“The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and SELF-CONTROL. Against such things there is no law.”
We have reached the ninth and final fruit that Paul lists for the Galatians as products of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives—self-control, or temperance.
The original Greek word is enkrateia, which Kenneth S. Wuest defines as “possessing power; strong; having mastery or possession of; continent; self-controlled.”
Some people take issue with translating enkrateia as self-control, because built right into the word ("self") is the idea that we are the ones who are doing the work. Temperance, however, appears more open to the reality of the Spirit being at work in us.
The term self-control works for me, though, for a few reasons:
- It is more readily understood in modern times than the more archaic term temperance.
- Temperance carries historical associations with the Temperance Movement in the U.S., calling for an end to the making and selling of alcohol, whereas the meaning in the Bible applies to a lot more than just alcohol.
- All of the fruit of the spirit originate and grow by the power of the Holy Spirit, and then manifest in my thoughts, words, and actions. Whether it’s love, patience, faithfulness, self-control, or any of the rest: They only manifest consistently and effectively in my life by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by my own efforts.
For children, perhaps the easiest introductory explanation is:
Self-control is saying “no” to temptation.
Here are some activities that can help children get a better sense of what self-control looks like in everyday life:
Back in my blog post about the fruit of the spirit we call PATIENCE, I referred to the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment from the 1970s, where children could choose between a small reward immediately, or a larger reward if they were willing to wait for a period of time. This same exercise can be used to talk about self-control.
Put a favorite treat (like a gummy bear, M&M, marshmallow, or Teddy graham) in one bowl, and a handful of the treat in another bowl. Give your child this choice: “You can have a treat, but you have to choose: You can have the first bowl with the small treat in it before dinner, or you can wait and have the second bowl with the larger treat in it after dinner. Do you have enough self-control to say “no” to a small treat now so that you can enjoy a larger treat after dinner?”
You can follow up with a conversation: Which did you choose? Why did you make that choice? How did it feel to exercise self-control in order to get the larger number of treats? (Or, alternatively, why do you think it was too hard for you to exercise the self-control needed in order to get the larger number of treats?) Do you think you made the best choice? Why or why not? (I recommend making space for their own individual opinions; they may have an interesting argument to offer!)
Jesus is our perfect model of self-control. We can look at stories about him in the Bible in order to see an example of holding out against temptation, and having the self-control to do the right thing.
Read together the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, either from a storybook Bible or from Matthew 4:1-11.
Here is a brief description of this story from the Ministry-to-Children web site:
In this passage, Satan himself comes to Jesus and tempts him three different times. Each time Jesus practices self-control and does not sin. What is Jesus tempted with in verse 2? (Food) Matthew tells us that Jesus has been fasting (not eating) for 40 days and 40 nights and was hungry. Can you imagine how hungry Jesus would be after not eating for 40 days and nights?! I get hungry if I just skip breakfast! Satan knew this and so He tempts Jesus to use His power as God to make some food. However, even though Jesus must have been extremely hungry, through Scripture He used self-control to resist the temptation [in order] to do what was right.
He is our example of self-control, and by the power of His Spirit inside of us, we can show self-control to resist temptation too!
If your child has the attention span to discuss all three of the ways Satan tries to tempt Jesus, then visit the Ministry-to-Children web site to read more.
Building with Blocks
This activity will help children understand the words found in Proverbs 25:28:
“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.”
(Both Ministry-to-Children and The Littles and Me have a version of this activity.)
Have your children build a little city out of houses and figures, and then construct a wall around it with blocks or LEGOs. Read Proverbs 25: 28 aloud to them, and explain that it is saying that when we don’t have self-control, we’re like a city whose walls are broken down and left open to attack.
To demonstrate this truth, give each child a rolled-up sock or soft ball, and invite them to “attack” the city by breaking through the walls. What happens to the city when its walls are broken down? It is left open to attack! An enemy can come by and damage the city even more, because it is unprotected.
The verse from Proverbs tells us that when we have no self-control, we are like this city with no walls: we have no protection against temptation. When we are tempted to do wrong, it will be hard for us to say “no” and to do the right thing instead.
By allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our lives, by calling on God through prayer and asking for His help in developing self-control, we can be in charge of our thoughts and our actions so that we can do the things that may not be easy, but that we know are the RIGHT things to do!
Some examples from the Ministry-to-Children web site include: showing kindness to someone who has just hurt your feelings, obeying your mom right away when she asks you to clean your room instead of arguing, or waiting patiently even when you want something really badly because you trust that something even better lies ahead (like the marshmallow experiment above).
STOP THINK & PRAY
We aren’t on our own in our efforts to show self-control. The Holy Spirit wants to help us make good choices and do the right thing. Remember when you are tempted, you can STOP, THINK, and PRAY for God to help you obey Him.
Here is how Ashley at The Littles and Me explains it: STOP what I'm doing.THINK about how my actions, thoughts, words will impact others. PRAY for help to obey God.
Jean, from In All Honesty, had her children create door hangers to remind themselves of these three steps. You can have your children use construction paper or card stock (heavy weight paper) to create a door hanger for themselves, too!
If you missed the earlier posts on fruit of the spirit, you can find them here: