Self-control Starts at the Top

This month is the conclusion of the Year of Jubilee.  To recap, that is an OT commandment that every 50 years, a time of rededication to the Lord and restoring the nation to respect the ancient ways.  It has been from September to September because the Israelite calendar is based on the moon, while ours is based on the sun.

Here at Emmanuel, our observance of the Year of Jubilee has been to spend these nine months studying the Fruits of the Spirit.  We conclude by looking at the Fruit of Self-control this Sunday and next.

Though it is listed last among the Fruits in Galatians 5:22-23 it ought to be first; for it is in the exercise of self-control that we know love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness and gentleness.  These Fruits come from the Holy Spirit. They do not appear at all in human nature except by means of self-control.

Self Control Test

“THIS TESTS YOUR ABILITY TO CONTROL YOUR OWN BODY!

“While sitting at your desk make clockwise circles with your right foot.  While doing this, draw the number ‘6’ in the air with your right hand.

Your foot will change direction!”

<Retrieved from http://atworkandbored.com/jokes-inc/jokes.php?joke=self-control-test-7261 on 9/16/16.>

“In Galatians 5:23, ‘self-control’ (temperance, KJV) is the translation of the Greek word enkrateia, which means ‘possessing power, strong, having mastery or possession of, continent, self-controlled’ (Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, “Galatians,” p. 160). Vincent’s Word Studies of the New Testament adds that it means ‘holding in hand the passions and desires’ (vol. IV, p. 168). The word thus refers to the mastery of one’s desires and impulses, and does not in itself refer to the control of any specific desire or impulse. If a particular desire or impulse is meant, the context will indicate it.

“Another Greek word, nephalios, has the same general meaning, but it generally covers a more specific area of self-control. It is often translated as ‘temperate’ or ‘sober.’ Even though its root condemns self-indulgence in all forms, the Bible’s writers use it to refer to avoiding drunkenness.”

<By John W. Ritenbaugh, Forerunner, “Personal,” December 1998 cited at http://www.cgg.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Library.sr/CT/PERSONAL/k/230/Fruit-Spirit-Self-Control.htm, retrieved on 9/16/18.>

Please read James 3:1-12 in your Bible.  I refer to the NIV in this post.

Gentleness is a Fruit of the Spirit and evidence of true discipleship.

  1. Teachers, for example (1-2).

Being a teacher in the Church is not for everyone.  By TEACHER James meant a person authorized to interpret and apply Scripture.  A frequent problem faced by the early Church was false teachers who authorized themselves and spread lies.  James warned them that teaching is not for everyone because teachers are judged more STRICTLY.  He singled out teachers as they are the best example of people whose words must be carefully chosen.  Their words reveal the truth about their teaching.

Control of one’s tongue is the acme of perfection.  James summed up human nature when he wrote, WE ALL STUMBLE IN MANY WAYS (aka “No one’s perfect”).  The word STUMBLE means to sin, to make mistakes.  IN MANY WAYS can also be translated, “on many occasions.”  However, if it were possible for someone to be perfect, their perfection would be revealed by their NEVER being AT FAULT in what they say.  Such a person would be a PERFECT MAN, ABLE TO KEEP HIS WHOLE BODY IN CHECK.  This is James’ way of saying that the very highest form of self-control is tongue control.

He is not saying this is the only kind of self-control or the only kind that counts.  Instead, he’s saying that control of speech is the hardest form of self-control to achieve.  As we’ll see, this also means that the sins of the tongue are the easiest to commit and the most commonly committed ones.

  1. Taming the tongue (3-8).

James offered other examples of the difficulties of tongue taming.  The point of the first three examples is that something small has a big effect.

– Big horses are turned by something so small it’s called a “bit.”

– Big ships are turned by little rudders.

– Whole forests are set ablaze by a tiny spark.

The bit, the rudder, and the spark are tiny in comparison to the thing they control or start, but that doesn’t make them meaningless.

The fourth example is that while people can tame wild animals, they can’t tame their tongues.  People in that society took pride over the way they tamed animals just as people in our society take pride over the way we invent new technology.  James was deliberately popping their bubble.

When he wrote that the tongue is a RESTLESS EVIL, we can easily imagine a wild jungle cat that is very threatening in its lethality.  Like a rattlesnake, the tongue is FULL OF DEADLY POISON.

Physically speaking, the tongue is not a large part of the body, BUT IT MAKES GREAT BOASTS; which is another way of saying it causes a lot of trouble. Psalm 73:9 describes the godless in this way – THEIR TONGUE STRUTS THROUGH ALL THE EARTH.

The meaning of all these metaphors is this: tongue-taming must be attempted because our tongue can cause a world of hurt.  We tend to underestimate the weight of our words; the effect our speech has on others. Sometimes that’s a product of genuine humility; we just don’t think we have that kind of influence over others.  Most of the time it is an excuse we offer to cover our laziness and/or lack of love.  For whatever reasons, we just don’t care what our words do to one another.

To correct this, James went to great lengths to explain that our words DO have serious effects, wide-spread consequences, and even fatal results.  Here are the consequences of wagging tongues:

– A GREAT FOREST…FIRE (5).

– A WORLD OF EVIL (6).

– CORRUPTS THE WHOLE PERSON (6).

– SETS THE WHOLE COURSE OF HIS LIFE ON FIRE (6).

Just in case all of that is not enough to motivate us to guard our words or just stop talking altogether, James identifies the ultimate source of our terrible tongue wagging; it is ITSELF SET ON FIRE BY HELL.  In John 8:44 Jesus similarly identified Satan as the father of all lies.

  1. Talking the Talk IS Walking the Walk (9-12).

James condemned the fact that our tongues are used for contrary purposes.  James set up a contrast to show how our tongues, like the rest of our bodies, have potential for the highest good (praising God) and the worst evil (cursing people).  What’s ironic is that both of these extremes can come from one mouth.  That is contrary to God’s original plan; He created our voices to be used to express love for Him and for each other.

The tongue betrays what is really in our character; that’s the point of the three mismatches in v. 12.

– A fresh water spring will not produce salt water; neither will the opposite be true.

– Fig trees do not produce a crop of olives.

– Grapevines never produce a crop of figs.

This gives us another good motive to mind our words, doesn’t it? Our words betray our secrets, our inner life.  We are constantly telling our story and it is right out there for anyone who’s learned to listen.  The way we speak (non-verbals) will either prove or disprove our sincerity.  The motivations and attitudes we attribute to others are projections of our own motives and feelings.  Be careful what you say and how you say it – you don’t know what you’re giving away about yourself!

Travis Bradberry co-wrote the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and co-founded TalentSmart.  On 9/17/2012 he published an article titled “The Six Secrets of Self-Control.” He wrote:

“What is it about self-control that makes it so difficult to rely on? Self-control is a skill we all possess (honest); yet we tend to give ourselves little credit for it. Self-control is so fleeting for most that when Martin Seligman and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed two million people and asked them to rank order their strengths in 24 different skills, self-control ended up in the very bottom slot (for the record, self-control is a key component of emotional intelligence).”

The article lists these six “secrets” that aren’t really any more secret than common sense.

Self-Control Secret #1 – Meditate

Self-Control Secret #2 – Eat

Self-Control Secret #3 – Exercise

Self-Control Secret #4 – Sleep Self-Control Secret #5 – Ride the Wave

Self-Control Secret #6 – Forgive Yourself

<Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2012/09/17/the-six-secrets-of-self-control/print/ on 9/16/16.>

If we swap out “Pray” for “Meditate,” these six things are disciplines Christians can endorse as reasonable means to self-control.

Though it may sound like willpower, self-control is a Fruit of the Spirit, which means it is a character trait that God gifts into us.  It is more accurately understood as an exercise of spiritual power to follow God’s will.  That’s good news – we don’t have to achieve this on our own.  Instead, we rely on the Holy Spirit to motivate and empower our self-control.

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