Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:25-27
We are concluding our writing on the fruit of the spirit this week with the last in order of the fruit – self control. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 Since we have been writing this semester on the fruit of the spirit, I have given much thought and reflection to each attribute of the fruit as well as the order of which they are listed. The more I study God’s word, the more I understand that every word and every detail is ordained for purpose and ministry. It necessarily follows then that the order of the words is also for purpose. We do not have have a God of chaos, but a God of order. So, I believe that God chose to list love first because all the other attributes are rooted in love; you must have love to manifest the other attributes. We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19. I believe self control is listed last because it is the most difficult and only comes with spiritual maturity and a manifestation of the other attributes.
As I have meditated this week on God’s word and what the word has to say about self control, it was impressed upon me that self control as an attribute of the fruit of the spirit that has little to do with being strong and more to do with being weak. It has to do with dying to ourselves and submitting our flesh to our spirit because in our weakness He is strong. His power is made perfect in our weakness. I have thought a lot about Paul and his thorn this week and wondered what was his thorn…what was the temptation that he struggled to have control over? Surely Paul had very ripe good fruit, so what could this thorn possible be? I have often wondered about Paul’s thorn as have many theology scholars. I began to wonder if someone as spiritually mature as Paul still struggled with his thorn, how are we ever to not struggle with our thorns?
While I do not have an answer to this question, I do know that our spiritual life is a journey and a work in progress. I know that as we strive to get closer to God and to reflect more of him and less of ourselves (our flesh), we can become frustrated and miss what God is trying to teach us in our struggle. I thought a lot this week about Jesus dying on the cross and how he prayed three times for God to take this cup from him. Even Jesus who chose to live on earth as a man felt his flesh desire something other than what God had planned for him. But of course, as we know, Jesus prayed “not my will but yours.” This to me is a perfect example of self control; for it is dying to oneself and taking up the cross. Galatians 5:20. I think taking up your cross daily, dying to yourself and crucifying your flesh is self control that is the fruit of the spirit. Luke 9:23, Galatians 5:24.
As for that thorn of Paul’s, I learned something worth considering. Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians several struggles he prayed about. Consider THORN to be an acronym for Temptation, Hardship, Opposition,Rejection and Need. When Paul came to Jesus praying about his thorn, what did Jesus tell him…..“My grace is sufficient for you”. Paul took his thorn to the cross where Jesus wore a crown of thorns. It was the crown of thorns, that thing that brought pain that also brought glory. (This beautiful illustration is from a Steven Furtick message.) We are weak, but He is strong! His power is made perfect in our weakness!
I learned this week that the crown I am racing to earn is not a crown of temporal utility, but rather a crown of everlasting worth. I am not striving to have self control to say to no to one temptation after another. I am striving to die to myself daily. This is the kind of fruit I pray for! Tracey
Your Turn ~ Have you wondered about Paul’s thorn? Have you identified with him imagining that you share the same thorn? Do you think now that maybe we all have the same thorn and that God’s grace is sufficient for each and every one of us? We would love to hear your thoughts.