Each fruit of the Spirit focuses on how we should respond to God and how we should live and treat other people. Today, let’s tackle one that is not as obvious as it may seem: self-control, because people often think that this fruit addresses other people but themselves. When we see someone getting angry, we can quickly say they are not self-controlled, while we are totally wrong. You see, God created each of us with a multitude of moods, passions and desires that need to be managed. My brother, my sister, your moods, passions and desires must be under control or they will end up controlling you!
Now, as we are trying to understand how to develop self-control, it is important to first define it. So, let’s start by describing what the absence of self-control looks like, because it would make us see things more clearly as we move on. The Bible says: “city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28). This says it all. You see, at the time the book of Proverbs was written, one of the main sources of strength and protection for a city consisted in the building and maintaining of walls. A wiped out wall was considered a breach in security. A city with walls in disrepair was a city with a shameful reputation.
The Bible gives us the example of people who lack self-controlled and it cost them a lot: Moses’ repeated anger bursts cost him the Promised Land: he threw the stone tablets given by God to the ground (Exodus 32:19) and he struck the rock twice with the staff instead of talking to it as ordered by God (Numbers 20:11). Another example is Samson, in the book of Judges chapters 14-16. He is the very portrait of self-destruction due to lack of self-control. As one of Israel’s judges, the Spirit of God empowered him. He is known for his strength and for leading God’s people for 20 years. One of his primary tasks was to protect his people from the influence of the pagan Philistines. But because he had a weakness that he did not manage to control: he used to visit Philistine prostitutes (in other word’s women belonging to the camp of the enemy) and he eventually told Delilah about the secret of his power. Lacking sexual self-control, he ended up losing his hair, his strength and his life! We can also talk about King Saul. He was so determined to destroy David that his life spun completely out of control (1 Samuel 21-23). He ignored the important things in his life in order to chase David all over the place. David, on the other hand, demonstrated remarkable self-control when he had the opportunity to kill Saul. Instead of allowing his passions to control this man who wanted him dead, David said, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord” (1 Samuel 24:6). But unfortunately, several years later when David became King, his self-control jumped out the window when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and ordered to kill her husband, Uriah (2 Samuel 11:5-27).
Now, let’s look at the definition of “self-control”, which in some Bibles is translated into “temperance” or “forbearance”. It comes from the word “strength” and means “one who holds himself in.” To be self-controlled is not to live in bondage to the desires, passions and appetites of the flesh. And the Bible shows us many times that we cannot control ourselves simply through our own willpower or self-determination. Self-control is more than just self-help. Apostle Paul speaks of our dilemma: “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18).
Looking into Apostle Paul’s ministry, we can also have a fuller meaning of self-control. He contrasts exercising control over his body with running aimlessly: “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27). These powerful words teach us one thing: to overcome the lack of self-control, we have to treat our bodies as athletes. Yes, athletes exercise self-control over their bodies because they have a clearly defined purpose or goal. My friend, what is your purpose and goal in thus life? If you really want to change your character, you have to treat yourself as an athlete. Athletes cannot afford to be distracted by every passion or desire that comes along. Yes, for you to be able to develop this fruit of the Spirit you need to first accept to abandon the control of yourself to the Spirit for the sake of the gospel because, biblically speaking, self-control means walking by the Spirit, under the Lordship of Christ!
Now, you may wonder, how do you do things in practice, in order to develop self-control. The key, just like for each of the nine character qualities known as the Fruit of the Spirit, is not to try hard on yourself but to understand the short phrase that appears right after those spiritual fruit are presented: “Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:23). This means that these characteristics cannot be imposed on you and you cannot impose them on yourself. Besides, it’s not by setting good rules that you will develop self-control. The same as you cannot make somebody be kind, patient or gentle, no law can keep you from displaying delightful fruit in our lives. Yet, you can make the decision to truly follow Christ’s way of living! The only thing that is keeping us from allowing His fruit to ripen, develop and mature in us is our own selfishness and sinfulness. Therefore, what you need to do is to allow the Holy Spirit to empower you on a daily basis. It’s simple: to be self-controlled is to be Spirit-controlled!
And perhaps, a good start would be to make your own self-examination by observing yourself honestly and trying to implement these practical ways:
• Admit you have a problem with self-control.
• Yield to the lordship of Christ: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16)
• Develop the disciplines of Bible reading and prayer. And learn this by heart: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted[b] beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,[c] he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
• Invest in spiritual friendships: “If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:10)
• Move away from bad influences and avoid those things that tempt you: “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
• Develop and practice good habits. The Bible says that Job made a covenant with his eyes not to gaze lustfully at a woman (Job 31:1). Make a covenant with your mouth, your mind or whatever you know is a weakness in you…
• Welcome gracious correction. Things would have ended differently for Samson if he had listened to those who warned him to let God control his sex drive!
My friend, there is no human recipe to develop self-control. God has already provided you with the power to say “no”, and that power dwells in you. You can say “no” to ungodliness and passions when everything in you is saying “yes” for all the wrong reasons. You can deny worldly lusts when you withhold your consent! So, allow me to finish this long teaching by this verse that sums it well: “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). Stay blessed in Jesus’ name.