Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 27 January 2022:
Genesis 25:29-34 – “Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was exhausted. And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!’ (Therefore his name was called Edom.) Jacob said, ‘Sell me your birthright now.’ Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me now.’ So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.”
Decisions have consequences. Esau, driven by a desire for instant gratification, acted upon impulse and sacrificed his future and his legacy for a bowl of stew. And do you really think he was dying of starvation? Of course not. The Bible doesn’t say how long Esau had been without food while hunting, but doubtful it was 40 days in a desert as Jesus experienced. And Esau’s bowl-of-stew temptation wasn’t Satan promising him the whole world as Jesus experienced. No doubt, Esau was hungry, but he felt the same kind of ‘starvation’ gluttons feel, an insatiable desire for self-gratification. What Esau lacked was self-control, and he, his family, and his descendants paid immeasurably for it. Did Esau consume the stew, or did the stew consume him?
In his lack of self-control, Esau took something that should have been good (a nice bowl of stew) and made it bad, as is the case with all sin. God gives us good things and good desires (such as hunger or sexual attraction) and we pervert them in our pride, fear, selfishness, and idolatry (when we worship what God created rather than God Himself and allow the desire to lord over us rather than the Lord – see Romans 1). God made food for nourishment, but we abuse it. God made sex for good, but we pervert it. Money can be used to resource the needs of many, but we use it for our own selfish desires. As C.S. Lewis says, “Badness is only spoiled goodness.” In our lack of self-control, which is motivated by self-centeredness and selfishness, we spoil goodness.
It is easy to arm-chair quarterback Esau’s decision, but if we are honest, we can all relate with him to some degree. How many times and in how many different ways have we traded something great for instant gratification which seemed pleasing at the time but really didn’t satisfy? (see Hebrews 11:25) Often, we just can’t seem to control ourselves, but why? To some degree, we all lack self-control, and the Bible warns that this is not something we should take lightly:
- Proverbs 25:28 — A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
- Proverbs 16:32 — Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
- Titus 2:6 — Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled.
So, how do we get in control of ourselves? Merriam-Webster defines self-control as, “restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires.” Related words include, will-power, temperance, dignity, discretion, balance, discipline, and stability – all attributes of which we likely wish we had more. Helping people get more self-control is now big business. Psychology Today offers ten steps to getting more self-control – 1) Have a can do attitude; 2) set goals; 3) self-monitor; 4) get motivated; 5) have self-confidence (believe to achieve); 6) maintain will-power (“psychological energy”) by setting fewer goals; 7) avoid what tempts you; 8) be clear on the “why” and the “how” of the goal; 9) change your patterns of behavior; and 10) have an “if-then” strategy – “If (this) happens; I will do (this).” The problem with behavior modification methods such as these is they usually don’t work, at least not for long (much to the diet industry’s delight) – “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) The problem with self-control is seeing “self” as the control or solution, expecting self to overpower self. At best, this would be an even match, but since even our better self lacks integrity, we are on a losing strategy.
The fact is, self-control issues are spiritual issues. The Bible explains that self-control is not obtained through force of will but rather by the Holy Spirit –
- Galatians 5:22-23 — But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
- 2 Timothy 1:7 — For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
- Galatians 5:16-17 — But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
- Titus 2:11-14 — For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Notice the first “fruit” of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 above is “love,” and the last fruit of the spirit is “self-control.” This is intentionally pointing out that whatever you truly love controls you. As much as you try to muster your will power, psychological energy, etc., as long as you love self over God and others, you will eventually act selfishly and surrender to your passions and desires for instant gratification, and you will find a way to justify or excuse your behavior. The love of self which surrenders all for a bowl of soup is not only destructive and self-defeating, it is self-centered, and selfish. When you “let yourself down again,” by doing what you keep promising yourself you will no longer do, it is not just a personal, private matter. You are letting down and hurting everyone around you who cares for you, depends on you, and/or is impacted by your behavior. When Eve ate the apple, it wasn’t a personal, private matter. She influenced Adam to sin, and ruined life for every other human who ever lived. Conversely, love, and its subsequent self-control, covers over a multitude of sins and has a ripple effect of healing.
Self-control is faith, hope, and love practically applied. (1 Corinthians 13:13) Faith is trusting God with the present; hope is trusting God with the future (faith projected forward), and love is the pouring out of the overflow of God in our lives back to Him and to others (God is Love – the branch that provides love to the vine). Contrary to popular psychology, the secret to self-control is not seeing ourselves more clearly and mastering ourselves more effectively; the secret (which is no secret at all) is to see God more clearly, to make Him our master, to be controlled by His love. We have self-control when the unseen God is more powerful and real to us at the moment than what is seen – this is faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:1, 6) Our self-control, or lack thereof, reveals something about how we really see our invisible God:
- 1 Peter 1:8 — Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory….
- Romans 8:24 — For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?
- 3 John 1:11 — Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
- 1 John 4:20 — If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
- John 20:29 — Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
- 2 Corinthians 4:18 — …we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
- Philippians 3:19 — Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
- 2 Corinthians 3:18 — And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
So, how do we see God more clearly that we would follow Him and experience the fullness of His joy and satisfaction? The Bible says that the we must first remain in His word and in prayer – “Watch (from the perspective of His word) and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Then we must do what Jesus commanded – deny self (do not focus on self or rely on self), to up our cross daily, and follow Him. This takes effort:
- 2 Peter 1:5-7 — For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
- 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 — Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
- Titus 1:8 — But hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.
- 1 Peter 5:8 — Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
- Titus 2:2 — Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.
- 1 Timothy 2:9 — Likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,
- 1 Corinthians 6:12 — “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.
- Romans 6:12 — Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
Said another way, self-control is all about perspective – what you are staring at and how you see things. As we know about perspective, what is closest to us seems biggest and most relevant. Make God bigger in your eye than anything else by getting closer to Him, and keep your eyes (spiritual eyes) affixed to Him, not yourself or those temptations. Draw closer to God first, and then you will be ready to resist the devil:
- James 4:8 — Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
- James 4:7 — Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Decisions have consequences, but God’s grace is bigger than your consequences. If you are like me, you have made some regrettable decisions, but God will use even your failures to draw you closer to Him – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28-29) The key to self-control and handling our consequences is abiding in God’s love and seeking to be increasingly conformed to the image of Jesus through your circumstances.
- Galatians 5:22-26 — But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, but we must keep in step with the Spirit. If you are struggling in some area of your life with self-control, focus on your relationship with Christ rather than your issue or yourself. “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
Matthew 19:13-15 — “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”
After correcting His disciples for attempting to keep little children away from Him, Jesus uses these children for an object lesson on faith. Both Luke and Mark record more of Jesus’ words – “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:17; Mark 10:15)
Jesus says that saving faith is like the faith of a child – with an open heart, ready to receive mercy and grace, trusting, eager, hopeful, joyful, excited, and comfortable in complete dependency.
Jesus says that we are to have a child-like faith, not a childish faith. Childish people don’t act their age, refuse to grow up, and dishonor the family name. Getting older is not the same as growing up. And as we all know, an adult can still act like a child. Throughout the Bible, Christians are called children of God (starting with Hosea 1:10), and the Bible has much to say to God’s little children –
- 1 John 2:1 — My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
- 1 John 2:12 — I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
- 1 John 2:28 — And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.
- 1 John 3:7 — Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.
- 1 John 3:18 — Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
- 1 John 4:4 — Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
- 1 John 5:21 — Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
The Bible encourages God’s little children to maintain child-like faith but to mature in their understanding and behavior –
- 1 Corinthians 3:2 — I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready,
- Hebrews 5:12 — For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,
- Hebrews 5:14 — But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
- 1 Corinthians 14:20 — Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.
- Ephesians 4:13 — …until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
- Hebrews 6:1 — Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God….
In the Book of John, chapter 8, Jesus describes the difference between the children of God who truly love God, hear is word, and obey God, and the children of the devil who do not really believe God, do not accept His word, and do what the devil desires. (John 8:39-47) Jesus called the Pharisees (religious leaders who claimed to be godly and righteous) children of the devil, despite their religious pedigrees. Claiming to be a child of God is not the same as actually being a child of God, and believing ‘in’ Jesus is not the same as believing Him, trusting Him, committing to Him, and obeying Him. James says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19) Saving faith is an obedient faith that continues to grow for a lifetime. We are not saved by our good deeds, but our good deeds are the evidence of our salvation. Good deeds are not the path to salvation but the proof of salvation. As Jesus said, “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43-45) God expects you to bear the fruit of faith –
- John 15:4-5, 8-14 — Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing…. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
- 1 John 2:6 — …whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
- 1 John 2:14 — I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
- 1 John 2:17 — And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
- 1 John 2:24 — Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.
- 1 John 3:9 — No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.
Also, we should take note of the actions of Jesus’s disciples and His response to them: For unexplained reasons, the disciples stood as a barrier between the little children and Jesus, perhaps considering them an annoyance, a distraction, or somehow unworthy of Jesus’ time and attention. Jesus essentially told them to get out of the way. As we mature, we must be very careful with how we treat those we see as less mature – “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
- 2 Chronicles 6:30 — Then hear from heaven your dwelling place and forgive and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways, for you, you only, know the hearts of the children of mankind….
- 2 Corinthians 6:2, 3, 11-13 — Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry…. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.
- Romans 14:13 — Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
- Luke 11:52 — Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”
- Mark 9:42 — “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
Matthew 19:21 — “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
In many ways throughout the Gospels, Jesus said that the first step to following Him is to deny self. He means what He says. Obedience is only an issue where selfishness and self-centeredness remain. When we refuse to surrender all, only then do we say things like, “What exactly does the Law demand?” or “How many times must I forgive my brother?” or “Who is my neighbor?” In self-righteousness, we want to give God only what He has specifically asked for, and we look very carefully within the boundaries of the Law to find a place within what is written to build our own glorious kingdom, a sanctuary from authority; we then build our palace far bigger than the temple of God within our hearts (1 Kings 7:2-3; 1 Kings 6:2; 1 Kings 5:11). However, what God has demanded is our everything, all of us.
We are created to serve and glorify Him, and we were designed to have joy in serving Him. We were not created to serve self. The Bible says that we are ambassadors for Christ. An ambassador is an official representative to a foreign country who represents the positions and interests of the appointing nation. But what would happen if an ambassador began to show loyalties to the foreign country, began accommodating the demands and positions of that foreign country at the expense of their own kingdom, or began working on the side to establish their own private residency and position within that foreign kingdom? Not only would that ambassador be removed from position, he would likely be labeled a traitor. Proverbs 22:12 says, “The… LORD… overthrows… the traitor.”
Are we still trying to get something for ourselves? Do we still think that there is what is God’s and then what is ours? Have we not realized that it’s all God’s, including our hearts, souls, minds, and bodies? Are we really going to challenge God’s Lordship in any part of us or what we claim to possess? Are we going to set out today to take care of ourselves and what we want? Or are we going to forget about self and serve God wholeheartedly?
- Luke 10:27 — And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
- Luke 9:23 — And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
- Galatians 2:20 — I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
- Romans 12:1 — I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) — 27 Jan 22: Today, turn to God for self-control rather than to self. Pray that God will increase your child-like faith and decrease your childish faith. Treat others as God’s little children. Give your everything to the Lord today.