FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, Series Post No. 23
SELF CONTROL – SELF MASTERY SO WE CAN SERVE GOD IN FREEDOM
You may recall that the initial entry in this list of graces from the Holy Spirit is “love” and this last entry is “self-control” or, in the King James Version, “temperance”. In Greek language structure, it was common to place the elements that you wanted stressed at the beginning and at the end. Thus, the first fruit of “love” would be known to be of paramount importance because of its placement at the head of the line. This is true in our own language construct. However, in the Greek writing, the last item is also intended to be emphasized. Se we need to pay special attention to this characteristic that the Holy Spirit is desiring to develop in us.
As for the other fruit of the Spirit, the world speaks of this fruit but the meaning and application is greatly different than that which the Spirit imparts.
For example, Oscar Wilde has said “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” No self-control there!
Tom Wilson (An American cartoonist, 1931-1978) said: “About the only time losing is more fun than winning is when you’re fighting temptation.”
Benjamin Franklin came closer to the Scriptural meaning when he said: “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”
In his World Biblical Commentary, Richard Longnecker says that the word “self-control” has a long history among Greek classical writers. Plato used the term in contrast to overindulgence in both food and sex. Aristotle gave it significant treatment in his writings on ethics, specifically pointing out the difference between the person who has powerful passions but keeps them under control (self-control) while its opposite (incontinence) is the person who does not deliberately choose the wrong but who has no strength to resist temptation. The term “incontinence” is also called wantonness. Aristotle thought self-control was primarily related to bodily enjoyment but that it was not improper to be incontinent with respect to money or temper or glory.
Later, Augustine said that incontinence was not a problem of knowledge, which is of knowing but not acting. Rather, it was an issue of will. He found that it was an everyday occurrence that men failed to exercise self-control by choosing the lesser over greater goods.
Romanticism came into vogue and the incontinent choice of feeling over reason became increasing more welcome. Blake wrote that “those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.”
All this progressed in a downhill spiral until the 1960s with the breakdown of conscience by “letting it all hang out” – acting out and emotional self-indulgence and drama. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incontinence_(philosophy)]
What does Scripture say?
We have come to the final entry in the fruit of the Spirit that Paul lists in Galatians 5:22-23.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
At the time of Paul’s writings, self-control was a central concept in Hellenistic ethics. Indeed, Josephus uses the noun in various places to refer to self-control in sexual matters. Therefore, we can understand Paul’s placement of self-control at the end of the list as intending emphasis as well as to highlight the direct contrast to the list of vices of “drunkenness” and “orgies” that concluded the listing of the works of the flesh in verses 19-21. The Spirit’s fruit of self-control is not limited to either control of the appetite for drink or the consequent tendency to unrestrained and immodest behavior.
The Greek word for self-control is Egkrateia – self-control. The Lexicon defines the term as being 1) the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites and 2) restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions or desires.
Philip Rykers in the Reformed Expository Commentary on Galatians says that self-control means temperance or moderation, especially like drinking, sex, and eating. He refers to this virtue as “a sober virtue” and says that it prevents liberty from becoming license in the Christian life. A person with self-control has the restraint and self-discipline not to be ruled by passion, and, therefore, she is able to resist temptation.
James Montgomery Boice describes self-control as the quality that gives victory over fleshly desires and which is therefore closely related to chastity both in mind and conduct. It is the “great quality which comes to a man when Christ is in his heart and it is that quality which makes him able to live and to walk in the world, and yet to keep his garments unspotted from the world.”
How does this apply to my daily life?
Dr. R. C. Sproul references the frequent description of our world today, when we warn someone to “be careful, it’s a jungle out there!” Then he notes that God put man in a garden, not a jungle. What is the difference between the two?
Both are places where things grow. Both are places where there are animals of various types. Both are places of a variety of plants and trees and shrubs. But one is wild – not structured – not subject to any control. The other is under control and has an intentional structure; the garden is actively tended – continually groomed, monitored, fed and weeded so that the plants can grow to their fullest potential. The jungle is ignored and unrestrained; there is no intentional structure, rather anything is allowed to grow without any attention or direction.
God, in creation, put man in the Garden. Because of man’s sin, he was ejected from the Garden and thus exchanged the Garden for a jungle and chaos was substituted for God’s order. Self-control, temperance, is the fruit of the Spirit which replaces the jungle of uncontrolled emotions, passions, violence and chaos with a desire for God and His order. It is our restraint through the Holy Spirit that conquers the chaos of the flesh and allows us to embrace the life that our Lord desires us to have through His Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is not the author of confusion but of order, harmony and self-control, and it is this self-control that we must nurture by reading our scripture, prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit for guidance and growth.
What is the difference between self-control as a fruit of the Spirit and self-discipline or sheer willpower?
Paul provides a distinction between living by the flesh and in the spirit in Romans 8:13-14:
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Again, Paul in Colossians 2:20-23 said:
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.” These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
The self-control of the flesh is strict adherence to rules and regulations. In contrast, the self-control from the Holy Spirit gives us restraint based on God’s strength, not on ours.
We tend the garden of our heart by the exercise of self-control so that the weeds of the world cannot transform our garden into a jungle which is out of control and outside of God’s plan for us.
Blessings to you and I pray that you will continue to walk with me as we learn about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and as we mature in our transformation into Christian believers who speak and act as Jesus did and who share in the passions that Jesus had for the lost sheep and for the worship of His Father, the Almighty God.