This is the third fruit in the cluster of inward-turning fruit. The first cluster of fruit of the Spirit is toward God [love, joy and peace]. The second cluster [patience, kindness and goodness] is toward others. The last cluster [faithfulness, gentleness and self-control] is toward man himself.
We know that faithfulness is all about yielding your life to Christ so God can work through your life. We know that gentleness is modesty, the characteristic of keeping our feelings under control instead of lashing out at others. Silence in the face of threat; humbleness in the face of arrogance; peacefulness in the face of threat.
Self-control seems to be fruit that can be applied across one’s life in many, many areas.
Self-control [referred to as temperance in the King James Version] means the ability to rein in the body and mind.
Think about all the areas of life that can cause one trouble. Too often we focus on the “thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments. Maybe we need to go beyond those and zero in on pride or hatefulness toward our fellow man. Let’s be honest, we will never get a handle on the many bad things we can do in this life. Once we stop gossiping, we have a bout of jealousy. We feel kindness toward others and then pride pops up. Selfishness gets under control and then we find ourselves dealing with gluttony.
Jerry Bridges in his book Respectable Sins writes “in the same way that a city without walls was vulnerable to an invading army, so a person without self-control is vulnerable to all types of temptations.” To use another metaphor, when one problem is fixed, another problem crops up, like an old boat with leaks. We put our finger in one leak and then we discover another.
Temperance means moderation and not getting this correct “moderate” balance in life can cause problems in legitimate desires and activities, much less sinful desires and activities. I once had a student who enjoyed playing with her computer; there are lots of fascinating games that one can play. She did not practice moderation. She got so entangled into a computer game and other players that she neglected to go to work, she skipped meals, and eventually she lost custody of her daughter because she did not take care of her basic needs. All she wanted to do was “be a gamer.”
Many think that self-control is akin to will-power and we can point to many people who have accomplished a lot in life through will-power. Many professional athletes credit their self-discipline as the key to their magnificent skill levels. For most of us however, will-power is not as powerful as the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. We need God’s Word and prayer. Bridges says you might “say that self-control is not control by oneself through one’s own willpower but rather control of oneself through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Self-control needs to be exercised in all areas of our life, but Bridges points to three areas of life where Christians fail to exercise it. The first is eating and drinking. Graham agrees as he says that moderation is an unknown word for many Christians when it comes to food and drink. Too many of us give into our desires. Before you think this is a picky problem and not very important, just consult statistics about American eating habits and obesity rates. What we are talking about is eating a small bowl of ice cream instead of the whole container. One soda is ok once in a while but what about the person who goes through a six pack in one day? A rare donut is very tasty but how about a daily half dozen over a lifetime?
A second area that Bridges feels that Christians need some self-control is our problem with temper. Some people have short fuses; they become angry and out of control very quickly, sometimes about what some would call small, insignificant things. Proverbs has several verses devoted to anger: “A man of quick temper acts foolishly” and “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.” In the New Testament, James encourages us to be “slow to anger.” Think about the witness of the hot-headed Christian. We see a father abuse his son with horrible words in a public setting. Then we see him scream profanities at the umpire at the church league softball game. As he swerves to cut us off on the freeway and as we read the profane words on his lips, we catch the glance of the fish symbol on back of his car.
The last area of work that needs attention is personal finances. Google the average American household credit card debt and you will see the average is $7,000.00. This indicates that most of us are spending beyond our means. As a nation we are not exercising financial self-control. If we want new clothes, charge them. If we want the latest digital devices, charge them. Go on an expensive vacation; charge it. One can easily see that this is a problem in the Christian community due to the many Christian ministries devoted to helping Christians get control of their money.
This is a tough thing to say, but today we see so many areas of life that need self-control. When we encounter people who are selfish we don’t need to follow their lead. When apathy seems to be all around us, we don’t need to join that crowd. When we are tempted to live undisciplined lives because everyone seems to live that lifestyle, do we just do the “stylish” thing?
The answer is no. Christians don’t have to give into the temptation to lose control. We are not perfect and to expect us to not make mistakes is asking too much. Paul taught so much about self-control; he admonishes us to take control in all things, even saying “I buffet my body and make it my slave.”
That is a tall order and Pastor Graham knows it. I like his image of the life of the Christian struggling with self-control. He knows we need to set an example and we are all living in a world that at times seems to toss us like we are in the middle of a raging sea.
What do we have that others do not? When we are tempted to lose control, we have an anchor…
That anchor is Jesus Christ.