1 Cor. 9:25-27
So now we come to the last of the nine aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5, namely self-control.
I'd submit that this is one virtue which is basically lost in our modern American culture. Every aspect of the advertising/marketing culture is geared towards undermining self-control: “You must have this NOW! Not when you can afford it, but NOW! Not when it actually meets a practical purpose in your life, but NOW!” Now, hopefully you know by now that I don’t buy into asceticism. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in having material goods or in trying to improve your standard of living. But there’s a balance that has to be maintained, and I think that the dangers of an ascetic outlook are about as immediate in America as the polio virus.
There’s some value in getting into some Greek in examining this issue. The word in Galatians is egkrateia, which literally is “holding oneself.” Have you ever seen in a movie or TV show a character who’s utterly panicking under stress, and someone else commands the character to “get a hold of yourself!”? That’s the idea.
You were born with a sinful nature that’s essentially selfish. It would gladly step on someone else to get its way. Unfortunately, our rebellious nature gets pleasure from the very sinfulness of sin. But on top of that, we have natural desires which are perfectly fine in themselves, but don’t have a “stop”switch on them. A great example is the desire for food. We need food. Can’t live without it. We get hungry, and we eat. But we need a little breaker switch inside us that says “OK, you’ve had enough,” or maybe “This is not the best time for that. You can wait.” And that switch doesn’t work all the time, or we don't listen to it.
Or take sexual desire. God created it, and it’s wonderful—within the boundaries that he set up for it. It’s like fire: A great servant within its proper boundaries, but absolutely destructive outside them.
That’s where self-control (getting a hold on your instinctual desires) comes in. It means you recognize that your feelings are leading you astray from what God is telling you, and you do what you know is right. For example, there may come a day in which I don’t feel like being faithful to my wife. Or I might not feel like going into work and want to lie around all day. But that’s when I have to understand that my feelings can lie to me, and I have to tell them where to get off.
That’s what today’s passage is talking about. You can’t see it from the NIV, but “strict training” in vs. 25 is the same Greek word for self-control in Galatians. Think of an athlete—His long hours, his self-denial, his careful routine and obedience to his coach, and you get the picture.
And the goal is not just self-control for its own sake. We have a prize in our eyes. We want the approval and applause of our Lord. It’s quite possible to preach to others, but if we aren’t practicing what we preach, then the Lord knows, and we’ll end up regretting it.
I really feel the need right now to reemphasize that this is a result of the Spirit working in my life. This doesn’t come about by putting more effort into it. It’s an aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit. An apple tree doesn’t produce apples by “trying harder.” You plant the tree, you water and weed it, make sure it gets the proper amount of sunshine and nutrients, and eventually you’ll see apples. If we're fully connected to our Lord like we're supposed to be, then the Fruit of the Spirit (along with every other virtue) will be produced naturally in us.
As we spend time in God’s word, spend time in pray with him, fellowship with other believers—in other words, as we cultivate our relationship with Christ, we’ll see more of this virtue in our lives. More specifically, the self-control of Christ himself will shine through us. That’s the idea, anyway.
Lord Jesus, I see myself falling so far short in this area, and it shows that my relationship with you is not where it should be. Please forgive and change me.