Fruits of the Spirit: Growing in Self Control
Rev. Leta Arndt Behrens
Sermon Scripture: LUKE 9:51-62
51When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.
57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Throughout this series on the fruits of the spirit we have often been able to enhance our understanding of one of the fruits by going to the greek language and learning what the nuance of a word was that got lost in translation. So I thought I would do the same thing here, with the final fruit of self control. And what I discovered was that self control in greek… is self control. No nuance, no extra or double meaning, just the same idea of control thyself. The only additional meaning it takes on is within the context of the whole passage from Galatians that this fruit too,the one of self control, is a spiritual connection to God and only given through the grace and mercy of God.
One of the most acute memories I have on learning about self control is being in the back seat of the car squished between my brother and sister. I usually had to ride in the middle see because they would get into those litle scuffles of the slapping and poking each other when in close quarters. I may have participated in this as well, you know like once, seeing as how i was the wise and mature one 🙂 My dad has a big gift in patience, but this was not something that took long to annoy him and he would sternly say. That’s it. Sit on your hands. We would groan and then put our hands kinda under our legs and he would say, all the way and we would make sure our rears were firmly holding our hands in place. This not only stopped our scuffle but also gave a us a moment to breath and collect ourselves for more civilized traveling and interaction. Being restrained from our appendages had the ability to also affect our minds and hearts as well as the mood of the car and our father. (As a side note, this is still a great parenting strategy that we highly use and encourage)
This example of self control is one that lends itself to the feeling that we may have when we even hear the world self control–a feeling of restraint perhaps, or tightening up. Being aware of ourselves and our surroundings and how they influence one another. This is certainly a part of self control. When we hear the list of the non-fruits of the spirit, or works of the flesh, we know that an element of restraint, moderation and ability to steer clear of things that can drag us into the pits of our beings can be life giving and good for our well being and the well being of those around us. It is much like the idea of the butterfly effect or the chaos theory-that one small flap of a butterfly’s wings can set off a chain reaction that has the ability to create storms of chaos and danger in another part of the world. And much like my dad’s goal was to mitigate chaos in his car, so is the spirit of self control working in our lives to create a way that what we do and how we are in the world restrains from chaos and leads us into abundant life.
Jesus addresses this sense of self control in the gospel today. The disciples have gained insight and even power and they want to use their gifts from Jesus to restrain and smite others. Jesus firmly tells them no, this not the way in which the Holy Spirit works and restraint from lashing out in anger and instead continuing to make their way towards Jerusalem brings them into a new understanding that following Jesus is not an easy road and it is a road that will walk first in love through the power of the holy spirit that has been infused in them.
So there is a second layer to self control. When we sat on our hands as kids, restrained from participating in chaos and forced into a new moment of calm, it opened up space for something else to move and take shape. When we give ourselves time and space to connect spiritually to God, we give ourselves the space to see the world, situations, circumstances, with new eyes, to engage the world with new love, and to have the presence and confidence of self to live as Jesus calls us to live as followers of God’s way.
Self control then is more deeply about our connection to all the fruits of the spirit and how we live into them and embrace them as a gift of the Holy Spirit that actually does LIVE in us. While the chaos theory describes a string of reactions that can lead to destruction, the fruit of self control through the Holy Spirit can set us into positions of creating a string of reactions that lead to being present and in action in the community and world in which God has placed us. When we live into all the fruits of the spirit we can find ourselves looping back around to the beginning, the first fruit of love. In our first sermon in the this series Pastor Michael stated that in the spirit of love, all the other fruits can live. Through love we can be joyful, bring and desire peace, have a sense of patience, goodness, kindness & gentleness, and practice our faithfulness. And in love, we bring our selves, our beings, our inner thoughts and feelings as well as our outer actions and voice in how we engage our self in the world.
Self control is also about being unrestrained and about what action we do take in the world. As Paul says today in our first verse from Galatians–for freedom Christ has set us free. We are free to be a voice for Christ. We are free to stand firm in the faith and speak a word of truth and grace and love in a broken world. We are free to respond to the person on the street or the one in prison or the bully or the sad or hungry or sick or disillusioned with the gospel–with the promise that God goes even there. We are free in our very selves to know that even when we know we don’t have all the answers–we do know that we have an answer. That the love of God speaks first, comes first, and acts first for us and in us so that we may be connected to this love and bring into our own minds, our families, our households, our communities, our workplaces and school places and sports places and music places, all the places God sends us.
I had an experience in a store this week that served as a reminder to me of the Holy Spirit moving in this way that creates a loop or string of connection to God through the gifts and fruits of the spirit rather than a string of chaos. I was checking out and there was a small issue with a coupon I had. I was consciously being patient and making sure that even though this was going to delay me, that I remembered that being a presence of patience was a gift not just the one who needed patience but myself as well. The woman helping me ended up needing her manager to come and help. I recognized the manager when she approached but thought it was probably because I had shopped there before. After she finished checking me out, she started to get tears in her eyes. She looked at me and said, I know you. I was around during Vacation Bible school. I smiled and said, yes, that is how I know you, I thought you looked familiar. In my mind I was also thinking, oh dear, I hope she isn’t crying about Vacation bible school….She told me that she had just gotten off the phone with the nurse who is with her mom in another state and that she was told that her mother would be going on hospice. She said that when her coworker asked her for help, she wiped her eyes and told herself to get it together, to be in control and strong.
Then she saw me and felt the strength of a God moment before her because she knew she could ask me to pray for her and with her. Of course I sat with her, heard her story and spent time in prayer. Also assuring her that tears are signs of a strength in love and relationship and that we are free to cry and feel and be held in the mercy of God. Self Control in the spirit is not about restraining ourselves from the real love and relationships we have, it is about being present in them and living them fully through God’s spirit.
Turns out this was a God moment on many levels. For one, I didn’t get a ticket 🙂 The gift of the Holy Spirit is one that loops us around, connects us in one time and place for the furtherment of connection in another. A brief meeting in the chaos of VBS can lead to a deep connection of prayer when needed. Donating money to those in need or to creating space for the gifts of the spirit to be cultivated and fed, as we are doing with our building, can lead to opening doors for people who don’t yet know they need it. A smile and hello to a stranger can bring a sense of connection and peace that lives with them into the next days and weeks. The smallest actions that come from having the presence of self and mind, our own self control to live out the fruits of the spirit, can lead to the big hope, the big love, the big grace of God taking hold of a moment, a life, a community and a world.
May you know the gifts of the all the fruits of the spirit that are infused in you and may God continue to dwell in your deeply so that you may live them for the sake of the world.