The break of self-control

One-crack-in-selfcontrol

“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” –Proverbs 25:28

Throughout graduate school, my classes included issues of social psychology. How do people behave alone, in groups, and as part of a larger society? We read study upon study. And the one that sticks with me to this day speaks to doing what others have done before. I could not tell you the reference, but the study explored when people would loot a car.

The researchers put a nice car, locked, in a “bad” neighborhood and watched to see how long it would take to be broken into and broken down for parts. They were shocked—but not in the way you might think. The pristine, high-end car lasted far longer, weeks longer than they anticipated. But once the first damage was made, it did not last long at all before being left a shell of a vehicle.

The researchers tried again. They took another high-end car and put it in another section of a crime-ridden part of town. This time, however, they left it there with a broken window. The car did not last long at all.

Time after time, the researchers tried the experiment. And each time they found that once there was damage to the car, it was parted out quickly.

What causes the shift? It seemed to the researchers that even people prone to theft did not want to make the first move. They did not want to be the one to move that care from safe to parted out. But once the first move was made, it was free game.

Re-read our verse:

“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” –Proverbs 25:28

Imagine yourself, your life, as the car in the experiment above. If you lack self-control, you open yourself up to those who seek to take advantage of a situation. The key to self-control is constant awareness.

A number of years ago, I worked in a position where I needed discernment and self-control every single moment of every single day. Each night I returned home completely exhausted from the attention and work it took to be on point in every moment. The self-control part was keeping my facial reactions in check, which required monitoring every single thought. It meant measuring each and every word before it was spoken, written, or shared with another. And the one who sought to find a break in my demeanor grew increasingly frustrated that he could find no crack.

I cannot say that I have used this approach in my every day life since then. The pressures are different now. The intensity is much less. But the damage can be the same when I am not careful. For one crack welcomes others to pry away at that crack. One crack in self-control means the difference between a minor issue and a major challenge.

If there’s a crack, patch it quick. Self control is both the realization of the power you have as a follower of Jesus, and the vulnerability you have as the same. It’s delicate balance, when mastered, brings bold advancement. When not mastered, it brings destruction.

There is no coincidence that self-control is the last of the fruit of the Spirit. For effective self-control requires every single other fruit to make it work. If you’ve got a crack, take a look at your other fruit—it just may be that mending one of those will seal the crack and prevent an invasion.

The conundrum of gentleness…

Greatness-in-the-eyes-of

In a world seeking to exalt everything but Christ, it can seem that the only way to fight fire is with fire. Yet gentleness makes the exact opposite claim.

“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” –1 Peter 3:15, ESV

Because gentleness stands out against the screaming crowds. The constantly offended will be muted in the face of a calm, gentle retort. Gentleness, after all, is the great draw God uses to bring people to Himself:

“correcting His opponents with gentleness, God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” –2 Timothy 2:25, ESV

If God’s tool for correction is gentleness, who are we to choose differently? Which is a bold statement to make. It remains far easier said that done, but take these encouragements. We can stand in gentleness because we are protected by far greater things than any defense we can fashion.

“You have given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your gentleness made me great.” –2 Samuel 22:36, ESV

“You have given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your right hand supported me, and Your gentleness made me great.” –Psalm 18:35, ESV

We are protected, not by our inflammatory words, but by the very shield of God. His salvation seals us, protects us, and will be our joy. As we rely on it, we can stand boldly with a gentle spirit, knowing the Savior of our soul has our back.

And more than that, the passage in Psalm takes this support one step further. Not only does our shield of salvation protect us from damaging onslaughts, God’s very right hand supports us. It is no small thing to be at the right hand of the King. And that right hand moves, and points, and makes things happen, many of which we will never see or realize.

Standing in the protection of salvation, with our God moving His right hand on our behalf, we can strip away the fear, pride, anger, jealousy, and offense that can express itself in so many ways other than gentleness. We can allow the chains of those negative perspectives to clank powerless to the floor, as we allow the Spirit of God to change our own spirit into one like Christ:

“…by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…” –2 Corinthians 10:1, ESV

For gentleness is not an action. gentleness is a very way of being. It roots from the spirit and extends through every action, every thought, and every defense. It is that gentleness, from the Spirit of God, described in the 2 Samuel and Psalms passages above the lead to greatness.

Greatness in the eyes of men may come with a quick wit and a burning retort. Greatness in the eyes of God comes through a gentle spirit.

Faithfulness is never alone

Be-assured-that-whatever

Search for “faithfulness” in scripture and “steadfast love” is most frequently not very far away. Time and time again, the concept of faithfulness partners with steadfast love to create quite the dynamic duo. And it occurs to me that faithfulness without steadfast love would be quite unfulfilling–for both the faithful one and the receiver of the faithfulness.

Steadfast love is no ordinary love. It is consistent, unwavering, and never leaves. It is this kind of love that partners with faithfulness.

Imagine, on the other hand, a faithfulness not filled with love. Imagine someone sticking by you who also despises you. Would you really want that kind of faithfulness nearby? Or worse, imagine someone who sticks by you, but accompanied by a love that wavers. Sometimes they are there because they love you. Sometimes they are there out of sheer grit.

The latter is our kind of faithfulness, isn’t it? We fulfill our commitments, but not always with steadfast love. Thankfully, Christ is not the same as us. His faithfulness, His unwavering dedication to us, is always partnered with steadfast love. Know that. Lean into it. And be assured that whatever comes, the One standing with you loves you deeply.

The Source of Goodness

It-was-after-the-Holy

It seems goodness would be a choice. A clear distinction between good and bad. An unmoving line delineating what is good from what does not make the cut. Many things can be nice, but to reach the label of “good”, there remains a higher standard.

Scripture draws this line pretty clearly.

“I will make all My goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you My nam, ‘The Lord,’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” –Exodus 33:19, ESV

“…and they blessed the king and went to their homes joyful and glad of heart of all the goodness that the Lord had shown to David His servant and to Israel His people.” –1 Kings 8:66, ESV

“And now arise, O Lord God, and go to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your might. Let Your priests, O Lord God, be clothes with salvation, and let Your saints rejoice in Your goodness.” –2 Chronicles 6:41, ESV

Throughout the Old Testament, goodness is ascribe to the Lord alone. Though His leaders and His people benefit from that goodness, goodness itself comes from God. The Psalmist describes this relationship well:

“Oh, how abundant is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in You, in the sight of the children of mankind!” –Psalm 31:19, ESV

We can see goodness. God brings it before the eyes of mankind that we may see His glory. But goodness is not ascribed to anyone but Him. This continues into New Testament times as well:

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.'”–Mark 10:18, ESV

This shatters the notion that people can be good. For thousands of years, through the Old Testament and into the New, goodness could only be assigned to God. And in the times since Jesus spoke these words, people haven’t changed. We are still sinful people. We are still unworthy. Until…

Until there is a shift. Later in New Testament books, goodness is ascribed to people. Paul describes the people of the church of Rome as “full of goodness” (Romans 15:14). And when Paul wrote what would become the book of Philemon, he explained his actions in this way:

“I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.” –Philemon 1:14, ESV

Where goodness could only be held by God, it now could be a choice of the people. It is listed among the fruit of the Spirit, which is something that should be growing in its expression through our lives. So where did this shift happen? For thousands of years, only God could be good. Seemingly suddenly, the people of God could also be good. How could that be?

The answer lies in the very study we are doing. Goodness is still only attributable to God. It is a fruit of the Spirit. And it was after the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the hearts of people through Pentecost (Acts 2), that we suddenly became capable of goodness. But goodness is still only attributable to God. It is only, still, a fruit of the Spirit. Without the Spirit, we still cannot be good. We might be nice, pleasant, and polite. But goodness still only comes from God. The fruit of goodness in our lives still stems from the only One that is good–God alone.

If you want to live a life of goodness, you can only do it if the Spirit dwells in you. If you aren’t sure if that is true in your life, let’s go back to Peter at Pentecost–because you aren’t alone in your question:

Now when (those hearing Peter at Pentecost) heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'” –Acts 2:37-38, ESV

You can live a nice life. You can be polite and respectful. But goodness comes from God alone. A truly good person is the product of repentance, forgiven sin, and receiving the Holy Spirit. Do that, and you will see goodness begin to flow from the Father of all goodness through you.

Kindness is an action

If-your-kindness-seems

Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness.

Our fifth fruit of the Spirit. In studying kindness in scripture, one thing emerged above all else: kindness is action. In Genesis, we see two ways kindness is expressed.

“Behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life…” –Genesis 10:19, ESV

“Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to the Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house.” –Genesis 40:14, ESV

Showing kindness. Doing kindness. Cross-reference kindness, and you will find passage after passage describing kindness as an action. I have long believed that the fruit of the Spirit were not just a cluster of characteristics we would experience while walking by the Spirit. The more I study, the more I see the fruit of the Spirit as a progression, an ordered approach to experiencing the ongoing work of sanctification.

When we start with love, we seek to love the Lord. We know it is the first and greatest command. It is a challenge to put aside our sinful desires and reach out a hand in love to Him. But His faithfulness and goodness draw us ever closer to Him. We start with love.

Once love begins to grow, joy is a natural by-product. In human terms, you have never seen someone grumping about and thought, “wow, they must be in love!” No, it is joy that springs forth from the security that comes with love. And when you know you are loved and experience the joy that flows from it, peace will follow suit. It will be much harder for the world and its Prince Satan to rattle you when you are rooted in love, joy, and peace.

And in those roots, you can better walk in patience. Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We fear Him, not as you would fear something scary, but as a recognition of His wonder and His power. That fear begets love. And we learned in our brief look at patience that it comes from wisdom.

Love leads to joy leads to peace. And fearing the Lord, loving Him for Who He is, is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom brings about the path of patience. And now, standing in that path, we are ready to act. And the next action is that of kindness. I see in m own life that when I lack the ability to be kind, there is often one of the former fruits that needs some attention. Maybe my love for God, and the outcropping of love for others needs a reframing. Maybe the love is there, but I’ve let life circumstances weigh down the joy. Or maybe love and joy are solid, but anxiety has taken the shine off of peace. Or maybe the first three are in good shape, but I’ve lost sight of the fact that patience is a path to be walked, growing from wisdom.

And when I go back to shape up the former fruit, I find kindness a much more holy experience. For when my mind is set in wisdom, walking along the path of patience in the knowledge that God is bigger than this, than reaching out to my fellow human and showing them kindness just seems like to next best action.

If your kindness seems to be broken, take time to examine the former fruits. They just may be in need of some pruning.