The Fruit of the Spirit is Self control

Gal. 5. 22-23

This article is the final part in this interesting series on the fruit of the Spirit.

Temperance, self-control, the noun is found only three times in our New Testament, Acts 24. 25; Gal. 5. 23; 2 Pet. 1. 6. In most versions it is translated ‘self-control’. BENGEL translates it ‘self-government’. The Amplified version adds ‘self-restraint, continence’. ALFORD translates it by a phrase, ‘the holding in of’, DEAN HOWSON ‘the restraining of’ and THAYER defines it as ‘the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites’. Literally, it means ‘power within’, the virtue of ruling ourselves, of being able to control ourselves. It describes when a man takes a grip on himself, is in full control and possession of himself, and thus can restrain himself from every evil desire.

How is this possible, knowing the frailty of the flesh, how easily we succumb to temptation and lose control of our thoughts and actions? Furthermore, God has bestowed various powers upon mankind, and we often abuse those powers. This self-control is one facet of the fruit of the Spirit. Such self-control involves the subjection of the selflife to the control of the Spirit, the bringing of every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

We may be helped when we look at the other two occurrences of the word. In Acts chapter 24 verse 25 Paul reasoned of self-control to Felix. The word here follows the word ‘righteousness’, which represents God’s claims. Selfcontrol is man’s required response to the claims of God. In 2 Peter, chapter 1 and verse 6, self-control follows knowledge. Knowledge distinguishes evil from good, and teaches us to flee from evil. That self-control follows knowledge suggests that what is learnt requires to be put into practice.

The verb form of the word is found in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 verse 9, where in the Authorized Version it is translated ‘contain’. Whilst advocating that believers be as he was, without a wife, Paul recognizes that this may not be possible for some, and we should notice that here he does not lay down one course of action for everyone. Paul was not against marriage, which he represents elsewhere, Eph. 5. 22, 23, as a most ennobling spiritual union, which raises a man out of himself and makes him live for another. He uses it also as a fit symbol of the bond between Christ and His church. He recognizes that whilst it was good to be as he was, it was better to marry than to be consumed with inward desire, to have that emotional struggle within which is so detrimental to the peace which the Lord would have us enjoy.

It is found again in chapter 9 and verse 25 of the same epistle. Paul borrows the figure of a race and the preparation undertaken by athletes to win a corruptible crown. Each one of them is ‘temperate in all things’, exercising self-denial in diet, in bodily indulgences and by painful and protracted discipline. He applies the figure to the Christian life, and he claims to run in the Christian race ‘not uncertainly’, not as one with no fixed aim, nor does he fight as one who beats the air; he picks his punches.

He ‘keeps under his body’ and leads it about as a slave. He is thinking of his body in the sense of Romans chapter 6, verses 13-19. The physical members may be offered to sin for service in its employment, or they may be offered to God for the service of righteousness. He recognizes his body’s all-too-readiness to respond to sin, and so he beats it into subjection in order that it might be brought into the service of God.

What is the object of this? ‘Lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be disapproved’, 1 Cor. 9. 27. He is underlining the lesson that preaching to, or teaching others without reality, self-judgement and selfdenial is before God, a very serious thing. Doing the truth is the common responsibility of all, and teaching it to others is no substitute for obeying it in the sight of God oneself. To do so would mean loss of the prize, though not of life, which is not the issue here.

It is interesting to notice that if the list of the gifts of the Spirit enumerated in the 1 Corinthians, 12, verses 7-11 and the nine facets of the fruit of the Spirit detailed here are put alongside each other, the gift of tongues and its associated gift of interpretation would parallel with meekness and self control. I'm sure there is significance in this.


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