Strive for Spiritual Growth

Our creator is the absolute embodiment of wisdom, and those who follow Him have access to that wisdom through His written word. Not in human books, human social media updates, human blog posts, or human opinions expressed by preachers can the same degree of truth and wisdom be found.

Humans do our best to grasp at the truth. We try to say things that are meaningful and insightful. But ultimately, there is simply no substitute whatsoever for the scriptures.

With that in mind, I want to share with you a piece of scripture, and rather than making commentary about it, I just want you to really pay attention to it, and maybe even commit to considering it constantly throughout your week.

2 Peter 1:5-7

“Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence,
in your faith supply moral excellence,
and in your moral excellence, knowledge,
and in your knowledge, self-control,
and in your self-control, perseverance,
and in your perseverance, godliness,
and in your godliness, brotherly kindness,
and in your brotherly kindness, love.”

Please consider what these instructions would mean for your life if you took them seriously. What would it look like to apply all diligence to your pursuit of spiritual growth every day this week?

Here are some synonyms of the words used in the translation quoted above. These may help us better consider what it would be like to make a conscious effort to grow in these ways each day.

Faith – belief, trust, confidence; fidelity, faithfulness
Moral excellence – virtue, perfection, goodness, uprightness
Knowledge – doctrine, wisdom, understanding
Self-control – self-mastery, self-restraint, continence
Perseverance – steadfastness, patient waiting
Godliness – piety, devotion, reverence
Brotherly kindness – brotherly love, affection
Love – benevolence, good will, esteem

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” (2 Peter 1:8-11)

Will you make growth in these qualities a goal for your life, one towards which you actively strive?

Scriptures and Thoughts on “Self-Control”

What is a Biblical definition of self-control? What is the nature of this virtue?
The English term “self-control” did not appear until the 18th century. Prior to that, words like “temperance” and “sober” were used.

Hebrew:
Matsar – restraint or control

Greek:
Egkrateia – in the sphere of dominion or mastery; self-mastery, self-restraint
Sophosunei – soundness of mind, sanity, sobriety
Nepho – calm, vigilant, sober, free from illustion

(1 Timothy 4:8) compares physical training and spiritual self-control.
(1 Corinthians 9:25) attributes self-control to athletes.
In these cases, we see self-control as submission to a certain code of conduct in order to cultivate a desired outcome.

Jesus, in going to the cross, was the ultimate example of self control:
(1 Peter 2:23) “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.”
(Acts 8:32) “Like a lamb before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.”
(Matthew 26:53) He could have called 12 legions of angels.
(John 10:18) He lay His own life down willingly.

Would it not be better to be controlled by God, rather than by my “self?”
(Galatians 5:22-26) shows us that self-control is actually a fruit of God’s Spirit, and that we have it when we “keep in step with the Spirit.” So having self-control does not negate God’s leadership in our lives.

(2 Corinthians 5:14-15) “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” God does control us, but there is no denying that on some level we have a choice in the matter and must choose “to live no longer for ourselves.”

(1 Corinthians 15:10) “…but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”

(Romans 1:20) we are “without excuse” because we are accountable as free moral agents.(Proverbs 16:32) refers positively to “he who rules his [own] spirit.” In this sense, we need self-control to submit ourselves to God’s standard.

What role does willpower play in self-control? Is increasing my willpower an appropriate or effective way to grow in self-control?
(Galatians 5:16) “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”
(Ephesians 5:18) “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”

In both cases, the text does not say “try harder,” but focuses on the Spirit. Why is that and what does it mean?

(1 Corinthians 1:25) “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
(Proverbs 3:5-7) “lean not on your own understanding.”
(1 Peter 2:23) Jesus was “entrusting Himself” to the Father. What role does trust in God play in self-control as compared or opposed to willpower?

What should I do in a situation in which I obviously do not have self-control?
Do something, you are in danger!
(Proverbs 25:28) “Like a city that is broken into and without walls Is a man who has no control over his spirit.”

 If possible, avoid the situation! “I am not stronger than Sampson, mightier than David, or wiser than Solomon, so I am not immune to sexual temptation.” Recognize and seek to avoid dangerous situations.

(James 5:16) Confess your sins one to another and pray for each other.
(Matthew 5:29) Make necessary sacrifices to protect yourself.
(Galatians 5, Ephesians 5) Give serious thought to what it means to walk in the Spirit.

(Hebrews 12:5-11) We discipline our children to help them learn ultimately how to control themselves. When the Lord disciplines us, we should be wise and learn from it.

 How can I grow in self-control?
(Galatians 5:17) The Spirit and the flesh are at war in each other, “so that you may not do the things that you please.” In a battle, the stronger one side becomes, the more control it has. This implies that persistence in the fight of the Spirit to control the flesh can help us grow over time.

Think of the illustration of an elephant and a rider. The elephant, like our passions, is very powerful, but unless it is governed by a strong rider who can control it, it will be a force to evil rather than for good.

(Titus 2:11-12) “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” God’s grace can help us to continue to get back up and keep learning.

(1 Peter 1:5-9) lists self control as a virtue, and suggests that if we do not have it, it is a result of us forgetting our purification from our former sins.
(1 Thessalonians 4:3) suggests a lack of sexual self-control comes from a lack of the knowledge of God.

Is there a key to self-control? If so, what is it?
It is clear from the connection to the Spirit (Galatians 5, Ephesians 5) and reliance on God (Proverbs 3, 1 Corinthians 1) that self-control must be a result of our relationship with God.

Beyond this perhaps obvious but important fundamental truth, what would you say is the key to self-control? Trust in God? Submission to His will?

 What areas of life are notable for requiring self-control?
Anger
(Proverbs 29:11) “A fool always loses his temper, But a wise man holds it back.”
Revenge
(Romans 12:19)
Sexual immorality
(1 Thessalonians 4:3) Paul wishes “that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God”
Alcohol
(Ephesians 5:16)

Food!

What other areas of life can be difficult in regards to self-control?

Getting the Fruit of the Spirit

In Acts 2:38, Peter preached the gospel to thousands of people at one time. When many of them wanted to respond, he instructed them all, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 19:2-5, Paul became deeply troubled when he met some men who said that they had been baptized, but that they did not have the Holy Spirit:

“He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ And they said to him, ‘No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.’ And he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ And they said, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”

In John 3:5, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

Notice something about all three of these passages: they emphasize the importance of the Holy Spirit in baptism and spiritual rebirth.

Galatians 5:22-23 gives a beautiful list of positive character traits, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” All of these traits, we are told, are the fruit of the Spirit.

It is no wonder that the Spirit is so important, if these things are the fruit that follows from Him. If these things are the fruit of the Spirit, how can we expect to have them without first having the Spirit? That would be like trying to create an apple without first having an apple tree, or painting a tennis ball orange and claiming it is an orange, or planting soybeans and hoping they sprout into corn. As with any other fruit, if you want the fruit of the Spirit, get the Spirit, and then you can enjoy His fruit. It’s the only way.

This is why producing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is not simply about “trying harder” or just “being a good person.” Until we are washed in Christ’s blood and filled with His Spirit, we can never hope to be righteous in His sight. As Isaiah 64:6 says, all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.”

 May we spread the good news about Jesus’ blood and God’s Spirit, and the wonderful things they can do, and rather than grieving that Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), may we all make that Spirit welcome in our hearts and lives, that we may enjoy His fruit.

Biblical Manhood

Society has its own ideas of what makes a man. But the Bible paints its own beautiful, powerful picture of what manhood should look like.

Society teaches that a man is someone who gets whatever he wants. He is surrounded by beautiful women, nice cars, and big screen TV’s. Jesus, however, the only perfect man to ever live, didn’t even get married or have a girlfriend, and he acquired almost no personal possessions. Instead, He was busy pouring Himself out for a broken world, speaking powerfully about His Father, and spending time alone in the wilderness.

The Bible contains a great deal of information about manhood. Maybe you did not have a father figure in your life, or maybe he was not a very good example. Even if you have a great father, painting a Biblical picture of manhood can help us understand even more clearly what God’s intentions are for men.

Men are:
Morally disciplined and upstanding. “Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies.” (2 Kings 2:2)

Calculated in their actions.
“A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might, for by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.” -Proverbs 24:5-6

Concerned with the spiritual welfare of themselves and others.
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Gentle and kind.
“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” – 1 Peter 3:7

Concerned with things of importance.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11

Mature.
“Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” -1 Corinthians 14:20

Hard working.
“It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.” – Lamentations 3:27

If we are tempted to think that Biblical men are emasculated, devoid of any real adventure or danger or passion, we need only look to the examples of Godly men in the Bible to find otherwise. What could be more adventurous than Paul’s ancient travels around the world, with the threat of death at every turn? What could be more dangerous that David’s rise to power, starting with a band of 400 thugs and ending in the uniting of the kingdom of Israel? What could be more passionate than the power with which Jesus gave His life up for us on a crucifix, knowing well that He could strike us all dead if He so desired?

Let us aspire to hold up God’s picture of manhood.

Statue of a Man