by Martin G. Collins
Men have debated the structure of government for millennia, but most have been unwilling to recognize that even the seemingly perfect structure cannot provide justice and peace without self-government. A leader, especially, must govern himself. If a person undertakes to lead a nation, what value is he to the people or to the government if he cannot control his own appetites, passions and desires?
Although we may be influenced by a leader's lack of responsibility, God holds us individually responsible for our own actions. It is foundationally important and an integral part of Christianity that an individual who is entrusted with the care of others be able to govern himself properly. In this Bible study on "the fruit of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:23), we will analyze the final fruit, self-control.
Comment: In the New Testament, the most common Greek word for self-control (temperance, KJV) is enkrateia. Its root meaning is "power over oneself" or "self-mastery." Self-control, in its widest sense, is mastery over our passions. It is the virtue that holds our appetites in check, controlling our rational will or regulating our conduct without being duly swayed by sensuous desires. Moderation is a key element in self-control.
Comment: Lust, greed, gluttony, alcoholism, conceit, sexual sins, gossiping, violent quarreling and false and reckless speech are just a few of the many sins that Satan can tempt us to commit if we allow him.
Comment: Self-restraint and obedience to God's law is realized in outgoing concern for others that exceeds and rules over our own self-interest. Even lawful acts may on occasion cause other brethren to stumble or be made weak. Self-control provides the ability to resist what may cause pain to others. Thus, we exercise self-control for others, as well as for ourselves.
Comment: Paul worked hard on self-discipline. As a minister he had to discipline his body and bring it into subjection, or his credibility and effectiveness would have been severely affected. He could discuss self-control with Felix partly because of his own self-mastery (Acts 24:25). A lack of self-control shows short-sightedness because its damage is long lasting, affecting our future both physically and spiritually.
Comment: If self-control seems impossible, we must change the circumstances to avoid the temptation. For example, Paul instructs single people and young widows to marry if they cannot control their sexual urges.
Comment: Jesus lived a life of self-control, mastering potentially lustful and destructive thoughts and actions. He had to overcome the human tendencies just as we do—resisting temptation and submitting to God's law.
Comment: Self-control is the manifestation of God's work in man through the Holy Spirit. Paul elaborated in His teaching on self-control that Christian self-control results from the Holy Spirit's indwelling. It is the Spirit-controlled mind that is strengthened with power (Ephesians 3:16; 5:18) to control rebellious desires and to resist the allurements of tempting pleasures.
Comment: Having knowledge of God without the practical experience of self-responsibility is not enough for entrance into the Kingdom. But with the help of God's divine power, self-mastery is produced.
In Galatians 5:23, self-control closes the list of the fruit of the Spirit, just as drunkenness and reveling close the list of the works of the flesh (verse 21). The flesh and the spirit are contrary to one another (verse 17). Self-control is not gained by just suppressing, but by controlling the lusts of the flesh. Those who are "led by the Spirit" (verse 18), who "live in the Spirit" and "also walk in the Spirit" (verses 24-25) attain self-control and are on their way to fruitful growth in God's character.