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The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control

“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Prov. 16:32, MEV).

 

Part of the Fruit of the Spirit series by Jim Linzey

Self-control, temperance, moderation, and self-restraint are all terms used to define the last of the fruit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.

The word used in the Bible for self-control is intended to cover the whole range of human appetites, not only the physical, but the mental and spiritual as well. The power to be temperate in all things is an important Christian virtue, a mark of growth in grace. The necessary self-control cannot be attained by natural self-discipline. It is a fruit of the Spirit and is the result of His help and grace, and the outworking of His life in the believer. The possibilities are just as great for those with minimal personal strength of character as for those with strong wills of their own.

The demands for physical self-control are fairly obvious for most of us. However, often we overlook the need for mental self-control or temperance. For example, anger is a common form of intemperance of the soul: “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Prov. 16:32, MEV). Sulking day after day is as intemperate as a violent outburst. Allowing the tongue to run away with us is intemperance, regardless of whether it is uncontrolled levity, gossip, criticism, or abuse of confidences. James gives the remedy by telling us to “bridle” our tongues (James 1:26, MEV). Inordinate love of praise is intemperate and shows a lack of self-control and an unwillingness to give glory to God. Such an attitude focuses on ourselves rather than on God.

The demands for physical self-control are fairly obvious for most of us. However, often we overlook the need for mental self-control or temperance.

The Greek word for temperance means to have inward strength. Our inward strength of will must become greater than all the outward strength of temptation, desire, excitement, or peer pressure. This is perfect self-control. Most of all, we must remember that a continuous walking with God will change the weakest of us into His image so that others will begin to see in us something of the self-control that marked the Son of God on earth. The inward strength is not ours—it is His.

If we wonder why our lives are in such a mess, we may need to be brought under the control of the Good God and follow His plan for us.

Self-control is not being a stoic. It is not being a stern, rigid, strong-willed cynic. It is not a case of “grin and bear it.” Self-control for a person of God is not severe self-discipline. Nothing we can do ourselves is enough to bring the self-control that is the fruit of the Spirit. Most of us can do some of this some of the time. There are days when we behave in exemplary and commendable ways. However, there are other days when we behave in less than commendable ways—in ways we wish we could later erase. These days when we do not behave in Godly ways are the days we are out of control, living our own strong-willed, wayward lives. Because of this inconsistency, we need the Holy Spirit in us to bring the control only He can give.

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Category: Spirit, Winter 2018

About the Author: James F. Linzey is the chief editor of the Modern English Version Bible translation. His graduate education is a degree in religious studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. His undergraduate degree from Southern California College is a BA in Biblical Studies with an emphasis in religion. He is the author of numerous articles and books. He is a speaker, recording artist, State Chaplain for the California Military Officers’ Association, and retired Army chaplain. MilitaryBibleAssociation.com. Wikipedia.org/wiki/James_F._Linzey. Twitter: @JimLinzey

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