Medmenham Village Service: Self-Control

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.

Trinity 6: Sower, Seed and Soil


Isaiah 55:10-13
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23

We have some extraordinarily rich readings this morning! The images provoked are beautiful, full of joy and yet have a shadow in them. A warning for us. The easier option would be to ignore the shadow warning and carry on with joy. Really who could not use a little more joy at this time? The fabulous images of growth and freedom, the work of rain and snow, the earth being watered, joy, peace, the mountains, and hills singing, fields clapping their hands. Lovely!

Paul starts probably the most difficult chapter in his letter to the Romans with the bold and joyful declaration that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. It is in the Spirit where true life and peace are found! Jesus told the vast crowd before him about the sower who flung seeds all over the place with joyful abandon. There is not much we do these days with reckless abandon.

Everything we do seems to require advanced planning and preparation. Risk assessments, I am sure we can remember the days of taking along gloves, masks, and hand gel. We had to be vigilant of everything we touch and who is around us. The freedom of the sower to go wherever they like is shocking! His freedom makes me envious of the freedoms that we had, that seem a distant memory. I need the boost of joy that the sower gives!

There is also something about the extravagance of God shown in Isaiah and Matthew. Again, we are not living in extravagant times. Many are in financial hardship if not ruin, people will be losing jobs and then living with the consequences that follow. Prices are rising as incomes fall ; hardly a time to be thinking of extravagant or wasteful spending.

In Isaiah, God is generous with the rain (maybe a bit too much this week) and the snow to water the earth, bring forth the sprouts to give seed to the sower and bread to the eater. God has an endless supply of these things and he is generous with them! I think sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that God is somehow stingy or a minimalist.

We can trust God is good, he is the sower. The seed is also good. It represents the word of God. The good sower is scattering good seed and it is not growing. Why not? The seed has the conditions that it needs – there is water, there is a purpose for the seed. All the seed has to do is grow but its growth depends on the conditions around it.

The soil needs to be considered. In this parable, Jesus was referring to the crowd and us as the soil. We, our hearts and minds, are the soil in which the seed falls on. I would also suggest that we can carry many types of soil within us. Sometimes we can be rocky on some things and thorny on others. Sometimes we are just hard. I also strongly believe that we all have good soil within us too.

We all need time to consider the condition of our hearts and what is growing in them. Of course we do. There is nothing wrong with some honest and humble self-assessment. There are also times when we need to consider the love and lavishness of the sower who we often overlook in the quest to be better, less rocky, or thorny or hard. We tend to forget there is good soil too! This is a place that hears and understands the Word and ultimately bears fruit. We all have places in our hearts that bear good fruit. And we can overlook these parts as we get overly wrapped up in where we need improvement.

American essayist Debie Thomas writes: ‘…maybe like me — you’ve read this parable and walked away, feeling bad about your own faith life. Feeling judged. Feeling inadequate. Feeling anxious. You’ve wondered how to make your spiritual soil less hard, less rocky, less thorny. You’ve designed all sorts of self-improvement projects to fix what’s “wrong” with you. More prayer. Less Twitter. More Bible study. Less cynicism. More church. Less television. You’ve read the parable as an indictment of your relationship with a Sower who just can’t seem to find an appropriately hospitable environment in your messed-up heart.’

Consider again the sower as they sow the seed everywhere. Everywhere. In all types of places and circumstances – hospitals, prisons, grocery stores, schools, flat blocks, fields, meadows, car parks and playgrounds. They do so with an open hand and endless supply of seed. There is no way to sort it or save it, it will scatter everywhere. And you know what?

The sower does not seem to mind in the least! The sower in Jesus’ parable is wholly unconcerned about where the seed falls or lands or settles — all he chooses to do is keep sowing. Keep flinging. Keep opening his hands. Why? Because there’s enough seed to go around. There’s enough seed to accomplish the sower’s purposes. There’s enough seed to “waste”.

I think that as Christians and as a Church we need to reflect on our view of God as the sower in these times. How do we view God in the wake of Covid, the financial crisis and all the other issues at the moment?

God has not changed; he is still in charge of the storehouses of snow and hail. He is still watering the earth. True life and peace are found when we set our minds on the Spirit. There is still no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He is still the most generous and lavish sower and giver we can ever imagine. Our hearts, our mental health, our sense of security, our finances may have taken a pummelling in these last few years, but God is still good.

The sower, I hope, reminds me and us that despite our own stinginess of Spirit or belief, God is still generous. I hope, that despite a lack of confidence that is His word will go out and achieve his purposes, no matter where it lands – that it really will. I hope that God’s ability to clear or soften whatever ground there is of rocks and thorns – outstrips the doubt I have (Debie Thomas).

I will finish with Isaiah: ‘As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving the seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’

God’s word will not return empty to him and shall accomplish its purpose and it will succeed. Let us receive the seed that He is sowing, the lavish gifts of love, joy, peace, grace. God is at work in the world, through Jesus and through us and this work continues. Sometimes it takes some time and thought to work out what exactly this means for each one of us. Trust the sower and his seed!

We have been freed from sin and death to live in the Spirit – to have life and peace. To have hearts that are soft and not hard, hearts that are free from rocks and thorns – but full of good soil with seed to share.