Love

Love

Week 8 of a series examining Christian virtues

Photo by Alex Ronsdorf on Unsplash

This week we take a look at love, – the last virtue identified by Peter, (2 Peter 1:5-11).

Hopefully over the last 7 weeks we’ve learnt that we are to grow in grace, which entails growing in godliness and Christlikeness. We are to display the fruit of the Spirit in the bond of peace and we are to demonstrate the gracious characteristics that only come from above, in our everyday life and pattern of living.

As children of our heavenly Father, we are to function in His divine supernatural nature, which He has been gifted to us, by faith in Christ. Jesus himself lived His life in the way that God ordained that we should live, from the beginning.

Despite Christ being fully God, and equal with His Father, He became a little lower than the angels and lived His life in subjection to God’s perfect will. The eternal Son became the perfect Man, to demonstrate to us sinners, who are saved by grace through faith in Christ – just HOW we should live, as children of God. 

As we abide in Jesus, and He in us, we are day by day to strive to be conformed into the image and likeness of Christ Himself.

We’ve spent the last 7 weeks looking at Peter’s list of the beautiful characteristics that our heavenly Father desires for all His blood-bought sons and daughters to display in their daily lives. Yes, we are in the world, but we are also not of the world, and so should show these divine characteristics that are ours, in and through our new life in Christ, for we are a new creation. 

Peter explains that by faith we have escaped the corruption of this world, and that by faith we have been given all we need for life and godliness.  And because we are God’s sons and daughters, we should make every effort to supplement our faith with goodness, our goodness with knowledge, our knowledge with self-control, our self-control with perseverance and our perseverance with godliness.

One would have thought that godliness, would have been the ultimate objective in a Christian’s life… but Peter continues; and to your godliness, add brotherly kindness, and to your brotherly kindness – add LOVE.  Love is the fulfilling of God’s law in our lives. Loving others in the same way that Christ loved us, is the commandment that He gave to each one of us.

Godliness should be the objective of a believer – where a practical holiness honours the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – but godliness should manifest love. And love for our perfect God must develop into love for an imperfect humanity. 

We are to demonstrate Christ-like tenderness and brotherly kindness to our imperfect brothers and sisters in Christ… for by this all will know that we are Christ’s disciples.  Such love is to extend to our enemies too because the bottom line is this… God requires perfection from us, and this is an impossibility in our own fallen nature – but we are being made a new creature in Christ, and have been clothed in His righteousness by faith. His eternal, resurrected life dwells in us, therefore, we have been given His perfect sinless nature – through which the supernatural love of God can be manifested.

When we die to self and all that the sin-soaked nature of our old life in Adam represents, we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to live in newness of life, through Christ Jesus our Lord. 

So now we’ve come to love.  Note how faith leads the way, and love brings up the rear because it is the greatest of all!

The Greek word agape is often translated “love” in the New Testament. How is “agape love” different from other types of love? The essence of agape love is goodwill, benevolence, and wilful delight in the object of love. Unlike our English word love, agape is not used in the New Testament to refer to romantic or sexual love (eros). Nor does it refer to close friendship or brotherly love, (for which the Greek word philia is used). Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. It is distinguished from the other types of love by its lofty moral nature and strong character, as we see beautifully described in 1 Corinthians 13.

In the New Testament, Agape love has a distinct meaning. It is used to describe the love that is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God does not merely love, because He is love itself, for everything God does flows from His love.

Agape is also used to describe:

  • Our love for God. (Luke 10:27 – He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind”; and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”)
  • A servant’s faithful respect to his master (Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money”)
  • A man’s attachment to things (John 3:19 – This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.)

The type of love that characterises God is not sappy and sentimental. God loves because that is His nature and the expression of His being. He loves the unlovable and the unlovely, not because we deserve it or because of any excellence we possess, but because it is His nature to love and He must be true to His nature.

Agape love is always shown by what it does. God’s love is displayed most clearly at the cross. “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4–5). We did not deserve such a sacrifice, “but God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God’s agape love is unmerited, gracious, and constantly seeking the benefit of the ones He loves. The Bible says we are the undeserving recipients of His lavish agape love (1 John 3:1- See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.). God’s demonstration of agape love led to the sacrifice of His one and only Son for those He loves.

Because of all this we are to love others with agape love, whether they are fellow believers (John 13:34 – ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.) or bitter enemies (Matthew 5:44 – “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”). Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) as an example of sacrifice for the sake of others, even for those who may care nothing at all for us.  Agape love, as modelled by Christ, is not based on a feeling; rather, it is a determined act of the will, a joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own.

Agape love does not come naturally to us. Because of our fallen nature, we are incapable of producing such a love. If we are to love as God loves, that love (agape) can only come from its source. This is the love that “has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” when we became His children (Romans 5:5; cf. Galatians 5:22). “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). Because of God’s love toward us, we are able to love one another.

Are you growing colder as you get older in your Christian life? Or are you pressing toward the upward call, seeking to know the Lord Jesus more and more intimately? May we all press on in the power of the Spirit of God, and through the provision of the Word of God.

Brotherly kindness

Brotherly kindness

Week 7 of a series examining Christian virtues.

Photo by Sandrachile . on Unsplash

This week we examine the virtue of brotherly kindness, in our walk through the Christian virtues identified by Peter, (2 Peter 1:5-11).

Brotherly kindness is a uniquely Christian concept, but what does it look like?

In a nutshell it is an attitude of warm affectionate devotion that can be shared by brothers and sisters in a close-knit family.  Scripture paints a picture of early church life that describes brotherly kindness.  Each local congregation was just like a close-knit family, where the members treated one another lovingly and warmly as if they had very close blood ties with each other.

So brotherly kindness is about treating Christians like they are “family”.

(1 Pet 3:8 – finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble;2:17 – show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.

So before we can “love everyone” we’d better get a good handle on loving the brethren, and being kind to them.  This will mean at times we are to prefer one another over those of our friends who see the pub as their place of worship! 

(Rom 12:10 – Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Gal 6:10 – therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.)

This will involve working at overcoming our selfish wants, and pleasures.  Why..?

Because …

  • We have the same father now
  • We serve the same master – Jesus
  • We are all in the same family – the family of God
  • We are only “visiting this planet”
  • We are all heirs of the same inheritance

I don’t need to tell you that showing brotherly kindness is not easy.  It is one of the hardest challenges for the Christian.

Maybe you are able to get along with people in the fellowship, maybe you are able to like them, maybe you are even able to love some,  but to love all fervently… really God?

(1 Pet 1:22 – Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.)

This is why our attitude and approach towards other Bible believers must be worked on.

(Col 3:12 – Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.)

This step will be attacked – yet it must be maintained, through thick and thin.

(Heb 13:1 – Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.)

Jesus compared the Christian family with marriage.  The moment a couple are married someone new has entered your family – You’ve got to love them!  You’ve got to love them in good times, in bad times, in sickness and in health.  The proof that you are a Christian is how you love and care for other Christians.

This is so much more than just being “nice” because the way scripture teaches us to treat our brother and sister is not always soft and gentle, for if they wander from the path God has for them we are to call them back.  But whatever is done, it must be always done in love.

So brotherly kindness is to be kind, tender, sacrificial.

(1 John 3:16 – This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.)

Yet at the same time it is to be straight-up, direct, correcting, because you are looking out for a member of the family.  That’s God’s kind of kindness, illustrated by the following examples from scripture:

Gal 4:16 – Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?

Eph 4:15 – Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Pr 27:6 – Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.)

Ps 141:5 – Let a righteous man strike me – that is a kindness; let him rebuke me – that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it, for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.

Isa 54:8,10 – In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the lord your redeemer.  10 though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the lord, who has compassion on you.)

If you are without this virtue, without brotherly kindness, what then? You will be alone, because without brotherly kindness in your words, and relationships, you will end up being an inactive part of the family God has placed you in.

(Eph 2:19 – Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household)

This can often lead to frustration and anger, for this is the natural replacement of kindness.

Such people could be knowledgeable of the Bible, but exhibit harsh, cruel, spiteful, vengeful attitudes.  It’s easy to lose sight that God commands us to treat each other with great care.

If this goes unchecked then they can end up working against the work of Christ in people’s lives, and in their own life.

And Joseph, of Amazing Technicolour Dream coat fame, is a wonderful example of biblical brotherly kindness.  (Gen 37-45).  His family can be traced back to Abraham via Isaac.  Jacob, his father, had twelve sons and he was favoured by his father.  The out working of this was that his brothers let jealousy ruin their home (Gen 37:18-20, 23-28, 36).

​As Cain had done, they thought about killing him, then decided to sell him – it’s worth noting that the 20 pieces of silver was a bargain for the normal price for a slave was 30 pieces of silver!

So for the next 13 years Joseph was a slave.  Then he spent three years  in prison before God raised him up to rule as prince of Egypt, (Gen 39:20)

But it was another eight years until he met his brothers (Gen 42:3-8)..  Through all of this, God was with Joseph – God didn’t abandon him – God had a plan He was working out.

How would you handle a family situation like Joseph’s?

Joseph handled it this way – ​he loved them – he never stayed angry at them, or got bitter – ever! He didn’t let the past shape his present and future – no revenge was sought.  He learnt from his experience – yes, he was “rough” with them “for a season” but in the background there was kindness.

He carefully worked things so they would care about Benjamin like they should have cared for him. He also made sure they cared about their father’s feelings.

Yes, he let them stew, but it gave them time to think things through.  In doing this he allowed God to fix the problems, for often there are no quick fixes – he just wanted a strong family.

He lent them a hand – took care of them and blessed them.  He loved them openly and was not ashamed to show them off as his family.

So how does this apply to a church, to the family of God?

We are a big family, with problems like all families. We suffer from envy, disappointments, misunderstandings etc.  How we react is far more important than how we are treated.

We need to nurture brotherly kindness by accepting it as a gift from God, for He is always very kind and gentle towards us.  Then we are to do things not just because someone is worthy, but because they are family. If we show kindness with fervency – it will grow on us!

In all this we need to ask God to help us take this step for He is “with us”, because He does have a plan for each of us, a plan that means we will be a blessing to others!

Ephesians 4:30-32 is still a direct command in the Bible:

30 And do not grieve the holy spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Conclusion

All this begins with Jesus, who went through all that Joseph experienced, but on a massive scale – and yet loves us still for He is kind to us still.

If Jesus is your Saviour, then as a child of God, believers deserve your loving kindness, not because they are worthy, but because they are family.

Godliness

Godliness

Week 6 of a series examining Christian virtues

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

This week we examine the virtue of Godliness, in our walk through the Christian virtues identified by Peter, (2 Peter 1:5-11).

Peter begins this brief letter to Christians by reminding us that we are fully equipped to lead the life to which God has called us.  However, we must work to add to our faith Christ’s goodness and His other powerful positive supernatural qualities to our lives. This requires effort, unlike eternal salvation which is not based on our work. If we lack these positive attributes of God, we will live as unproductive and ineffective servants of God.  Thus, we will be nearly as blind as unbelievers, and likely to forget that our confessed sins are forgiven.

This means that as Christians we have by faith become participants in God’s divine supernatural nature.  Therefore, as we see in verse 5, we must “make every effort” to add a list of Christ-like qualities to our faith. And these Christ-like qualities need to be taken together, for they fully describe the life of a Christian who is participating in God’s supernatural divine nature. I believe that there is a logical order to these characteristics, because each one is a necessary requirement for the quality which follows.  

First, since we have been equipped to live like Jesus, we must work to add goodness, (or “moral excellence”)to our faith. This means that we will work to do good, by God’s power, in the world now, as Jesus would if He were in our place. This goodness becomes the foundation for the rest of these qualities.

We are also to add knowledge. This is a deeper understanding of our God, through His Word, and prayer, which informs our goodness. Merely wanting to do good is not enough; we learn to know what good is by knowing God.

Next, we must add self–control. Without the ability to control ourselves, our knowledge of good, and the desire to do it, are both worthless. Self-control is the moment-by-moment restraint of our fleshly urges. This is the ability to make the right choice, in those moments when temptation strikes us.

Then we must add perseverance. Perseverance is the ability to practice self–control over time. Our sprints of doing good are to turn into marathons. Our moment-by-moment, hour-by-hour, day-by-day choices are eventually to transform us to live supernatural divine lifestyles. Perseverance, therefore, is the ability to maintain self-control, even when the pressure of temptation continues to attack us.

Next, we add godliness. This keeps our goodness from being merely human goodness, for we are to chase after a moral excellence which reflects the supernatural divine nature of God Himself, and not the temporary, earth–bound “goodness” of the flesh. 

According to my Young’s concordance, the word “godliness” occurs 14 times in the New Testament, (in the Pastoral Letters of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and 2 Peter), with most occurring in 1 Timothy.  Like Peter, Paul sees that godliness is no static, stained-glass word. It is active.  It is a kinetic obedience that springs from a reverent awe of God. It is the Isaiah-like action that has a person, so awestruck by God that they rise from their face saying, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Awe — THEN action! So Godliness is not piety as is often thought — upturned eyes and folded hands. It cannot be cloistered in church buildings because the godly among us are those people whose reverent worship of God flows into obedience throughout the week as they complete the good works that God has prepared for them to walk in.  Remember, God only has good plans and purposes for us.

How do we know if we’re walking in these Godly plans and purposes?  One way is to look at what we believe God is calling us to do and to ask our self, “Do these things come into line with God’s truth?”, “Are these the sort of things Jesus would do if He were here now?”  If the answer is “No”, then it’s best not to do them and seek God’s counsel for clarification.  Often such counsel is best done in fellowship with other Christians through worship, bible study, discernment and most importantly prayer.

One thing that will increase our desire for godliness is our diet.  And I don’t mean eating our 5 portions of fruit and veg a day!  What I mean is our spiritual diet.  Paul in 1 Timothy 4:6-7 writes that to be a good servant of Christ Jesus you will have to be trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that comes from such words.  This means we are not to have anything to do with irreverent and distracting false ideologies that twist God’s Word, and so twist His character into something He is not in order to suit the ears of the listener.

As Paul encourages Timothy and us, and as Peter encourages us, we are to be continually fed with the content of the gospel and apostolic teaching, because nourishment in the Word is essential to us being “a good servant.” The most effective Disciples of Jesus Christ are those who persevere as students of the Word and in fellowship with other believers, for their whole life. All the Apostles were repeatedly adamant about this too.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

So to conclude:

Godliness has as its central meaning a life of active obedience through the individual’s faith in God through His Son, Jesus Christ.  (1 Tim. 3:16;  Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory). 

The secret, therefore, of the godly life is letting God reveal Himself to us through Jesus Christ.  Therefore, godliness is basically following Jesus in this life (Titus 2:12; It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age).

Scripture presents godliness as a Christian goal to be earnestly sought after (1 Tim. 2:2; that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Tim. 4:7-8; Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come), even if it leads to persecution, (2 Tim. 3:12; In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted).

And we need to understand that godliness and sound doctrine are closely related, so godliness is about knowing the truth of who God is as revealed to us through His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.  The blessing of this is that as we grow in godliness we will experience and know better the supernatural divine power of God in us, both individually and corporately, for in Christ we have all we need to live the life God calls us to live.

Perseverance

Perseverance

Week 5 of a series examining Christian virtues

We are continuing to look at the virtues of God described in 2 Peter 1:5-11. Today our focus is on perseverance; not a bad theme for Remembrance Sunday, for we are to persevere in working for peace in our life, in our home, in our communities, in our nation, and in the world.

But life has it challenges, my life can be messy, my behaviour is not always predictable, I do not always choose the most obvious path.  If I don’t guard my heart, I can quickly become cynical and despairing, ingesting the hopelessness that I see around me.  Isn’t that the same for all of us? 

This is where perseverance comes in.  I need to keep on going, focussing on God and His Son Jesus, yet… when we look around we see so much pain and suffering.  And it’s not just physical pain, there is much emotional and psychological pain too.  We cry over the brokenness of others that we know, as well as crying for strangers.  Our tears may be triggered by compassion, or a deep sense of sadness and disappointment at what we are hearing and seeing in our world.

Obviously, this is not God’s will for His children, because we are all called to be light in the darkness and carriers of His hope. The darkness of this world should not be engulfing us, but rather fleeing at our approach because of the indwelling light of Christ and His power in us. This is the biblical perspective and it is the perspective we should all choose to embrace and chase after. You see, God is always at work, whether we perceive it or not.

The Good News is that when we surrender our lives to God we immediately become more aware of His comfort, restoration, healing, life and light.  As we grow in awareness of this for ourselves, by pursuing the God who pursues us because of His love for us, we become even more aware of His comfort, restoration, healing, life and light.  Then we begin to show more and more of His comfort, restoration, healing, life and light to those we engage with on a daily basis, whether it be spouse, partner, children, wider family, neighbours, work colleagues, those we socialise with, as well as strangers we meet day by day.

God’s desire is that through our surrendered lives to Him we allow Him to bring comfort, restoration, healing, life and light to others. Have you surrendered all of your life to God?  As you do this, perseverance will be needed if you are going to make it to the end.

The reading from the prophet Micah (Micah 4:1-5) is an appropriate one for Remembrance Sunday as he speaks against a background of armed conflicts. In 722 BC the Assyrians destroyed Samaria (the Northern part of the original nation of Israel) and 20 years later attacked Jerusalem, only for the city to escape by a miracle. Micah almost certainly lived through both of these events and appears to have been deeply affected by them. He decries the fallacy of human plans compared to the wisdom of God and His ways, and he rebukes the leaders and prophets who have led the people into this situation. He perseveres in all of this, because our reading speaks of the new hope that will be, when restoration and God’s rule comes, and God Himself will judge the disputes ‘for strong nations far and wide’.  It is then, and only then through persevering, that people will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Having witnessed the horrors of war, Micah is clear that true peace can only come to the world when God’s rule reigns supreme.  In a world where many deeply desire peace, we too need to remember that it is God alone who can bring true peace, for God alone is the author of true justice and peace. Micah explains that our role in this new world order is ‘to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8).  In other words, we are to work hand in hand with God to bring about the peace which He describes.   We cannot engineer or create peace purely through diplomatic, political or military means.  Politics, diplomacy and armed forces can be an important supporting element for peace, but true peace can only come when God is at the centre of all our efforts.  Persevere, then, with working for Godly peace.

There is another scripture that can help the world today:

‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded’ (Jeremiah 31:16).

The context of this is God speaking to Israel, through the prophet Jeremiah, and it was the restoration of their nation that he was proclaiming.  I believe that this verse is helpful for us today. Many feel broken by what they see going on here and in the rest of the world, and many our crying over this brokenness. 

To me this verse paints a picture of God stooping down to us with a box of tissues and telling us to wipe away our tears. He wants us to know, that despite all we see and hear, He is indeed at work in the lives of all people, and we will see a reward for our labour. Can we hold this promise close to our heart?

The apostle Paul relayed a similar message to the Corinthians. He said, ‘So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless’ (1 Corinthians 15:58). That must have been an ‘adrenaline shot’ for the Corinthian church.

He also encouraged the early Christians to continue sowing good deeds, wherever they had opportunity, as harvest time was coming (Galatians 6:9-10). They would only reap, though, if they persevered in sowing and refused to give up.

The teachings of Jesus on perseverance are very clear: He has conquered death and it no longer need hold any power over us. For Jesus gave real hope with His promise of a kingdom which was yet to come. Jesus spoke in pictures about a time when there would be feasting and laughter. This time to come would be different, the hungry would be filled and those who had been downtrodden would be freed.  This gives us hope as we entrust to God those who have died for our broken world.

However, in his teachings Jesus also made clear that real change must start to take place now in the hearts and minds of his followers. We therefore use Remembrance Sunday to remind ourselves of our part in seeking to bring about the desperate need for change.  For Christians this Remembrance Sunday is more than an act of remembrance, it is a promise that we will do our best to serve Christ by serving others in the cause of peace, and for the relief of want and suffering.

By His Holy Spirit may He give us wisdom, courage, and hope and keep us faithful now and always.  This will be hard, but it will be well worth persevering for.  So, despite all you hear about the world today don’t giving up!  …Persevere – for giving up is not on God’s agenda!

Don’t quit, for I sense God saying; “Don’t give up, don’t quit, persevere! Keep sowing! Harvest is coming!” I repeat, “Harvest is coming, for I am at work and your efforts will be rewarded. I pass you a box of tissues right now so you can wipe away those tears of brokenness and pain.”

Self-control and the power of Christ

Self-control and the power of Christ

Week 4 of a series examining Christian virtues

We are continuing our study of the virtues of God described in 2 Peter 1:5-11. This week it’s the turn of self-control to come under the spotlight.

What’s my favourite biscuit?  Custard creams!

I can buy a packet of custard creams and they will stay in the cupboard for weeks.  I’m showing self-control!  But then that all goes to pot – I open the packet and before I know it I’m ¾ of the way through them, and so I think, “Well, there’s only a few left, I might as well finish them” and woof, they’re all gone!  Oh, where did my self-control go?

It sounds so simple and straightforward, perhaps even commonplace to think that we are all good at self-control.   Why?  Because it’s not a flashy concept.  Surely it’s easy to say “No” to another Custard Cream, French fry, or milkshake — or another half hour on Netflix or Facebook — or another glass of wine, pint of beer.  You just say no!

But it’s not that easy. Why?  Because to exercise self-control in a fallen world is one of the most difficult things you and I can ever learn to do.

Some say self-control can be taught.  But can it?  What does Scripture say?

Well, Scripture clearly shows us that alongside love and godliness, self-control serves as a major summary term for Christian conduct (2 Timothy 1:7; Titus 2:6, 12; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 1:6). It is the climactic “fruit of the Spirit” in Paul’s list (Galatians 5:22–23) and one of the first things that must be characteristic of leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8). Proverbs 25:28 likens “a man without self-control” to “a city broken into and left without walls.” 

From these and other verses I think that scripture show us that true self-control is not about bringing ourselves under our own control, but under the power of Christ.

Biblically, self-control, or lack thereof, goes to the deepest part of us: the heart. It begins with control of our emotions, and then includes our minds as well. Self-control is often paired with “sober-mindedness” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8; Titus 2:2; 1 Peter 4:7), In several places the language of “self-control” applies especially to the mind. Mark 5:15 and Luke 8:35 characterise the healed demoniac as “clothed and in his right mind.” Paul uses similar language to speak of being in his right mind (2 Corinthians 5:13), as well as not being out of his mind (Acts 26:25). Romans 12:3 exhorts every Christian “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,” but to exercise a form of self-control: thinking “with sober judgment.”

Self-control is both bodily and external. The apostle disciplines his body to “keep it under control” (1 Corinthians 9:25–27). It can mean not being “slaves to much wine” (Titus 2:3–5). And in particular, the language of self-control often has sexual overtones. Paul instructs Christians to “abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5). In a charge to women in 1 Timothy 2:9, self-control relates to modesty. And 1 Corinthians 7 presumes that lack of self-control in married adults might give Satan some foothold were they to unnecessarily deprive their spouse sexually for an extended time (1 Corinthians 7:5). Also God has given some the calling of singleness and with it, “having his desire under control” (1 Corinthians 7:37); others “burn with passion” and find it better to marry (1 Corinthians 7:9).

So, the question for the Christian, then, is this: If self-control is so significant how do I go about pursuing it as a Christian?

One way could be to train yourself to turn your back on objects of desire.  You could pretend it is not what you see, so I could see a custard cream as a piece of wood!  If I can change how I think about it, its impact on what I feel and do changes.

This may be a good place to start, but the Bible has more to teach than raw renunciation because we need more than mere diversion tactics!

True self-control is a gift from above, produced in and through us by the Holy Spirit. Until we believe that it is received from outside ourselves, rather than whipped up from within, the effort we give to control our own selves will resound to our praise, rather than God’s.

Self-control therefore, is an active gift; we are not to receive it passively. We are to open the gift and live it so that we exercise it through God’s grace, because all we have is a result of God’s grace to us.

Seeing it as a gift of grace should mean that we want Jesus to get the glory when we exercise self-control because it is only through His power that we can do it.  We are to learn to say no, but we don’t just say no. We admit the inadequacy, and emptiness, of doing it on our own. We pray for Jesus’s help, and craft specific strategies. We trust God’s promises to supply the power for every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8; Philippians 4:19) and then act in faith that He will do it in and through us (Philippians 2:12–13). And then we thank him for every Spirit-supplied strain and success and step forward in self-control.

When “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Corinthians 5:14), when we embrace the truth that He is our sovereign, and God has “left nothing outside his control” (Hebrews 2:8), we can bask in the freedom that we need not muster our own strength to exercise self-control, but we can find strength in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, “the grace of God has appeared . . . training us” — not just “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions,” but “to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11–12). Christian self-control is not finally about bringing our bodily passions under our own control, but under the control of Christ by the power of his Spirit.

All his life he was “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). He stayed the course even when sweat came like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He could have called twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53), but he had the wherewithal to not rebut the false charges (Matthew 27:14) or defend himself (Luke 23:9). When reviled, he did not revile in return (1 Peter 2:23). They spat in his face and struck him; some slapped him (Matthew 26:67). They scourged him (Matthew 27:26). In every trial and temptation, “He learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8), and at the pinnacle of his self-control He was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). And he is the one who strengthens us (1 Timothy 1:12; Philippians 4:13).

So in Jesus, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have a source for true self-control far beyond that of our feeble selves.

Therefore, meditating, reflecting and studying these virtues of God as listed in 2 Peter 1 shows us what we are to strive towards in the Christian Life.

At the same time, it teaches us dependence on God; it teaches us our utter need for the Spirit of God to rule over and in our lives, and so it teaches us our desperate need to look to the Spirit, depend upon the spirit, ask the Spirit of God for help and strengthening.  As we do this we will grow in wisdom, revelation and the knowledge of God; thus we will be increasingly transformed into the likeness of God.  Then we will live out, “these qualities in increasing measure” and “they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8).