Fruit of the Spirit - Self-Control

    08.11.23 | by Jennifer Parks-Snyder

    Aug 6, 2023 Scripture Lesson: Galatians 5:16-25 Sermon: The Fruit of Self-Control
    In the 1970’s, psychologist Walter Mischel of Stanford presented a challenge to young children called the Marshmallow test. The study was done to test their self-control. It went something like this. The child would be brought into a room where they were sit at a table for 15 minutes. Before them would be a nice fluffy marshmallow. If they could wait 15 minutes, they could receive a second marshmallow. This turned out to be a bit of a struggle for most children. If you have access, here’s a link to show you how it goes:
    This test is thought provoking because if you were presented with something yummy placed before you, could you go 15 minutes without eating it? How about this- if you were placed in a room with your telephone, and you were told not to answer it for 15 minutes, but someone kept calling. Could you let it go? Now while we could claim the phone challenge is not about self-control but rather being considerate to the person calling you, what about the person in the room with you, or what about yourself? Self- control is not about the other person, but it is what can benefit us, help us form healthy boundaries in life.
    The definition of self-control is is the ability to handle one’s thoughts, emotions, actions, and words in such a way our responses are guided by reason more than emotions. As Christians, our responses to situations can be guided by the fruits of the Spirit.
    Today we wrap up our sermon series on the fruit of the Spirit. During these last 7 weeks we have taken this list that Paul suggests to the church of Galatia, and we have looked at each spiritual virtue that Paul claims God gives us, so we may be more like Christ. And if you notice, before he lists these spiritual practices, he writes of what he calls our “sinful nature” that is those things that are opposite of what God wants for us. Paul then goes on to list what the desires of that sinful nature is: sexual immorality (sexual activity out of wedlock), impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.
    When we look at that list we can’t help but notice those behaviors are revealed when we are out of control, giving into self-indulgences, that are not healthy for us. They can affect our emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Which is why this last fruit that Paul lists, is needed, because the source of our strength to control those sinful natures, is God, or as Paul writes in verse 16, “let the Holy Spirit guide your life”. And it does so by helping us be more and more like Jesus.
    One of my favorite Biblical lessons of self-control is when Jesus saves the adulterous woman in John 8.
    Jesus was teaching at the Temple in Jerusalem when some religious leaders brought a woman before him and said: 4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”
    And do you remember his first response? It wasn’t what he said, it was what he did. He paused. Verse 6 we read, Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. That’s an example of self-control, right? Not being dragged into a debate or quarrel in a reactionary way, but leading those around you to pause, possibly calm down.
    I am always amazed how at a Scout meeting when the kids are getting a little rambunctious, the leader stands up, and holds up their hand with the pledge sign. Then one by one, you see the scouts doing the same, it is a pause to calm them and center their attention on the leader and what they are teaching.
    Jesus attempts to do that with this crowd. However, it didn’t seem to work at first. Verse 7 we read, 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
    Now in that culture, that meant you never disobeyed your parents, or you never broke the rule of the sabbath by lighting a lamp, or you never wished you had something your neighbor had. Jesus got them there because he was talking about self-control. He pointed out that we all have those moments when we lose control of our thoughts, words, and actions.
    Do you know what he did next? Verse 8, 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. Pledge hands up again, right? Jesus led them to pause and consider what he just said, the truth we all should recognize, be careful to judge someone else, because such judgement becomes more a reflection on ourselves than our accused. And often it involves emotions more than reason.
    The story ends, 9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
    11 “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” She and others learned a lesson that day to pause, reflect, draw in the dust, put your pledge hands up, pray, go for a walk, when temptation is there. Control yourself with reason over emotions.
    But wait, there is more, right after Jesus says that to the woman, and the Temple leaders left, we read this, 12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” If we follow Jesus, he will guide us, he will enlighten us, to the ways of life God wants to provide for each of us.
    Friends, in this letter to the Galatians, Paul begins his list of fruits of the Spirit with love, which directs our thoughts and actions toward others, and ends with self-control, which directs our thoughts and actions inward, for the good of self, and sums it up with, There is no law against these things! What Paul means is, our behaviors, our attitudes, can and will be positive, our way of living can and will improve when we allow ourselves to become more and more like Christ, who reveals the way of God, which is a law of grace.
    I know that temptation is out there. We are tempted to eat delicious sweets, especially if made with Hershey’s chocolate. We are tempted to be readily accessible with our cell phones 24/7. Tempted to give into the pressures of our culture and society. But what type of life does that bring? Not a healthy one. Nor is it one God wants for us.
    Life is challenging, and yet the good news is, we are not alone in facing those temptations, we are not alone to strive to a better way. We have God within us, who gives strength and encouragement to go and sin no more, when we welcome the fruit of the Holy Spirit, who shines the light of Christ in our hearts.
    Let us pray: Gracious God, we thank you that you have claimed us as your children. And we pray that our lives may become so saturated with the ways and fruit of the Holy Spirit that people see Jesus through us, to Your praise and glory. May your love shine forth in us; may your peace and joy abide with us; teach us to be patient and kind; and may you manifest Your goodness and grace within us. No matter the challenges, we pray that we may be gentle and have self-control in our actions, attitudes, and words. May we be good and faithful servants as we trust you are good and faithful to us, revealed through your Son, our Savior. Most of all may we rest in him so that the Spirit’s fruit may develop in and through us and be used to help heal the pain, the sorrow, the struggles of those we know and those concerns we see around us. You provide the way, the truth, and the life. May such wisdom, such justice reflect through us and bring righteousness and hope in a troubled world. We ask this as we affirm our trust in you and your way with this prayer, Our Father,
    Offertory Invitation:
    This week, your church will be teaching children in the community about the light of Jesus with our Vacation Bible School! We have 31 children registered, with only a handful who are already connected to our church. So this will be a week for our leaders and volunteers to share the fruit of the Spirit. I ask that you keep us and the students and their families in your prayers. And I thank you for your tithes and offerings that go to support this ministry. AMEN.
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