PastorRodney’s Weblog

Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

The Spirit’s Fruit; Self-Control like Jesus

08/20 The Spirit’s Fruit; Self-Control Like Jesus Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20170820_self-control-like-jesus.mp3

Self Control. The Fruit of the Spirit is self control. What is self control? Why do we need it? Do we need it? How do we get it?

What is self control? The Greek word is engkratia [ἐγκράτεια ]. It is a compound of two words [ἔν] which means ‘in’ and [κράτος ] which means power or strength. Engkratia points to an inner strength, an inner mastery, a command or control of self.

The Problem of Powerlessness

There is a negative of this word in the New Testament with the negative ‘a’ prefix [ἀκρασία] that means a lack of power or mastery, lack of self control. This opposite word shows up in places like Matthew 23:25, where Jesus says:

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Self indulgence is this word powerlessness or lack of self-control. The Pharisees looked good on the outside, but they lacked this inner strength of character.

It shows up in 1 Corinthians 7:5 warning married couples not to deprive one another of marital intimacy

1 Corinthians 7:5 Do not deprive one another, …so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

He says a few verses later

1 Corinthians 7:9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

This inner strength word often but not always refers to the power to overcome sexual temptation. In a 2016 Barna research study, nearly half of young adults said they come across porn at least once a week—even when they aren’t seeking it out. Temptation is real, and it is more available than ever before. About 27% of Christian men and 6% of Christian women said they seek out porn at least once or twice a month. 14% of pastors and 21% of youth pastors admit they currently struggle with using porn. We desperately need this inner power, this fruit of self control which is produced by the Holy Spirit.

The negative adjective [ἀκράτης] shows up in the list of evils in 2 Timothy 3 that characterize so much of our society.

2 Timothy 3:2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

This lack of inner strength, this problem of powerlessness, is part of our society, and sadly is part of the experience of too many followers of Jesus.

The Hope of Victory

The Bible is clear.

1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

First, the Bible is clear that pride is precarious and no one should think of himself as exempt from or above temptation. Spiritual pride is lethal.

Second, temptation is common. Everybody experiences temptation. It is part of the human experience. This takes away one of our favorite excuses, that my struggle is extraordinary and unique. You are clearly not tempted as intensely or as frequently as I am. If you were, you would fall too. No, temptation is common to us all.

And third, God is faithful. Notice where the Apostle goes for hope in the face of temptation? He doesn’t go inside. He doesn’t say ‘You’re not that kind of person that falls like that. You shouldn’t stoop to that kind of behavior. You’re better than this – don’t let yourself give in because you’re better than that. No, in fact, that’s the kind of spiritual pride he warns against. He says everybody faces temptation, and nobody is above failure, but God is faithful. He turns us away from confidence in self and points us to the unfailing character of God. By the way, self control is not the same thing as self confidence or being self sufficient or self reliant. In another place Paul says ‘we put no confidence in the flesh’ (Phil.3:3). Don’t believe in yourself. You will fail. Put your confidence in God who will never fail.

1 Corinthians 10:13 …God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

God is faithful. He will not permit testing above your ability. Are you being severely tempted? You have access to the power that can overcome that temptation. God is faithful. With the trial he will make the escape so that you have the ability to endure. The power is not within you. God is faithful. God provides the escape and the ability to endure. It is yours to resist, to stand firm, to endure, but it is God who supplies you with all the power necessary to successfully stand.

Idols and What We Treasure

Let’s understand this verse in its context; this is the conclusion of an argument, not against sexual temptation, but against idolatry. The next verse gives the conclusion:

1 Corinthians 10:14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Paul speaks to sexual temptation in chapters 6-7. Chapters 8-10 deal with idolatry. In Corinth the idolatry was literal pagan temples and restaurants that served meat sacrificed to the idols in these temples. There was tremendous social pressure to do what everyone else was doing, to be invited, to be included, to show up and feel part of things. We all are tempted to idolatry. Idolatry can be anything we value, anything we honor. Our idol is whatever we treasure most. The Corinthians were tempted to treasure social status, acceptance, a sense of belonging; they were tempted to value these things above Jesus. They prized their knowledge, their theological understanding more than a relationship with God. They treasured their God given freedoms more than they treasured the God who gave them these freedoms.

In Chapter 9 Paul uses himself as an example of surrendering rights, God given rights, good things, for the sake of the gospel. Paul is willing to sacrifice his rights, his freedoms.

1 Corinthians 9:12 …Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

Paul understood that even rights and freedoms and good things can become idols if they are held too tightly. What Paul treasured as the one thing of surpassing worth was Jesus, knowing him, being found in him, seeing him glorified as others enter into a relationship with Jesus. In verse 22 he says:

1 Corinthians 9:22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Then he uses an athletic metaphor to help us understand what he is getting at.

1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

In the Isthmian games held near Corinth, all the Greek city-states competed. There was great pressure to take home the honor of a victory for one’s city. There was a goal. There was a prize. There was one thing. And here Paul brings in this idea of self-control. Every contestant exercises self control in all things. There is inner strength. There is discipline. The one thing is rigorously maintained as the one thing, and that means denying competing desires. Athletes love ice cream and lounging around in fuzzy slippers and jammies all day as much as the next person. But the athlete has his eyes on the prize, and that means letting go of lesser desires. Winning athletes exercise amazing levels of discipline and inner strength to keep the main thing the main thing and to set aside those lesser things that would entangle and get in the way of the prize. But we look forward to hearing ‘well done, good and faithful servant’ from the King of kings. How much more should we use this inner strength to keep focus and move toward the goal? I do not run aimlessly. I keep the prize always in view. I do not waste punches. I specifically target those things that would compete with the primary desire. My body is my slave that I lead around to pursue the one thing. This is what inner strength looks like. The ability to set aside competing desires so that we can focus on the primary desire.

Then he concludes in chapter 10 by saying that we must be on guard against pride and temptation. God will supply the strength to endure. So flee idolatry.

Temptation, Opportunity and Desire

For temptation to be successful, there are three things that must come together. The temptation must combine with desire and opportunity to be effective. I have a deep love for cookies, In the middle of the night it suddenly comes to me that I need a cookie. I am tempted to sneak down to the kitchen to steal a cookie. But if I find there are no cookies in the cookie jar, the temptation is empty. There is desire and temptation but no opportunity. If the next day, there are cookies in the jar, and I walk through the kitchen and see them, the desire is still there; I love cookies, and the opportunity is there, the cookie jar is full, but I’m busy with other things and it doesn’t cross my mind to take one, I have desire and opportunity, but I am not tempted to steal a cookie. On the other hand, I might walk by the cookie jar and see the cookies and be tempted to steal one; The temptation and the opportunity is there, but if my desires have changed, I won’t steal a cookie. If last week I ate so many cookies that I threw them all up, I may no longer have a taste or desire for cookies. Temptation we have little control over. Jesus encourages us to pray ‘lead us not into temptation’ (Mat.6:13)

Matthew 26:41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

We have little control over the urge or inclination. We have little control over the opportunity. I can go around asking everyone to stop baking cookies because I have a cookie problem. But at some point the opportunity will be there and I will be tempted. I believe the key to victory is in our desires. It is true that people do what they want. People will do what they want when presented with the opportunity. If I love cookies, if I want to eat cookies, then when I have the opportunity to eat a cookie I will do what I want. If I want to sleep in, I will sleep in. If I want to not be fired or fail my classes, then I will drag myself out of bed, brush my teeth, get dressed and go to school or work. What is it that I want more? That is what I will do.

Jesus taught us to go after our desires. Jesus said to the religious:

Matthew 23:25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and [without inner strength].

The focus of law is on conformity to measurable standards. But Jesus is after our hearts. The law says do not murder, but Jesus says do not be angry with your brother (Mt.5:21-22; 1Jn.3:15). The law says do not commit adultery, but Jesus attacks our desires and says do not lust in your heart (Mt.5:27-28). Jesus says

Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.

If we only put locks on our phones and computers that keep us from looking at certain things, but our desire is still for those things, at some point we will be presented with the opportunity, and we will fall to temptation. People do what they want to do. We can lock up a criminal and remove his opportunity, but if his desires have not changed, when he gets out he will do what he wants.

Changing Desires

So how do desires change? How do we gain this inner strength to set aside lesser desires to pursue the one desire? The one thing must outweigh everything else. All our desires must be overshadowed by a superior desire. What is that one thing? This is where it gets dangerous. We must replace our desires with the right thing.

Lets say I have a problem with anger. I blow up, lose it, get out of control, and verbally and maybe even physically hurt the people around me. I begin to see I have a problem and I go to get counsel. The counselor tells me to identify the triggers, the things that make me angry and avoid them. Don’t put yourself in those situations where you get angry. That’s great. Remove the opportunity. But what if it’s my wife that makes me angry? ‘Get a divorce.’ What if its my kids that make me angry? Do I get rid of them? That’s bad advice. I will never be able to avoid every situation that might trigger my anger. So I go back to the counselor. She gets my wife to take a video of me the next time I get angry and lose it, and the counselor plays it back to me and says ‘look at what a fool you made of yourself. See how idiotic you are acting? And your outburst doesn’t stop the person from pushing your buttons. In fact they may be pushing your buttons intentionally just to see you blow.’ It works. I don’t want to look like a fool. I don’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of pushing my buttons. So I change. I have replaced my anger with a different desire. But its the wrong desire. Now I want to have the upper hand. I don’t want anyone to control me. I don’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of pushing my buttons. I want to be perceived as better. I change, I have less outbursts of anger, but I become proud, condescending, aloof, spiteful, vengeful. I don’t get mad, I get even. You see, it matters what you replace your desires with. If they are replaced with wrong desires you may go from bad to worse.

Desiring God

How do we change in a healthy way? How do we get mastery over our desires and what is the one thing that pushes out all lesser desires?

Look at Jesus. In Matthew 4, he was in the wilderness, and he had been fasting for 40 days and nights. He was literally starving.

Matthew 4:3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Jesus had the desire. He was hungry. He had the opportunity – as the Son of God he had the ability to speak anything he wanted into existence. He was tempted. Satan himself was doing the tempting. But Jesus has true inner strength. Look at what he says:

Matthew 4:4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Do you see what he does? He has a legitimate desire. In his case he had a desperate need. He was hungry. But Jesus says “I have something better. I delight in the voice of my Father more than my taste buds delight in food. He has a greater treasure than food; a greater treasure than life itself. Jesus treasured his relationship with his Father more than life itself. He desired his Father’s glory more than his own.

When temptation, desire and opportunity combine (and they will), you must have the weapon of a superior desire sharpened and ready. Jesus is treasuring his Father. He has been spending time meditating on his Word. He has been enjoying communion with his Father in prayer. He has been tasting and seeing that the LORD is good, so that when temptation came, he was able to compare it with what he had already been enjoying and turn it down flat. God is faithful.

Hebrews 12 tells us:

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

What competing desires, what sins, what good things, are getting in the way of the one thing? Do you want the one thing enough that you are willing to lay secondary desires aside? If you don’t think you have the strength, cry out to Jesus for help. God is faithful. He will perfect your faith.

What is your one thing? If you don’t have the one thing clear, you will be aimless and make little progress. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Look to Jesus, who endured the cross, who rejoiced to obey his Father, who lived (and died) to bring him glory. Fix your eyes on Jesus, taste and see that he is good, experience that he is better, allow him to be your one desire.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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August 22, 2017 - Posted by | Fruit of the Spirit, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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