“Protecting What Matters Most” Summer Series: “Virtues That Keep Us Stable”
August 2, 2020, Self-Control
If the junk mail we get is any indication of the tone that exists in our world today, my junk mail tells me that that there must be a whole lot of people who are feeling vulnerable, exposed, and insecure. I say that because of the promotional flyers for security systems that come my way on a regular basis. I’m old enough to remember when nobody locked his doors – to his house, to his car, or anything else. But now, evidently things are so bad that you’ve got to have alarms and cameras, and a host of other contraptions that protect the things that matter most to you.
And I understand people’s anxieties. These times in which we’re living have no doubt driven so many to the brink of despair because of how the numbers of robberies and break-ins are at an all-time high. Even if you live in one of the nicest neighborhoods in Mountain Brook, you have no guarantees against the evil that seems to be escalating every week.
So, it makes sense to think about how you might better secure the things that you’ve invested in – your house, your car, your personal possessions. But have you also given any consideration to the importance of making sure you’ve protected the one thing that matters most of all, which is your soul?
This morning, we are looking at the last virtue in the list of the fruit of the Spirit the Apostle Paul offers in his letter to the Galatians, which is self-control. And as we consider the need we have to guard our own souls, I can’t think of a more vulnerable person in that respect than the person who is unable to control his own impulses. There is no person more exposed in this life than the one who is unable to turn his back on the things that can not only jeopardize our abundance here but also call into question our eternity in the life to come.
We have before us today this one verse from the book of Proverbs, which comes to us in the context of a series of proverbs traced to King Solomon. Like everything else in Proverbs, this verse offers instruction to those who would secure the secrets of what is required in order to rule others under God’s selection. And as this verse reminds us, no one can rule others who first cannot rule himself.
The image is most vivid. “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.”
Some of us listening today live in homes behind walls. But in the ancient world, everyone did. No one lived outside the city walls. It would have been too dangerous. They would be vulnerable to any band of marauders that might be passing their way. That’s why in the book of Nehemiah, the first thing Nehemiah did upon returning to the city of Jerusalem after the exile was to embark on a construction project to rebuild the city walls. It was for him the first order of business. No future could be realized until the present city was secure.
So, now, the writer of this Proverb tells us, it makes just as little sense for a person not to have taken the time and gone to the effort to wall in his own impulses against the evil in this world that is always seeking to overtake him. Otherwise, he is just as exposed and just as vulnerable as a city whose walls have collapsed and are in need of repair. While we know this to be true in our heads, I’m not quite sure that we’ve allowed it to sink down into our hearts.
Case in point, as the devotional writer Parker Palmer has noted, “Our problem as Americans…is that we resist the very idea of limits… Our national myth is about the endless defiance of limits: opening the western frontier, breaking the speed of sound, dropping people on the moon, discovering ‘cyberspace’ at the very moment when we have filled old-fashioned space with so much junk that we can barely move. We refuse to take no for an answer” (Let Your Life Speak, p. 42).
And you wonder why so many of us struggle with something as simple as wearing a mask.
So, how do we change? How do we gain control over our impulses and emotions? How do we rein them in so that we protect our souls against the evil that would otherwise overtake us?
Here’s where most people go wrong: you can’t really do it by yourself. You really can’t just try harder and resolve to be more committed. The evil in us runs so deep that it’s beyond us to restrain it. We can only find the peace and security we yearn for in this life when we trust our way and our will to God, whose presence in us gives us the power we need to overcome the evil influences that run deep in us all.
That’s why the Apostle Paul includes it in his list of virtues that are a part of the fruit of the Spirit. Unlike other thinkers and philosophers in Paul’s day who ascribed to the ability of each person to control himself, if only he would give himself to it, Paul recognized that because we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God, the only way for us to overcome ourselves is by relying on the grace that God has made possible through our faith in Jesus Christ and being open to His Holy Spirit’s presence to, as he would say in his letter to the Philippians, “guard our hearts and our minds (keeping them safe) in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).
Can you do that this morning? Can you allow the Holy Spirit’s presence to hold absolute sway in your life so that God’s presence provides for you the very best defense for your life?
J. Wallace Hamilton was an outstanding preacher of the last century and the author of many, many sermon books. In one of those books, Horns and Halos in Human Nature, a telling title, he tells a story about an arctic explorer whose crew decided to bring home some native Arctic birds. During the trip one of the birds escaped from its cage and in the ecstasy of its newfound freedom flew away over the ocean. The crew was certain that the bird would die trying to make it back to land, but, to their surprise, later as they stood on the deck, they saw a speck on the horizon, and as they watched it come slowly closer, they could see it was the missing bird. When it finally reached the ship, the bird dropped onto the deck of the ship, exhausted. The ship, which once was for the bird a prison, had now become a safe haven and a most welcome place of refuge.
This morning, as we share together in this Lord’s Supper, let us look at these elements as our way of affirming how the presence of Jesus is with us to do for us what none of us can do for himself. If you feel vulnerable and exposed, He will shield you in his love. If you are overwhelmed by having to contend with all the evil that is in this world, He will give you peace. If you are tried of having to contend with the greatest threat of them all, which is yourself, He will give you rest.
Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control. But for the one who is filled with the Spirit, he will receive all that he needs to be constantly in control in this life and eternally secure in the life that is to come.