Summary: We exercise self-control in the body by yielding our rights for the benefit of others.
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.