This e-Pistle article is a continuation of a study of 2 Peter 1:5 – 8 begun in the previous six entries. We have been examining the progression of qualities listed by Peter as that which “will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter encourages the possession of these qualities “in increasing measure.” He is essentially exhorting his readers (and us) in spiritual growth. Our study has led us now to the third area in which Peter urges us to exert our efforts.
Self-control is difficult for all of us. It is especially challenging for children who, with less life experience and less maturity, have not developed the motivation or ability to overcome their impulses by the force of their will. But, although we can develop a greater capacity for reining in our emotions and reactions, self-control remains a universal difficulty because we are all born with a sinful nature. Even as Christians, though set free from the law of sin and death spiritually, we are subject to the effects of the law of sin and death in our flesh: we are tempted, we experience sorrow, we suffer illness and ultimately, death. We have a new nature in Christ, but we continue to struggle with the old nature (Romans 7:14 – 25). If we have the Spirit of God living in us, we are controlled by the Spirit, not by the sinful nature (Romans 8:9). But, while the sinful nature has lost the war, it will continue to put up a fight until it is ultimately “put to death” (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5). So, until then, the Spirit’s control is challenged by the old, sinful nature, and the “fruit of the Spirit” of self-control (Galatians 6:23) remains a strategic quality in the spiritual warfare we face in the Christian life.
The term, self-control, comes from a Greek root word meaning strength and is used several times in the New Testament. The old translation of this word is “temperance”, but this term has come to refer to only one area of self-control today. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words points out that “the various powers bestowed by God upon man are capable of abuse”, but “the right use demands the controlling power of the will under the operation of the Spirit of God.” So, self-control is really Spirit-control released in the life of a believer in conjunction with his willful obedience to God.
Two Lessons from Context
The way that the word, self-control, is used in Scripture provides us with some insight about this quality. In Acts 24, we have the account of Paul’s witness before the governor, Felix, whose wife was a Jewess. We are told that Paul spoke to him “about faith in Christ Jesus” (verse 24), and that Paul’s Gospel presentation to Felix included discourse “on righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come” (verse 25). Vine’s Expository Dictionary points out that “self-control” follows “righteousness” in this passage, representing “God’s claims” and that self-control is then to be seen as “man’s response thereto” (that is, man’s response to God’s claims). This is a point well taken. Self-control, as a “fruit”, is the produce of the presence of the Spirit of God in the life of the believer. The Holy Spirit of God is the Source of self-control. This passage also indicates that self-control is a central quality in the life of sanctification. “Righteousness” (the righteousness of God in Christ) is the feature of our salvation; “self-control” is the feature of our spiritual growth; and “the judgment to come” is the feature of our future upon which Paul discoursed to Felix.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary sets forth another important insight about self-control revealed by context clues in 2 Peter 1:6. In this “spiritual growth curriculum” we have been examining in our study, self-control “follows ‘knowledge,’ suggesting that what is learned requires to be put into practice.” (Vine’s, p. 620). Here is the human element. To say, “I know it” is not enough; I must do it! This principle is certainly affirmed in James 1:22 – 25, and life experience affirms it as well. Without the#ffdbad presence of the Spirit of God in my life, there can be no “fruit of the Spirit” of self-control. But the work of the Holy Spirit is not simply enlightening, guiding me into knowledge of the truth; it is empowering, equipping me to obey His promptings and leading to genuine transformation. My part, my response is obedience.
As It Was in the Beginning…
To the progression of spiritual growth qualities Peter mentions in our theme passage, we can see a parallel in the Garden of Eden. At first, Adam and Eve were just interacting with the goodness of God. Their lives were centered upon and filled with His goodness. Then, when their knowledge (of good and evil) was broadened, their lives were opened up to greater and greater attacks on their self-control, and so for all of us who are descendents of Adam. It seems to be similar in the Christian life. Early on, we are focused on God’s goodness to us through Jesus Christ. As our knowledge of God and His ways (knowledge of good) grows, our inborn knowledge of the ways of the world (knowledge of evil) presents a contest for mastery of our will. Then, it seems, come the great challenges to self-control from our own old sinful nature (James 1:13 -15) and from “the enemy.”
We see something similar operating in the lives of our children, even before they are regenerate, as we seek to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Early in their lives, they are nurtured by the goodness of God in His blessings to them through our Christian home and through parents who have the Spirit of God at work in them. As they grow older, we seek to promote their knowledge of God and His ways, but their knowledge of the world and of the ways of the sinful nature grows as well. This is the time period in their lives in which temptations become more sophisticated, more insidious. Here is where their wills can become hardened against God-ordained parental authority, and as a result, against God’s authority. This is when they need the transforming power of God’s grace proclaimed in the Gospel. The good news is that God has designed us in such a way that most of us who respond to the claims of Christ make a profession of faith during this time in life. Larry Sharp, author of Children in Crisis, cites statistics that suggest that “eighty-five percent of all people who come to Christ do so between the ages of four and fourteen.” Evidently, God has designed us to respond to Him at just the right time.
With the indwelling Spirit of God comes the production of the “fruit of the Spirit”, including self-control. But in the passage we have been studying (2 Peter 1:5 – 8), Peter urges his readers to “make every effort” to develop self-control as the next step in a spiritual growth progression. He is encouraging what we have pointed out earlier: that obedience is required in this growth process. This suggests a logical insight about helping to train our children in this area of self-control. The obedience training that is a central focus of the parent/child relationship is fundamental to the child’s development of self-control. As a child learns to yield his will to his earthly father (and mother), he is developing the ability to overcome his impulses by the submission of his will. If the child is regenerate, he is training in the key qualities of a disciple of Jesus Christ and the fundamental nature of the “fruit” of self-control: deny self, take up the cross daily, and follow Jesus.
A Lesson From Nature
Self-control is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 6:22, 23). In nature, a fruit serves a dual purpose. First, a fruit either is or contains the seed of a plant for the propagation or multiplication of its kind. Second, a fruit provides nourishment for other creatures, again with the ultimate end of perpetuating the species of the original plant through means of the creatures that feed upon it. Thus, the fruit of the plant serves the plant itself, its species, and other creatures. In his Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Lawrence Richards seems to be asserting the same thing about the fruit of the Spirit. He says, “the fruit of the Spirit is both inner (in the quality of our personal experience) and external (in the quality of our relationships); because ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’.”
This presents a powerful motivational strategy for encouraging our children’s (and our own) development of the “fruit” of self-control. It is a blessing to us because the development of this “fruit” of the Spirit propagates the future growth of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. One part of the fruit of the Spirit is vital to the growth of the other parts. But the blessing is not for us alone. Just as a fruit provides nourishment for other creatures, so the “fruit of the Spirit” nourishes those around us – each of the “fruit of the Spirit” is really others-directed. And not only does this fruit nourish others, it perpetuates itself through the lives of those who “feed” upon it in our lives. In other words, the Spirit of God makes use of us as vessels to plant His Spirit in others.
If we want to see the fruit of the Spirit of self-control produced in the lives of our children, then we must desire and pursue the development of the fruit of the Spirit in our own lives. In addition, we want to encourage our children that the discipline of self-control is not only for their own spiritual benefit. It is a “fruit” that the Spirit of God will use through them for His own purposes in the lives of others.
Our study of 1 Peter 2:5 – 8 will continue in the next e-Pistle entry with “…And to Self-Control, Perseverance…”