The Fruit of Self-Control

Eden shattered, humanity longs for a life-giving orchard to rise up once again. For the past two months, we’ve been inspecting this garden God promises to grow in us. Let’s wrap up our study on the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and now self-control.

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.

(Proverbs 25:28)

Self-control is for our own protection. In ancient times, a city’s walls guarded from outside attack. This passage could be modernized by saying, “A person without self-control is like a house without doors.” When I say something hurtful to you by not controlling my temper, yes, it hurts you, but it also slaps up a welcome sign for the enemy to come set up camp in my own heart. Then there’s no end to the havoc I will wreak. We guard our thoughts, actions, and words to minimize damage from both without and from within.

Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

(1 Corinthians 7:5)

Self-control is for our spouse’s protection. If you haven’t read this Scripture in context, it’s talking about married couples abstaining from a healthy sex life. (And yes, Christians should be having the greatest sex in the world because we do everything for the glory of God, including what happens behind bedroom doors.) Not to remove the romance element, but marital purity takes work. When we dedicate ourselves to loving one another well, that self-control limits the enemy’s effectiveness.

But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

(1 Corinthians 7:9)

Self-control is crucial in the dating process. If sex is the gateway for Satan to steal, kill, and destroy in a marriage, you can bet your biscuits he won’t miss this trick: target them before they’ve said “I do.” Single ladies, until he puts a ring on it, the most loving thing you can do for both your sakes is to agree on some physical boundaries and get solid accountability. Intimacy is a gift from a good God to be enjoyed in the lifelong commitment of marriage. It’s too precious to allow the enemy to have access to before you’ve even had a chance to walk down the aisle.*

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.

(1 Corinthians 9:24-26)

Self-control is a lifestyle. Judging from the last two texts, one might assume self-control is just what you do or don’t do with your body. But this fruit encompasses everything: which movies you watch, how much food you eat, what you allow to come out of your mouth in a fight, and a million other decisions every day. Paul likens the Christian life to a big race. I’ve watched people train for big races, and all aspects of their lives are affected, down to how early they go to bed. We’re not shooting for perfection here. This is all a chance to grow in dependence on the Holy Spirit as He moves us closer to Jesus.

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.

(1 Timothy 2:8-10)

Self-control is a wardrobe changer. Essentially, to be biblical, we all need to dump everything cute we have and wear grandma muu-muus for the rest of our lives. Just kidding. There is something to be said, though, for using discernment in which outfits we choose. “Modesty and self-control.” I won’t lie, that’s really tough in this culture (especially in the summer). You might have a rockin’ bod. Great! Let your husband enjoy that as you practice #2 on this list. The kingdom has a mission, and we’ll miss it if we’re consumed with looking hot/expensive.

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

(2 Timothy 1:7)

Self-control is powerful. Confusing self-control with weakness is an easy mistake to make, but we need look no farther than Golgotha to recognize that sometimes stopping yourself from showing how powerful you really are is what shows how powerful you really are. Make sense? From a human standpoint, unleashing every insult with the full force of built-up emotion behind it isn’t powerful. Restraining it, swallowing it, and allowing the Spirit to reform words of grace that heal? Girl, that’s straight heaven coming down.

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

(Titus 2:3-5)

Self-control is for the Church’s protection. Read that last phrase again: that the word of God may not be reviled. Google translates revile as “criticize in an abusive or angrily insulting manner.” Ever seen a movie where the women and children hide while the men fight? Sorry, but I don’t see that in the way of the kingdom. How we guard ourselves provides a forcefield of safety around the people of God. This is no longer just a matter of personal interest—we’re a line of defense chosen by the King. Let’s pick up our shields.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

(Titus 2:11-13)

Self-control is a work of grace. This isn’t drummed up from the depths of who we are, forcing our hearts to manufacture perfection. The fruit we’re talking about is fully God’s. We are in training, a spiritual boot camp of sorts, and we practice receiving what the Lord wants to do in us. As I just read last week, all God requires of us is nothing, which is the hardest thing to give. So this self-control is scented with humility and gratitude and patience.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

(1 Peter 4:7)

Self-control affects our life with God. Matthew Henry’s commentary on this verse talks about how controlling our external life (body) impacts our internal life (soul): “The right ordering of the body is of great use to promote the good of the soul. When the appetites and inclinations of the body are restrained and governed by God’s word and true reason, and the interests of the body are submitted to the interests and necessities of the soul, then it is not the soul’s enemy, but its friend and helper.” Imagine every part of your being working in harmony with your Creator. This is God’s desire for us: not that we would war against ourselves from within and without, but that we would be one in ourselves and with Him.

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

(2 Peter 1:5-7)

Self-control is part of the natural progression of the Christian life. We find ourselves sandwiched between faith and love. I find great hope in that because love seems more organic to me than self-control. There’s a leaning into a natural rhythm of wanting to do what’s best that won’t require so much sweat someday. May our moment-by-moment practice of guarding what goes into ourselves and what comes out of ourselves result in many lives impacted for eternity. This is what we’re fighting for.

*Listen, sweet girl. If you’re hearing this for the first time (or even the tenth) and think it’s too late, Jesus has so much more in store for you than slavery and shame. The gospel isn’t into double sacrifices. The cross stands over you, and it is sufficient. Walking forward in purity is a mark of your freedom, not another chain on your heavy heart. If you struggle with the biblical concept of sexuality, I’d highly encourage you to camp out in John 4, John 8, and the end of Luke 7. Jesus covers these women viewed by the world as dirty in dignity and compassion. Taste and see that the Lord is good enough to satisfy your deepest longings. Fresh starts are His business.

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