Self-control says things to many of us which are unintended by Paul when he wrote out the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians five. It is simple to view self-control as demonstrating superiority over those losing their tempers or panicking or fearful. Self- control could define our very English behaviour, which is not an advisable way to be, the ‘stiff upper lip’. My mind goes to the infamous poem, ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling: you may know it, the last verse runs: ‘If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch; If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, If all men count with you, but none too much; If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
So self-control is both something we make an effort for and receive. It is done in collaboration with the Holy Spirit – not by Him for us without us choosing to go that way, nor by us without Him. Biblical self-control means choosing to give up trying to control things on our own, surrendering to God for help, and working alongside Him for real change. Remember that well-loved verses in Philippians 2 v 12, 13? ‘God works within us to work out His salvation in us; yet we are called to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.
Self-control involves not only an awareness of others’ brokenness, but also an awareness of our own brokenness. Great Biblical characters such as Paul continued to experience brokenness throughout their lives and there will be those whom you and I know and love who will always be broken in at least one sense throughout their lives. This is one of many dichotomies which will be experienced in our Christian walk. We long to be perfect, Christ calls us to be perfect: ‘’Be perfect even as your Father in Heaven is perfect’’. However, in this life we can never be perfect. Who, apart from Jesus Christ, has lived a life without sin?
Self-control does most definitely not imply being whole and superior, rather it means brokenness and the recognition and empathy for all around who are broken too. We think that when we gather as church, brothers and sisters in Christ, that our niceness to each other ticks the box of self-control. No! It goes far beyond that! Did Jesus exercise that kind of self-control when He wept in the Gethsemane Garden or when He swept the Temple traders’ tables aside? No, He didn’t! His self-control did not show itself in the stiff upper lip or inaction. He didn’t exhibit self-control by ignoring acts of injustice, prejudice or marginalisation! Most of all and firstly, our Spirit-filled lives are absolutely not intended to demonstrate self-control by maintaining a studied indifference to the world! Doesn’t you blood boil when you hear stories of individuals destroyed by the state? My blood boiler recently has been the way the Post Office treated sub-postmasters in taking them to court, bankrupting them, imprisoning some, destroying their families and in some cases ending their lives through their covering up of their botched computer system which they knew was not fit for purpose! The head of the Post Office in that period was a lay Anglican preacher!
So, self- control is not those things, but then what is it? Well, we start as in every thing Christian from an understanding and acceptance of our own utter brokenness before God. We are not worthy and never will be worthy of standing in His holy presence! We are the opposite of King Midas, bringing so much that we touch to ruin! So, self-control as in all the blossoming of Spiritual fruit within and from us must begin from a place of utter brokenness and acknowledgement that God alone can transform us, not a single little bit of us is naturally good! I look around at all the Christian believers I meet, both here in Bearfield and elsewhere and I know that you like me, have fallen on your knees before God in recognition that He alone can get you out of the mess you have made for yourself! Talking individually with you, that is the repeated message that you give me, and I thank God for that and for Him. The main concern I have with poems such as ‘If’ and songs such as ‘I did it my way’ is that they celebrate splendid individualism and self-determination, but this attitude must go when we meet Christ. Remember the apostle Paul when he was Saul the Jew and his encounter with Jesus? Before that meeting, he was self-assured, confident before God of his own goodness, certain that to destroy the nascent Church was his God-given destiny and then he is in the dust before the risen Saviour…’’Paul, Paul why do you persecute me?’’ and Paul becomes fully aware of his corrupt nature, of the fact that whilst he thought he was doing God’s work, he was really doing the Devil’s and that he was ‘the chief of all sinners’ as he calls himself later on. Permanently broken but made whole in the Saviour’s love.
Self- control, then, is the God-given ability to love others, no matter how objectionable they are and to love them despite their demonstration of all the worst human traits. I think I’ve told you the story about the man who attended church from the local rehab and his change of attitude to others. …
Self- control means not biting back when others assault you with lies and slander, not seeking to gain points, so as to feel superior, seeking never to put down others, but to build them up, looking only to bring glory to God rather than the praise of others for ourselves.
Self- control entails being fully aware that our lives are not about our own pleasure and satisfaction, but to help bring about the Kingdom of God on earth. Do you come to church wondering what you might gain this morning from being here, rather than who you might be able to bless and encourage? If you are a Christian of more than five years standing, I would say to you that your commitment should be to bless others and not yourself. What do you do during church which benefits others? Do you lead a children’s group on a rota, so that others can sit in church, listen, absorb, grow after a busy week with their children? Are you one of those who welcomes those on entering the church or plies them with refreshments afterwards or who ensures that the church is looking beautiful for our services with flowers, banners, everything in place?
Self-control, my friends, involves loving others rather than demonstrating moral superiority. Sometimes, it involves being willing to confess your shortcomings to help someone feel better about themselves. Many times, those whom I inform that I’m praying for them as they go through some moral or health crisis ask me what they can pray for my life. Jesus did not stand aloof but entered into the beautiful sewer of human existence and we are called to do the same as Him.
But how do we grow in self-control? Paul says that Christians exercise self-control like the Greek athletes, only our goal is eternal, not temporal. “Every athlete we view at the Tokyo Olympics exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable wreath.’’ So Paul says, “I discipline my body and keep it under control” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Self-control is saying no to sinful desires, even when it hurts.
But the Christian way of self-control is not “Just say no!” The problem is with the word “just.” You don’t just say no. You say no in a certain way: You say no by faith in the superior power and pleasure of Christ. It is just as ruthless. And may be just as painful. But the difference between worldly self-control and godly self-control is crucial. Who will get the glory for victory? That’s the issue. Will we get the glory? Or will Christ get the glory? If we exercise self-control by faith in Christ’s superior power and pleasure, Christ will get the glory, because things begin to be balanced.
Balance is the subject of Ecclesiastes 3:1–8. The author says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (v. 1). God desires that Christians have balanced lives. This includes spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional balance. For example, the apostle Paul wrote chapters 12, 13, and 14 of 1 Corinthians to stress the importance of balance in the church in the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit, and to emphasize the need for the gifts to be balanced by love. In the Corinthian church there were abuses in the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit. But in the church at Thessalonica there was too much control, which also caused imbalance. These believers were hindering the Spirit’s working and even despising the gifts of the Spirit. All of the human powers God has given to us, such as the capacity to reason, to feel, and to exercise our will, have the possibility of being abused. That is why we need the Holy Spirit’s help to learn self-control so that there will be balance in our lives in the exercise of these powerful forces. A balanced life is a life of temperance or moderation. As we mentioned earlier, this does not mean asceticism, which is total abstention from such things as meat, wine, or marriage.
Certainly, there are things from which the Christian must totally abstain. But God has created many good things for us to enjoy in moderation, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in accordance with the limitations given in the Word of God.