Pastor Edward Brouwer 6-10-18 Fruits of the Spirit- Self Control Galatians 5:13-25
There’s a famous experiment on self-control called the Marshmallow Test. The test was first administered at Stanford University’s Bing Nursery in the 1960’s by a researcher named Walter Mischel. Imagine a little kid starring down at a marshmallow. She’s been told that if she resists the temptation to eat it for a mere 20 minutes then she can have two. It’s an experiment in willpower, self-control and ultimately delayed gratification. Mischel recently (2014) wrote a book called The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control. It turns out, 50 years after the tests that there is a correlation between high delayers with higher SAT scores and say lower body mass index. The instant gratifiers generally were less successful in life than those that demonstrated higher self-control early on. That makes sense if you think that people who for example, have little resistance to say, impulse buying, generally have more debt than those that are savers. It’s the difference between enjoying a prosperous retirement and working until you die! I think we can all agree that self-control in all its forms is a desirable quality. Some of us evidently come by it more naturally. But today’s Scriptures says we can all have the fruit of self-control in our lives—BUT we must allow the Master Gardener to cultivate this fruit in our lives through the inner working of His Spirit.
Read Galatians 5: 15-25
Self-control is the mastery of self. Simple enough you say. Yet it takes a long time to master that skill. James writes “let perseverance finish it’s work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything”. James offers hope of self-control by giving us three metaphors. A bit and bridle. A rudder and a spark of fire. Yesterday Justify won horse racing immortality by winning the Belmont Stakes and taking the Triple Crown. What a beautiful creature. But without a jockey, and without a bit and bridle you just have a magnificent looking three-year-old chestnut colt, not a winner.
In a similar way James describes how a mighty ship is able to sail with purpose because the pilot, with hand on the wheel (which is connected to a relatively tiny rudder) steers the ship. And finally James talks about a small spark or flame that is able to create a massive fire. Reminds me of the old campfire songs at Summer Camp “It only takes a spark to get a fire going and soon all those around can warm up to it’s glowing, that’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it: you spread His love to everyone, you want to Pass it On.” Admittedly James doesn’t have this song in mind when he writes—in fact he has the tongue in mind. How many of us lack self-control when it comes to what we say? Our tongue gets us into a lot of trouble. A sarcastic comment to our spouse. A cutting word to someone who “needs to be put in their place”. A curse word under our breath. All of these indicate a heart problem. The fact is this: we struggle with sin; and the natural desires of our hearts cause us to indulge self rather than control self.
Paul puts it this way in another place (Romans 7:18 ff)
18 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. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Here’s the gospel. You cannot possibly please God with all your self-imposed attempts to control you mouth, your thoughts and your actions. But God offers a way out: give yourself to Christ. He makes you a new person. Before you came to Christ you may have had some limited ability to manage your sin in such away that it did not totally destroy you—not that this was able to merit anything before God. As if you could say to Him “see how hard I am trying” I deserve for you to love me and bless me. NO. He loved you and indeed does love you in Christ apart from your own ability to control your self and try to please God.
When we have new life in Christ He gives us a new heart, and He pours His Spirit into our life so that now we have real hope of living for Him and not for ourselves. Self-control by the Spirit means living lives pleasing to God. Listen to these words from Paul to his pastor friend Titus in Titus 2: 11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,13waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
We lack self-control in our selves. Christ gives us new life and by His Spirit he gives us His self-control. Think of Jesus and the ultimate expression of self surrender, when at Gethsemane Jesus said to His heavenly Father “if there is any other way please let this cup of suffering pass—yet not my will but Thy will be done”. Isn’t that really what it boils down to? Asking in every situation what would Jesus do? Is it my will or His will? Self-control is your will under the control of the Spirit. So as someone in our Bible Study last Tuesday observed; maybe as Christians the better term is not “self-control” but rather “Spirit-Control”. Do you long to live the Spirit controlled life? Then let Jesus be your pilot (or your jockey if you will). Let the Spirit be the spark (the pilot-light if you will).
Don’t think this is easy. It requires training and testing and discipline. I’ve joked before about “biting your tongue and swallowing the blood if necessary”. This requires cooperation with God. Yes we are God’s garden and, in the words of our call to worship “he gave me beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness—that we might be trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.
We are God’s garden. By His Spirit He is making us His planting—people of righteousness that reflect His character (always transforming our failed efforts into beauty, joy and praise). This reminds me of the beatitudes “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn” it’s when we recognize our spiritual poverty and weep over our inability to please God, that he exchanges ashes, tears and depression with beauty, joy and praise. This may take us a lifetime. The seed germinates, the plant grows, the flower forms and blossoms, the fruit begins to appear and takes till autumn to mature. Be patient. As you grow and cooperate with the Spirit keep this also in mind. In terms of delayed gratification I hear that God’s retirement benefits for us are “out of this world”. But seriously we are waiting for “that blessed hope, the appearing of our Lord”. Do you long to hear the words of Jesus, his benediction on your life when you enter your rest? The words are “well done thou good and faithful servant, enter into your rest, prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Then let those words be a rubric, a lens through which you see and act. Colossians 3:17 So whatever you do, in word or deed , let it be done as a representative of Christ giving thanks to God the Father through Him.