Medmenham Village Service
James 3:1-12 – Self-Control
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Again, many thanks for John MacKenzie for throwing out the suggestion of self-control for this Sunday!
On the list of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5, which is the guiding verse for our services at this time, self-control is last. This is no accident or oversight. We might be tempted to think that because it is on the bottom of the list that it does not matter as much as the other. Surely it is more important to be kind or loving than self-controlled?! f you were here in June and heard Sue & Pete’s interview, the focus was on love and God’s love for us. Love keeps us afloat. This morning I want to suggest that self-control keeps us anchored.
Self-control is the constant balancing act of motivations and actions; it provides form and structure for us to operate in. Any person without self-control is either an accident looking for a place to happen or a slave in chains. We can go to the extremes and both are unhealthy for us.
A lack of self-control kills self respect, friendships, marriages, careers and relationships. Many of us will struggle with this for much of our lives. Self-control is not about living with guilt and misery or being so contained that we lose all pleasure in life; it is about living within healthy boundaries where we can live in freedom and without fear. It is being able to say ‘that is enough!’ and being comfortable in that decision.
Paul in his letters to the Corinthians puts it rather well as he wrote, ‘Everything is permissible for me – but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me – but I will not be mastered by anything.’
The key to self-control is the refusal to allow our enemies (the flesh, the world or Satan) to rule or hold us captive in any way. Self-control is as much about saying ‘yes’ and ‘not right now’ as it is about saying ‘no’. It is not always about ‘what’ but ‘how much’ and no ‘when’ but ‘why’. Self-control is ultimately an issue of mastery, of authority, and of boundaries.
Why do I need it!? There is a pithy little verse in Proverbs: like a city whose walls are broken down is a person who lacks self-control. Sounds like something from a fortune cookie! Broken walls let anything in! In ancient architecture a city was only as secure as the walls which surround it. The walls protected the people inside. In cities like Babylon, the walls gave the reputation that the cities were impenetrable.
Self-control is our wall of protection! It fortifies all that is within us; it secures our freedom to love, to experience joy, to know peace, to respond with patience, to have a kind disposition, to act out of goodness, to step out in faithfulness and to agree with gentleness. Self-control is the ability to make choices and decisions to remain within the boundaries.
James 3: James is writing his letter to followers of Jesus who had to leave Jerusalem after the resurrection of Jesus. They had been sent to spread the Good News of the Gospel. His letter is full of instructions on how they should operate and get on with people. James had learned a few things the hard way, he missed the message of Jesus while he was alive. Now James is urgently wanting his audience to get it and do it better than he did!
James has a unique insight into human behaviour; he knows the dangers and damage the tongue and the words that roll off it can do! If he was speaking to a modern audience, he might also include our thumbs and the send button! From the same mouth, or thumbs, come blessing and cursing.
James is pointing out our condition! Inconsistency and carelessness. This is where the need for self-control is most evident. We need boundaries and guidelines to help us live in peace and freedom with other people.
Think before you speak or text.
Think about what it is you really want to say and why.
Don’t speak in haste or anger.
Don’t criticise the crocodile before you cross the river.
Consider that you might actually be wrong!
I will finish with Ephesians 4:29 – Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
Self-control is about freedom for everyone; it is living in love and being anchored so that we can live fruitful lives. It is about living in freedom and confidence to say that is enough for me. Self-control means giving serious thought to how we use our words and thumbs for building up and not tearing down. However right we think we might be.