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  • Writer's pictureBishop Dr Peter (UK)


Galatians 5:22-23 (Daily Prayer Bible)

Fruits of the Spirit - Self-Control (Galatians #87)

22-23 The Spirit, on the other hand, produces fruit: . . . self-control . . . . In this, the Law and the Spirit agree, because the Law does not forbid such things.

Notes on the Scripture

The last of the attributes listed by Paul as fruits of the spirit is “self-control.” Unlike some of the other terms we have studied, most translators agree that the English word “self-control” perfectly describes Paul’s meaning. A fair minority of Bibles, most notably the King James Version, translates the work “temperance,” and one or two, “chastity.”

“Temperance,” in the general sense, is not a bad translation of the term, but in more modern times (and especially in the 20th century), temperance came to refer, specifically, to alcohol. The powerful Women's Christian Temperance Union dedicated itself to elimination all drinking of alcohol and even succeeded it making it illegal in the United States for 13 years. And chastity clearly refers to sexual conduct; in Modern English it connotes total abstinence.

But while alcohol and sex are two stars in the world of temptation to excess, and often intransigent due to their addictive nature, we can see the beneficial effects of self-control and moderation in innumerable areas of human behavior. Eating good food, spending or saving money, feeling satisfaction at one’s work: like having sex or drinking wine, these are normal human activities that we enjoy without guilt or sin, but which can become sinful without self-control.

Sometimes, our conduct is excessive, in and of itself. We might horde and/or spend ludicrous amounts of money, with no possible purpose except to serve our greed and vanity. Does anyone need a $10,000 watch? Or, as a more mundane example, wolfing down a double serving of chili fries!

So often, it is not an activity that transgresses God’s will, but our attitude toward it. How much self-importance puffs me up, if I receive a big promotion at work? If my face and body are beautiful, does my mind tell me that I am superior to all those ugly people? One of Christ’s great messages was the intention of our heart as the wellspring of true goodness.

When the Spirit is allowed to give us self-control, it changes our heart to a point that we no longer want sinful excess. He empowers us to control our drives and channel them in the range God intended us to use them. Sometimes, transmitting the desire — say, the desire of an alcoholic not to abuse alcohol — can involve an extensive program of spiritual growth. We might need others’ help. But lacking self-control in any of the myriad areas, where some people seem to lack a self-governing mechanism by nature, is a trial.

The loose woman, the grossly obese man, the avaricious banker: these are not Satanic sinners. They are people to whom God has given a special trial. They are afflicted, and like all of us, they are given a tribulation to help them find God. They are taught that they must have the Holy Spirit, for in most cases, such afflictions often cannot be overcome by human power. Self-control is truly a gift of the Spirit, sometimes available nowhere else.

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