Sermon: The Gift of the Spirit is... Self Control
2 Samuel 11: 1-5Mark 14: 53-62
The irony of a self-confessed control freak getting to speak about self control cannot be underestimated!
I have thought long and hard about this topic over the past few weeks; and it has often left me with more questions than answers.
The very phrase itself conjures up particular images - frequently negative ones, of people who are out of control... or conversely people who are so in control that they seem to have forgotten how to live.
And – when I did a quick internet search (always a source of help and hindering in equal measure!) I discovered that if you feel you cannot keep away from a particular game or website when you are meant to be working there is a selfcontrol app to sort it out for you!
“SelfControl is a free and open-source application for computers that lets you block your own access to distracting websites, your mail servers, or anything else on the Internet. Just set a period of time to block for, add sites to your blacklist, and click "Start." Until that timer expires, you will be unable to access those sites--even if you restart your computer or delete the application”.
Biblically of course self control is not quite the same as the secular interpretation; and over the generations the Greek word egkrateia has been translated as temperance and moderation, before becoming the phrase self-control.
Now, if you are looking at the verse from Galatians which set us off on this course back at the start of July, you may realise that we are out of sequence; this is week seven, and in the list, self-control comes at number nine... this happened deliberately, for when I was planning the overview of this series I wanted to finish with faithfulness so these two were exchanged; and in two weeks time, when we explore faithfulness I will explain why. However, it may be that the order Paul chose for all nine of these virtues was particular: bracketing them with love and self control; realising that to really manage to exercise the other seven you need above all else love and self control to guide you.
The bible is full of wise words about self control and warning against its lack; but when I first began to think about this, to my mind rather that warning and exhortations it might be helpful to look at this gift in action so to speak.
Thus I chose our two readings today: one godly man showing an utter lack of self control, and another godly man showing the utmost restraint and control in very trying circumstances.
King David: God’s chosen one; a humble shepherd boy anointed by God and chosen for a great task: and yet, in all of this he shows an astounding lack of control in his personal life.
I chose the beginning of the story of David and Bathsheba because it was a dark and shameful chapter in David’s life; yet, although they were punished, God did not turn away from him or reject him; and it is David’s union with Bathsheba which eventually leads to the birth of Solomon.
So going through a lack of self control need not be the end of the world – in fact many of the trials and temptations which come our way lead us to deeper and better knowledge and understanding of ourselves and of God; and enable us to grow and flourish, as the thing which has distracted, or charmed, or tormented us is brought under control, is tamed...
That Greek word is rooted in two others – ‘in’ and ‘power’ – the phrase self-control implies that the power comes from self – but actually, the biblical sense of the word is focused on the power of God to move us, empower us, free us, restore us or forgive and renew us.
We know we cannot do it alone; it is when we try to act purely on our own merits that things begin to stumble.
Instead we need to look to the biblical examples we have: and thus after looking at David – so out of control, we move to his noble descendant – Jesus, who showed the utmost restraint and self control – when all around were losing theirs.
We heard a very short chapter in the night of his trial; in the face of aggression; of conspiracy; of lies and accusations flying – Jesus remains calm, peaceful, unmoved he is in complete control – which does of course lead to even more accusations!
But here we see the perfect example of godly self control. Jesus does not need to speak, for this is his destiny.
He knows and understands everything that is happening around him.
Now, we may never face a trial in the middle of the night, with false accusations and a wild riotous mob baying for blood....
We do face our own trials; chapters in our lives when it seems that nothing is right; nothing will be resolved, nothing can be done to move or prevent or ease the situation.
This is where the gift of self control can really come into its own.
It’s not grabbing on with both hands and steering it the way you want (that would be the course for the control freak!)
It is taking on the mantra
“Let go.... let God”
Let go.... let God
Look at the things which you can do – do them
And for everything else – hand it over to God
Jesus in the High Priests house, did not happen in isolation: and Jesus may not have spoken aloud – but that does not mean Jesus wasn’t praying; talking to his father deep in his soul – he had spent hours in deep prayer before his arrest, handing over to God, submitting to the testing ahead.
It took great power, great wisdom, great self control to remain impassive.
When we feel that we are beset – then is the time to feel threatened, overwhelmed: remember Jesus – praying and handing it over
The gift of self control, comes from God, through God’s Spirit
And if, while you are beset, you do not manage to keep calm and pray
Remember David – losing it is not the end!
For with God, the opportunities are endless, and the blessings are incalculable
One day at a time...