FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT, Series Post No. 23



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.”

The look says it all!

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.]

 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. 

Galatians 5:22-23.

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?


Jungle like conditions in bird habitat at Brookgreen Gardens, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.


Formal gardens at Bellingrath Gardens, Mobile, Alabama.

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.  


We often hear about the gifts of the Spirit in sermons and when Christians speak of their lives in Christ. The Apostle Paul points out that there are a vast variety of gifts, but they all come from the same source, the Holy Spirit, and they are for the purpose of the ministry of the same Lord to the glory of the same God and Father of all. 1 Corinthians 12:3-5. Gifts from the Spirit are, for the most part, visible; that is, they are apparent to others. For example, the gift of hospitality, Romans 12:13, is exercised when we welcome others into our home, this clearly being a service to others outside the family. The gift of teaching is, by definition, something done before others since we don’t usually teach ourselves! Ephesians 4:11. In short, the gifts of the Spirit are external, on display for the Body of Christ to see and profit therefrom.

The fruit of the Holy Spirit is different. Generally speaking, the fruit of the Spirit is quiet, internal, and personal. Love, joy, peace, patience … these things are not visible to others, they are characteristics that we have because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We may exhibit actions that reflect these characteristics, but the fruit itself is based on our relationship with the Spirit and comes from beyond our ability – they are not just the power of positive thinking.

 What does Scripture say?

Unlike the gifts of the Spirit, there is not a separate fruit for one person and another fruit for someone else. There is one Spirit and that Spirit produces fruit. In other words, the Spirit will give many giftS but it will only give one fruit.


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23.


An analogy that I have used is the orange. It is one orange but it is made up of multiple segments. Those segments are not identical, although they are very similar. Think of the fruit of the Spirit as an orange, with each segment identified as one of the characteristics listed in Galatians 5.


Orange fruit
The orange is an analogy to the fruit of the Spirit. Here are each of the segments identified from the listing in Galatians 5.


Please don’t stretch the analogy too far. But, each Christian has the Holy Spirit in her heart. This means that she HAS the seed of the fruit of the Spirit implanted in the soil of her heart – and that seed will sprout and grow ALL of these qualities, because the Spirit encompasses EACH ONE of the qualities identified in Galatians chapter 5

Thus, a Christian woman can’t say “I don’t have the gift of patience!” as an excuse for her outburst at having to wait in line at the bank or for her frustration with the delay in God’s providing an answer to her prayer. If she is a Christian, she already HAS the fruit of the Spirit of patience, because it is part of the Holy Spirit and, at conversion, the Holy Spirit became resident within her. She may not have allowed the Spirit to control her actions, but it is not because this fruit is absent. That is an issue of yielding herself to the control of the Spirit.

Likewise, a man can’t say the he cannot control his anger, because this was not a gift given to him by the Spirit. Rather, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit and, if the man is a Christian, he has the Spirit within him and, thus, self-control is resident in his heart. He may not exhibit self-control if he is not letting the Spirit live through him, but, again, that is an issue of yielding to the Spirit, not an issue of an absence of the virtue.

A word of warning: we have to recognize that each segment of the fruit of the Spirit has a name that is similar to words that the world uses, but it is a mistake for us to think that the fruit of the Spirit is similar to anything that the world can experience. The world experiences a mere shadow of that which the regenerate person experiences because of the Holy God’s presence within them.

 How does this apply to my daily life?

 For now, I would challenge you to read and study Galatians 5:19-22 again. The first part of this passage details the actions of the person without Christ as their Lord and Savior. The second part details the fruit of the Spirit that illustrates living a life in opposition to that which was first listed.  Compare the traits discussed and honestly look at your own heart. Where do you see your life with Christ?

Reviewing the fruit of the Spirit gives us clear guidance about how the Spirit should affect our daily lives. We are laying the groundwork here … have patience  (that’s one segment of the fruit, by the way!). Soon we will begin consideration of the specific characteristics individually and will think about what the Scripture says, how that is different than what the world says, and there will be some challenges for applying what we have learned to your Christian life with the Spirit guiding your steps and your words.

Next time, we will consider what the Spirit is doing in our hearts with the fruit of the Spirit. What transformation are we talking about? Why should we want this? Then on to the first segment – LOVE. A hint: My bet is that it is not what you think it is! It is a lot more!

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.