By Dr. Geraldine Bowie
Galatians 5:22- “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, against such there is no law. In this scripture the word fruit is singular- it speaks of fruit with nine different qualities or virtues. We need the Spirit of God working in us to produce these qualities.
The Greek word for self control is”egrekratia” which means continence, temperance, self-control; it means restraining passions and appetites. The antonym or opposite Greek word is “akrasia” which means excess or self-indulgence.
A crucial characteristic of ancient architecture was the fact that a city was only as secure as the walls that surrounded it. A city’s walls were its fortification, its protection. Historians tell us that the walls of ancient Babylon were so wide that six chariots could ride side by side on them. Babylon’s walls supported their reputation that they could not be penetrated by any enemy.
The scriptures tell us in Proverbs 25:28, “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” Without self-control we are like a city with broken down walls.
Self-control is an issue of our mastery and authority over boundaries in our lives. All of us, at one time or another have had a time when we did not practice self-control in various areas of our lives whether physically, mentally or emotionally.
The bible gives us examples of people who lived out-of-control lives, as well as those who exhibited tremendous self-control. One of the most dramatic stories of an out-of-control life is that of Samson who was a Nazarite and one of the judges found in Judges 14-16. Samson is a vivid portrait of how lack of control can lead to self-destruction. As one of Israel’s judges, he knew God; Samson was a leader of God’s people and was known for his phenomenal strength. One of his primary tasks as a leader was to protect his people from the influence of the pagan philistines. However, contrary to what his role as judge was supposed to be, since he did not have self control, he did some things he should not have done- he visited Philistine prostitutes and married into this pagan worshiping culture. You have probably heard the story of how one of his pagan wives, Delilah, conspired with those seeking to destroy him and got him to tell her the secret of his strength. Lacking sexual self-control, Samson, lost his hair, lost his strength and lost his respect as a leader and ultimately lost his life. One of the saddest verses in the scriptures regarding Samson is in Judges 16:20: “And he awoke out of his sleep and said I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself. And he wist not that the Lord was departed from him.” His uncontrolled, self-indulgent desires had led him to a place where he no longer had the special presence of God’s strength in his life. Samson did not realize that his supernatural strength was created by God. As the scripture says, (each time he showed his strength “the Spirit of the Lord that came upon him,” so when he continued to give into his uncontrolled passions, he was really ignoring God, and his God-given strength left him! Samson is a good example of lack of self-control.
We find an excellent example of self-control in the scriptures as we look into – the Book of Daniel, which tells us of another young man, Daniel, who was called to consecrate his life to God. In Daniel 1:8 we see the first example of his determination and self-control. Verse 8 says “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine he drank.” Daniel and his friends were allowed ten days to eat the diet of their choosing. Scripture tell us that they thrived physically and their appearance was excellent and even the king of Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar, stated in terms of their mental abilities, that he found them ten times better than all of the magicians and astrologers in his realm.
Later in Daniel 6 the country was now ruled by King Darius. An edict was made that anyone making a petition to any God or man within a specific 30-day period would be cast into a den of lions. (This was done by some people jealous of Daniel to get him in trouble with the king who held him in high esteem.)
These men knew of Daniel’s discipline to pray three times a day. Verse 10 says: “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he kneeled upon his knees, prayed and gave thanks before his God as he did aforetime.”
You know the punishment and outcome of Daniel’s self-disciplined, self-controlled behavior– he was thrown into the lion’s den, but he was not harmed by the lions and as a result of his behavior and trust in God. King Darius decreed that Daniel’s God must be feared for he alone was the living God. Self-control for God’s sake invites God’s blessings. The lives of these two men, Samson and Daniel, show us that self-control prospers; self-indulgence dies. Both men were victorious. One man was victorious but only in his death, and the other was victorious in his life.
Self-control involves a much wider range of watchfulness than our physical appetites and desires. We also must exercise control of our thoughts, our emotions and our speech. In terms of self-control regarding our thoughts, unfortunately we allow in our minds what we would not allow in our actions. The reason is because other people cannot see our thoughts. But God sees them! The Psalmist David wrote in Psalm 2:4, “Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely.” Each day our prayer should be Psalm 19:14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”
Anger, rage, resentment, self-pity, and bitterness are also emotions that need to be controlled. Being able to control any one of them presents a challenge, but control them we must.
The story is told of a missionary who had problems in the area of self-control of his temper. This was written by a fellow missionary who was with him. They were working with some natives in the country where they were serving on a particular project. One of the natives was not working as fast as he thought he should, so he kicked the native with his booted foot and knocked him down. These are the words of the fellow missionary writing the report. In describing the situation “that missionary” (I apologize for calling him a missionary) might as well have packed up his belongings and gone home, for that one fit of temper forever spoiled any possibility he may have had to help bring the Natives to God.”
An uncontrollable temper is a contradiction in the life of a person who is seeking to practice godliness; an uncontrolled temper creates bitterness, destroys relationships, and damages self-respect. Solomon says in Proverbs 16:32, “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.”
The story is told of a young minister who got on a bus late one Sunday night. He had his bible under his arm. Some fellows began to make fun of him and ridicule him because when he sat down he started to read his bible. The minister did not respond to them. He never lost his temper. He sat still and silently prayed for these fellows. When the bus came to the minister’s stop and he got up to get off. One of the fellows yelled, “Say guy, how far is it to heaven?” Still in control of himself, the minister gently and earnestly said, “It is only a step! Will you take it now?” Because the minister had kept his temper, he had the joy of later bringing that young man to Christ.
To have a temper that requires control is not a mark of ungodliness –but to fail to control it, is. This is when we need to seek the guidance and power of God, the Holy Spirit.
The battle for self-control is different for each of us; for some it may be physical, others may be challenged to control impure thoughts, and still others may have trouble controlling their temper or their speech. Whatever our challenges are in this area we must be careful not to judge others for their lack of self-control in areas where we have no problems.
Galatians 5:22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” The fruit of the Spirit is one fruit with nine qualities or virtues- we must remember that if the Holy Spirit is going to develop any quality of that fruit in us, He is going to develop them all. We also must remember that fruit does not grow over night but over time, through a process.
And it is different for each of us, but it is always under the control of a Sovereign God. When we feel the inability to love, or be joyful or have peace, or show patience, be kind, or faithful, or gentle, or exhibit self-control in certain areas, we must entrust ourselves to God, the Holy Spirit, and allow Him to produce and/or increase our ability to exhibit these qualities. As we place ourselves on His altar of service we may think that we cannot possibly attain or develop these qualities as we should; but we will discover that he is increasingly producing His fruit of the Spirit in us as He takes us through the various situations of our lives.