Galatians 5:22, 23—But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
The nine fruits of the Spirit can be divided into three groups for study and consideration. Love, joy, and peace reflect our relations to God. Patience, kindness, and goodness can be seen in our relations to others. Faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are indicative of the regulation and conduct of our own individual Christian lives.
The dictionary defines self-control as control or restraint of oneself or one’s actions, feelings, etc. The Greek word used in Galatians 5:23 is egkrateia, which means having command or mastery over or possession of one’s own behavior, which is accomplished through and by the power of the Lord, proceeding from within oneself, but not by oneself.
II Peter 1:5-7—But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.
Let’s begin our discussion by examining what self-control is not. Picture an old Western on television. The hero has been shot. With no doctor in sight, the faithful sidekick takes out a knife to cut the bullet out of his friend’s body. Knowing that this will be painful, he gives the wounded hero a stick to hold between his teeth; this will help him keep from losing his cool. The image is one of grim determination and resolution to “grit it out” through the pain.
This does not depict the concept of self-control Paul discusses. The biblical understanding of the term requires death of the sinful nature by divine grace as we surrender ourselves to the Lord. In Galatians 5:19–21, Paul lists the characteristics of life in the flesh: “adultery,fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders,drunkenness, revelries, and the like.” All these categories reflect behaviors that are out of control and are common in today’s world.
The type of self-control that emanates from the presence of the Spirit in our thoughts and emotions is undergirded by the power of God as believers yield themselves to the Lord in obedience to His will. Several verses help us understand this better:
Galatians 5:16—I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
Philippians 2:13—for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Romans 8:9—But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
Consider also Romans 12:2, where Paul refers to the transformation that comes as we renew our minds.
Self-control enables the believer to overcome sinful and destructive habits, focus on ministering to others, build up the body of Christ, and live in mutual submission to others (Ephesians 5:21—submitting to one another in the fear of God), thereby leading a life that is positive and productive in the family, the neighborhood, the church, and place of employment. For example, Paul exhorted the Ephesian churches: Ephesians 4:28—Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.
Galatians 5:13, 14—For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Christian should not assume maintaining self-control to be a purely individual matter. It is vital to recognize that ministry within the body of Christ entails responsibility to help others. Notice the corporate emphasis in each of the following verses of Scripture:
Galatians 6:1—Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”
Galatians 6:10—Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
1 Corinthians 12:26—If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
Ephesians 4:15,16—Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Philippians 4:2, 3—I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel.”
Christians today struggle as well to gain control of various aspects of their lives. Through members ministering to one another, however, the body of Christ builds itself up in love as each person becomes more mature in character and behavior.
Ephesians 4:16—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
In practical ways, healing for emotional issues that cause people to lose control of their reactions can occur in a variety of church contexts: small cell and prayer groups, Wednesday night gatherings, youth services, and many more. A Bible study class that encourages broad participation, provides opportunities for sharing, and offers prayer and counsel on threatening issues can become a valuable “support group” for hurting people. Spiritual and practical counsel offered in love can help a believer “maintain control” with the divine assistance of the Holy Spirit. The camaraderie of a small group of Christians can greatly enhance the working of the Spirit in each life.
In this life, no one achieves all the fruit of the Spirit equally. Some speculate that Paul might have lost his temper when he had a “sharp” disagreement with Barnabas over whether to invite John Mark to join them for another missionary journey:
Acts 15:36–41—Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
In regard to gaining perfection in this life, Paul wrote, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” –Philippians 3:12
The Spirit of Christ who works in our hearts to help us live above sinful practices, as well as the offering of loving counsel by Christian brothers and sisters, enables the fruit of self-control to grow for the glory of God. As a result, we can model God’s values, demonstrate in our behaviors His power to aid us daily, and more effectively share His love for others.
It’s little wonder that human relationships become the battleground for demonstrating the level of Christian graces and self-control. After all, Jesus said in John 13:35: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”