It should be no surprise that Paul ends his list of the fruit of the Spirit with self-control. After noting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness, Paul wants us to get to work. Whatever is keeping us from loving others or being gentle must be put to death. But the desires of the flesh won’t go down without a fight. Walking in love and joy won’t be easy. And so we need self-control. Paul put it this way: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). The presence of self-control proves it.
Pastors have the wonderful opportunity to model self-control in a world that prizes self-indulgence.
What about your situation? Where does the fight for self-control take place in your ministry? Every man is different. But the temptations that come with leadership are common, and they are numerous.
Pastors and church leaders are in the public eye. It’s impossible to teach without being noticed, and a certain amount of attention follows. You interact with people eager to share their problems and looking for help. The pastor is often a counselor, and this work breeds an intimacy with others we can easily abuse.
If a hurting woman comes to you seeking help, are you careful to serve her while being entirely above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2)?
Self-control is your best friend in moments like this. It will lead you to counsel in a visible space, perhaps in the presence of another counselor. Self-control will keep you from probing too deeply into salacious details you really don’t need to know. Finally, self-control will keep you focused on the Bible, reminding you she needs Christ and His Word more than you and your wisdom. This will discourage you from playing the savior, which can puff you up in her eyes and encourage you to tear down important boundaries.
Too many men have blamed the advances of a woman for their sin. Of course, every individual, male and female, will stand before God and give an account for his or her actions. But the pastor who stumbles in this area is not to blame his circumstances— which may include the immaturity of a sister in Christ. He is to look at his own heart and ask himself, “Why did I not exercise self-control?”
Brothers, as you read these words, how many respected, theologically sound church leaders can you think of who recently lost their ministry and tarnished the name of Christ and His church because they lacked self-control in the area of sexuality? Far too many. There are countless roads into sexual scandal, but there is only one result: destruction. How many pastors and church leaders are, right now, locked into a pattern of viewing sexually explicit material on their computers, smartphones, or television sets? Again, far too many. Sadly, they minister with the constant fear of being found out. Honestly, they know why their heart is cold to the Lord. The sexually immoral “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9). This is why self-control is a piece of the fruit of the Spirit.
Obviously, pastors struggle with more than sexual purity. We are uniquely challenged in the arena of pride as well. Congregations tend to highly esteem their pastors and elders. In many ways, this is wonderful. After all, elders are worthy of honor (1 Tim. 5:17). But such honor shouldn’t be used as an excuse for a pastor to isolate himself. Far too many men lead as if they are clothed in bubble-wrap—beyond the need for correction. A brother has lost the fight for self-control if he thinks he is above critical feedback, in no need of accountability, or singularly responsible for the vitality of the ministry he leads. In cases like these, self-control is like truth serum. Even a little will helpfully remind us we are nothing more than stewards of a ministry belonging to Christ alone (Col. 1:18). This humility—fueled by self-control—will help us submit to the wisdom of others “out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).
Wherever you struggle, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit that appears only with difficulty. There’s a reason Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The Christian life is difficult. There is no easy path to travel, no broad entrance. We will find ourselves at war with sin, bloodied and bruised, before the last battle is won and the tears are gone (Rev. 21:4).
[ Editor’s note: The following excerpt is taken from Character Matters: Shepherding in the Fruit of the Spirit by Aaron Menikoff (©2020). Published by Moody Publishers. Used with permission.]