CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXIII)

5:23b Our spiritual oneness with the Anointed transforms love into the fruit of Self-Control.

 Paul reaches the end of this fruit of the reborn spirit, which the KJV renders “temperance.” In newer English translations, we find “self-control.” [1] It is hard to find this exact word in the First Covenant. However, the suggested Hebrew noun for self-control is tzeniut, which means: “You’re right.” The recommended English name is “Modesty.” In various Hebrew writings, it describes someone who knows how to handle power and authority with humbleness. It doesn’t imply pretending, instead, using one’s position modestly. In the sense of “self-control,” it does not mean, keep from going overboard in drinking, eating, or other social activities, but to be modest when it comes to one’s powers, privileges, and position.

The Greek noun egkrateia that Paul uses here means the virtue of one who masters their desires and passions. Luke tells us that the Roman procurator of the Judæan province, Marcus Antonius Felix, became afraid when Paul spoke about things we do right, self-control, and the judgment that will come in the future if we don’t.[2] And to the Corinthians, Paul was talking about strict training when he advised them that all who compete in the Olympic games use self-control. They do this so that they can win a prize. And when listing the qualifications of an elder to Titus, Paul said, “He must be able to use self-control as part of his discipline.” And the Apostle Peter, in his list of virtues mentioned that to your knowledge, add self-control, to your self-control, add patience; to your patience add devotion to God.[3]

 The way Paul uses egkrateia defines a virtue that gives a person mental and emotional mastery over their desires and passions, especially those of the flesh. We are not just talking about attractions brought on by lust, but the word is taken from potty training and refers to not going when you should go, so you end up going where you shouldn’t go. No doubt, the Galatian believers looked at each other after hearing it read and suspected that Paul had heard something about how they were conducting themselves amid this controversy started by the Judaizers. Self-control is to restrain one’s emotions, actions, and desires, and to be in harmony with the will of God. Self-control is doing God’s will, not living for one’s self.[4]

Paul may have been aware of Oriental philosophers who taught that true peace came from ridding oneself of any desires. He was certainly informed of self-control in Greek writings having mostly to do with morality, refraining from violence, and keeping one’s temper in check. If so, perhaps Paul didn’t want his readers to misunderstand that he was teaching the same concepts. Instead, Paul emphasized purging any desires that went against the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle did not call for them to empty their hearts, minds, and souls of all longings or dreams. Instead, to let their spiritual oneness with the Anointed and the Holy Spirit take full control over these emotions to channel them into ethical conduct, not questionable. In other words, proper “Control of Self.”

One translator describes self-control as: “Committing ourselves humbly to God when under trial, and have self-control when under temptations.” [5] No matter what level of spirituality or holiness any believer tries to attain, they will always need to deal with the desires of the flesh. Believe it or not, the world looks skeptically at Christians who claim to be close to God, but their lifestyle seems to be uninhibited and similar to their own. Without being disrespectful to any of God’s servants, but merely using them as illustrations, think of some very high-profile ministers of the Gospel in the last twenty-five years. They have fallen because of the weakness of the flesh. No matter how much they displayed the other Fruit of the spiritual oneness with the Anointed, failure to exercise “Control of Self” debilitated their testimony and destroyed their ministry.

In his reading of the First Covenant, Paul found various incidents describing the control of self. For instance, when Joseph returned home as the second in command in Egypt, he was so overcome with emotion at seeing his home place again that “After washing his face, he came back out keeping himself under control.” [6] According to some Jewish minds, Joseph’s tears were the result of looking at young Benjamin and being suddenly reminded of his mother, who died so young. Just the thought of her death, he became overcome with grief. He was only seven years old when Rachael died. After he shed those tears, the rest were tears of joy at seeing them again.[7]

When a possible Philistine attack confronted King Saul, he went ahead and offered a burnt sacrifice without exercising control of self until Samuel could get there. Once Samuel arrived, he admonished Saul, “How foolish!  You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you.  Had you kept it, the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom must end.” [8]

It is Solomon who gives us the best definition in Proverbs, where he says, “A person without self-control is like a defenseless city whose walls have crumbled.” [9] What a clear warning that if our spiritual oneness with the Anointed does not have complete mastery over every area of our lives, the old sinful-self will have easy access to take over control of our mind, then our heart, and then our body. A person may think they have “everything under control,” but a crumbling wall suggests that there are areas of compromise due to carelessness that have opened up. As such, we can see that in the First Covenant, exercising self-control was more than merely harnessing one’s emotions; it was protecting those emotions against invasion by the enemy of our souls.

The writers of other Epistles infer control of self more often than expressed by one word. For instance, James and John argued over who should be first in God’s kingdom. Peter’s grabbing of a sword in the Garden when the temple guards came to arrest Jesus. Then his denial of Jesus when confronted outside the house where the high priest interrogated Jesus. And Judas’ lack of selfcontrol when betraying his Lord. No doubt, you can find many other instances in the Final Covenant where restraint and control of self were exercised for good, or abandoned for disaster.

Such control of self brings us peace of mind so that we don’t spend so much time worrying over losing control of our tongue or our emotions. No wonder Paul informed the Philippian believers that when Jesus the Anointed is in control of your life, the peace He brings from God, which goes beyond anything we can imagine, will guard our thoughts and emotions.[10]

Peter certainly learned many lessons in losing “control of self.” It may be one of the reasons why he starts his second letter, which included the churches in Galatia, with this appeal, “Given all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with respect for God and respect for God with brotherly love, and brotherly love with love for everyone. And the more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus the Anointed.” [11]

We don’t know how many of the Greek writers’ Paul read, but it appears he did have a great deal of knowledge concerning their writings because he quotes some of them in his sermons, such as this statement to the Athenians on Mars Hill: “For in him we live and move and have our being.” [12] This quote is from Epimenides, who, in his work, “Cretica,” wrote: “The people of Crete are all liars, cruel animals, and lazy gluttons; they have designed a tomb for you, O holy and high one.  But you are not dead; you are alive and with us always.  For in you we live and move and have our being.” In his letter to Titus, Paul quotes Epimenides again with this line, “Even one of their men, a prophet from Crete, has said about them, ‘The people of Crete are all liars, cruel animals, and lazy gluttons.’” [13]

As the Apostle Paul stood on Mars Hill, he quoted another Greek author saying, “As one of your poets said, ‘we are his offspring.’” [14] Paul found this in the work of Aratus called “Phaenomena,” where he penned: “For we are his offspring; and because of his kindness to mankind, he gives them signs of his favor by motivating them to understand the importance of carrying out their work.” Aratus spoke of the Greek god Zeus.

We should not be surprised that Paul did this. How many sermons have you heard or books read written by Christian authors where spiritual and secular writers, politicians, philosophers, psychologists, presidents, military leaders, etc., are quoted to make a point? It happens all the time!

So, it is logical to believe that Paul was also aware of Greek writers who used Control of Self to denote a person who exercised physical and intellectual power over themselves. It projected a sense of perseverance, steadfastness, and restraint to achieve victory. Socrates introduced Control of Self as one of the chief virtues in his writings on ethics. Plato also adopted this word to mean control over sensual desires. Aristotle used this word to describe a person who possessed strong lusts but was able to suppress them for his good. The Stoics saw it as a way to gain freedom from unwanted abuse of one’s passions.

Later on, in Greek literature, this thought of Control of Self became dualistic in its application, whereby the body was kept in check so that the soul might grow in strength.  As is often the case, some took it to an extreme, such as the ascetics, who, wanting to remain noble, barred any expression of one’s desires.  Thereby we can better understand why Paul saw love transformed into the fruit of Control of Self as giving the believer a distinct advantage over the wishes of the sinful self.

[1] Galatians 5:23 – New International Version; New Living Testament; Complete Jewish Bible

[2] Acts of the Apostles 24:25

[3] 2 Peter 1:6

[4] Rose Publishing. The Fruit of the Spirit (Kindle Location 158)

[5] Aiyer, Ramsey, The Contextual Bible Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[6] Genesis 43:31

[7] Rabbi Avraham Saba: Tzror Hamor, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 698

[8] 1 Samuel 13:13-14a

[9] Proverbs 25:28

[10] Philippians 4:7

[11] 2 Peter 1:2-7

[12] Acts 17:28

[13] Titus 1:12

[14] Acts of the Apostles 17:28

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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