The Fruit of the Spirit – Self-control
“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).
The final fruit of the spirit is self-control. The words here translated self-control combines two Greek words, en, meaning in, and kratos, meaning strength, power, might, or dominion. It implies an inner strength.
But we must never make the mistake of assuming we can exercise this fruit of self-control on our own. I’m guessing most of us have tried that and miserably failed. No, this fruit is one that develops within us as we remain firmly attached to the Vine, and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work in us.
In her study on the Fruit of the Spirit, Phyllis LePeau suggests five areas where we must learn to exercise control. Let’s take a look at each of those.
We must learn to control our tongues.
James 3 gives several pictures to illustrate the power of the tongue. James writes,
“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 3:3-6)
I imagine we can all think of a time when we said something, or someone said something to us that caused great damage—perhaps to a reputation, perhaps on an emotional level. 1 Peter 3:10 cautions, “Whoever would live life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.”
We must control our bodies.
In 1 Corinthians 6:12-13 Paul teaches:
“‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.’ The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”
This passage goes on to explain why controlling our bodies is so important for believers. Paul explains:
“By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” (1 Corinthians 6:14-17)
Then Paul explains why it is so important for believers to avoid sexual immorality:
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)
To be very clear, what Paul is saying is, no, it’s not your body; therefore, you do not have the right to do anything you want with it!
We must control our desires.
We go back to James, but I want to quote here from the J.B. Phillips translation:
“But about the feuds and struggles that exist among you—where do you suppose they come from? Can’t you see that they arise from conflicting passions within yourselves? You crave for something and don’t get it, you are jealous and envious of what others have got and you don’t possess it yourselves. Consequently in your exasperated frustration you struggle and fight with one another. You don’t get what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And when you do ask he doesn’t give it to you, for you ask in quite the wrong spirit—you only want to satisfy your own desires.” (James 4:1-3)
Now, notice in verses 2 and 3, it’s not “wrong” to want things, it’s not wrong to ask God for things, but we must be sure our motives for asking are pure. How are we to approach God with our requests? We read in James 4:7-10 (going back to the Phillips translation again):
“Be humble then before God. But resist the devil and you’ll find he’ll run away from you. Come close to God and he will come close to you. Realize that you have sinned and get your hands clean again. Realize that you have been disloyal and get your hearts made true once more. As you come close to God you should be deeply sorry, you should be grieved, you should even be in tears. Your laughter will have to become mourning, your high spirits will have to become heartfelt dejection. You will have to feel very small in the sight of God before he will set you on your feet once more.”
In that frame of mind we can present our request to our heavenly Father (Philippians 4:6).
We must control our appetites.
The Bible has some uncomfortable things to say to us when it comes to our appetites. Just a few verses from Proverbs should prove sufficient:
Proverbs 23:20-21 – “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.”
Proverbs 23:29-32 – “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.”
1 Corinthians 10:31 explains what our attitude should be toward our appetites: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
We should control our finances.
The warning here is clearly stated in 1 Timothy 6:
“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs….
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19)
One final reminder. If we try to exercise self-control in any of these areas (or others we have not mentioned here) in our own power, we will fail. We will fail miserably. We can only experience the kind of self-control God asks of us when we do it in His power.
We can only have victory when we learn it is “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6).