First Mennonite Church
October 14, 2018
A Virtue to Develop and A Fruit of the Spirit: Self-control
Text: 2Peter 1:1-11
Today, I will be concluding the series on the fruit of the Spirit according to Galatians 5:22 and 23.
And here it is once again: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Self-control is the last virtue given in this list of the fruit of the Spirit. But its placement in this list is not accidental, nor because it is less significant than the previous ones. Self-control is listed last because this virtue is the summation, the sum, of the eight previous virtues. Paul knew very well that the eight previous virtues depend on exercising self-control. What is interesting is that this virtue is also one of the qualifications for church overseers Paul gives in 1Timothy (3:2) Now the bishop/overseer must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, etc. And in 2Timothy, Paul again mentions this virtue as God’s gift to all believers. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline/self-control. (1:7)
So, what is self-control? Self-control is the power we have to choose to do what is right, even when we can decide not to do it or have the temptation to do what is wrong. Self-control is the ability to have dominion over our natural impulses to do or say something that is contrary to a godly life. In the Bible there are two Greek words translated self-control in some versions. Egkrateai as in Galatians 5: 23, which describes one who has power to control his or her passions, emotions or natural impulses. And the other word is sophron. This is one of the attributes of a church leader and is translated either as “sound mind,” “temperate,” or “self-controlled.” Sophron describes someone who is balanced in his or her dealings. It describes someone who remains controlled even under pressure.
Why is self-control so important in our Christian life? I believe Peter can respond to that question. In our passage in 2Peter, Peter is addressing believers, people of faith. To those who have received faith as precious as ours through God and our Savior Jesus Christ (v. 1). As we will see, self-control is something that besides being part of the fruit of the Spirit of God, is a character trait we must also work on. Peter says that God has given us the gift of faith, and then he adds, For this very reason, you must make every effort to support/supplement your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control . . . . Each and every day we make hundreds of decisions. Each and every day we are called to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. In every decision we make, we are either picking up our cross and following Jesus or we allow our habits to prevail. Self-control helps us make the right choices in life. Having a sound mind or having balance in our life helps us not lose control of our emotions or impulses even when under pressure. It helps us choose what is right, even when we have the option to do what is wrong.
Self-control is not only good for godly living. Successful people more often than not are people who have practiced self-control. The student who gets straight “As” is often not a genius, but someone who has self-discipline in his or her study habits. Such a student would not procrastinate with the work that needs to be handed in. She or he would not try preparing for the test while going to school. It is the same about the athlete who wins the gold medal. Such an athlete knows that practice makes perfect. This athlete knows that consistency in training is the only way to success. And even when she does not feel like practicing, she knows that it’s the only option there is to success.
But for us Christians, self-control is even more important. Lack of self-control can ruin our testimony. Lack of self-control can bring down the most prominent Christian leader or for that matter any believer. This week Karen gave me a copy of the magazine Christianity Today: Pastors Special Issue. And the topic for this special issue is “Ministry in the #MeToo Moment. Knowing what the subject is about, I thought it might have something about self-control. And sure enough. There it was: Self-Control, The Leader’s Make-or-Break Virtue. And the first story to illustrate the importance of this virtue for Christian leadership is that of Mark. Mark was a very dynamic leader. He had a sound Christian and theological education and was an eloquent preacher. He was married with two children. But Mark had eyes for women other than his wife. And Mark could not keep from commenting about other women’s looks or clothing. In short, Mark was out of ministry shortly after he started. And although self-control is crucial for every Christian, it is paramount for church leaders.
Self-control is not only necessary in relation to morality. It is also important in everything we do. Humans are creatures of habit. We have eating habits. We have sleeping habits, working habits, speaking habits, and all kinds of habits. And habits do not develop fast. We develop our habits through the years we do our things. And we should be reminded that habits overrun our willpower. John Ortberg, Pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, writes, “Habits eat willpower for breakfast.” When we are under pressure or when we are taken off-guard in a situation, our habits will overpower our willpower. Habits become second nature in us and we act or react without thinking twice. Self-control is left in the back seat if we have the habit of snapping back upon someone raising his or her voice. If we have the habit of scrolling down to see what’s new on FaceBook, we’ll have focusing on work, or doing other activities without a device in hand.
In his book, What On Earth Am I Here For, Rick Warren writes:
Habits take time to develop. Remember that your
character is the sum total of your habits. You can’t
claim to be kind unless you are habitually kind—you
show kindness without even thinking about it.
You can’t claim to have integrity unless it is your
habit to always be honest. A husband who is faithful
to his wife most of the time is not faithful at all!
Your habits define your character. 
So, what can we do? Alongside resisting our bad habits, we should also determine to create new ones. We must resolve to break away from any habit that hurts our character. Drew Dyck writes: “The key to holy life isn’t simply to out-battle temptation at every turn. It’s to build righteous patterns into your life. That’s achieved through creating holy habits. Each of us knows what our habits are. So we can start by acknowledging these habits before God and confessing to him that we struggle with them. We should pray with the psalmist:
Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
Do not turn my heart to any evil, (Psalm 141:2-3).
Let us remember that it is not only good to get rid of any bad habit we might have, but to strive to develop good habits. If our problem is feeling tired all day because we go late to sleep, let us not only fight to stay awake during the day, but start going to sleep earlier. If we have the habit of being domineering in conversation, let us not only allow the other person to talk, but to truly engage in listening. Let us remember that our habits define our character. And as followers of Christ we have been called to embody his character. Jesus said, “Let the disciple be as his master.”
Lastly, let us remember that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit of God. In other words, we are not alone in this effort of undoing bad habits or in developing new good ones. The Spirit of the Lord is dwelling in us. Let us allow the Spirit of God to renew our mind. Let us allow the Spirit of Christ to be revealed in us. And that happens when we surrender our will to the Lord. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit of God. But just like a tree needs to be rooted in well-watered soil in order to produce, we too need to be permanently connected to God in order to bring about that fruit of self-control. We are like a tree in which the fruit of the Spirit grows and flourishes. But if we are not rooted in the Spirit, the tree withers and become barren and fruitless. However, if we live each moment aware of the presence of God and connected to him, our lives will bear love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. And to these words the apostle Peter might add: For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. 10 Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. 11 For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.
 Rick Warren. What On Earth Am I Here For (Zondervan, Grand Rapids. 2012)
 Dyck, Drew. (Fall 2018). Self-Control: The Leader’s Make-or-Break Virtue. Christianity Today. Ministry in the #MeToo Moment, 31