Re-ordering, restoring love
So together, let’s enjoy digging a little deeper into the thorny question of self-control…
All the contributors to ‘Fruits of the Spirit’ must be congratulated in the research and soul searching that they must have carried out in order to have produced such thought-provoking pieces of writing! In a phone call with Ros Hughes (St. Benedict’s Gyffin) I said that out of all the 9 fruits mentioned by St. Paul the last – self-control, I felt would be the most troubling. At the end of the call, it was still left hanging. A statement looking for an answer.
Why self-control and why me? Do I need more, do I need less, can you have too much or even the wrong type? ‘Oh no thank you not for me!’ In refusing that piece of cake, it might for a fleeting moment make me feel virtuous. But what harm has my refusal caused to someone who was looking forward to pleasing me in the offering? So then what price – is there a price, a cost, a qualitative value on self-control?
The study of self-control has a long history. Over two thousand years ago, Stoicism emerged as a life-affirming platform. At the heart of this philosophy, quite possibly co-terminus with St. Paul’s writing, was the idea at the foundation of human flourishing were four cardinal virtues: courage, justice, wisdom, and self-control.
But St. Paul of course went further with Galatia. What was he saying and why did he appear to be so angry, frustrated and upset? After all, what we read is the Galatians did not appear to be as openly misbehaving as the Church in Corinth. No mention of the cardinal sins of incest and idolatry. In fact, when we read, we are told that the fledgling Church in Galatia, on the face of it, appears to be virtuous. Observant of all customs and principles. Guarding over the rights and observances of festival days and ancient traditions. You could say showing a great deal of self-control. So why the anger and frustration?
In my reading of the letter, St. Paul admonishes the Galatians for the wrong type of self-control. By placing so much observance on ‘The Law and their customs’, their self-control is leading them down the wrong path. A path of schism and hierarchy. Away from what the true Church is about. By their strict observance, trusting in their own effort, the keeping of the ‘the law’ in order to gain favour with God and not what Christ said and demonstrated. Faith in Christ, sadly, would form just a part of their self-control belief rituals.
St. Paul foresaw the danger by the strict observance with customs and not in Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6). It is not your observances that also exclude non-Jews that will gain you favour. It is only faith in Jesus: there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female (Galatians 3:28). Faith in Him only: not a set of rules, or however well-meaning the wrong self-control that opens the door to God.
In the end, I believe self-control is the ability to make correct choices, to think before acting, for the actions themselves have an effect on ourselves and others. Having self-control and self-discipline is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom and importantly from going down wrong paths. Just like the fledgling Church in Galatia we sometimes need a word or a letter to put us back on track. To prevent ourselves getting in a mess, and the Father’s forgiveness when we get into one!
Almighty Father, in this world filled with goodness,
we also experience temptations that lead us into wrong thinking
and actions that harm ourselves and others.
My desire is to lead a life where the fruits of your Spirit are evident in me
and I am directed to the opportunities to serve you in my daily life.
Father, please forgive me
for the times I have said and done things without thinking.
Please remind me to consider self-control as your control.
For strength comes by not trying to control myself with human effort,
but rather depending on the Holy Spirit to guide all my ways and choices.
Open my heart, once again
to your re-ordering, restoring love,
in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.