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“But of the fruit of the Spirit is…self-control” Galatians 5:22-23
I must admit I dislike the translators’ choice of “self-control” in this passage. The King James has “temperance” which I don’t find to be any better of a translation than “self-control”. Knowing this final item in the Apostle Paul’s list pertains to the Holy Spirit, I was looking for a word that reflected action of the Holy Spirit rather than action on the part of the human. Regardless of what translation I looked at, I didn’t find it.
Looking into the Greek was very little help. The word is egkrateia (G1466) and carries the definition of self-control. Strong’s Concordance pointed me to egkrates (G1468) which means “strong in a thing”. I can see being strong in the Spirit as a meaning here but it isn’t the only meaning and I don’t want to bend this definition to fit what I believe it should say. I am not ever looking to do that. I want to know the truth of Jesus. I don’t want to study to reinforce what I think. The definitions in Strong’s point to the word here meaning self-control, self-mastery, being in strength, having dominion. The meaning does appear to be mastery over one’s self.
And yet, as I continued my study using different Bible Dictionaries, I found the writers thought it was obvious that the self-control mentioned in this passage was a work of the Holy Spirit. Vine’s Expository Dictionary says, “The various powers bestowed by God upon man are capable of abuse; the right use demands the controlling power of the will under the operation of the Spirit of God.”1 Hastings’ Bible Dictionary says, “From the NT point of view, the grace of ‘self-control’ is the result of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling; it is the Spirit-controlled personality alone that is ‘strengthened with power’ (Eph 316 cf. 518) to control rebellious desires and to resist the allurements of tempting pleasures.”2 At the conclusion of the entry on temperance, Hastings’ Dictionary says, “The flesh triumphs when the Spirit is quenched; but the Spirit’s victory is gained, not by suppressing, but by controlling the flesh. Those who are ‘led by the Spirit’ who ‘live by the Spirit’ and ‘by the Spirit also walk’ attain, in its perfection, the grace of complete ‘self-control”.3
It is this last quote that has arrested me. It got me thinking about the difference between suppressing and controlling the flesh. By suppressing it, isn’t it controlled? Aren’t I saying the same thing just using different words? I admit, I was confused. That is, until I had an experience that helped me see the difference.
I’ve mentioned good works in earlier posts and the difference between doing works for Jesus and doing works out of the flow of the life of Jesus. This doesn’t mean I don’t expect opposition and obstacles-I see these things as opportunities for growth-and they do not prevent me from pursuing the calling placed in my heart. Then, last week, circumstances changed and it became impossible for me to pursue that calling. I was confused, bitterly disappointed, and shed quite a few tears but there was nothing for it but to do what had been put in my hand to do. I did not want to do it and yet there was an awareness deep inside, a knowing that yes, this is what I was meant to do in this moment.
This knowing did not stop my mind from erupting in outright rebellion. My thoughts did remind me, I’m sad to say, of a temper tantrum. They were all negative and geared to make me doubt my own relationship with Jesus and ability to hear His voice. After all, if I had really heard and was really walking and living in His Spirit, my circumstances would look a lot different, wouldn’t they? Since I had so obviously failed God, I should give up entirely. I had no control over the thoughts swirling in my mind. I could answer them and did so but was in a fight. If I had continued to attempt to control my thoughts on my own, I would have ended in a terrible state. Rather, I labored to enter into the rest of, no matter what happened even in the next minute, I would rest in the knowledge that right now I was doing what my Lord wanted me to do.
I am quoting Hebrews 4:11 and the word for labor (spoudazo G4704) means to hurry, hasten. When I engaged my negative thoughts on my own, I found my response was equally negative, even when I used the word of God. Once I stopped fighting in my own strength and submitted to the plan of God for me in that moment, all those swirling thoughts stopped. In the rest of Jesus, the power of His Spirit, I had self-control. I ended up having an enjoyable day. I don’t have any idea why the day happened the way it did because I wasn’t aware of any great Spiritual Happenings but I figure that’s up to Jesus. I don’t doubt I’ve only begun to learn lessons from that experience but I know one is, when I hasten to enter His rest, I immediately experience His peace. The battle truly belongs to Him.
I am reminded of Romans 7 and Galatians 5. In his letter to the Galatians the Apostle Paul says, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish” (Verse 17). In Romans 7, Paul says, “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Verses 22-24)
At best, I can make good choices and suppress my flesh. It might look like self-control and self-mastery but I have no power to stop my flesh from wanting to do a thing, I can only choose not to do it. My self-control is never perfect. Am I then doomed to this double existence? Do I have nothing more to look forward to but endless warfare between the Spirit and the flesh?
“But!” Paul says in Galatians 5 and then contrasts the works of the flesh with the works of the Spirit. He then says, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Verse 25). “I thank God!” Paul says in Romans 7. “Through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Verse 25) No! The fruit of the Spirit is self-control. I am, in all things, made more than a conqueror through Him who loves me (Romans 8:37, paraphrased). Jesus forming His life in me is a process, I don’t deny that, but He who began a good work in me will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). I say along with the Apostle Paul, “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).
Even so, Come Lord Jesus.
Unless notes otherwise, scriptures are quoted from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 1982
- Vine, W.E., Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville Tennessee, 1997, Temperance, Temperate, Page 1126
- Hastings, James, Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 2001, Temperance, Page 897
- Hastings, James, Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 2001, Temperance, Page 898