“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The world will recognize us as followers of Christ by our love because love is the quintessence of who Jesus is. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a describes love this way.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.
Does that seem impossible to live up to? In words it’s simple and romantic but try living it. I know I can easily get irritated by the people I love the most. I know I can be rude to the people I claim I love. And what about the people I don’t know that I am commanded to love? It seems impossible to love as Jesus loved me first. But He didn’t leave us as orphans to do it without Him, He adopted us as His own children, He gave us His nature, His Holy Spirit so that He could work from the inside and make us like Jesus. The evidence of His work in us is called the fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 read,
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law
We’ve been looking at the fruit of the Spirit and the description of Love to understand what Jesus looks like, so we can understand who we ought to look like as followers of Jesus. Today, we will look into a trait that I personally have the worst relationship with, self-control. I have heard people say, “It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” They say this when they know they do not have permission and would not receive it. This is claiming grace in order to deliberately sin. To choose not to exercise self-control is choose to deliberately sin.
For some people food is not the issue the way it is with me. For some, it is alcohol, cigarettes, or other substances. For some, it is temper, power, or pride. For others, it is money, comfort, or laziness. Whatever it is, most people do not exercise self-control or restraint over some area of life. If I were not a follower of Jesus, it would be one thing, you can’t judge a lost person for being lost. But I know the truth, I understand the choice, and I have God’s Holy Spirit. When I choose to indulge in too much food, I am stifling Him and forgoing the growth and blessings that were the other choice. When I choose to poison my body with unhealthy food, I am not testifying to the awesome goodness of Jesus Christ, glorifying the Father, or walking in the Spirit. When you choose not to exercise self-control be it spending money wrongly, binging a TV-show instead of whatever it is you should be doing, or yelling at your children instead of teaching them, the same things are happening in your life. You are choosing to operate by your desires instead of the Holy Spirit, you miss out on growth, and you do not testify to the greatness of God.
While love is the essence, motivator, and power for the fruit of the Spirit, self-control is the choice to walk by the Spirit. For the past week or so, I have included Galatians 5:22-23 in our devotional. Today, I want to share the verses just prior to these. They describe a person who does not have the Holy Spirit and so does not control his personal desires. He is his own king. Galatians 5:13-21 read,
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Self-control is choosing Jesus as your King and walking by the Spirit in love. That love has to extend to ourselves, to treating our bodies and souls well because God has chosen to live in us, He has chosen to make us His Temple. We do not worship the temple, but we treat it well to honor the One we do worship, God.
You, unlike the lost person now has a sound mind and a spirit of power, love, and self-control (1 Timothy 1:7). You are able to glorify God by your choices. Are the desires for the things you know are bad for you still there? Yes, but you do not have to gratify them now. You are able because God is in you. You are free. Nothing is a sin for you now unless it becomes a sin and leads you away from God’s will. Part of God’s will is that you love people enough not to hurt them in their walk with Christ or act in a manner that will keep them from coming to Christ. 1 Corinthians 6:9-20 says,
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Is the choice you’re making helpful, good, and beneficial? Will your choice live out the command to love one another? Self-control is the proof of love. Or, is it hurting you or someone else? When you knowingly choose what is bad for you or someone else, what was not a sin becomes a sin, an intentional choice to go outside of God’s will. Verses 15-16 of that passage in The Message says,
God honored the Master’s body by raising it from the grave. He’ll treat yours with the same resurrection power. Until that time, remember that your bodies are created with the same dignity as the Master’s body. You wouldn’t take the Master’s body off to a whorehouse, would you? I should hope not.
And in what approximates to verses 19-20 The Message puts it this way,
Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.
If you gave your life to Christ, then it doesn’t belong to you. It’s not like He took your life and that’s that. He paid a high price for it, your life is His, but He gave you forgiveness, righteousness, eternal life, a relationship with God, abundance, healing, gifts, blessings, and Himself! On top of all that, you still have choices; you have the freedom to choose whatever you will, life and blessings or death and curses. You do not have to choose to satisfy your stomach, you can choose to satisfy your soul. In Matthew 4:4 Jesus rebuked Satan’s temptation by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 which reads,
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
How do you and I overcome temptations and exercise self-control? We live by the Word of God. We read it, listen to Him, walk in Him, talk to Him, and depend on Him. When that temptation to spend above your means comes pray, read the Bible, serve Him. When you’re trying to lose weight and the salted caramel cheesecake is dancing in front of your eyes, close them and pray, sing a song of praise to the Lord. When you’re feeling so much hurt that it seems only a bottle of vodka can take away the pain, pray it all out to God, tell him how much you are hurting and let Him take what was meant for evil and use it for good (Genesis 50:20).