Summary: When the fruit of self-control is not evident in our lives, we’re vulnerable to all kinds of relational ruptures. When the Spirit controls us, we will demonstrate restraint in our lives.
Rev. Brian Bill
This past Sunday afternoon, three of us jumped on a plane and flew to Michigan to interview an applicant for our Associate Pastor of Student Ministries position. Scott Petersen, who is a member here at PBC and runs the airport in town, made the arrangements to find a good pilot and a plane. Thankfully, Scott agreed to go along as the copilot.
This whole experience forced me to go way out of my comfort zone in two big areas. Number one, we were going to Michigan! And number two; we were flying in a small plane! The one good thing is that it gave me the opportunity to demonstrate some self-control, which is our topic for today. Instead of screaming and hyperventilating as we went through some turbulence on the way there and tried to outrace a nasty storm on the way back, I chose to hang on tight and pray like mad! Scott kept giving me the “thumbs-up” sign while Mark and Milt kept laughing at me! My knuckles were still white the next morning!
That reminds me of a story I heard about a stunt pilot who was selling rides in his single engine airplane. One day he got into an argument with a pastor who insisted on taking his wife along at no extra charge. Not wanting to miss out on a chance to make some cash, the pilot said, “I’ll take you both up for the price of one if you promise not to utter a sound during the entire flight. If you make any noise, the price is doubled.” The deal was made and they climbed aboard the plane.
The pilot quickly proceeded to put the plane through all sorts of stunts and maneuvers designed to make the bravest person tremble. But the passengers didn’t make a sound. Exhausted, the pilot finally landed. As the pastor climbed out, the pilot said, “I made moves up there that frightened even me and yet you never said a word. You must have incredible self-control.” The pastor thanked the pilot and then said, “I must admit that there was one time when you almost had me.” “When was that?” asked the pilot. To which the man replied, “When my wife fell out of the plane!”
Talk about self-control! As we come to the last, but not least, fruit of the Spirit, let’s read Galatians 5:22-23 together: “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.”
Each of the different characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit focuses on how we respond to God and how we treat other people. Joy and faithfulness are expressed vertically while peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness bear directly on how we interact with others. And, the juiciest fruit, which is at the center of our spiritual fruit salad, is love, which has both a horizontal and vertical dimension.
Nestled among the Spirit’s produce is the seemingly out-of-place fruit of self-control. This characteristic of a Christ-follower seems to focus more on me instead of on my relationships with other people. I can exercise self-control when I’m the only person in the house. In fact, sometimes the hidden, private moments when no one else is looking is precisely when I need self-control the most.
However, if we properly exercise the fruit of self-control, it will benefit those around us. In some ways, we might consider this virtue the most important because without self-control the works of the flesh cannot be overcome and the other elements of the Fruit of the Spirit will not be evident.
When the Greeks wanted to illustrate self-control, they built a statue of a man or a woman in perfect proportion. To them, self-control was the proper ordering and balancing of the individual. Aristotle once said, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self.” Plato believed that our animal urges must be governed or else they will produce “a feverish state in the soul, a city of pigs” which knows no limits. When we’re not self-controlled, our life is like a pigsty. That’s quite a word picture.
The word translated “self-control” in the NIV is rendered “temperance” in the King James Version. It comes from the word “strength” and means, “one who holds himself in.” To be self-controlled is to not live in bondage to the desires, passions and appetites of the flesh. My body is a good servant but a miserable master.
While “self-control” is a good translation of the Greek word, it’s a bit deceiving because we all know that we can’t control ourselves simply through our own willpower or self-determination. Self-control is more than just self-help. Paul speaks of our dilemma in Romans 7:18: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good but I cannot carry it out.”