The “Gift” We’d All Love to Have If It Was Free: Self-Control

By Sharon Sheppard

The day I caught my toddler drinking out of the toilet—using his shoe as a ladle—I knew I had my work cut out for me. 

This was a child who insisted on putting everything—edible or inedible—into his mouth. Whenever he heard me opening the refrigerator door, he came running, and, with lightning-quick hands, he grabbed and gobbled. One day as I removed an item from the fridge, he latched onto a bottle of codeine cough medicine, quickly cranked off the lid (this was in the days before child-proof lids), and bolted down some of the strong prescription medication before I was able to grab it out of his hand.

Frantic, I called the clinic, where the nurse assured me that he would sleep for quite a while. “Wake him every 30 minutes to make sure he’s not in a coma,” she instructed.

This was only the beginning of a very scary pattern for our two-year-old, who was busy and curious and apparently loved the sensation of exploring tastes and textures in his mouth. Self-control is not something we normally expect a lot of from toddlers. However, as we mature into adulthood, as believers in Jesus Christ we are expected to demonstrate quite a lot of this spiritual “fruit” called Self-Control.

As we’ve come to this last trait in our study of the attributes the New Testament calls Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), it seems the Apostle Paul (maybe not wanting to scare off his readers) has left this most difficult fruit until last on the list.

And, if we’re honest with ourselves, self-control is an issue probably most of us struggle with in one or more areas of our lives. Whether it’s indulging in unhealthy quantities of food or drink, carelessness in our use of money, or squandering inordinate amounts of time on technology, most of us could use a healthy dose of self-control.

But because we live in an out-of-control, “if-it-feels-good-do-it” culture, we may not be in the habit of exercising a lot of restraint. Most of us are pretty good at rationalizing our behaviors. 

If it’s any comfort, the problem is not new. Fifteenth-Century poet John Milton said, “He who reigns within himself, and rules his passions, desires, and fears, is more than a king.”

Self-Control has never come easily to us mere mortals. However, the Bible lists it as one of the nine signs that Jesus Christ lives in us. It is a trait that reflects a believer’s ability to show restraint and patience in the face of trials in such a way that God can be glorified in our lives.

Clearly, we cannot achieve this in our own strength. That’s why these attributes are called the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Only as we consistently ask for His help can we ever hope to meet any of these lofty expectations. But thanks be to God, if we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we have the Holy Spirit living in us. And He’s on call 24/7.

By the way, the Tasting Toddler mentioned at the beginning of this article did eventually, by the grace of God, grow into a delightfully normal, healthy adult who now exhibits a great deal of Self-Control.

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