Fruitful life - self-control

Self-control may be last in the list, but it is essential to all the others, because it trains us in choice.

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Fruitful life – self-control


October 23, 2016 – John 15:5-11




Be fruitful.


These are the first two words that God speaks to human beings.  I have taken this command as one applying, not just to the first human beings and not just to the concern to make babies, but really a concern about all of life.  In the beginning, God is giving us a key to understanding what a fulfilling life is – it is a fruitful life.


And Paul helps us by spelling this out:


The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.




I began this series by talking about love – the unconditional love of God for us that allows us to live with freedom and compassion.   Joy is not only our inner fruit of knowing what God has done for us, but also that God takes great joy in us and in the whole universe.  Peace is not outward calm and quiet, but is that equanimity that helps us to face every situation with balance.  Kindness is a strength that allows us to face our own suffering with grace and the suffering of others with compassion. Generosity is kindness in action, compassion in action, love in action.


Today we come to the last of the fruit of the Spirit – self-control.  This is probably the most difficult for many people because it seems so negative.  It sounds very close to self-denial and, in our society, we are not trained to deny ourselves but to indulge ourselves. 


Yet, in a certain way, we are all practicing self-control all the time.  Self-control is simply saying, “No,” to something.  Often we say, “No,” to one thing, in order to say, “Yes,” to something else.


We say no to a piece of chocolate cake in order to say yes to our intention to lose weight.  We say no to a glass of wine or beer in order to say yes to clear-headedness.  We say no to watching TV so we can say yes to spending time outside.  We say no to surfing the internet so we can say yes to spending time with a real live human being.  And on and on it goes.


In essence, self-control is about freedom.  We tend to think that freedom is doing whatever we want whenever we want.  But is that freedom or is that simply slavery to our self-centeredness?  Self-control, on the other hand, is about freedom from our whims, our impulses, our immediate desires, and our self-centered ego.  It is about the freedom of choice. When we feel the urge in us to do something, do we stop and ask ourselves – Am I making this choice freely?  What is coming up in me, what is pushing or pulling me?  How might I make a decision that is, free – not just from outward expectation (limitation), but from inward impulse?


The Greek word that is translated self-control is, “en-krateia.”  The word comes from the word “kratos,” which means power.  The prefix means, “in.”  Enkrateia means then, “in-power,” or “inward power, or simply, “power over ourselves.  Freedom is not primarily bout controlling our external circumstances, but about controlling our inward response.




This is really what mindfulness teaches us to do.  In the prison, we probably spend more time talking about his aspect of mindfulness than about any other.  The prison is a place where self-control is paramount, because the consequences of acting impulsively are often swift and severe.  Prisoners are watched all the time.  One misstep can lead to a ticket that goes on their record or a stint in the hole.


So, we talk about stopping and taking a breath before acting.  When you take even two seconds to breathe in and observe then you can consider more clearly what might be the best course of action.  If you strike back immediately, verbally or physically, you might think you are simply acting freely.  But are you really free?  Are you just obeying your impulses?  Can you be more truly free if you take a moment and breathe and reflect?


This allows them to live more consciously, more mindfully, with more self-control in the present moment.  And living with more self-control, with more conscious choice, will transform our whole lives.  It allows them to say, “Yes,” as well as to say, “No.”


Even though self-control is the last of the nine fruit of the Spirit, it is really integral to the whole list.  It is what allows us to choose the other eight – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and gentleness.  Self-control gives us a choice in how we are to live.




A few weeks ago, Cathie Marty sent me a sermon, called, “Five minutes to live.”  It is a sermon that Rabbi Kenneth Berger preached to his congregation on Yom Kippur, the holiest of days on the Jewish calendar, is a day when Jews take stock of their lives.  He preached this sermon thirty years ago.  The space shuttle, Challenger, had recently exploded in the sky above Florida, shortly after take-off.  Officials had learned that the crew had actually remained alive for the 65,000 foot fall into the ocean, a drop that took about five minutes.


What would that be like, he asked his congregation?  What would go through your mind?  Would you think of your loved ones?  Would you think of all the things you had accomplished?  Would you regret all the things you were going to miss?  Would you regret things that you had done which you wished you hadn’t?


Not quite three years after Rabbi Berger preached the sermon entitled, “Five minutes to live,” he himself, along with his wife and two children, were on a flight returning from a family vacation.  The tail exploded making the airplane uncontrollable.  After it hit the ground it exploded into flames, killing 112 people.  Their children survived but the rabbi and his wife perished.




On the one hand, it would be a blessing to have a few minutes to compose oneself, to bring to mind one’s loved ones, to pray and confess, and to make a conscious connection with God, just before death.


It is a troubling thing to consider.  We don’t know what will happen.  None of us knows how we will die.  But we do have a choice.  We don’t have to wait until we know we have only five minutes to live.  We can connect with our loved ones now. We can make amends for our misdeeds now.  We can say, “No,” in order to say, “Yes.” 


And we can hold the intention to live in the most beneficial way that we can – to live with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – to be fruitful.


So, let me end today with a quote I used at the beginning of this series:


Healthy human life is fruitful life. (Jerry Bridges)