Well, greetings once again friends. I’m Loren Fenton, and this is Episode 43 of the GoodlifeNews! Podcast and Blog.
The focus of this month’s episode is the spiritual fruit of “Self-Control,” the last of the nine fruits of the Spirit.
As I’ve said in several of the most recent posts, the nine fruits are naturally divided into three groups of three each:
- Love, Joy, Peace (The fruit of a Spiritual Heart).
- Patience, Kindness, Goodness (The fruit of Spiritual Relationships).
- Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-control (The fruit of a Godly Character).
So today, let’s spend a few minutes thinking about #9, Self-Control.
Of course, as I’ve said before, I pray that you will experience all the fruits of the Spirit in your life today—and know the power they provide to live in positive witness for Jesus in every relationship of your life!
“Temperance”—An Old-fashioned Word for “Self-control”
(The following thoughts are taken from my book, My Seven Essential Daily Prayers, pp.113-116, in the chapter, “Strength for My Body.” MSEDP is available in both Kindle and paperback editions from Amazon.)
Sometime along in my teen years, our church youth leaders handed out a “Temperance Pledge” and encouraged all of us to sign it so we could then carry it with us as a ready reminder of our commitment to sobriety and healthful living.
Along with all the other young people, I gladly and willingly signed the pledge. I had a little card in my wallet for many years, until somewhere along the way it disappeared. But I didn’t need it in my pocket. The message was written deep in my heart.
Part of my family heritage is anything but pretty. In the very early 20th century my father’s family moved from Missouri/Kansas to northern Idaho for work in the silver-lead ore mines. Orofino was a rough town, filled with hardscrabble miners and loggers. In those days, alcohol flowed like water in the saloons and bars.
After only a few short years my biological grandfather, Arthur C. Fenton, became a severe alcoholic. One tragic day in 1907, he ran away from his family and didn’t return. It was decades before his family saw him again. My dad was 11 years old.
That one act created chaos in the Fenton family for generations. Its echoes still rumble through our family system relationships more than a century later!
My father and his three sisters—mere children at the time—were each “farmed out” to foster families. Grandma did the best she could, but simply could not support them alone. The girls became very bitter and resentful toward their father. My father struggled with abandonment issues for years. Because of alcohol’s evil effects on his family and himself, he refused to drink it in any form, ever. He cursed it until the day he died.
I was never tempted to drink. I knew the generational history. I knew it wasn’t good. I wanted no part of it.
Another sad spin-off of that abandonment, however, was that my father started smoking almost immediately afterward. From age 11 until he died at age 75, King Nicotine owned his lungs. Throughout my childhood and growing-up years, nearly every night a nasty “smoker’s cough” racked my dad’s body until he could clear the mucus and phlegm. Emphysema eventually took his life. I saw first-hand the bitter fruit of smoking, up-front and personal. No way did I want that for myself.
So, signing the Temperance Pledge was a no-brainer for me. I had neither need nor desire to travel those roads of destruction.
Traditionally, “temperance” was defined as “total abstinence from that which is harmful; moderation in that which is good.” But, I recently made what I considered to be a thrilling discovery—at least for me.
The biblical Greek word egkrateia (pronounced “eng-kra-TIA) is rendered as “moderation” in most English translations, carrying a rather “milquetoast” implication of “balance,” or “just a little bit is okay.” (Remember the story of Caspar Milquetoast from last month’s episode?)
However, egkrateia carries much more force than that! What it really means is true mastery from within! Genuine egkrateia embodies concepts of self-control, self-discipline, self-mastery, and self-restraint. It could be defined as “true personal righteousness.”
The trouble with this, however, is that reaching this state of personal mastery is completely impossible, even in the strength of our most resolute determinations or efforts. If egkrateia equates to personal righteousness—which it does— the Bible is clear: we don’t have it and can’t get it on our own. Isaiah 64:6 says, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” In other words, even the good things we attempt are all tainted with the poison of self-centeredness and sin.
Enkrateia is a spiritual fruit of God’s Spirit dwelling in our heart. Praying for strength for our body, then, is to pray for the Holy Spirit’s gift of true mastery from within, enabling us to chose—and live—a healthy life of energy and vitality for the glory of God.
Here is a quotation from The Desire of Ages, one of my all-time favorite books on the life of Christ.
The highest evidence of nobility in a Christian is self-control. He who under abuse or cruelty fails to maintain a calm and trustful spirit robs God of His right to reveal in him His own perfection of character. Lowliness of heart is the strength that gives victory to the followers of Christ; it is the token of their connection with the courts above.
Let’s work with that thought for a bit.
In an earlier episode of the podcast/blog, I shared a quotation allegedly from C. S. Lewis that read, “Pride is the mother hen under which all other sins are hatched.” I was somewhat suspicious that this wasn’t an actual C. S. Lewis statement, so I posted a question about it on a Facebook page specifically for authenticating or debunking supposed Lewis quotations–https://www.facebook.com/groups/ConfirmLewisQuotes.
Here’s one of the responses/comments from a reader named Christina Cannon:
I think it may be a paraphrase of this quotation from book 3, chapter 8 of Mere Christianity: “According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
If I may be so bold, let me add my own paraphrase to Lewis’s statement as it relates to the Holy Spirit fruit of self-control, and to the quotation from the Desire of Ages I just shared a moment ago.
Here it is:
“Self-centeredness is the heart of all sins. It is the very essence of Babylonianism, producing self-glorifying Pride and all its ugly offspring. Even self-willed self-control—i.e. “personal willpower”—often disguises its real motive of ‘I-did-it-my-way’ productivity. Babylonian Pride is the adulterated, polluted fountainhead of rebellion against God and everything that’s good.”
Here is an inconvenient, unavoidable truth: We are ALL naturally born into Babylonian self-centeredness. We come from the womb “looking for love [and sadly] in all the wrong places.”
If only we can stop long enough to take a good, long look at ourselves, it becomes painfully obvious we are all congenital self-worshipers bent on getting (and holding) everyone else’s attention and approval. Glen Campbell’s iconic song says it all: I’m gonna be where the lights are shinin’ on me, like a rhinestone cowboy riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.
Our Only Hope
The Apostle Paul knew this painful reality all too well! In Romans 7 he bears his frustration in trying to do the right thing, but utterly failing no matter how intense his efforts.
Finally he cries out in desperation, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? (v. 24). Paul then answers his own cry for help, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 25). AMEN!
So, here it is. Jesus Christ—our great High Priest in heaven—requests the Father to send the Holy Spirit to take up residence in our hearts. Subsequently, the Spirit manifests and displays all the fruits of godliness we have considered over the last nine months. These fruits touch other people through every word and action of our lives—every relationship and every communication.
All nine of the fruits of the spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (i.e. temperance)—are given for one overriding purpose:
All nine are direct antidotes for the overwhelming problems in this world: hate, sadness, anxiety, anger, meanness, evil, betrayals, violence, and toxic indulgences. For each of these negative realities, God has an answer in the Holy Spirit’s presence. He sends us—as we are willing—to be carriers of these gifts, delivering the healing so desperately needed in the lives of people everywhere.
Thank you so much for listening today! I pray you have been blessed.
I hope you can join me for next month’s episode. I’ll be sharing some thoughts “Righteousness.” Watch for it on October 31–Halloween!
Mark your calendar! Be sure to tune in, and invite someone else to listen with you!
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