One of the reasons that I really look forward to the summer is the availability of fresh fruit. There is just something about a juicy peach or a cold, crisp apple or some ripe strawberries that is so refreshing in the midst of the summer heat. For nine weeks now, we have been looking at a different kind of fruit – a spiritual fruit that Paul described in Galatians 5 as the “fruit of the Spirit”. As we’ve seen, that fruit is also intended to be attractive and alluring in order to bring spiritual refreshment to the world around us.
Although this fruit is provided for us by God’s Holy Spirit – it is, after all, the fruit of the Spirit – we also play an important part in the development of that fruit within this body in the way that we treat each other and in the way that we worship God together.
This morning, we’ll complete our series by examining one last aspect of the fruit – self-control. As we’ve done each week, we’ll set the stage by reading a story from Philip Gulley’s book, Home Town Tales. This week’s story is titled “State Fair”.
THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS…SELF-CONTROL
Like many of the other aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, it’s difficult to translate the Greek word that Paul uses here into just one English word. So for one last time in this series, we’ll have our Greek grammar lesson, since we must begin by understanding what Paul meant when he used this particular word.
The Greek word is “egkrateia” which comes from a root word which means “strength”. It is translated “self-control” in the ESV and most other English translations and “temperance” in the KJV. The idea here is that a person has strength to master his or her desires and impulses.
Although it is an accurate translation of the underling Greek word, the term “self-control” is almost an oxymoron. Self-control, like the other eight aspects of the fruit of the Spirit is not self-focused at all, but rather it is concerned with others before it is concerned with self.
Vine’s accurately describes it as “the controlling power of the will under the operation of the Spirit of God”. And in his book, Life on the Vine, Philip Kenneson suggests this definition: “control of the self by the Spirit for the sake of the gospel”. I like both of those definitions because they capture the essence of how self-control fits within the whole concept of fruit that comes from the Spirit of God and not our own human effort. It also seems quite fitting that this attribute is listed last among the nine aspects of the fruit of the Sprit, for without this kind of self-control it will be nearly impossible to develop the other eight character traits within our body.
Even the Old Testament confirms the importance of self-control. The writer of Proverbs describes the value of self-control in both negative and positive terms:
A man without self-control
is like a city broken into and left without walls.
Proverbs 25:28 (ESV)
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
Proverbs 16:32 (ESV)
The word that Paul uses to describe this final aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is not used much at all in the New Testament, but Paul’s use of the verb form of this word in 1 Corinthians 9, provides us with some further insight that we can draw upon as we develop some practical principles to help us develop self-control within this body.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (ESV)
Here Paul uses the example of a runner training for a race to teach about several aspects of self-control. One of the first things we note is that the runner exercises self-control in all things. He recognizes that it is not enough to just exercise self-control in his physical training because every area of his life can potentially impact his success as a runner – his eating habits, his sleeping habits, his mental state, his physical conditioning and his technique all play a role.
Self-control often means that we must abstain from some things which are perfectly good, legitimate and permissible because they fail to further our goals. This week Scotty McCreery was crowned the Season 10 American Idol. But in order to achieve that goal the 17 year old from North Carolina had to pretty much give up everything else in his life for the past five months. He didn’t get to attend his high school prom or pitch for his school’s baseball team or even just get to hang out with his friends. Even though those are all good things, in order to win American Idol, Scotty had to exercise self-control and choose not to take part in those activities, even though there was absolutely nothing wrong with them.
Now that we have a better handle on self-control, let’s see if we can draw out some practical principles that will help us to develop self-control right here in this body.
• Developing self-control in the way we treat each other
1) Be a fanatic
I’m surprised by the number of Christians who believe the phrase “all things in moderation” comes from the Bible. In reality that phrase can trace its origins back to a Greek poet named Theognis, nearly 600 years before the birth of Jesus.
Certainly the idea of moderation, or balance, has its place in our lives. But when it comes to our deepest convictions, we are not to treat them with moderation.
Both Paul and James addressed the effects of moderation when it comes to our doctrine and our faith:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Ephesians 4:11-14 (ESV)
Just a little over a week ago we got to witness firsthand how immature Christ followers can easily be seduced into following the latest fads in teaching. Even many Christians who didn’t necessarily believe the world was coming to an end last Saturday nonetheless became captivated by all the hoopla surrounding those predictions and ended up worrying instead of staking their lives upon the clear truth of God’s Word.
What happens when we aren’t firmly grounded in God’s Word is that we lack the self-control to hang on to our core values and not be seduced by the latest teaching fad to come along, usually drawn from the latest guest on some talk show or some bestselling author.
But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
James 1:6-8 (ESV)
Here James describes a double-minded man as one who is unstable, like the waves in the sea that do the bidding of the winds. Again the idea here is that there are some things that are worth driving a stake in the ground and being fanatic about. That’s right, I said fanatic. Sometimes I think we’re afraid of being called a fanatic, when we ought to consider it a badge of honor.
Too many times moderation and balance are just other words for mediocrity and lukewarmness. And other times they merely become an excuse for avoiding some of the difficult demands of the gospel. And if you want to know how Jesus feels about that, just take a look at the church of Laodicea in the book of Revelation. Because they have become so lukewarm, Jesus is ready to vomit them out of His mouth.
Jesus does not call us to merely moderate our own fleshly desires, he calls us to die to self. And that kind of self-control not only allows the Holy Spirit to exert His influence and control in our lives, it also ends up ultimately benefiting both ourselves and others in the body.
2) Be willing to yield my rights for the benefit of others
We live in a culture that seems to be obsessed with our rights. Every interest group imaginable has lobbyists to try to preserve those rights at every level of government. People hire lawyers to protect their rights when they get in an accident or they use a product which turns out to be unsafe, or even when they spill a cup of hot coffee in their lap. And a lot of those rights are legitimate and do deserve protection.
But the church is an entirely different story. That’s why Paul had to write to the church in Corinth to deal with those who insisted that they had a right to eat meat sacrificed to idols. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul establishes the principle that is to guide us in dealing with our personal rights within the body:
But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.
1 Corinthians 8:9 (ESV)
The main principle is that I am not to allow my rights to become a stumbling block to my brothers and sisters in this body. A couple of chapters later in that same letter, Paul provides us with a further explanation of this principle.
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience - I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:23-31 (ESV)
Paul begins by quoting twice what was probably a popular saying in the culture of his day – “All things are lawful.” And Paul doesn’t even deny the truth of that statement. But what he does point out is that even though something is legal, it doesn’t necessarily make it helpful to others or profitable for building them up. There are certainly a lot of things in our culture that would fit into that category, aren’t there? We may have a legal right to partake in those activities, but exercising our right to do so won’t be helpful to anyone or result in edifying others.
So Paul directs his audience to yield their rights for the sake of others. In this case, he is particularly concerned about unbelievers, but the principle clearly applies to our dealings with others in the body as well.
This is clearly the kind of self-control that Paul was writing about when he described the fruit of the Spirit. When we are controlled by the Spirit, then we will gladly get our own wishes and desires under control so that we can yield our own personal rights for the benefit of others.
I’m really thankful for so many of you that do that each week right here at TFC. Even though you have a right to sit in the front row, you willingly yield that right so that others might have the benefit of being in those prime seats as we sing together and as I preach. And if you have some front row seats to the U of A Basketball games any time and would like to do the same thing with those seats, I’ll be happy to take them off your hands for you.
• Developing self-control in our worship
1) Use our worship to shape and reorient our desires
Most of us are probably familiar with this passage:
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4 (ESV)
Unfortunately this passage is often misused to teach that if you’ll just delight in God, then He’ll give you whatever you want. That is how it’s often used to support the “prosperity gospel” or the “name it and claim it” gospel. Want a bigger house? Delight in God. How about a new Mercedes? Just delight in God.
But that is not what the writer of Proverbs had in mind at all. The idea here is that if you delight in God, then He will put His desires in your heart. So it really goes something more like this. Delight in God and He’ll give you the desire to love your enemies. Delight in God and He’ll give you the desire to be a cheerful giver, not a cheerful getter.
I’m convinced that developing self-control as part of the fruit of the Spirit is not so much about trying to suppress our own natural humans desires as it is about letting God give us a whole new set of desires. We actually see this all the way back in the garden. Instead of delighting in the God who walked with her in the cool of the garden, Eve reverted back to her own natural desire to be all-knowing like God. What she needed to do was not necessarily to hold back her desire to be like God. Instead, if she had truly delighted in God, He would have given her the desires He wanted her to have and also given her the ability to be satisfied with those desires rather than her own.
So one of the things we must do as we gather to worship is to truly delight in God and allow Him to transform our desires from those that are focused on our own pleasure to those that are focused on giving Him pleasure in us.
Probably the way we do that best is with many of the songs we sing. Now I understand that for many of you, music isn’t really your thing. But even if that’s the case I want to encourage you to really think about the words of the songs we sing, and even if you can’t or don’t want to sing, at least pray those words back to God.
As I was preparing the message this week, I was thinking about how well many of the songs we sing can really be used by God to shape and orient our desires.
“I love you more than life” – If you really mean that when you sing it to God, He can use that to transform your desires.
Or I think of a song like “Do It Lord” which is really a prayer to God to bring salvation, to see orphans and widows cared for, to see forgiveness overtaking hatred, to see depression replaced with joy, to see Satan’s lies bowing to the truth. There is no way you can sincerely sing those words without having God begin to change your desires to be consistent with His desires that we’re singing about.
So when we sing a few songs at the end of the message today I want to encourage you to really focus on the words and how God can use your singing to help make His desires your desires.
2) Maintain order in our worship
I know we’ve already addressed this principle earlier in this series, but since all nine elements of the fruit of the Spirit are so closely related, it’s not surprising that it would come up again this morning.
It’s not hard to imagine what a worship service would look like if every one of us came in here with our own idea of what the worship service should be like and then proceeded do whatever we wanted to do when we gather together. That is certainly not something that most of us would want to be a part of or that would be beneficial for building up the body. But that is exactly what was happening in the church in Corinth. Some were speaking in tongues and some were singing hymns and some were teaching the Bible and others were sharing a testimony. But the problem is that all that was going on at the same time. So Paul had to give them some instructions about how to make the worship time more orderly. At the end of those instructions, he left his readers with this overriding principle:
For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.
1 Corinthians 14:33 (ESV)
So when we gather for corporate worship, we all exercise self-control by yielding our own desires and wishes and deferring to those who have planned and prayed about and are leading our time together. And that creates an atmosphere where we can all benefit and be equipped and edified.
However, let me also encourage all of you who would like to be a part of developing our worship service each week. If you have any ideas about what you’d like to see in our worship services, let us know. If there are particular songs you would like us to sing or other elements you’d like to see, let me or one of the elders or someone on our worship team know and we’ll see if we can’t work them in appropriately. Just do me a favor and do that well in advance and not try to come up to us on Sunday morning and ask us to make last minute changes.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And as we have the opportunity to cooperate with the development of that fruit in this body, God can transform us into a body that is alluring and attractive to the world around us, in much the same way that fresh summer fruit of attractive to our physical appetites.
So after our offering time, we want to give all of you an opportunity to share how God has been working in your life these past nine weeks and helping you to be a part of developing this character together here in our body. So one of the things I want to encourage you to do during our response time is to ask God to reveal to you anything that He would want you to share with our body during that time.