Haiti Mission 2014 – Day 9 – Self-Control

Here we are, waiting at the Port-au-Prince airport. We’ve got a long day of flying, and driving, in order to get home. This is the first time in over a week that we’ve had reliable broadband internet connection, too, if you couldn’t tell. Amy’s watching a video of her granddaughter, Bruce and Donna are checking their email, Dawn is reading the news, and Matt – well, Matt is admiring the picture he took of the ONE Haitian we found wearing a Duke shirt (admittedly, we never saw a KU shirt). I’ll be buying Matt a beer later. (I need to remind my wife to send a couple of KU shirts to Haiti for next year.)

I want to take a moment to thank everyone for your prayers, and for your financial support. It’s encouraging to know that so many are thinking and praying for us while we are here, and we hope you know that as we serve in the name of Christ in Haiti, we represent the whole body of Christ. You are here with us, in Spirit and in prayer, and we are one in ministry together.
As we finish our trip, we also complete our study on the Fruit of the Spirit, focusing today on Self-Control. That Paul should conclude this list with something like Self-Control is important. To walk in the Spirit, to live like Christ, to be a disciple, by definition, is to live a life of Self-Control. We engage in the battle against sin in the flesh – we deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. Self-Control is saying “no” to sinful desires, but its more than just saying “no.” You say no to the life of the flesh, and “Yes” to the life of the Spirit, the life of Christ.
Self-Control is holding your tongue, knowing when not to speak, and knowing when to speak, and to speak the Truth with Love. Self-Control is more than just restraining the rage and anger that can quickly burst out when wronged or offended – it is denying that rage and anger a place in your heart in the first place. Self-Control is the discipline of the athlete who denies himself even some of the “good things” this world has to offer to keep your heart fixed on the “great things” of God’s Kingdom. Self-Control is living in such a way so as to not disqualify yourself from the ministry of the Gospel – letting everything you say and do be to the glory of God the Father.
Of course, as with all the other characteristics of the life of the Spirit, this virtue of Self-Control does not come naturally, but is the gift of God’s presence in our lives. How do we grow in this gift? Zechariah tells us it is “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”
God’s Spirit produces self-control within us through grace, enabling us to see and trust all that God is for us in Jesus Christ. Paul says in his letter to Titus that the grace of God has appeared, instructing us to deny worldly desires in the present age (Titus 2:11). When we see and believe what God has done for us by grace through Jesus Chirst, the power of wrong desires is broken, so that we might fight the good fight, and take hold of the eternal life to which we have been called (1 Tim. 6:12).

Restrained by Grace

Left to my own devices, I think my mouth would get me into a lot of trouble.  There is an edge to me, an acerbic wit that cuts and stings, a biting sarcasm that belittles and mocks.  Even the subtitle on this blog says, “Random Thoughts from a Snarky Presbyterian Pastor.”   Used to be, these rejoinders would just flow, leaving a wake of destruction.  I’d find myself prattling on with nothing really to say, but just talking because I love the sound of my own voice.

Nowadays, I cannot seem to come up with anything until a couple of hours later.  While running through a conversation in my mind, it will come to me, “I should have said…”  Snippy little comebacks don’t come to me quickly.  Usually all I can muster up now is a half-hearted “So’s your old man!”, and I never say it, knowing how ridiculous that sounds.

Maybe I’m just getting old, and the tongue has lost some of its fire – but I doubt that.

God is working in me, pouring out His grace in ways that will help me to crucify the old nature, the old man within me, and to live the new life in the power of His Spirit.

Jesus told his disciples, “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what  you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:19).  Now, clearly, Jesus is encouraging His disciples that when they face persecution for their faith, the Spirit will give them the witness and the words they are to speak.  But can we not say that the opposite may be true, that sometimes the Spirit does not give us words, so that we will remain quiet?

Consider some of the passages from the Proverbs about how we speak:

Proverbs 10:19 “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

Proverbs 17:27–28 “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”

Proverbs 21:23 “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”

Then there is the American Proverb:

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

I firmly believe it is the Spirit of God who is working in me to restrain my tongue.  It is the grace of God that keeps me from being the me I used to be.  It is the Spirit who is waging war against the nature of the flesh, the  “… enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy…” so that God’s Spirit may produce in me “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.”