A few days ago as I was driving to Easton, I thought of the importance of self-control in our lives and in our dealings with others. I felt such an urgency that I decided to interrupt the articles on “Encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of John.” We will return to this subject.
The Greek word for self-control, or temperance, is used in classical literatature and a few places in the New Testament. Among the New Testament citations one is found in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. There Saint Paul list the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. The works of the flesh, which Paul says are obvious, are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and so on. The fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control.
Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit that applies to every one of the works of the flesh. It reins in the expression of all manner of immoral behavior from promiscuous sex and drunkeness to behavior that causes disruption within a community. It requires one to control desires and passions that are destructive to the person who exhibits them and to the people who are the victims of such behavior.
In the context of apologetics self-control has the significance of being important for a proper witness to the faith. One who defends the Christian ethical life defeats his purpose by the expression in word and deed of inordinate desires that are destructive to himself and others. Anger is a key matter of concern. As best as he can in a sin-ridden world, the Christian is to manifest the new man in Christ. Though not perfect until the fulfillment of the Kingdom, the believer shows forth qualities that are the result of the work of the Holy Spirit.
Christian anthropology is adverse to the body-soul split that maintains the soul is housed in a body until death when the soul is liberated. In Plato this perspective includes what seems to be a belief in re-incarnation in which the soul lives in a series of bodies until final liberation. In Christian theology, however, humans are considered to be body and soul, both of which constitute what a human is. In the afterlife, both body and soul are reunited. The works of the flesh, therefore, involve both body and soul. Against Socrates as he is found in the works of Plato, sin, not ignorance, is our primary problem. The corrupted will is what the Spirit battles against. The works of the Spirit come from the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father through the Son.
Self-control is impossible without the power of God behind it. This fruit of the Spirit is necessary for civil speech and the conducting of a civil conversation, no easy matter when we are battling anger and resentment within us. But, we must fervently pray for it.
The Holy Spirit is the source of all the fruit that Paul mentions. This does not mean that we should not practice daily discipline in the application of self-control in all circumstances of our life. We betray our calling when in conversation with atheists and non-believers we act without restraint and respect.
Michael G. Tavella
February 20, 2020