Fruits of the Spirit, Part 1
Fruits of the Spirit, Part 1: Self-Control
This is the first in a series of sermons on the fruits of the spirit. The series is beginning at the end of the list of fruits in Galatians 5:22-23.
[Gary Petty] Back in 1984 my wife and I moved to Uvalde, Texas. We'd been living for two years in a small town in Pennsylvania. I'd been working at a radio station there. We moved to Uvalde. And one of the things that really surprised us when we got there was how much they valued big trees. Now we came from an area…we'd been living for two years in area where there are big trees every place. I mean, the Appalachians – there are all kinds of big trees. But in Uvalde, which is west of here – many of you have probably been there – large oaks trees, especially, are highly valued. So what they did is, if they were building a street and there was a large oak tree, they just left it in the middle of the street. In fact, at that time – it's not that way anymore – if you were to head west on 90 – and we're talking about a four-lane highway – and just east of Uvalde, in the middle of the highway, was a large oak tree. So you could be buzzing along in the passing lane at night, at seventy miles per hour, and suddenly in front of you would be a large tree in the middle of the road. The concrete just went around it and …. So finally, they realized that that was very unsafe. But, if you go to Uvalde today, and you go back on some of the side streets, you will still find many roads that, in the middle of the road, is a tree, because they valued those large trees – because they didn't have as many of them.
You know, what's interesting is that, in the book of Psalms, a righteous person is compared to a tree. Let's go to Psalms, chapter 1 – the very beginning of the book of Psalms.
Psalms 1:1 – Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. So here we have a description of a person who really follows God. And he's a person who truly tries to obey God. In verse 2, it says:
V- 2 – But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. The word meditate in Hebrew is interesting, because it literally means that you're thinking about something so deeply that you make a sound, like you're talking to yourself. So you're thinking about something so deeply that people look at you and say, "Well, that guy's talking to himself," because you're actually making a sound. He meditates on it day and night. But notice verse 3:
V-3 – He is like a tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf shall not whither. And whatever he does, he shall prosper.
Now verse 4 talks about someone who is different than this.
V-4 – The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff, which the wind drives away. Therefore, the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
Verse 3 is very interesting. "He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water." Now, we're going to go through today and we're going to be talking about…what do we learn spiritually from this? And we're going to tie it into a whole series of sermons that I'll be giving over the next couple of months. A righteous person, though, is like a tree that is planted. Now, it doesn't say that it's like a tree that grows up wild – a tree that happens to be someplace. A righteous person is planted. I find that interesting in terms of the calling that you and I have when God calls us, because throughout the years I've heard so many people say, "Well, as soon as (fill in the blank), then I'll respond to God." "As soon as I don't have to work on the Sabbath…," or, "As soon as I can afford to tithe…," or, "As soon as I can get out of this messy marriage…," or, "As soon as my kids grow up…," or "As soon as…, then I'll respond to God." And they have a choice where they are planted.
A righteous person is planted. There's a purpose. There's a reason. They're put where they are by God for a purpose and reason, so God can do His work through them. And they're planted by rivers of water.
This week, with my wife gone, I have to go out and water all the plants. Now, the last time she and I went someplace, my son did not water the plants until the day that we were supposed to get home. Then he couldn't figure out why they were all dead. That's a little overstatement. Through incredible nursing, my wife brought the dead back to life with about half the plants. Some of them are gone.
You have to water them. A plant, by itself, cannot exist without water and regular watering that flows through it. I always find it interesting how you water the bottom of a plant, and that water will get to every part of that plant. It'll go right up through the plant into all the leaves, into the buds, into the flowers. And it just grows – it thrives – by the water. And of course, this righteous person is planted where there is plenty of water – flowing water – that comes into the plant.
It's very interesting, when we look at John 7 – we'll come back here in a minute – but let's go to John 7, verse 37:
John 7:37 – On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the scriptures have said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" He says, "If you're thirsty, come. I will plant you by rivers of living water," just like David wrote in the Psalm. But the next verse is really enlightening, in terms of how John saw this later. Remember, John didn't write this when Jesus said it. Later – years later – he wrote down what Jesus said and then wrote his own commentary about it.
V-39 – But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, that those believing in Him would receive, for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, Jesus was not yet glorified. The Holy Spirit wasn't given until Jesus was offered as the wave sheaf offering before God. And then we know, fifty days later, on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given to people. And it's been given ever since to the church. That is the living water that we must have if we are going to thrive.
If we go back now to Psalms, chapter 1, the rest of verse 3 here, we're planted. And we must be planted where there's water. And this living water must come through. It's not just a dead, stagnant pool. This water must come in and it gives life. It has all the nutrients. It has everything we need to live. In the last part of verse 3, it says:
Psalms 1:3 – That brings forth its fruit in its season, and its leaf shall not whither, and whatever he does shall prosper. He says, "This is a person. I'm using this as an analogy," which is common in poetry and song lyrics – that you use these analogies – these images – to make your point. Here we see David making this point – of this tree and a righteous man. This tree can represent a righteous man. And it's planted by God. You have been planted by God. You are being watered through God's Spirit. And it produces fruit.
Let's go to Galatians, chapter 5. I've come to realize something over the years that my dad used to tell me – that I didn't fully understand. He said, "When we go through the conversion process," he said, "you'll find, Gary, that it's easier to go through the stage where we are converted to the basic doctrines. We think that's the hardest part. ‘Oh no, I've got to give up Christmas.' ‘I have to give up Easter.' ‘I have to keep the Sabbath, and not work on the Sabbath, and not do my own pleasures on the Sabbath, and not sit around and watch television on the Sabbath. I've got to learn how to keep this day holy.' ‘I found out I don't have an immortal soul. I have to deal with that.' ‘I found out I have to keep these holy days.' ‘I found out about tithing and I had to start tithing. And that was rough.' But," he said, "you know, really, once you get through that – those early stages – and you learn the doctrines," he said, "then comes the most difficult part that many Christians never get to, and yet they have to, if they're going to be God's Kingdom. And that is, we have to be converted in the heart – converted in the mind and the heart."
Galatians 5:19 talks about what happens if we can accept intellectually the basic doctrines of the scripture, which we must do to be Christians. We must believe those. We must live by those. But we also must do something else, or we have this kind of fruit. This is the fruit of a wild tree that is not watered by living water. This is what a tree produces – human tree, if you will – using this analogy – this is what the wild tree produces: in Galatians 5, verse 19:
Galatians 5:19 – Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are adultery, fornication – or sexual sins – uncleanness – there's a whole wide variety of meanings to that whole concept of uncleanness – spiritual uncleanness – lewdness – this off-color, sort of dirty-minded – idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outburst of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries – just partying all the time – and the like, of which I tell you beforehand – just as I have told you in times past – Paul writes – that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Now that's a pretty strong statement, isn't it? Being a party animal means that God may not give you the Kingdom. You look at that list and I guarantee you that everyone of us can find something on there that is kind of who we are.
I remember one time I saw at a Sabbath school one of the most incredible lessons I've ever seen. In fact, I thought about buying this. The person had bought it some place. I thought about buying it just to use it in a sermon sometime. They had this huge felt tree. And above it, it was labeled The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And they hung up the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. And it was adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery – it was all the things of this list. This is what the tree of the knowledge of good and evil produces. Not everybody will have all that fruit, because it's the knowledge of good and evil. You can say, "Boy, I'm glad I don't have this sorcery problem, but I am jealous of the money they make." So we don't have all of them, but all of us have some of them. And some of that fruit is produced in our lives and has been part of our lives for a long time. That's the fruit of people who have eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That's the tree you and I eat of very early in our development someplace. And some of that fruit has been born in our lives. The question is, "How much of it still is being born in our lives?"
We go down to verse 22:
V-22 – But the fruit of the Spirit – if God has planted us where it's best for us…. You know, one of the hardest things for us to do, as human beings – and I've done this in my life, too – if I could change environments, I'd be okay. "So, God, root me up and plant me someplace else." But guess what, I'm still the same tree. We are who we are wherever we go. So God plants us and we have to learn to say, "Okay, if this is where I'm supposed to be, then this is where I will be, because this is where the waters will come in." If we're planted by this river of living water, and this water is coming into us – flowing into us – then this is what is produced in our lives: love – agape – joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is the fruit of God's Spirit. This is what – if you had another tree – if this teacher had another felt tree, called The Spirit Tree, this is the fruit that was on that tree – little apples that look like self-control, or had self-control underneath it, and a banana…there's all this fruit on this tree with little cards that told you what that fruit was. This is the tree that is taking in that living water. This is the life that is taking in that living water and, remember, as it said in Psalms, chapter 1, produces fruit. You and I were called to produce fruit. Jesus Christ said, "By this the Father is glorified – when you produce fruit." We don't really have a choice, if we truly want to be the people of God. We must produce fruit.
You say, "Okay, what fruit must I produce?" Well, it begins with understanding. It begins with learning the Bible. It begins with learning doctrine. It then moves on to this fruit. And this is what we must have in our lives. This is what must be produced in our lives. This is what you and I are to be learning and experiencing everyday – everyday – the fruit of the Spirit.
Now, I'm going to spend some time, then, over the next few weeks – actually over the next couple of months – going through the fruits of the Spirit. I'm not going to start with agape at the top. Two years ago, I gave a whole series – what? seven sermons on agape. We're not going to start with that. We're going to start at the bottom of it. We're going to start with self-control and move upwards through this list and look at how you and I can better produce these kinds of fruit in our lives.
When we look at this list, the last on the list is self-control. Self-control is one of the least appreciated traits in our society today - in fact, the opposite. You and I live in a society where we basically believe that "I want what I want, and I want it now, and I have the right to what I want now." So everything is based on immediate self-gratification.
Have you seen the commercials about the guy, who's cable system isn't working, so his whole life falls apart? He ends up in jail, or he ends up in a gutter – something bad happens to him. They have a whole series of commercials. Because, you know, his cable system didn't work for ten minutes and the guy's life just falls apart, so they tell you, "Don't get cable, get satellite," or whatever it is – it may be, "Don't get satellite, get cable." I can't remember what it is they're trying to sell, but the point is made. We expect everything now.
We're in a society where self-control is seen as a strange concept. Self-control is seen as keeping me from what I want – what I deserve, what is my right. So we actually resist this idea of self-control.
Leo Tolstoy, the famous Russian writer, wrote a great story that just encapsulates how we don't like self-control – how we're driven by this "I want, I want it now and it's mine." In this story, there was a peasant in Russia that always wanted land. And he saved up enough money and he bought himself a piece of land for him and his family, and it was really nice, and they were happy and it was good. Then he had a chance – I don't know, in a nearby village – I forget the whole gist of the story – not too far away, to buy much more land – better land. So he saved up and he bought a better piece of land. And now he was really no longer a peasant. He'd moved up in the world. He had this nice piece of land. He and his family were happy. But, you know, it was always like, "Wow! Now that I have land, it would always be good to have more." But they don't make any more land. And land always has value. So he wanted more land. So one day he found out about a place out on the step, where there was this tribe of people that were selling off their land. So he goes out to the area, and he meets the man that is the head of the tribe, and the tribe said, "Yes, we're selling off our land. It's a thousand rubles." He said, "That's not a bad price. How big is the property? Then I can tell you, then, whether I will buy it or not." He said, "It's how much you can walk in a day. You have a starting point and you walk. The only thing is, you have to be back at where you started at the end of the day. So, as far as you can walk, around in a big square – you're back at the same point – that's all yours." Man, it was great. He started out the first couple of hours just at a run, practically. Then he goes off to the other direction. And he thinks, "If I go fifteen more minutes – just fifteen more minutes…." He's looking at the sun, see. "Fifteen more minutes. Okay. Just a little more. Oh, look at that. That bottom land is good. I've got to get that in. There's a creek there. I've got to make sure that creek is in my land." And he kept going and going and going. And finally, he realized – he looked – and the sun was going down and he was still a long ways off. So he took off in a dead run. And he ran and he ran and he ran, and just as the sun went down, he got to the place where he started, and he ran up to the chief of the tribe and had a heart attack and died. And Tolstoy said, "Six feet from head to heels. That's all the land he really needed."
But you get the point. See, we all can say, "Yes, wow, I could see me doing that." Wow! All the land that you could do in twelve hours – fifteen hours. You don't eat. You just take a little bottle of water and you take off – and all this land. You'll be wealthy. You'll have everything you want. You can sell off parcels of it. You can bring your family in. You can grow wheat. You can have cattle. Think of what you could do with all this water, all this land – great farm land. So it doesn't seem like a wrong motivation. But lack of self-control means it's never enough. It's never enough.
All of us are slaves to thoughts that we have. All of us are slaves to thoughts. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said, "Ah, I wish I could get my thoughts under control." We're all slaves to emotions – and they're quite irrational at times. And we're all slaves to habits. And all three of these areas where we end up being slaves is because of a lack of self-control.
So, you say, "Okay, the rest of the sermon is going to be about will power – how to have more will power so we can have more control" – and no, it's not. Because if this was just a matter of will power, I have some great books at home on how to help you have more will power. And they won't get you into the Kingdom of God at all. They may help you stop smoking, but what Paul is talking about here is beyond that. He's talking about – I want you to think about it – it seems like we really have to work this out…self-control is the fruit of God's Spirit, which means it is not totally done by self, is it? If it was totally done by self, it wouldn't be a fruit of God's Spirit. And it's not totally God's control or it wouldn't be called self-control. So self-control, in the context of the fruit of the Spirit, is "I'm giving control to God, so that He can work through me what He wants to do." And it isn't easy. It is literally submitting to God's control instead of our own need to control our own lives.
I just mentioned three areas – thoughts, emotions and habits – and I'm just going to briefly touch on those three areas. Then we'll talk a little bit about how we can learn to have more self-control – just one of these fruits of God's Spirit.
Thoughts. You know, ultimately, our behavior is a product of how we think. That's one reason the Bible talks so much about deeds – our outward work – because they are expressions, ultimately, of what we think.
So what do you think about most of the time? Have you ever really analyzed…what is it you think about most of the time? What's going on inside your mind – as we talk to ourselves? I want to give a sermon someday about talking to yourself, because we do. We talk to ourselves all the time. We answer ourselves sometimes. I mean, I've literally been doing something and, in my mind, said, "Gary, that's the craziest thing. What are you doing?" And I've said, "I don't know. That is stupid." And I realize that I'm answering myself out loud! I didn't realize it was out loud so much until about two weeks ago, my wife said, "I just love it when you walk around talking to yourself." And I said, "You can hear that?" She said, "Well, I don't know what you're saying, but it's like aah, aah, yeah, yeah, aah…." We do talk to ourselves. And what's strange about this is understanding what we tell ourselves is what we end up doing. We can take ourselves right out of a relationship with God by how we talk to ourselves. So that's an interesting subject I would like to cover sometime.
How do you talk to yourself? What do you say to yourself? How many times do you say, "Well, God doesn't love me. I might as well give up." Who's saying that? How do you answer that when you say that to yourself? Interesting, isn't it? We all talk to ourselves all the time. That's how we process thoughts. Different people are a little different, but still, we talk to ourselves. That's why this idea of controlling our thoughts is so important.
2 Timothy 1 – this is in the context of…if you'll remember, I said, after Pentecost, that one of the things I wanted to do this summer was really spend some time on what this means. On Pentecost we talked about receiving God's Spirit – being part of this harvest season in which He's preparing His firstfruits. 2 Timothy 1, verse 6 – here Paul tells Timothy:
2 Timothy 1:6 – Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God – God's Spirit is rivers of living water, but we must participate with it. That's the important part. We must be sensitive to it. We must submit to it. We must let it flow through us. You say, "How do I do that?" That's why it's going to take us a number of sermons to get through this. He says: Stir up the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands – we know that's how a person receives God's Spirit. God's Spirit can be with you, but it is not in you until you go through the baptism of water and the baptism of the Spirit, which is through the laying of the hands of the elders. For God has not given us a spirit of fear. So why are we in so much fear? When you and I are in fear and anxiety, it means we're not submitting to the Spirit of God. Now I have lots of fear and anxiety in my life. I have to admit that when I'm having fear and anxiety, it's because I'm not submitting to the Spirit of God. And I have to tell myself that. I was looking, the other day, at my retirement, and I said, "I'm doomed. I'll be living under a bridge someplace." And you know what came into my mind? "Do not be anxious about what you wear or what you…" – you know, that whole passage in Matthew – and I had to tell myself, "You know, that's what's right. That's a stupid thought." And the thought went away. And with it, guess what went away? The fear. Now, did I do that myself? I don't believe so. I think that's God doing this. Here's one of God's thoughts: "Do not worry, for your Father in heaven knows what you need!" Right? Now that's not a normal thought. That comes from someplace else. "Okay, that's right." Fear went away. Now what would have happened – and you've all done this – if I had not accepted the thought? If I had stayed with my thought? I'd have been trying to figure out how to buy gold. Right? "I've got to make some more money here." Wait a minute. Listen to God's thoughts. He did not give us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love – which is one of the fruits – and of a sound mind. The word sound there means whole or healthy. He gave you a healthy mind. Now, not too many of us have a really healthy mind. Why? It's because we're not submitting to the Spirit of God. That's why. Because that's what He gave us. If what Paul says here is true, then that's what He gave you. What you have is a spirit of power, and love and a sound mind! If He gave it to you, then you have it! If He gave it to me, then I have it.
Now I've got to do something with it, but you have it. We have to learn how to submit to that Spirit – that power of God, the mind of God. What is the Spirit? It's His mind. It's His love. It's His power. That's what comes into you. It's God's power, God's love and God's mind. That's pretty strong.
So then we have to determine: What is a healthy thought? What is a sound thought so I can have sound mind – because we're flooded all the time with unhealthy thoughts? It comes from the radio. It comes from the television. It comes from people we're talking to. It comes from a lecture your mother gave you forty years ago. Right? And it's stuck in there and it pops out. There are unhealthy thoughts…and then we generate enough on our own. With our corrupt human nature, we just make them up! I mean, there are thoughts that come into our minds we just make up. And then we forget, there is Satan out there, too. And he's trying to put as many bad, rotten, evil thoughts into your mind as possible! It's a wonder we're sane! And that's why He said, "I'll have to give you a sound mind, because, basically, you're all insane." And really, we are. Without God's Spirit, we're all insane. We're just not smart enough to figure that out. So God gives us His mind so that we can start to listen to those thoughts, and say, "Yes, those are the thoughts I want. I want those thoughts to be my thoughts."
Look what Paul says in 2 Corinthians, chapter 10, verse 4.
2 Corinthians 10:4 - For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God for pulling down strongholds…. I want to stop there.
The fight for your mind is more than "Let me give you some steps." Now I'm going to give you some steps on how to have better self-control to apply in your life. But if that's all that was needed here, you know, there'd be a place in the Bible – it would be called the Self-Control Chapter – and we would just go there and there would be ten steps, or twelve steps, and we would do the twelve steps and be okay. But it's more than that. Yes, there are steps that we have to take, but we are fighting a spiritual battle. You're in a spiritual battle for your mind every day! And we forget that. We forget that Satan's there. We forget that we've been already pre-programmed, because you and I already ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We already ate of it. We already have some of the fruit of that in our lives. So we forget that.
If we're going to learn self-control as a fruit of God's Spirit, then it's going to take God's Spirit to take us to that level. I have met people that have enormous, remarkable self-control that I just absolutely admire! Absolutely admire! I've met people in the military that have self-control at the level that I just admire. I've met business people that have self-control in ways that I just admire. But that's not enough.
The self-control that Paul's talking about has to do with the battle through your mind – your actions that are a product of that. That's why he says here, in 2 Corinthians 10, verse 5 – so we have the weapons of our warfare from God – verse 5 says:
2 Corinthians 10:5 – Casting down arguments and everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God…. You and I are presented arguments all the time that are against the knowledge of God, but they sure seem right. There's a cleverness to them. There is a certain logic to them and we have to be careful. I've seen people think themselves right into a sin and justify it. I've seen people think themselves right into the world – just right down the road – just one thought leads to another thought that leads to another thought that leads to another thought – until they can sit down and write those thoughts out – and it's very logical – it's just not true.
I'll never forget having a discussion, one time, with a minister about the Trinity. He said, "Gary, I don't understand why you don't understand the Trinity." I said, "Actually, I do. I actually understand it better than you do." So I explained it to him. He said, "Wow! You do understand it." I said, "Yeah, it's just not biblical." See, I can list the arguments out. I can list the thoughts out and say, "Yeah, look. This is the argument," but it's not in the Bible. And he didn't have an answer to that. It's just not biblical. It's actually very logical. We can logically go someplace and be completely outside the Bible. We can logically go all over the place and be completely outside of the Bible – completely outside of where God wants.
Then the end of this verse say:
V-5 - …bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Every thought is captive to what? You say, "Okay, self-control…I have to have my thought under self-control – will power." No, that's not what it says. We have to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
You know, this book is called The Word of God. What are the titles of Jesus Christ ? The Word of God. The mind of God is here. The mind of God is exhibited in the life of Jesus Christ. God's Spirit is His mind brought into us. How do we know when it is of His mind? Because it's in here – not because we put together a logical argument. It's in here and we submit to that. We bring every thought into the captivity to the obedience of Christ. This is where self-control starts: "I have to know how God thinks. I can see it in the life of Jesus Christ and I have to bring my thoughts into obedience to that. So I'm not allowed to hate my enemy." He didn't say you have to be best friends with your enemy, but He said that you couldn't hate your enemy. See, you have to go there to get that thought, though, because I don't know about you – maybe you're different than me – maybe you're all just more spiritual than me – but my first thought isn't to love my enemy. I must think through that and that thought has to come from someplace else. And when it does, I have to say, "I have to do that in obedience to Jesus Christ. I now must think love towards my enemy." I don't know how else to do it, because it is just not normal. We have to take thoughts, recognize that they're from God – because they're from here – which means if they're not in this Book, you're not going to have the thoughts coming in – or, you won't be able to recognize them if they do.
The second of these three points is emotions. Now, some people think, "Okay, self-control means I have no emotions. I'm just stoic. I have no emotions. I'm in control all the time." Well, that's not what this means either. I mean, when Jesus Christ went into the temple and threw out the moneychangers, He was angry and everybody knew He was angry. When David brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem, and he danced, his wife thought he was silly and lewd. The Hebrew literally means he just twirled around. And his skirts came up, because they wore a long sort of type of skirt. And his wife said, "What are you doing? Parading for all the women?" God never condemned him at all. He was watching this grown man dance in absolute joy as they're playing this music – absolute excitement – jumping in the air in front of everybody – he's the king! You think he'd be walking dignified, right? – because he's so excited that the ark of the covenant – representing the throne of God – is coming back into the tabernacle, where it belonged, and God had delivered them from their enemies. And God never said that that show of emotion was wrong. Now, I don't know about you and me. I mean, if Mr. Lockhart was here in his kilt, giving a sermonette , and got so excited that he jumped in the air and the kilt just leaped up, we'd all be pretty offended – including his wife. God wasn't offended by that.
Self-control of emotions doesn't mean to be without emotions. What it means is to be able to express the right emotion at the right time for the right reason. Now that gets hard! It means to be able to express the right emotion at the right time for the right reason. Sometimes we just have the wrong emotion. Sometimes it's just not the right time to express that emotion. Sometimes it's the wrong reason. We can express anger – just take anger, for an example – we can express anger but it's the wrong emotion at the time. Or, we can express anger – and maybe it's right to be angry at something – but it's really not the place and time to do it. Then, there's others times when we just express anger for wrong reasons. We do it for control, or we do it to put somebody down, or we do it because we're being selfish. So somebody can actually do something wrong, which deserves your anger, but your expression of the anger is wrong. And it can be worse than what they did to you. It's the right emotion at the right time for the right reason.
But most people live their lives controlled by their emotions – absolutely out of control. It's an interesting proverb in Proverbs 25:28.
Proverbs 25:28 – Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down without walls.
You think, "Well, that doesn't have any meaning for us today." I mean, we don't live in cities with walls. But I want you to think about what it is to live in a city at that time and you have walls around the city. Now there are reasons why. A band of Amalekites might show up one day and just rip right through your village and steal everything you have, including a couple of your daughters. So you have walls around to protect them. Or the Midianites might come through. Or the nation of Israel might become at war with another nation, like Egypt, and they send an army, and you don't want them just coming through and killing everybody in the entire village, so there's a wall so you can protect yourself. A lot of times armies would go around the little cities, because it wasn't worth the price to take them. You wanted to have a wall with enough soldiers so, "Okay, you're not worth…it will cost us too many people to take you, so we'll leave you alone."
A city without walls was constantly being invaded, constantly being ravished, constantly in poverty, constantly in turmoil, constantly in fear. And he says, "If you can't control your own spirit – your own emotions, your own thoughts" – he says, "You're like a city without walls. You're just being plundered all the time – by yourself!" We plunder ourselves all the time. We plunder ourselves all the time, because we don't have control our own emotions.
Am I expressing the right emotion at the right time and for the right reason? It's amazing when you watch somebody, sometimes, express an emotion and you know it's wrong – they're being controlled by an emotion and you know it's wrong. And it's so easy to sit and analyze that. But when you're in that state, and someone is trying to tell you that, how hard it is to listen to them! – because the one thing that we trust, as human beings, is our own emotions. And the one thing you and I shouldn't trust, as human beings, are our own emotions. It's the thing we trust the most and it is the thing we should trust the least. It's what we should trust the least. So we become driven by our own emotions.
Ultimately, emotional self-control is learning to overcome selfishness so that we're not motivated by our own selfish emotions. We meet people, sometimes in life, that all they can talk about is themselves and their own emotions. And after awhile, no one wants to be around that person. We all want to listen to people talk about their emotions. We all want to share with others about our emotions – how we think, how we feel about things. But when one person will never let anybody else talk about themselves, after awhile, we don't want to be around that person.
Ultimately, emotional self-control is about learning to be outside yourself . It's about being self-aware of how you're affecting other people. It's about being self-aware about whether your own emotion is valid or not – well not valid – how you feel is how you feel – but whether it's healthy or not, whether it's sound or not, whether it needs to be changed or not, or controlled, or moved in a different direction. You say, "Uhhh, I want to go with my feelings." Well, go with your feelings and you'll be a very, very unhappy person. It's just the way it is.
Happiness is learned. Happiness is worked at. Selfishness produces pride, jealousy, envy, hatred, the feeling that everybody owes me something – or that you're a victim. It produces lust, the need to be the center of attention, the need to put other people down so you can feel good about yourself. It leads to discouragement, and depression, and anger, and ultimately a lack of faith in God. That's what happens when we let our emotions run free. It becomes very, very unhealthy.
So we have to learn to control those emotions. It's not an easy process. And it takes God's help to do that. It takes a lot of time in prayer. It takes fasting. It takes time in this book. It takes time being with other people. It takes time finding activities to keep yourself in a positive mode. The world is going to throw stuff at you every day! Satan's going to throw stuff at you every day. You're going to throw stuff at yourself every day. We're already messed up. We forget that. We produce our own little hell that we live in half the time. Emotional self-control.
Then the third of the points is habits. Habits are behaviors that are done over and over until they become ingrained into your actual brain. It's just the way you are. Think of the things you do throughout the day that are habits. You drive your car and you don't think about driving the car much of the time. What's scary is that we're thinking about everything else – where you've got to be, what's on the radio, the conversation you're having, how you're trying to eat something and you just spilled it all over your lap. How are you driving in the midst of all that input? It's a habit. You've trained your brain to drive your car. It gets a little scary, because you don't have a lot of reaction time in that state, but that's what we do.
We train ourselves to eat. How many times do you take a bite of food and say "I'm going to take a bite of food now?" (Oh, by the way, whoever brought the Brie cheese…that stuff's good! Anyways….) You take a bite of food and you don't say, "I'm going to take a bite of food now. I'm going to chew. I'm going to chew again. I'm going to chew again." There was a time in your life that you didn't know how to chew. It's pretty much habit now, right? If you're over the age of about, what, six months – eight, nine months – it's a habit now. You've learned to chew this stuff up. "This is good stuff."
Well, unfortunately, morally, and mentally, and emotionally we get into habits. And we actually program ourselves. And breaking those programs are very, very difficult, because you and I – we – have corrupt human nature. We have habitual sin. All sin can become habit-forming. There isn't a single sin – I don't care how small it is…. You say, "People don't have a sin like I do. I have a sin that I deal with – envy – because it happened to me as a child and I just can't get over that. And this person over here, I don't understand…they have this addiction with cigarettes. They should be able to get over that immediately." All sin is addictive. All sin is addictive. We get to where we like it. Our brain gets wired into it and we actually like it. That's the problem.
Part of overcoming sin is you recognize, and you have to admit, "Hey, I actually like this, because it gives me some kind of gratification. And I can ignore the long-term consequences, so I have to suffer them." Right? You can ignore the long-term consequences of sleeping around until you wake up one day and have herpes, and then you can't ignore the consequences anymore.
Proverbs 25. You and I can even take something good and turn it into a bad habit. We can take something good and turn it into bad. You know, that's one of the problems we have as human beings. We think God doesn't want us to be happy. "God doesn't want us to have fun." Yeah, He does. In the Bible, people drank wine. Drinking wine isn't a sin. Getting drunk is a sin. In the Bible people have sexual relationships within marriage and it's good! God said, "This is good! Outside of marriage, it's bad." But we can take anything God gives us that is good and turn it into something bad. And then it becomes habitually part of our makeup to do it in the wrong way.
Proverbs 25:16 – Have you found honey? Eat only as much as you need, lest you be filled with it and vomit. Self-control.
I love honey. I can't imagine eating enough honey to throw up. You would have to really eat a lot of honey. But you know, we do that all the time with a lot of different things. Right? Mine is comfort foods when I'm stressed out. When I'm stressed out, if I don't have self-control, it's like, "Give me five pieces of Kentucky fried chicken and a mac and cheese. And throw two biscuits in with butter." If you do that all the time, you're going to die! So you don't. Now, every once in a while, I have two pieces of KFC, and one biscuit without the fake butter, and a vegetable instead of the mac and cheese. Okay? We have eating habits we do that we don't even think about. How many times do you stop and get a Coke, sit in the car, and you're driving and drinking it, and don't even actually remember buying it – because it's a habit?
We have all kinds of habits. And we have spiritual habits that are very destructive to us – just like we have physical habits that can hurt us. Now, we say, "Okay" – I've seen people do this – "in order to learn self-control, what I have to do is surround myself with the sin. So, the way I'm going to lose weight is I'm just going to set that box of chocolates out there, and look at it every day, and say, ‘No, I have self-control.' Then I'll show the will power I have." And you, maybe, last two days. Then you eat twice as much chocolate as you would have otherwise. That's not how it works.
Do you know how self-control works when it comes to sin? You run away! It's amazing, if you look at the Bible, we're told to flee from a stranger (who is a teacher of lies), we're told to flee sexual immorality – just like Joseph did – we're told to flee from idolatry, we're told to flee all kinds of evil, we're told to flee youthful lusts, we're told to flee fornication. It doesn't say, "Set it out there in front of you and learn to have will power." It says, "Run as fast as you can." "Well, that's not self-control." Yeah, it is. It's the best kind of self-control. Run as fast as you can, because Satan will find a way to break you down. It's that simple. We're not fighting a physical battle. We're fighting a spiritual battle. And you run as fast as you can! You say, "Well, that's weakness." No, it's not. It's a fruit of the Spirit! It's a fruit of the Spirit.
1 Timothy 6 – I find this one interesting. Paul tells Timothy – 1 Timothy 6, verse 10:
1 Timothy 6:10 – For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil – kinds is not in the original text, but I like the way the New King James puts it. There are all kinds of evil. It's not all evil – not everything comes from the love of money – but there's enough that comes from the love of money. Let's talk about it. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from their faith in their greediness and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. Paul says, "You know, there are people in church who have become so greedy that they've actually lost their faith."
V-11 – But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue – when you pursue, you're running after something. Run away from these things and run toward these things. Self-control, in the terms of what God's Spirit produces, is running away from certain things and running towards other things. "Well, I've got to stand and make a fight – show how much self-control I have." No, run away! You don't take the person who has been an alcoholic and says, "Wow, I've gone three years without having a drink," and you don't have a party at your house and have them bartender for the night. Right? You have them run away! We help them run away. We love them by helping them run away. "Here – club soda." Right? "I've got one for you – club soda." "Here, have some orange juice." He says, "You, O man, run away from the love of money and pursue – run towards – righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience and gentleness." Run towards these things. Self-control is a lot of running away from certain things and running towards others.
1 Corinthians, chapter 9 – so we have thoughts, emotions, habits. 1 Corinthians 9, verse 24:
1 Corinthians 9:24 – Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. All of us are running the race and all of us can get the prize. He's not saying, "Only a few get to go." We're all running this race. He's saying, "Run as if you have to give everything you have to win. Run with everything you have."
I don't know how much time we have left. It doesn't matter – five years, ten years, fifty years. It's going to get harder and harder to live God's way. It's going to get harder and harder to keep congregations together. It's going to be harder and harder for you to stay focused on what God is going to do in your life. And it's going to get easier and easier to become like the world. Run! Run away, but you don't stand still. Run towards…don't stop running. I don't care how tired you get. I don't care how much you want to give up. I don't care if you start thinking, "This isn't worth it." Yes, it is! Run towards where you have to go. We don't walk. We run towards God. We pursue God.
V-25 – And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate – that's self-control – in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. It's interesting. Back then, they would have literally received a little crown made out of leaves. Do you know how long those lasted? Not very long. …but we for an imperishable crown. You're running for something that's going to last you for eternity. Therefore, I run thus – Paul says – not with uncertainty. Thus I fight – not as one who beats the air – not as a shadow boxer. We're not a shadow boxer. We're fighting a foe. We're in a fight. God promises to get us there, but we can't just lay down. You and I fight this fight and He says, "I'll help you win it, but you're going to take some hits along the way. You're going to take some punches along the way. It's not going to be easy."
V-27 –But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. Paul said, "I understand what discipline means."
I want to give you eight basic steps to help you have more discipline and learn self-control. Think about it in terms of thoughts, emotions and habits. Thoughts, emotions, habits – because it's there where sin begins. You say, "Okay, let's deal with this behavior, this behavior and this behavior," and yet, now we're going to talk about behavior. But before you can talk about behavior, where does it begin? It always begins in thoughts and emotions and habits.
First, be honest with yourself and admit your lack of self-control. That's a huge step! "Well, I really don't have a problem with using God's name in vain when I lose my temper. You know, maybe once in a while." And your wife's saying, "All the time!" "Well, I really don't have a problem of showing disrespect to my husband – you know, putting him down in public – not really." We have to admit the problem. "I really don't have a problem…I know once in a while I might have one too many beers. I mean, usually, five's my limit, so if I drink six or seven…." Wait a minute. Your limit is five?? We'll go nowhere until we're honest and owned up – "I have a problem. I'm not in control of something in my life. I have a problem." It can be your hatred you have. It can be your anxiety that you have. It can be the fact that you don't have the discipline to keep a nice clean house and you live in a pig pen – which is a sin. It can be a whole lot of things here. Whatever you don't have control over, and is controlling you, and is not right, and is taking away from God, is a problem of self-control. The fruit of God's Spirit is Spirit-led self-control – not will power, not just self-control – and not just possession by God. It's Spirit-produced self-control. So you admit it.
Secondly, you go confess to God in prayer and fasting and you're specific to God about what you need help in. "Okay God, I can't do this on my own. I come to You and I confess this, and I fast about this humbly before You, and I tell You what the problem is. Here's what it is. And it's mine. I'm not going to tell you it's somebody else's. I know other people may affect me, but when you get down to it, them affecting me isn't my lack of self-control. That's their problem. My lack of self-control is my problem." It took me a while to figure that one out – that other people could do things or say things and it did not give me the right to retaliate in a wrong way. It's easy to justify. "I have the right to do that. I was mistreated." We have the right to stand up for ourselves. There are times when we should be angry. There are times when we should confront somebody in a proper way. But when we respond in an unchristian way, we don't have the right to do that. It doesn't matter what the other person did. Hard lesson to learn. It's lack of self-control. Confess to God in prayer and fasting and be specific.
Number three: Study what the Bible says about self-control and your specific issue. Okay, I'm going to get the Bible and I'm going to read everything the Bible says about this issue. And you go to God and you ask Him to teach you, because these are the thoughts you want coming into your mind. See, when that issue comes up next time – and that problem comes up – what's the thought that you want coming into your mind? "Oh, you know, I've messed up so many times. Doing this one more time won't make a difference." And then a thought comes into your mind: "Love God with all your heart, and all your might, and all your soul." Where'd that come from? It's a thought of God here. He's putting it there. He's bringing it out. And then you have to respond to it.
Number four: We all need to take time to analyze what character and personality traits and what past experiences have led us to our lack of self-control. Sometimes it's a horrible character flaw. Sometimes it's a weakness in our personality. We've been talking about personality issues in both women's club and men's club. One of the things…when you really study your personality, you see strengths, but you see areas where your personality isn't wrong, but it gives you a weakness in a certain area. You have to be aware of that. All of us have weaknesses. Maybe it's in your upbringing. Maybe you come from such a dysfunctional family that you never learned certain aspects of self-control. You never learned how to control money, so you spend it as fast as you get it and you're always in debt, even though you make good money. I've always been surprised, over the years, to sit down with people who make a lot more money than I've ever made and you sit and you help them through a budget. And they just don't have any control. They just spend it. And you say, "Here's how you live by a budget," and they can't live by the budget, because they just have no self-control when it comes to money. They never learned it as a child. They have to learn it as an adult.
Number five: Analyze what you must do to change both your thinking and behavior. You say, "Well, I've got to change how I feel, too." Change your thinking and change your behavior and then the emotions will change. You've got to change those two things. You can change how you feel just by thinking about it. Change your thinking and your behavior. So you say, "How do I change my thinking and my behavior?"
Number six: Make a plan for how you're going to do that. Write it down and measure your progress. Now, I'm telling you that you can probably go to Barnes and Noble and find some book on willpower that will give you a list almost exactly like this. These are just techniques – as a counselor, as a pastor – I'll use to tell people. But these techniques will not, of themselves, give you the self-control that it's talking about in Galatians 5. God has to be involved in this. That's why number two is confess to God. And that's why number three is study what the Bible says. Get the information, get the wisdom and get the power that you need.
Number seven: Get support from others. Sometimes we go through horrible things in life so ashamed. It's amazing. One day you find out that the guy next to you has had the same problem all his life, too. And you didn't even know it. And you find out he does. Get support. That's why there's a church. Brethren, the church can never be just the place where everybody comes together because they believe in the Sabbath. We must be the family of God. If we walk in here, hear the sermon, and walk out, and we don't help and support each other, we don't know each other, we don't spend time with each other, we're not there for each other, and we're not willing, sometimes, to listen to somebody else's sin and still love them, as they're begging for help, then we're not the family of God. We're just people who have a common set of beliefs. The church is more than a set of common beliefs.
And the last – point eight: Daily seek help from God in heartfelt prayer, because, remember, the kind of self-control we're talking about is Spirit-led. It's not something you produce yourself. It's something you submit to. It's not just something you do yourself.
What's amazing is that self-control actually brings freedom. If you are trapped in thought processes that are taking you away from God, if you're trapped in negative emotions all the time, if you're trapped in habitual sins, you are in bondage. And because you have God's Spirit, that bondage is felt and experienced at the deepest level of your being. You either have to give in to the sin and push God away, or you have to let God break open that sin. Go before Him – He knows about it anyway – and just lay it out and let Him help you through that step by step, whether it's your marriage, whether it's your job, whether it's your honesty, whether it's your lust, whether it's your envy, whether it's your jealousy, whether it's your need to be the center of attention, whether it's your need to control people, whether it's your anxiety, whether it's your covetousness, your lying, your stealing, your idolatry. Whatever it is, go lay it before God and let Him teach you the absolute freedom of Spirit-led self-control.
Human nature tells us that…what we're talking about here, really, would keep us from doing what we really want. It would keep us from having the good life. Human nature tells us – our corrupted human nature – that, if we submit to God's law and God's way, God's direction, and we actually obey, our lives won't be happy. The truth is that Spirit-led self-control – that allows us to be disciplined under God's rule – as one of the fruits of God's Spirit – is the only way to really be happy. In fact, as we go through these fruits, we find that joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit! Now anybody here that has enough joy in their life that you don't need anymore, you don't have to come to that sermon. So anybody here that is so happy, so joy-filled, that you say, "Ah, I don't need that sermon," don't come that day. But, for the rest of us, we need to hear it. We need to go through it. Learn self-control through being led by God's Spirit.
So this is just the first of a series of sermons that will take us right up – almost – to the fall holy days, where then we will begin to look at what God's going to do as He develops this in us – as we grow through this – the reward that He's going to give us and the work that we have to do in the future, as we bear fruit like a tree planted by a river of water.