Self-Control

March 24, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Fruits of the Spirit

Second Sunday in Lent

Self-Control

1 Peter 1:13-16

         Someone once said that self-control is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces. As you can see by my expanding waistline, it can’t be done, and yet we all yearn for self-control. I know I do.

We have been on a long journey examining each of the Fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and now self-control. Self-control is the last of the three fruits which reflect the Christian believer’s attitude with himself or herself, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Self-control is the one Fruit of the Spirit that we all long for, yet few of us can attain. In fact, most people do not even try because they don’t want to say “no” to themselves. Self-control, while it is highly respected and greatly desired, is tough.

During his term as President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson was somewhat overweight. One day his wife, Lady Bird, challenged him with this blunt assertion: “Lyndon, you can’t run the country if you can’t run yourself.” Respecting Mrs. Johnson’s wise observation, the President quickly lost 23 pounds.

We all have a problem with self-control. Rather than wait until we can afford something, we pull out the credit card and buy it too soon. Rather than wait for further instructions, we move forward in our own wisdom, thinking we’ll please the boss, only to discover the plans had been changed. Rather than wait on God to fulfill his promise, we decide God needs a little of our help, so we take action and create a mess.

That is just what happened to Abraham. He and Sarah waited for the promised son from God, but each month nothing happened. Finally after many years, Sarah came up with a plan. She gave her maid, Hagar, to her husband and told him to have a son through Hagar. Abraham agreed and Ishmael was born.

And God said, “No, Ishmael is not the promised son.” About ten years later Isaac was born. Because Abraham and Sarah didn’t exercise self-control, havoc was created. The result of their inability to wait on God, created a sibling rivalry that escalated to hatred and war that continues to this day in the Middle East. You see, the Arab nations are descendants of Ishmael.

Granted, our times of not controlling ourselves may not create problems that big. However, the problems we do create do wreak havoc in our lives and the lives of those close to us. We all need the Holy Spirit’s fruit of self-control to grow within us. More about that in a minute, but first, would you pray with me?

PRAYER

I heard a story about a stunt pilot who was selling rides in his single engine airplane. One day he got into an argument with a pastor who insisted on taking his wife along at no extra charge. Not wanting to miss out on a chance to make some cash, the pilot said, “I’ll take you both up for the price of one if you promise not to utter a sound during the entire flight. If you make any noise, the price is doubled.” The deal was made and they climbed aboard the plane.

The pilot quickly proceeded to put the plane through all sorts of stunts and maneuvers designed to make the bravest person tremble. But the passengers didn’t make a sound. Exhausted, the pilot finally landed. As the pastor climbed out, the pilot said, “I made moves up there that frightened even me and yet you never said a word. You must have incredible self-control.”

The pastor thanked the pilot and then said, “I must admit that there was one time when you almost had me.” “When was that?” asked the pilot. To which the man replied, “When my wife fell out of the plane!”

Each of the different characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit focuses on how we respond to God and how we treat other people. But self-control seems to focus more on each of us instead of our relationships with other people. You see, I can exercise self-control, even when no one else is around. In fact, that is the time when each of us most needs self-control.

The great Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self.” His teacher, Plato, believed that our animal urges must be governed or else they will produce “a feverish state in the soul, a city of pigs” which knows no limits. Think about it, when we’re not self-controlled, our life is like a pigsty. That’s quite a word picture these guys painted, isn’t it?

Self-control comes from the Greek word for “strength” and means, “one who holds himself in.” To be self-controlled is to not live in bondage to the desires, passions and appetites of the flesh. My body can be a good servant, but it is a miserable master.

Herein lies the problem. It is hard for us to control ourselves simply through our own willpower or self-determination. Self-control is more than just self-help. It requires an inner master. Paul said this in Romans 7:18:  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

And so, Peter, in our scripture today says this: Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

In this scripture, Peter gives us our written marching orders for being self-controlled. First, he says, “prepare your minds for action.” The New King James Version says, gird up the loins of your mind. This word picture is taken from the ancient practice of gathering up one’s robes so as to be able to move in a hurry without tripping. Here Peter is saying that all our thought processes need to be carefully focused on God’s future grace. We need to gather our thoughts so that our minds are alert and sober to the knowledge of God who will direct our purpose here on earth. The idea of picking up one’s robes, that is, girding the loins, was so that the garment would also not become soiled. Likewise, our minds are not to become soiled by the pollution in the world or to be hindered by the sin, affections, and lusts of the secular world.

Instead, we are to be self-controlled, that is, our minds are to be fixed on the hope of the grace and forgiveness that we will receive when we come to the full realization that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. In other words, our focus is to be on Christ.

Secondly, Peter says that we are not to be conformed to the evil desires, or one translation says, evil lusts, that we had before we came to know Jesus Christ and declare him as our Savior. Being self-controlled means that we are not to submit to the temptations that earlier caused us to lead a life apart from God. Many of us know that it is so easy to fall back into the same pattern we had before we knew Jesus Christ.

I find it interesting that in the New Testament, when Paul had the privilege of presenting the gospel to Felix, a Roman governor, he chose to emphasize “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.” Listen to this from Acts 24:25: But as [Paul] was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, “Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.”

         Felix was frightened because he had no self-control. He had indulged in all kinds of cruelty and lust, committing both murder and adultery. Felix was no different than many others in the Roman Empire. Scholars tell us that when ancient Rome was disciplined and controlled, it was a great nation, but when it became saturated in its own sin it lost its glory. Drunkenness, orgies, and an “anything goes” mindset caused Rome to cave inward and implode upon itself. The decline of the Roman Empire went hand-in-hand with self-indulgence. Does this story sound familiar?

Felix responded to Paul’s preaching like many of us do today. Notice what he said. “That’s enough for now! It’s hitting too close to home. You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you again.” As you read that story in Acts, you will discover that Felix never did send for Paul again. Paul remained in prison until a new governor came to power.

I ask you now to take this self-control inventory of your own lusts. What uncontrolled issues do you deal with? The Book of Proverbs addresses these very nicely.

  1. Uncontrolled lust. Proverbs 6:26: For the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life.
  2. Uncontrolled spending. Proverbs 21:20: In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.
  3. Uncontrolled ambition. Proverbs 23:4: Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.
  4. Uncontrolled drinking. Proverbs 23:29-30: 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.
  5. Uncontrolled anger. Proverbs 29:11: A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.

Sometimes I just want to take a pair of scissors to the Bible and cut out all those passages that may convict me in my everyday living and lusts. Don’t you? So what lusts or uncontrolled issues do you have to deal with? I’m sure you or your family members know what they are. Uncontrolled self-control means we need to ask God for help and then let the Holy Spirit work actively in our lives.

Peter gives us our instructions for self-control. First, Peter says to prepare our minds for action. Secondly, Peter says to not conform to the evil desires or lusts we had before coming to Christ, and thirdly, Peter writes, be holy in all you do. Why? Because God said, Be holy, because I am holy.

         The God of Israel and of the Christian church is holy; he sets the standard for morality. Unlike the Roman gods, he is not warlike, adulterous, or spiteful. Unlike the gods of the pagan cults popular in the first century when Peter and Paul lived, God is not bloodthirsty or promiscuous. He is a God of mercy and justice who cares personally for each one of us, each one of his followers. Our holy God expects us to imitate him by following his high moral standards. Like him, we should be both merciful and just; like him, we should sacrifice ourselves for others.

The holy life, the godly life, can only come when we study, pray, and worship the one true God. Paul wrote this to his friend Titus. It sounds a lot like what Peter wrote in our scripture today. For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,  while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14)

God sets our moral standards for self-control. But we need to know what God says and that can only be found in his Word. In our culture today, why do we shy away from the daily reading of the Bible? Don’t we want to know God better? Why is it that we succumb to the pressures of this world and not strive to be more like God and his kingdom? Be holy, Peter says, in all that you do.

As we bring this message series to a close, the key to displaying each of the nine Fruits of the Spirit is not to try harder but to understand the short phrase that appears right after the spiritual fruit salad in Galatians 5:23. It says, “Against such things there is no law.” This means that these characteristics cannot be legislated or enforced by a set of rules. You can’t make somebody be kind or patient or gentle. Likewise, no law can keep us from displaying luscious fruit in our lives. The only thing that is keeping us from allowing God’s fruit to ripen in our lives is our own selfishness and sinfulness.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to empower us on a daily basis. We don’t have to go up in a plane to seize self-control. We can stay right here on the ground. We don’t have to live our life in a pigsty either. We have plenty of opportunities right where we are to accept Jesus Christ into our hearts and minds and ask the Holy Spirit to do a mighty work in us. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to make His Fruits evident in our lives to God, to others, and to ourselves. Praise be to God!