We have reached the end of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians. These are all things that should characterize or be represented by true followers of Jesus. None of these things are possible with the Holy Spirit helping us to do them, and when we display these marks of a true Christian, all of the glory goes to God because we on our own don’t act like this. Self-control is the final fruit of the Spirit and it is easy enough to understand, but difficult to carry out. Self-control is defined as “the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behavior” (Google). See, already you can tell that this isn’t going to be easy. We know that we all struggle to respond the right way. Even the most chill one of us is susceptible to losing control of our emotions and behaviors. You may even be able to think of a time just today that you didn’t act with self-control. The reason it is hard is because we may know what the right thing to do is, but honestly, sometimes we just don’t feel like it. Rather than having self-control and making ourselves do what is right anyway, we give in to our feelings and let them control us. This lack of self-control is very problematic for the world in general, but especially for us as believers because we are supposed to display love, grace, peace, and so on but we can’t very well do that if we are not controlling our emotions and actions. So, self-control is very important for a true Christian to understand and practice.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Paul describes the spiritual walk with God compared to the discipline of an athlete. You can think of your favorite sport or favorite athlete and it is amazing how effortless they make incredible feats of athleticism and strength look. But that does not happen randomly or by chance. No, they spend years disciplining their body, training, practicing, having self-control by working out when they don’t feel like it, eating what is right when they are craving junk food, and so on. They don’t give in to their emotions because they are working toward a bigger goal. The same is true for our walk with God. We don’t have self-control because we are no fun and can’t enjoy things. We have self-control because our emotions are not our consistent, true moral compass. They will lead us astray and toward goals and ends that are not good or desired. Yes, you can eat whatever you feel like, but you will not look or feel like you may want to. Yes, you can act however you want but not only will this not lead to following God, it very well may lead to a life in prison! The point of self-control is that you must deny yourself of pleasures and even overrule your own emotions sometimes to do what is right and press toward the goal that you ultimately want. It is true in sports and it is true in your walk with God.
Proverbs 16:32 - Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
Proverbs 25:28 - A man without self-control
is like a city broken into and left without walls.
Proverbs says that it is better to be self-controlled than to conquer a whole city. In those days, as you could imagine it would be today as well, conquering a city was a pretty big deal. It took a lot of time, resources, and manpower to conquer a city. Yet, the writer of this proverb is telling us that as good as that truly is, there is something far more valuable, and that is a person who can control themselves. Prov. 25:28 shows us that a person who isn’t self-controlled is like a city that has been conquered. This is the flip side of the coin. Those who aren’t in control of themselves are like a city that has lost all of its defenses. They are helpless and dead in the water. Part of maturing is that we learn to be more self-controlled. My daughter, when she doesn’t like something will just yell and often meltdown and cry. She will fall on the ground in a puddle of tears and drama and just cry forever! Imagine (or maybe you don’t even have to imagine!) seeing this kind of display from a grown adult: maybe a teacher at school, a customer at the grocery store, or the president. How ridiculous would they look if they were throwing their body around, falling on the floor, and sobbing? See, the difference is that they have learned self-control in some aspect and it is a good thing.
James 1:19-20 - 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
So what does it look like to be self-controlled for a believer then? Well, James says that it means that we should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. I don’t know about you but if I were to write the list of what I do, it would look like: slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry. The problem is that, even as a believer, I still struggle to keep my emotions in check and to do what is right even when I don’t feel like it. But this is why I need the Holy Spirit. Left on my own, I will become an angry, uncaring person which is why James says that the anger of man does not result in any kind of righteous living. We won’t care for each other if we are not in control of our emotions and words. Therefore, I have to ask the Holy Spirit to help me be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. While it doesn’t happen overnight, I have to tell you that if you ask the Holy Spirit to help and you are willing to change, he will help you! God does not leave us left to our own unable to follow Him. It will cost you something, after all, those elite athletes have to give up so much to achieve their goals. But, like the athletes who discipline their bodies, there is a reward that is worth it all at the end. What is that reward? Well, for starters there is a home in heaven for us and there is also the reward of blessing others by restraining our emotions, holding our tongue, and loving on them with grace and kindness. If you don’t know why that is great, just wait until you need grace and kindness or someone to hold their tongue or perhaps you can think of a time where you know someone did this for you. Having grace for others can be life-changing and it starts with asking God to help you to be more self-controlled and thinking about others more than yourself.