January 29, 2017 Intro: Well today marks the 9th and final installment in our current series on Discipleship. We began this series with the observation that when we came to faith in Christ, He immediately set out to renovate, remodel, and repurpose our lives. When Jesus looks at your life and mine he sees a project, a work in progress. That transformation is called “discipleship.” The goal is to transform our character with the character qualities of Christ so that in our interpersonal relationships begin to look and act and talk and relate to people like Jesus would. Paul summarizes the scope of the work by listing 9 character transformations in Galatians 5:22. The last and perhaps least understood of these 9 traits, is the quality of self-control. Over the past few months I have had a growing awareness that we are living in a culture and climate where people and things are increasingly out of control or beyond control. This truth is documented every day by picking up a newspaper or by tuning into radio or television news, or by logging on to an electronic news outlet. When people or things are out of control the results are dangerous, damaging, and destructive. On the other hand, when people are self-controlled or things are under control life is usually safe, stable, and we are well-served. Example: Standard Press house fire Two weeks ago this past evening a family in SCF was awakened to discover their house was on fire. The fire, out of control was dangerous, damaging, and destructive. The home was a total loss and one of the occupants was hospitalized for burns. That said, I can tell you that right now at this very moment there are two fires burning over at the parsonage, but they are under control. Both are located in the same room on the lower level, about 4’ apart. One fire is burning under a heat exchanger, surrounded by a sheet metal covering. It’s a great fire because it heats the house. The other fire is burning under a 30 gal tank of water. It’s also a great fire because it provides hot water
for dishes, laundry, and showers. Some of you are going to go home later this morning and you’ll ignite another fire in your kitchen and heat your tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich. Those fires, under control, provide a needed and valuable service. The same is true in each of our personal lives. Yet the issue of self-control is one of the most fascinating and frustrating facets of human nature. We can control fire, we can control flood water with dams and canals, we can control atoms in nuclear reactors to produce electricity and other benefits, but more often than not we can’t control ourselves. On any given week, I’d say that 40% of the copy in our local newspaper is stories of people whose lives are out of control. Interpersonal relationships out of control have witnessed anger, abuse, beating, conflicts, disorderly conduct, and an assortment of felony arrest. Lives out of control are further evidenced by addictions and selfdestructive behaviors. There are stories of people who lost control of their vehicles, their businesses, their finances, and their children. The reason lives are out of control is quite simple. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden every aspect of our human nature has been crippled and corrupted by sin. Paul described our struggle like this,
“The good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” (Rom. 7:19) So we make occasional advances in one area, only to lose ground in another. We focus on one small area of our lives and disregard others that are of equal or greater importance. We gravitate to extremes. We are overly strict and controlled in one area of life, and overly indulgent in another. We might affirm our self-control when it comes to, say alcohol, but we are excessive in our abuse of coffee and Coke. We might practice strict control of our sexual morality, but we can’t control our tongue or our credit card.
Question: So what is this “self-control” Paul references in Gal. 5:22?
Self-control is the power provided by the Holy Spirit to restrain our personal actions, attitudes, and appetites for the glory of God and service to others! Whenever our actions, attitudes, and appetites are out of control there is danger, damage, and destruction. But when our actions, attitudes, and appetites are brought under control there are positive results which include service to others! Question: If there are whole areas of my life that are out of control, then how can I cooperate with God’s Spirit so that my actions, attitudes, and appetites can be turned danger, damage and destruction to positive good? How can I cooperate with God’s Spirit so that my life reflects the character of Christ? For Paul the character qaulity of self-control were best understood through the imagery of athletes preparing for the Isthmian Games held every three years in Corinth. (Like Olympic competition) Paul had developed a profound respect for athletes and recorded his observations like this:
“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control.” (1 Corinthians 9:25) Then he observed that those same principles are transferrable to our Christians lives.
I. Self-control begins with conditioning As Paul watched athletes in training he observed that self-control begins with conditioning. He noted that
“Athletes run in such a way as to win.” (1 Cor. 9:24) He was referring, not to what took place on the day of the race, or even during the race, but what had taken place during the weeks and months leading up to the event. It’s called “Conditioning!” Corinthian athletes who represented their city in the Isthmian games began their preparation a minimum of 10 months ahead of the event. They submitted to a prescribed diet and a strenuous course of training. More impressive to Paul than the raw natural ability of the athletes, was their unwavering commitment to conditioning and preparation. No athlete would be so foolish or so presumptive as to show up for the games without weeks of prior training and warm-up exercises.
Twin Cities Marathon – first contact with distance runners Observed commonality: lose fitting, light weight clothing, good running shoes Contestant: suit, coat, umbrella, brief case, computer Can’t disqualify for way dressed – conclude before race start – never win! The conditioning required for self-control/discipline involves looking ahead. It means that if we’re going to succeed, we’re going to have to drop some things from our lives that are keeping us from competing effectively! In some cases, the thing that needs to be dropped or shed or put off is sin. The writer of Hebrews also picked up the imagery of athletic competition with these words,
“Let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1) Remember last summer’s Olympics in Brazil? You never saw a runner carrying a backpack. And for good reason! We may not be Olympic athletes but we know you can’t run effectively when you’re lugging around unnecessary weight. Yet some of us are running this marathon called life carrying the extra weight of sin that we refuse to put down. Principle: Left to ourselves, without conditioning, we will always settle for less than the best, less than winning. For athletes, conditioning not only involved weight training and exercise, but it also involved nutrition. I’m pretty sure that serious runners don’t get into condition on diets of big Macs, French fries, donuts, and potato chips. Let me transfer this principle of nutrition to our spiritual lives and self-control. A recent survey of 1,000 Christian men asked “How often do you interact with God through Scripture in an average week?” 45% reported 1x or less. I don’t know a lot about marathons and distance running, but I know this – all of the competitors in last fall’s Twin Cities Marathon ate more than 1x during the week leading up to the race. We can’t succeed in the conditioning needed for this character quality of self-control if we don’t take nourishment more than 1x each week. Summary: Paul says that a key component in this character quality of self-control is conditioning. And conditioning is spelled C-H-O-I-C-E! Conditioning doesn’t begin on the day of the race; it begins with the choice we made weeks and months before the race event. How well we run in the marathon of life, and we will place at the end of the race, will in large part be determined by the
choices we make today and the choices we make every day of the coming week, and the week after that. God is calling every one of us to make some “conditioning” choices. What are you carrying that’s holding you back? What sin do you need to let go of? What sin is weighing you down? How’s your intake of spiritual nourishment? Are you taking in spiritual nourishment more than once a week? Are you eating like a serious competitor or a couch potato?
II. Self-control requires consistency The second thing Paul observes about the self-control of winning athletes is their consistency. He observes that in the lives of winning athletes, self-control/discipline is not a random, hap hazard, hit or miss occurrence. Paul had learned from observing athletes that self-control involves daily consistency. Look again at his words in vs. 26,27 “I run, I box, I buffet.” Each of those verbs is written in the present tense, describing something that is done every day! Insight: The secret of consistency in self-control is our use of the word “NO!” Let me give you a real life example of someone used the word “No” to maintain self-control in his daily life. In Gen.39:7-12 Joseph has just been elevated to the position of chief steward over the household of Potiphar, the head of the Egyptian Secret Service. Joseph had oversight of his home, his business holdings, his investments, everything. (5) He had absolute confidence in Joseph. (6) The tragedy for Potiphar is that his wife is not as trustworthy as Joseph. In the text we learned that his wife pursued and propositioned Joseph every time opportunity presented itself. The woman was a predator! If ever there was an individual who had opportunity to cast self-control/disciple aside, it was Joseph! But the secret of self-control is daily consistency, especially in the use of the word “NO!” Listen to these words:
“And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her to lie beside her, or to be with her.” (10) Consistency, every day Joseph said no to the lure of sin! Question: How could he resist? How did he keep his perspective on self-control? Answer: Relationship! He said “no” to sin in order to say “yes” to relationships! Insight: Self-control consistently says “No” to the personal inclinations of actions, attitudes, and appetites in order to serve the best interests those with whom he had a relationship. Look at the people and the relationships Joseph put ahead of his personal interests. First, he said “no” to pleasure, because he put the integrity of his personal and business dealings with Potiphar first. “With me around my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge.” (8) The second reason he said “No” to the seduction is because he placed a greater value on their marriage relationship. “He has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife.” (9) Self-control always places relationships and others before itself. Thirdly, he placed greater value on his relationship with God than this passing pleasure. “How could I do this great evil, and sin against God?” (9) Remember, just like fire, actions, attitudes, and appetites left uncontrolled, are always dangerous, damaging, and destructive. The purpose of selfcontrol is a positive outcome.
Observation: Whenever we compromise self-control, our sin affects some relationship! Lose control of your temper and it affects a relationship. Lose control of your tongue and it affects a relationship. Lose control of your sexual passion and it affects a relationship. Lose control of your finances and it affects a relationship. Loses control of your anger and it affects relationships. When it comes to self-control, what part of the word “No” don’t you understand. Whenever we compromise self-control it always adversely affects our horizontal relationships with people and our vertical relationship with God. The exercise of self-control always puts the interest of others ahead of our personal interests. Conclusion: Self-control is the power provided by the Holy Spirit to restrain our personal actions, attitudes, and appetites for the glory of God and service to others! And just like athletes, it comes about as a result of conditioning and consistency. So what kind of shape is your self-control in? Are you ready for the marathon (of life)? When God examines the character transformation in your life, would he see the qualities of a distance runner? What is one encumbrance that’s slowing you down in your character transformation? What’s one thing you ought to begin to do to improve your spiritual conditioning? Where in your life do you need to say “N0” to sin? What relationships in your life are suffering because of the absence of selfcontrol in your life? One of the things I’ve learned from distance runners is that they find strength, inspiration, and encouragement when they work out and run with someone else. The same is true of life’s spiritual marathon. At the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of his description of the Fruit of the Spirit Paul challenges the Galatian Christian to keep company with God’s Spirit. Paul exhorted them to “walk by the Spirit” and to “live by the Spirit.” Paul says “run with the Spirit and you will cultivate the character quality of self-control. Run with the Spirit and you will put relationships ahead of personal interests. Run with the Spirit and you will restrain actions, appetites, and attitudes for the glory of God and serve to others!”