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Summary: Self-control is not when I control my "self". It when my "self" is controlled by the Holy Spirit.

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The Virtue of Self-Control

Part 10

The Core Virtues of the Christian Life

Galatians 5:22-23

Jeff Armbrester

(I appreciate the sermon "Strawberry of Self-Control" by James Westervelt, which is on this site. His outline inspired me as I prepared this message. I encourage you read his sermon as well.)

22But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law. (New Living Translation)

During his term as President of the U.S., Lyndon Johnson was somewhat overweight. One day his wife challenged him with this blunt assertion: "You can’t run the country if you can’t run yourself." Respecting Mrs. Johnson’s wise observation, the President lost 23 pounds.

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The virtue of self-control is one that we long for, yet few attain it. In fact, most people do not even try because they don’t want to say “no” to themselves. Self-control, while it is highly respected and greatly desired, is tough.

As tough as self-control is, we know that without it, we create many troubles for ourselves. Ask Admiral Phipps, commander of the British fleet in 1750. When the British and French were fighting in Canada, Admiral Phipps was commanded to anchor outside of Quebec. He was given orders to wait for the British land forces to arrive. Then he was to support them when they attacked the city. Phipps’ navy arrived early. As the admiral waited, he became annoyed by the statues of the saints that adorned the towers of a nearby cathedral. So, he commanded his men to shoot at them with the ships’ cannons. No one knows how many rounds were fired or how many statues were knocked out, but when the land forces arrived and the signal was given to attack, the admiral was of no help. He had used up all his ammunition shooting at the "saints."

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Have you been there? How many times have we gave in to the tyranny of the urgent to later find ourselves not being able to fulfill our responsibility or dream? Rather than wait until we can afford it, we pull out the credit card and buy it too soon. Rather than wait for further instructions, we move forward in our own wisdom thinking we’ll please the boss only to discover the plans had been changed. Rather than wait on God to fulfill his promise, we decide God needs a little help, so we take action and create a mess.

That’s what happened to Abraham. He and Sarah waited for the promised son, but each month nothing happened. Finally after a long wait, Sarah came up with a plan. She gave her maid, Hagar, to her husband and told him to have a son through Hagar. Abraham agreed. Ishmael was born. And God said, “No.” Ishmael will not be the promised son. Soon afterward, Sarah was pregnant with Isaac. Because Abraham and Sarah didn’t exercise self-control, havoc was created. The result of their inability to wait on God, created a sibling rivalry that escalated to hatred and war that continues to this day in the Middle East.

Granted, our times of not controlling ourselves will not create problems that big. However, the problems we do create do wreak havoc in our lives and the lives of those close to us. So, how do we allow the virtue of self-control to grow within us?

Let’s begin with the biblical understanding of what Paul was speaking of when he penned this letter.

The term Paul was ekrateia (eng-krat’-I-ah), which is translated self-control or temperance. The term means to be strong in a thing (masterful) (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible). We would agree that people who have self-control are strong individuals.

There are two aspects to self-control.

1. Self-control requires great strength because the hardest person to say “no” to is your self.

M. Scott Peck writes in his book "The Road Less Traveled: "I spent much of my ninth summer on a bicycle. About a mile from our house the road went down a steep hill and turned sharply at the bottom. Coasting down the hill one morning, I felt my gathering speed to be ecstatic. To give up this ecstasy by applying brakes seemed an absurd self-punishment. So I resolved to simultaneously retain my speed and negotiate the corner. My ecstasy ended seconds later when I was propelled a dozen feet off the road into the woods. I was badly scratched and bleeding, and the front wheel of my new bike was twisted beyond use from its impact against a tree. I had been unwilling to suffer the pain of giving up my ecstatic speed in the interest of maintaining my balance around the corner. I learned, however, that the loss of balance is ultimately more painful than the giving up required to maintain balance.”

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