Devotion for the Week...
It's time to take a look at the last of the 9 character traits listed in Galatians as the fruit of the Spirit and this week we're tackling self-control.
Once again, here is the passage on which I have based this series: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22,23).
Teaching kids self-control has to start pretty early. We have to teach kids not to grab toys from other kids and how to wait for their turn instead. We have to teach them not to take fistfuls of candy from the bowl, but to just take a couple instead. We have to teach them not to hit or bite or kick when they're angry and how to use their words instead. And we have to teach them to follow the rules, even when they don't like the rules. Molding civilized beings out of naturally selfish, impulsive toddlers is a long process!
We want our kids to be self-controlled so there will be peace in our homes and, ultimately, in our towns and cities. God wants all of us to be self-controlled so we can resist the temptation to sin. The more we are able to control our impulses to do what we want immediately, without thinking things through, the more we are able to live as God wants us to live.
Thankfully, just as toddlers are not left to figure it out all on their own, so we are not left to our own devices. We have two teachers who can show us the way to self-control, which we then have to implement for ourselves (hence the self portion!).
The first teacher we have is Jesus. In Matthew 4 we read about how Satan tempted Jesus after Jesus had been in the desert for 40 days. Jesus had been fasting that whole time, so He was hungry, the Bible tells us in verse 2 (understatement, maybe?). So, while Jesus is 40-days-with-no-food hungry, "The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread" (v. 3). Can you just imagine for a moment that you're in the desert, you haven't eaten for 40 days, you're hungry (!) and you're surrounded by stones. Wouldn't the thought of turning them all into bread make your mouth water? But Jesus doesn't. Instead, He quotes Scripture back at Satan. "Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’" (v. 4).
A little aside...Would it have been such a big deal to make the stones become bread? Making bread isn't sinful, after all. I did a little research and it seems there's some debate over why this is wrong, but my take on it is simple...Satan was tempting Jesus with something good and necessary (food when He was hungry) for a purpose that was outside God's will (proving His identity when it was not yet time), which made it wrong, which is why Jesus wouldn't do it.
From Jesus we learn that knowing Scripture will help us when we are tempted. If we read our Bible, then we know what God wants for us. We learn how He wants us to live and what sort of people He wants us to be and we can use that knowledge to say no when tempted to do something outside of what He wants.
Which brings us to our second teacher...the Holy Spirit. Jesus told us, "But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:26). Have you ever seen a show where someone has a devil sitting on one shoulder urging them on to something wrong, and an angel on the other shoulder urging them to do right? Well, the Holy Spirit is something like that angel, except He is actually God and He has taken up residence in all believers. When we are tempted to do wrong, it is His voice we hear giving a word of caution or a reminder of the right we should do instead. It is Him who calls relevant Bible verses to our minds in those moments and helps us to resist the temptation.
Then the matter comes down to us. After all, this is self-control we are talking about. The Spirit can remind us of what we know. He can give us the tools we need to resist temptation. But will we use them? Will we control ourselves?
As I said before, these character traits will grow in us only if we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us. If we choose to ignore His warnings, His reminders and His help, then we will continue as we are. But if we choose instead to heed His warnings and make use of His reminders and His help, then we will learn self-control and all of the other traits we've been studying.
Which will we choose?