Egkrateia 5

Romans 7:18-20

I have a ritual I go through almost every day.

  1. I leave the house intending to go to the post office and then the church.
  2. I pull into the church parking lot.
  3. I say “Darn it. I forgot to go to the post office.”

You would think that after five years I would remember to go to the post office first, but for some reason I keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

In today’s passage Paul confesses to his own weakness. What struggle does Paul face? What does Paul keep doing? Why does he do this?

Forgetting to go to the post office at the beginning of my day is a nuisance, but really not a big deal. Being unable to break negative habits, on the other hand, is a big deal. Whether it is a strong addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography, or simply an inability to act in a Godly way when the opportunity arises, we are living in our sinful nature when we fail to do what is right.

Some people have strong addictions that are very hard to break. Some may even require professional (and long-term) counseling to get past. But I believe most people simply fail in small ways on an almost daily basis.

Perhaps you let your temper get the best of you and you took it out on an innocent person. Maybe you had an opportunity to do a good deed for someone but you were too afraid or caught up in your own worries to bother. You may have recognized a needy cause but decided your money is better spent taking care of you and your family.

All failings, big and small, are failings. We may be aware of what is right and good on an intellectual level, but we just can’t get past the inertia that keeps us doing nothing about it.

To get past our failings we need egkrateia – self-control. We need the ability of our souls to overcome the sluggishness and selfishness of our minds and bodies. Through self-control we can see the good and holy things that need to be done and then act on them – carry them out.

But fighting that vicious cycle of always doing what is wrong is difficult to do. How do we overcome the power of the sinful nature? Paul handed his “wretched” self over to Christ, and through the power of Jesus was able to be one of the most powerful and influential believers in history (see Romans 7:24-25). By submitting to Jesus we can gain the true self-control needed to do what is good.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What sinful cycle of yours needs to be handed over to the power of Jesus?

Egkrateia 4

Romans 13:11-14

There is something wonderful about the dawn of a new day. The first light of the morning sun seems to bring hope and happiness. The uncertainty and fears of darkness are gone and we are presented a clear vision.

A member of our previous church was once in Egypt on a tour of the Holy Land when violence broke out at the hotel. The uprising included military force – automatic weapons and tanks! She said that her group huddled against an outside courtyard wall all through the harrowing night as they listened to gunfire streaking overhead. When the next day dawned, she said, everyone inexplicably stood up. They all had a sense of hope in spite of the continued fighting.

In his letter to the believers in Rome, people who were struggling against persecution and a very uncertain future, Paul has an urgent message. What is Paul urging in verse 11? What is near? What are we instructed to do in verses 12 and 13? What instruction is in verse 14?

Many people approach their faith with very little conviction or sense of urgency about it all. Many seem to act as if they are too busy to take the time to worry about believing in God. Perhaps they think there will be plenty of time for that when they get older – when they retire, when the kids are grown and gone.

But Paul points out the urgency we need to have with our faith. The day is today; the hour is now for us to begin walking in step with the Holy Spirit. Each day of living for ourselves and living to gratify our human desires takes us further from God.

The dawn of salvation and new hope – hope for our souls – is here and now. The new day of living out the fruit of the Spirit is in front of us.

And living out the fruit of the Spirit requires egkrateia – self-control. We should take on this aspect of the fruit of the Spirit now, not some distant day in our uncertain future. Now is the time to live out self-control, to shed ourselves of the physical and temporary desires and pleasures of the flesh. Now is the time to clothe ourselves in Jesus and begin living as mature Christians – holy and beloved of God, able to live out all the parts of the fruit of the Spirit.

DAILY CHALLENGE: How can you exercise spiritual self-control in your faith life today?

Egkrateia 3

Matthew 20:17-19

I think it takes a lot of courage to go to the health clinic and get shots to prevent various diseases. Of course I feel that way, because I am faced with that prospect now – I need to get a vaccination. It takes courage to go do something that you know will be painful. Yet, knowing that what will be done is ultimately for the good, makes it a little easier to have that kind of self-control.

As we prepare for Holy Week and the celebration of Jesus entering Jerusalem, we have this passage from Matthew. What does Jesus tell his disciples? What is the ultimate good that will come of it?

I think it is evident throughout the Gospels that Jesus knew what he was doing and was in complete control of what was happening. He knew what was waiting for him in Jerusalem. And what was waiting for him was much more terrible than a hypodermic needle.

He knew what he would be going through, and certainly there was a part of him that dreaded it (see Matthew 26:39). But he was able to live out the fruit of the Spirit. He was able to live out agape love, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness – all because he was able to live out egkrateia. He had self-control and was able to set himself aside and do what was ultimately the best for everyone else.

Because Jesus had self-control he was able to give himself up sacrificially so that you would be spared from death and hell.

While each of us may not be faced with a sacrifice that requires our very lives, still, as Christians, we are supposed to live a sacrificial life. In so doing we frequently will be faced with the knowledge that we will need to give up something or take on something that we may find uncomfortable.

What is required is our own egkrateia. We are required to have enough self-control that we can willingly accept the pain and discomfort of serving God and others. We need to willingly step out of our comfort zones – sometimes emotional, sometimes psychological, sometimes physical – and be uncomfortable for the ultimate good of God or to help others in need.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Which comfort zone are you being called out of for the kingdom of God?

Egkrateia 2

1 Corinthians 10:23-24

“Thou shalt not” seems to be the phrase that comes to mind for most people when they think of being a Christian.

Billy Joel even has a line from a song that says, “I would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.” Being a true believer of Jesus Christ is often perceived as a life with no happiness, no joy, no fun.

But Paul presents an interesting take on things in his letter to the church at Corinth. What is allowed? Although permissible, is everything beneficial? Is everything constructive? What should we seek?

We have some pretty simple statements here regarding the life of a Christian. Everything is permissible. He says it not just once, but twice. Everything is permissible. Now, before we go off on a sinning spree, we must realize the context in which Paul was writing.

He was addressing some situations that the Corinthian church was facing. They were living as believers in a society of idol worshipers and questions arose as to whether or not specific foods or articles of clothing were acceptable. They wondered if certain social practices should be observed by the believers or shunned by them.

We may have similar issues confronting us today. What is the Christian stance on alcohol and tobacco? What about certain clothes? Can a Christian read the Harry Potter books?

According to Paul everything is permissible. As Christians we can do what we want to do. We aren’t limited by rules and regulations as far as foods we eat, the clothes we wear or social behavior. BUT – not everything is beneficial or constructive.

We have no rules on food and clothing other than the rule that those who exhibit the fruit of the Spirit will display self-control. Part of self-control, egkrateia, is being able to avoid those things that are not beneficial – avoiding them not because they are not permitted, but avoiding them because we know they do not help. As Christians living out egkrateia we need to focus on the good of others, and not ourselves.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is there anything in your life that needs to be removed because it is not beneficial?

Egkrateia 1

James 4:1-3

In my early teen years I always wanted a job that allowed me to go through a door marked “Authorized Personnel Only.” What an intriguing sign! I wanted so much to be one of those special people who could go where others do not.

Over the years I have had several jobs that allowed me access to places where others were not permitted. You aren’t missing much.
Most people agree that nothing is more valuable or intriguing than those things that we cannot have. James addresses the problems of desiring what we do not have. What causes conflict? What do people do in an attempt to get what they do not have? According to James, why are we lacking? Why do we not receive?

The last aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. In the Greek it is egkrateia (pronounced en-KRAH-tay-ah) and means precisely what we might suspect. Egkrateia is the ability to be master over yourself, to put other’s needs before your own, to control your own desires, to discipline yourself to do what is right and thus resist temptation.

Living in step with the Spirit, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, means displaying all the aspects that we have seen, not just one or two. But I believe if we can exhibit all the fruit of the Spirit, then we will have self-control. And the reverse is true. If we have self-control we will be able to live out the fruit of the Spirit.

What causes pain and stress in your life? Perhaps desiring things that you do not have or should not have can cause stress. And if you go to God with your requests yet do not receive what you have asked for, could it be that the reason you have asked is selfish and not Godly?

If we are to be true Christians who are able to walk in step with the Holy Spirit of God, then we must have control over ourselves. We must be able to control our desires and wants. Our desires should be only for those things that we need to continue in serving God, not just those things that advance us socially or bring pleasure and satisfaction in selfish ways.

God is willing and anxious, I believe, to give us all good things. He does not want us to do without, to be deprived, to be lacking. But it all comes down to our motivation and how we will manage our resources. To exhibit the fruit of the Spirit we must exercise egkrateia over ourselves, controlling our desires and keeping our focus on the work of God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What do you desire most? Are your desires for God’s kingdom or for selfish reasons?