Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control
The Apostle Paul would not compromise on the healthy doctrine which he had taught the Galatian Christians and warned them against apostasy by holding to the Law of Moses (Galatians 1:1-5:16). His concern for doctrine did not demand a neglect of practice: he insisted upon avoiding the works of the flesh and manifesting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:17-24). Paul spoke of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control; against such there is no law.
Love well defined the whole of the fruit of the Spirit. Joy and peace speak to a disposition which Christians ought to maintain; longsuffering/patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness well demonstrate an appropriate disposition. Paul concluded the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit with egkrateia, “self-control.”
Paul reasoned with Felix regarding self-control (Acts 24:25); Peter expected Christians to add self-control to their faith, virtue, and knowledge, in order to show patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Peter 1:5-8).
Self-control represents the great anchor of the fruit of the Spirit and of righteousness. Christians must not allow themselves to be brought under the power of anything of this world (1 Corinthians 6:12). The powers and principalities over this present darkness draw strength whenever we give ourselves over to our anxieties, fears, and lusts, and thus do according to their will (Ephesians 2:1-3, 6:12). If we would avoid sin and embrace righteousness, we must take control over our desires. We must not allow ourselves to be intoxicated by anything; to this end we must remain sober-minded, not enticed by desire or lulled into complacency, proving unprepared for the Lord’s return (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10).
Self-control must be exercised in every aspect of life and in every discipline. In terms of sexuality we must display chastity and to honor the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). We should consider our time and material resources as blessings from God with which we might bless others, and find ways to redeem the time and our resources to help those in need, to speak and act as the Christ, and to represent the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16, Ephesians 4:28, 5:18). Yet self-control involves much more than just sexuality and money.
James did well to speak of the tongue as a world of iniquity: like fire, the tongue can quickly devastate beyond repair (James 3:2-12). How many relationships have been damaged or destroyed because a person did not exercise self-control in what they said? We must consider well what we would speak before we say it and wonder whether it ought to be said at all. Indeed, we should make sure that our words build up and give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).
Yet every deed we do and every word we speak was first something we thought in the mind. We cannot imagine that we will display self-control in our deeds and our words if we do not exercise self-control in the mind. To this end we must focus on what is good, commendable, honorable, and what would build up (Philippians 4:7-8).
From the elementary school playground to the office of marriage therapists the cry is heard: “he made me do it!”. And yet no one really makes us do anything. We must remember that we cannot control the behavior of others: we will each stand or fall before our Master; it is not for us to judge or try to compel or coerce anyone else into doing anything (Romans 14:1-12, Galatians 6:3, James 4:11-12). But we always have control over how we think, feel, act, and respond toward others. We will be held accountable for how we treat other people and whether we displayed the self-control, patience, and grace toward others which we desired for them to demonstrate toward us (Matthew 25:31-46, Romans 14:10-12). We cannot control others; but we can control ourselves, and we can decide to do good rather than evil, and not respond in kind when others do evil against us (Romans 12:17-21, 1 Peter 2:18-25). To this end we do well to display self-control in all things.
Having set forth the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit, Paul then suggested that there is no law against such things (Galatians 5:23). Such is generally true: you do not often see laws against love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and the like. We have no reason to fear the authorities if we display the fruit of the Spirit toward one another in Christ and toward all; even if the authorities did find some reason to accuse us, we know that if we manifest the fruit of the Spirit we will receive commendation from our heavenly Father (Matthew 10:28, 1 Peter 2:11-12).
Thus Paul set forth the manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit. While many speak of the fruit of the Spirit as “fruits,” as if plural, the Greek text, as well conveyed in English translations, speaks of it as a singular fruit. The fruit of the Spirit stand or fall together; we cannot imagine we can demonstrate certain manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit yet not others. How can we show love if we have no patience, kindness, or gentleness? What peace can be found without love, patience, and self-control? Why would we bother demonstrating kindness if we have no goodness? We either manifest the fruit of the Spirit in its fullness or we are not truly of Him.
We all recognize how the world would be a better place if we all did better at manifesting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We do well to dedicate ourselves to thinking, feeling, and behaving accordingly. But we must also remember that Paul did well to speak of such things as the fruit of the Spirit: they belong to Him. Those who live by the Spirit will indeed demonstrate His fruit (cf. Romans 8:1-15). Yet we confess our inability to do so through our own unaided efforts alone; the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses, and we must remain open to His prompting to think, feel, and do what is consistent with His holiness and nature and not continually give into our own carnal temptations and the temptations of the powers and principalities over this present darkness. May we all manifest the fruit of the Spirit to God’s glory and honor and obtain eternal life in Christ!
Ethan R. Longhenry