
adds that the disciples were to wait in Jerusalem until they received this “power from on high.”

Indeed, 10 days later when 120 of Christ’s disciples were together observing the annual festival of Pentecost, suddenly “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” and God’s power was spectacularly demonstrated (Acts 2:1-4 Acts 2:1-4 1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat on each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
American King James Version×
).

A vast crowd of people gathered about, and Peter explained to them what a person must do to receive God’s Spirit: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
).

What are the benefits of having the Holy Spirit? There are many, but of crucial importance is that it enables spiritual understanding —the capacity to truly understand the Bible (1 Corinthians 2:9-14 1 Corinthians 2:9-14 9 But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him. 10 But God has revealed them to us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Ghost teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
American King James Version×
).

Then, once we have spiritual “knowledge,” we must add “self-control” (2 Peter 1:5-8 2 Peter 1:5-8 5 And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; 6 And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; 7 And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. 8 For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that you shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
American King James Version×
). In other words, God’s Spirit imparts the strength of character to apply and live by that knowledge. And as it transforms us, we can increasingly see the effects or “fruit” of having God’s Spirit within us.

The aim of discipline through discipleship

What is the purpose of parental discipline? It should be to teach a child to exercise self- discipline. The self-discipline gradually becomes a good habit that is valuable throughout life.

Jesus Christ wants you to be His disciple. He said, “If you obey my teaching, you are really my disciples” (John 8:31 John 8:31Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed;
American King James Version×
, Good News Bible). Therefore discipleship includes learning the self-discipline of obedience. And that has great rewards! Choose to follow Christ—choose to be His disciple!

Jesus also said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23 Luke 9:23And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
American King James Version×
). Jesus was not suggesting penance, asceticism or a monastic life. But very often, we need to say no to selfish desires in order to say yes to God’s will.

God will not take away a person’s free will to make choices in life. But as long as you keep inviting Him into your life, He will empower you “to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13 Philippians 2:13For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

Two proverbs draw a stark contrast between not having self-control and the priceless value of having it. The first says, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28 Proverbs 25:28He that has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.
American King James Version×
, NIV). He is defenseless and doomed to defeat.

The second states: “It is better to be patient than powerful. It is better to win control over yourself than over whole cities” (Proverbs 16:32 Proverbs 16:32He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules his spirit than he that takes a city.
American King James Version×
, GNB).

As with all of us, certainly your biggest spiritual enemy has been yourself. But take heart. With God’s great help, you can increasingly conquer the enemy!

Each of us must rule over self before we can, as promised to those who overcome in Revelation 3:21 Revelation 3:21To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
American King James Version×
and Revelation 20:6, reign with Christ in His Kingdom!

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