************ Sermon on Galatians 5:22i ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 10, 2004
Acts 22:30-23:5; 1 Corinthians 9:19-27
"The Fruit of the Spirit is ... Self-Control"
Topic: Self-ControlHudson Taylor, we would have to say, showed the fruit of the Spirit known as self-control.
Title: God Stopped Him
The great missionary to China, Hudson Taylor, was dressed one day in a Chinese costume. He stood on a jetty while waiting for a boatman to take him across the river. Presently a richly dressed Chinaman came and also stood waiting. When the boat drew near this man not seeing that Mr. Taylor was a foreigner, struck him on the head and knocked him over into the mud. Mr. Taylor said the feeling came to him to smite the man, but God immediately stopped him. When the boat came up, the Chinaman looked at Mr. Taylor and recognized him as a foreigner. He could hardly believe it, and said, "What, you a foreigner, and did not strike me back when I struck you like that?" Mr. Taylor said "This boat is mine. Come in and I will take you where you want to go." On the way out, Mr. Taylor poured into that Chinaman's ears the message of salvation. He left the man with tears running down his face. Such is the power of the Gospel of Christ. --The King's Business
We finish our study this morning of the fruit of the Spirit. The Lord tells us that Spirit-filled Christians and churches – and I don't need to remind you that there are no other kinds of Christians and churches – have the spiritual fruit of self-control. Don't forget, the Lord is a gardener. He walks through His garden, His church, and He looks for the fruit of the Spirit. He looks for self-control in your life and my life. Does He find it?
I The Weed to be Rooted Out
A "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... self-control." Any gardener knows that to reap a harvest and collect fruit you need to hoe out the weeds. You need to hoe out the weeds because they prevent growth and maturity. Likewise, to cultivate the fruit of self-control, Christians need to hoe out the weeds that prevent growth and maturity. When it comes to self-control the weed that needs to be rooted out is uncontrol or undiscipline.
Before Paul lists for us the fruit of the Spirit – including the fruit of self-control – he first holds before our eyes the acts of the sinful nature. Among these acts are several instances of uncontrol or undiscipline: fits of rage, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. But there are many, many other types of uncontrol or undiscipline too. I want to spend a few moments looking at the weed of uncontrol or undiscipline as found in two areas: our body and our spirit.
B "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... self-control." Excessive eating and drinking, sex outside of marriage, and addiction to drugs and tobacco are all examples of uncontrol in the body. Eating and drinking are not evil, but their excess is evil. Sex is not evil, but sex outside the confines of marriage is. Those who lack self-control in these areas worship a false god. About these people Paul says,
(Phil 3:19) Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.
Paul's argument is similar to the sermons of the prophets. Just as idol-worshipers in the Old Testament were enemies of the God of Israel, so those who lack bodily self-control are enemies of the cross of Christ. According to Paul we have a choice: we can satisfy ourselves with alcohol, food, sex, drugs, and tobacco or we can satisfy ourselves with the Spirit of Christ. In each case the individual gives up the control and domination of his body to another: in the case of the drunkard, alcohol is in control; in the case of the glutton, food is in charge; in the case of sex, hormones dominate; in the case of the addict, it is drugs or nicotine that govern; but in the case of the Christian, the Spirit rules. This is why drunkenness and gluttony and every form of addiction are so terrible; it allows food, drink, sex, tobacco, or drugs to occupy a place only God ought to occupy!
C "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... self-control." Self-control has to do with more than the body. The book of Proverbs mentions the "undisciplined spirit." It says,
(Prov 25:28) Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control. (cf Prov 16:32)Remember Nehemiah? When Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and its gates destroyed by fire, his face fell and he was sick at heart. Although he had known for some time that the city had been in ruins, the report of its broken-down walls seemed to break his spirit. Broken walls are a symbol of final collapse. In ancient times a city without walls had lost its defenses and its identity. It was prey to every kind of enemy, natural as well as human. Proverbs tells us that an undisciplined spirit is like a city whose walls are broken down. In fact, an uncontrolled spirit is a greater calamity than a city's broken down walls because it means an eternal soul has reached a final state of decay.
An undisciplined spirit shows itself in anger, temper tantrums, envy, covetousness, lust. What is particularly bad about these sins is that they open the door to every other kind of offense because the spirit has no defenses left against them. We return to the illustration of the city with broken down walls. Every kind of invader is free to roam, to pollute, and to carry away. So an uncontrollable spirit is never alone, because it welcomes sins of every kind to dwell within.
Think of Moses. He failed to control his anger against the people of Israel. This led him to tempt God and for this sin he was denied entrance to Canaan.
Think of Achan. He failed to control his covetousness. This led him to take from Jericho the cloth, gold, and silver that belonged to the Lord. The result: he and his family were stoned to death.
Think of Samson. He failed to control his lust. This led him to marry a Philistine woman, to sleep with a prostitute, and to go to Delilah. He ended up losing his strength and his eyes.
Think of Gehazi, the servant of Elisha. He failed to control his greed. This led him to lie so he and his family ended up with Naaman's leprosy.
Think of the Jewish rulers. They failed to control their envy. This led them to plot against Jesus, to make false accusations against Him, and to crucify Him.
In each of these instances, lack of self-control left one open to every other kind of sin.
II Examples of Self-Control
A "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... self-control." At first glance, our reading from Acts does not seem to illustrate self-control. In response to a slap on the mouth, Paul raised his voice indignantly and said, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!" To call someone a whitewashed wall is to call someone a hypocrite – they look good on the outside but the inside is rotten.
Paul was being examined at what we would today call a pretrial hearing. The Sanhedrin met at the order of the Roman tribune to see if there really was a case against Paul. If there was a case to be made against Paul, then the Sanhedrin would later meet as a trial court. So Paul had not yet been properly charged, let alone tried and found guilty. Under Jewish law, he was innocent until proven guilty. For the high priest to order Paul struck was an act of hypocrisy and injustice; the high priest, after all, had sworn to uphold the laws of the Lord.
What impresses us about Paul here is his instantaneous submission to the law of God, once he realized it was the high priest who ordered him struck. Try to imagine Paul's situation: a restless mob is outside waiting to lynch Paul, it is obvious Paul is not going to get a fair trial from the Sanhedrin, and Paul has wrongly been slapped. In such a situation how would we react? Self-control would be almost impossible for you and me. Yet, Paul has the presence of mind to recall the command in Exodus about rulers; he instantly controls his emotions and apologizes to his oppressors:
(Acts 23:5) "Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: 'Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.'"
B "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... self-control." The best example of self-control, of course, is the Lord Jesus. Think of Him at the Final Supper feeding Judas who was about to betray Him and telling this disciple, "What you are about to do, do quickly," (Jn 13:27). That took self-control. Think of Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. A crowd armed with swords and clubs come toward Him. Jesus made no attempt at escape. He commanded His disciples not to fight. He allowed Judas to betray Him with a kiss. That took self-control. Think of Him before the Sanhedrin or before Pilate. Accusation after accusation is hurled at Him. Yet He kept silent. That took self-control. Think of Him on the cross. He is suffering unspeakable anguish and pain. Does He curse those who put Him there? Does He curse God and die? No! Instead, He gives up His spirit. He suffers and dies willingly. That took self-control.
You and I are called this morning to be like Christ, to imitate Him!
III Cultivating the Fruit
A "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... self-control." No farmer can expect to reap a harvest, no gardener can expect to fill a freezer or pick a bouquet, if the seed is not cultivated. Remember, boys and girls, when last Spring we planted some pea seeds in jars. The peas that we watered and fertilized, they sprouted and grew and produced fruit. But the peas that got no water and fertilizer did nothing (HOLD UP JAR). In the same way, we must cultivate the seed of new life the Spirit of God has planted within us if we hope to reap a harvest of self-control. Now, what exactly can we do to cultivate self-control?
Let me start off with what Christian parents can do. Parents, you can encourage your children to have self-control. Of course you have to set your children an example here. We cannot expect children to keep their tempers if they hear Father blow his stack over the smallest thing. We cannot expect children to eat properly if they see Mother chewing away on snack foods all day long. We cannot expect teenagers to wait for sex until marriage if they know their parents flirt outrageously with those who are not their spouse. We cannot expect adult singles to use alcohol wisely when they have seen their own parents come home under the influence.
To encourage our children to have self-control we not only should set them an example but we also should discipline them. A young mother was having trouble with a five-year old whining and showing off. After soundly disciplining him and sending him off to bed she said, "I can't believe that being allowed to make everyone else miserable now will make him more lovable twenty years from now." She realized that discipline was more than punishment or reward. She realized that discipline is a way to put children in control of themselves so they can show and use their best qualities. Parents discipline their children so they can learn self-control.
B "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... self-control." In our Scripture reading from First Corinthians Paul directs our attention towards the athlete. To gain self-control we have to be like the athlete. Their self-control involves three things: an aim or goal, a list of training rules, and effort.
First, aim or goal. The athlete keeps his eyes focused on the goal; he runs so he can win a prize (vs 24a). It is easy, real easy for the athlete to become distracted by other things; that's why he has to keep his eye focused on the prize. The Christian too must run in such a way as to get a prize. He is to keep his eyes fixed on Jesus (Heb 12:2). He is not to allow himself to be distracted by the world and the things of the world.
Second, a list of training rules. The champion athlete has a list of do's and don'ts: don't drink alcohol, don't smoke, don't overeat, warmup, cool down, practice every day, adequate sleep and nourishment, and so on. She goes into strict training. The Christian too has a training routine. Her list of do's and don'ts is found in the Bible: love God and man; don't kill, lie, steal; read your Bible and pray; attend worship services and Bible Study; witness about Jesus.
Third, effort. Constant, sustained effort. The athlete doesn't quit half way through. He goes and keeps on going, just like the Energizer Rabbit. Likewise, the Christian realizes that living for Jesus is a full-time job. The Christian takes no vacations from God and His work. He strives and keeps on striving, he runs and keeps on running, he fights and keeps on fighting, for self-control. He never gives up.
C "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... self-control." To cultivate self-control we must also have knowledge. Peter tells us to add knowledge to self-control (2 Pt 1:5). We need knowledge of God and His ways. We need to know the Word of God, its warnings, its encouragements, its admonishments so that we can stay away from the traps and snares of the devil and the world. But we also need to know ourselves. The fact is, different temptations appeal to different people and with varying intensity. What might be a stumbling block to me might not be a stumbling block to you. We need to know ourselves so we can avoid those situations that might make us lose self-control. A greedy or covetous person, for instance, should never be left alone minding the store or cash register. A playboy or playgirl should never be put in a romantic situation with a person of the opposite sex. A person who comes home all wound up from work, ready to fly off the handle at the smallest thing, should perhaps spend half an hour in the shower relaxing or in the gym working off frustration.
D "But the fruit of the Spirit is ... self-control." Lastly, to cultivate self-control we must put on Christ and be filled with His Spirit. History tells us that the Roman Caesar had a slave as a constant companion. The slave's duty was to whisper in the emperor's ear – "You are human."
We need that reminder. We are only human, filled with human frailties and sins and shortcomings. On our own and by our own strength we cannot exercise self-control. Only by the grace of God, the power of Christ, and the indwelling of the Spirit can we be self-controlled.
So we need to pray: lead me, guide me, fill me.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is ... self-control." Our society today has little or no self-control. That's why our governments are spending today what our children and grandchildren will be earning in the next century. That's why prisons are such a growth industry. That's why almost 50% of all children born today are born to single parents. That's why divorce and adultery touch over half of all marriages. That's why there is so much credit card debt.
Those who are in the church, however, should be different. After all, they have the Spirit. And the fruit of the Spirit is self-control.
I want to ask: do you have the fruit of self-control? does Trinity exercise this fruit?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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