I have shared in this space, and elsewhere, that while I love working with children of all ages, I am especially fascinated by middle schoolers. And so, when I was asked to lead a small group of sixth graders this year, I didn’t hesitate to accept. In each session, we focus on a character trait drawn from scripture and this past week we covered the “queen mother” of all traits – self-control. For young men of this age, self-control can be elusive, but it’s critically important they be held accountable for thinking intentionally about what they’re doing and why. Young men who lack self-control grow up to become older men lacking self-control and recent headlines have brought us numerous stories of what happens when such men enter the world and reach positions of influence and authority.
In the fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we find a list of things that should mark the life of every Christian. There are nine “fruits of the spirit” in this list and the first eight seem to fit together quite naturally in that they are qualities we can readily recognize when they are outwardly expressed. We can show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness and we know when they are shown to us. The ninth spirit, self-control, is different. In a way, it enables us to show all the other gifts. If your child is wearing on your last nerve, it is self-control that allows you to show her patience. If you’re having a miserable day, it is self-control that will allow you to be joyful instead of wallowing in self-pity. And if you’re feeling like God is far from you and the concerns of your heart, it is self-control that will urge you back to faithfulness. I don’t think it is an accident that Paul chose to begin this list with love and ended it with self-control. When we exhibit these, the “alpha and omega” of spiritual fruits, we provide a powerful witness for Christ within us.
Important as it is, self-control is hard and it is no less difficult for adults than it is for children. And trying to get there on our own just won’t cut it. We need God’s spirit within us to achieve lasting self-control. Matthew 26:41 warns us to watch and pray because, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Whether it is controlling our spending, curbing negative thoughts, or keeping hurtful comments to ourselves, I pray we can all take a step towards self-control this week as we lean on His Spirit to empower us.
Jim R. Callis
Head of School