FIRST LESSON: Psalm 51:1-12
SECOND LESSON Matthew 26:57-68
SERMON: “Growing the Gifts of the Spirit –Self-Control”
There is a story about a little boy whose mother, when disciplining him, used to say, “God would not like that.” And when the little boy really got out of hand, the mother would say, “God will be angry."
Usually these reminders were sufficient. But one evening at supper the youngster rebelled. He would not eat the prunes provided for dessert. He wouldn’t give in to persuasion or warnings. Finally the little boy was sent to bed with the reminder that “God will be angry.”
Not long after the child had gone to bed, a violent thunderstorm arose and the mother went up to her son’s room to comfort him, expecting that he would be frightened at God’s anger. To her surprise she found him at the window, looking out on the terrible storm and said “It’s a terrible fuss to be making over a few prunes.”
Well, we doubt that that thunderstorm had anything at all to do with uneaten prunes, and I am always saddened when someone paints a picture of an angry God, but Scripture does tell us that God desires our obedience. Today we continue taking a look at some of the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Now, the fruit of the Spirit is self-control.
Self-control has been defined as the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands -- and then eat just one of the pieces. Some of us have enough self-control to do that; many of us do not. How many of you can you eat one Jay’s potato chip -- or one small handful of peanuts, especially if there is a full bowl sitting within reach. Perhaps food isn’t the problem; maybe it’s your temper. Some wise person gave us this advice: “When you’re angry, count to ten before speaking. When very angry count to one hundred and then don’t speak.”
I came across this little, anonymous rhyme about temper to share with you:
When I have lost my temper
I have lost my reason too.
I’m never proud of anything
Which angrily I do.
When I have talked in anger
And my cheeks were flaming red
I have always uttered something
Which I wish I had not said.
In anger I have never
Done a kindly deed or wise,
But many things for which I felt
I should apologize.
In looking back across my life,
And all I’ve lost or made,
I can’t recall a single time
When fury ever paid.
So I struggle to be patient,
For I’ve reached a wiser age;
I do not want to do a thing
Or speak a word in rage.
I have learned by sad experience
That when my temper flies
I never do a worthy deed,
A decent deed or wise.
The gospel lesson today presents the supreme example of Jesus keeping his temper when he was arrested and brought before Ca’iaphas. The chief priests and the council searched for people who would come forth and bring false testimony against Jesus. The gospel of Mark tells us that “many bore false witness against him, and their witness did not agree.” Jesus must have hated that. I am surely not the only one here this morning who hates to have anyone tell lies about me. I’m not exactly enthusiastic about being criticized, but if criticism is based in truth, I’ve learned to handle it. You can criticize my preaching or my prayers, my church work or my housework. You can criticize my hairstyle or my clothing, my height, my weight, my piano playing or my singing, and I can take it. But don’t intentionally tell lies about me. You see, there’s a little thing called the ninth commandment: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
It must have made Jesus very angry that they got people to lie about him. Jesus came full of grace and truth. Jesus said he was the way, the truth and the life. And as they lied about him, he stood there silent, under complete control. And as they came forward to testify against him, and the meaning of his words was twisted and even those who loved him misunderstood. Right up there in painful situations, right along with being lied about, is to have what you did do or what you did say misinterpreted and misrepresented. When Jesus spoke of destroying the temple, the gospel of John explains that “he spoke of the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, the disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.” He wasn’t talking about the temple building. We have to wonder if they intentionally misunderstood because they were intent on getting rid of him.
How could Jesus stand there in calm silence when people were lying about him, testifying against him in a capital case, in a kangaroo court with his life on the line?
But there he stood, under complete control.
For a great many people, self-control means that I control my temper, my eating and drinking, or other bad habits that might plague me. At that most unfair, most unjust, most painful, most frightening moment, for Jesus self-control meant that the controlling force in his life was the Spirit of God. Totally unified with God the Creator, Jesus knew that God had a plan and a purpose. The human part of his nature, which must have longed to rant and rave, to explain himself, to refute the lies, to shake a fist or at the very least mutter a complaint or murmur a curse, submitted totally to the Spirit of God, submitted completely to God’s plan and purpose, as Jesus stood there in silence.
The fruit of the Spirit is self-control, and self-control is powerful when it is Spirit-control.
We hear with joy the Good News that Jesus Christ is our Savior, that he took the punishment for our bad behavior. Bu we’re not so sure we like the part about Jesus being Lord.
Most of us are here this morning because we have heard and accepted the gospel message that Jesus Christ is our Savior -- that he is the only begotten Son of God, that he lived a life of healing and teaching and preaching, that he was betrayed by his own disciple, that he suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, and that through the glory of his resurrection he overcame the power of sin and death. We believe that when we confess faith in him, that by our baptism we participate in the salvation he brings. Jesus Christ is our Savior. But is he our Lord?
We believe that Christ’s death on the cross paid the full penalty for our sins and purchased eternal salvation. But do we also welcome the call of the gospel for sinners to repent turn away from sin and turn towards Jesus Christ?
We believe that sinners cannot earn salvation or favor with God, but do we also believe that real faith inevitably produces a changed life? That true salvation includes a transformation of the inner person?
Paul wrote to the church at Rome (10:13) that “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” And to the same church he also wrote, “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! . . . having been set free from sin, [you] have become slaves of righteousness. (6:15, 18).
We believe that Christ came to save sinners, but do we also believe as it is written in I John 2:4, “[Whoever] says ‘I know him [Jesus]’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; (Does that sound harsh to you?) but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
The fruit of the Spirit is self-control, and self-control is at its best when it is Christ-control.
For Jesus Christ to be control of your life does not mean that you will never disobey or that you will live a perfect life. But commitment to Christ does mean that obedience rather than disobedience will be our default characteristic. You cannot judge whether you -- or anyone else -- are a Christian by whether or not you sin. All Christians sin; all disobey; all fail. We all fall short of the glory of God. Our minds need constant renewing. Being Christian doesn’t mean we don’t sin. Being Christian means we make an effort to turn away from sin and submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
That is what finally happened for John Newton, the author of our next hymn, Amazing Grace. At the age of 11 Newton joined his father’s ship and began his life as a seaman. His early years were one continuous round of rebellion and self-indulgence. When he was twenty three, while returning to England from Africa during a particularly stormy voyage, when it appeared that all would be lost, Newton began reading Thomas a Kempis’s book, Imitation of Christ. (WWJD) The seeds were sewn for his eventual conversion and personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as his savior. And yet he continued as a slave ship captain, trying to justify his work by seeking to improve conditions as much as possible, and even holding public worship services for his hardened crew of thirty. But the Spirit of God continued to convict and to call John Newton. Our faith journey doesn’t always make us feel good, but Spirit control will turn us towards the good. Newton returned to England and began to study for the ministry. When he was 39 he was ordained by the Anglican Church. The hymn Amazing Grace was one of more than 280 hymns he wrote to “promote the faith and comfort of sincere Christians.” Newton’s life finally became a faithful response to the grace and mercy of God in Christ, and that’s how God “saved a wretch” like him.
This year for Lent, let us grow the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and – self-control.