I was a remote control. Let me grow nostalgic for a bit. I remember many evenings when Dad would kick back in his Lay-Z-Boy recliner, Mom would sit on the davenport knitting, and us three kids would be sitting or lying on the floor in front of our TV. Now, this wasn’t your fancy new flat panel LCD/LED/PLASMA/4K/3D capable smart TV with 300+ channels, Youtube, Netflix, and Pandora. It was a 25” Color TV set from Sears that was a piece of furniture in its own right. Some of you know what I mean. That TV set picked up three channels (a fourth, the new Public Broadcasting Station from Bradley University was just beginning). As Gunsmoke or Carol Burnett or Red Skelton wrapped up Dad would say, “Change it nineteen Dale.” I’d reach up and turn the dial to nineteen. About that time Mom would say, “Back up from the TV kids, you’ll hurt your eyes.” We’d all scoot back a few inches, I never did figure out how those few inches made a difference. Now, how in the world does that scene connect with the fruit of Spirit called self-control?
If you are just joining us, this is the first article in a series on the Fruit of the Spirit. And yes, we’re working backward and beginning with self-control. For this series we are going to be looking at three things, what do the fruit look and taste like, how can we encourage its growth, and how can we give it away. The fruit of the Spirit that grows in us by walking with Jesus is not only for our benefit but also for those around us. In addition to this article, there is a link to a short story I wrote in 2004 which portrays in some way a Fruit of the Spirit that is being given away.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22–23, NASB95)
To be honest I struggle with self-control. Ok, yeah, not only with doing it, but also with the whole idea. I mean, aren’t we to be Spirit-controlled? I thought we were to die to self? How often have I written about letting God be in control? Most of us made a mess of things when we were in control, right? So I ran to my Webster’s Dictionary which defined self-control as, “restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires.” To be thorough I checked out the Greek word Paul used in Galatians, maybe it will give me a different picture. It said, ”restraint of one’s emotions, impulses, or desires.” It is safe then to say that Paul doesn’t mean self-control in the sense of putting ourselves back in charge, but having restraint or boundaries that we choose to live by.
Both dictionaries connected self-control with restraint in three areas, our emotions, our impulses, and our desires. Going back to old tv shows for a moment. In his variety show, Flip Wilson would almost always have a comedy sketch that included the excuse, “the devil made me do it.” I think it’s fair to say that we all feel that way about our emotions, impulses, and desires at times. They made us do it. Self-control doesn’t mean that we stuff those three into some closet, never to be heard from again. Self-restraint doesn’t mean that we never ever feel joyful, giddy, sad, angry, grumpy, depressed, jealous, or any of the myriad of other emotions. Neither does self-control mean the end of acting impulsively. Nor does it mean that we no longer have desires, deep longings, or hunger. Growing the fruit of self-control and self-restraint means that we are decreasingly controlled by our emotions, impulses, and desires. Paul wrote a church struggling with self-control issues, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12, NASB95) God wired us to have emotions, to react impulsively, and to have desires. The Spirit birthed fruit of self-control embraces our emotions, impulses, and desires without letting them control what we do or say.
How can we encourage the fruit of self-control in our lives? I think that the first step is understanding how much we are controlled by our emotions, impulses, and desires. The discipline of fasting is great for that. Want to find out how much something controls you? Fast from it for a time. I remember this one time I made a commitment to a three-day fast from food. On the second day, I happened to be walking through a shopping mall. I impulsively bought a candy bar and began to eat it. After two bites it was like, “hey, wait a minute, who put this candy bar in my hand?” We encourage the fruit of self-control by being honest with ourselves and asking God what to do with what we are feeling. Sometimes our emotions, impulses, and desires reveal areas in our lives that need to be touched and healed by Jesus. Sometimes they are drawing us into something God wants us to do. We see this in the Gospels and their repeated observation that Jesus was “moved by compassion.” There’s a simple prayer that will encourage the fruit of self-control. It goes something like this, “Lord, I’m feeling…what do you want me to do about it?” Self-control is not a battle of the wills, but a battle of choosing who we surrender to.
How do we give away the fruit of self-control? This one is actually very easy. When we exercise self-control we are in a sense giving it away. Self-control prevents us from harming others and propels us towards caring for others we would not normally care about. Even though the word begins with “self” it leads us towards being “Jesus-centered” and caring like Him. You could say that self-control moves us toward selfless action. And that is the essence of giving away what God has grown in our lives and in our hearts.
In a way, we could modernize what we think about self-control. It’s not really about control but about surrender. The verse following the list of spiritual fruit says, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24, NASB95) We surrender, we crucify, our emotions, impulses, and desires to Jesus and allow Him guide us and grow us towards reacting and responding as He would. In other words, we willingly become remote-controlled.
My journey in writing began in earnest on a December evening in 2003. Betty and I had stopped for supper at Applebee’s after some Christmas shopping. As I looked at the various pieces of memorabilia and stuff on their wall I saw an old football helmet. It had look used and even had a few battle scars. I began to wonder what story it had to tell. At that point imagination took over and I began to create a story around that football helmet. What followed in the next few months were a series of stories prompted by some article on Applebee’s walls. Each story portrayed one of the nine fruit of the Spirit. The stories originally had a wrapper story explaining where the writing prompt came from, Applebee’s became Finnegan’s Inn. While I’ve removed the wrapper story that introduced the writing prompt I have not re-edited the stories. In other words, they’re a bit rough. Without further ado, the story on self-control is titled Patricia’s Date.