The Holy Living column with Rev Peter Dodson
Self-control became, for me, the most difficult of Saint Paul's list of spiritual fruit. There is no Divine Saying that commands or encourages Christians to exercise self-control. No such word is used by the prophets or by Jesus.
Saint Paul himself uses the word in reference to athletes: “Athletes exercise self-control in all things” (1 Corinthians 9.25). Paul stresses the importance of a disciplined training regime.
The Bible presents Paul as writing “The fruit of the spirit is self-control.”
Some Bible scholars suggest that Paul may have been influenced by the Hellenistic Judaism of his time. The Greek word used by Paul is translated as meaning “having power [over] things and oneself.”
Socrates saw this as a cardinal virtue.
Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenistic Jew, saw self-control as “superiority expressed in self-restraint.”
The apocryphal books were rejected by Judaism because they were considered to be tainted by Greek philosophy.
The Holy Bible indicates that there is no place for self-control or self-discipline on one’s own. The Christian’s personal and collective salvation becomes possible only when Christians allow Christ-control.
This goes to the core of all genuine Christian discipleship. Mary Magdalen addressed Jesus, not as “rabbi”, but as “rabboni” (John 20.16). This may be translated as “great and beloved Teacher”.
In my own experience the process is a kind of spiritual open heart surgery.
There is no anaesthetic, only the loving, caring, gentle probing of Christ the Healer.
The letter to Hebrew Christians says “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart ...” (Hebrews 4.12). The Divine Surgeon and Teacher is the one in control, not me.
Nevertheless I am able to trust, see and know what is being done to me.
Church members are themselves called to be part of Christ’s spiritual surgery “team”. Across the world, countless Christians are at work within the secular and religious fields of medicine. They quietly exercise their spiritual contribution to the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing of those in their care.
Many hospitals have their own team of chaplains. “The Chaplaincy Department offers pastoral, spiritual and religious care and support to patients, their relatives, friends, carers, as well as members of staff ... [Their work] is available [day and night] to anyone ...” Harrogate’s medical, nursing and chaplaincy services also cover the inpatient facilities of Ripon’s own Community Hospital. (visit: www dft.nhs.uk/services/chaplaincy).”
Jesus the Christ said, “Follow ME [and] learn from ME” (Matthew 11.29). His own loving, controlled discipline “rubs off” on those who are able to learn from him. Every authentic Christian is impelled actively to be involved in what is known as the Church’s “Healing Ministry.” Jesus specifically commissioned his disciples to go out into the community to heal the sick. This vital, loving, Christ-controlled healing work applies to the manner in which each and every Christian looks at, speaks to, touches and relates to the people they meet.
During Eucharist worship, the congregation sometimes addresses Jesus as follows: “Lord, I am not worthy ... but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.”
I have little interest in practising a stoic-like self-control. My Christian responsibility is increasingly to seek and accept Christ-control.