February 23, 2024

The Heavenly Music of Self-Control

Sinclair Ferguson
The Heavenly Music of Self-Control

The self-control produced by the Holy Spirit is not a strong-willed intimidation that leaves others feeling small. Today, Sinclair Ferguson portrays the attractive harmony of life that the fruit of the Spirit cultivates.


Well, today we’ve come to the end of these two weeks when we’ve been thinking together about the fruit of the Spirit, and I’m going to read Paul’s words for the last time: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22–23).

Fruits are all different, aren’t they? Not only so, but each piece of fruit has its own distinctive shape and size, and sometimes even taste. And whether you ever drink wine or not, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that wine experts can even tell you where the grapes have been growing that produce the wine and the very year of their production.

Sometimes I think the different fruit of the Spirit are just like that. Each one has its own special quality. You might even say each one leaves a kind of taste in your mouth when you meet someone who shows it. And sometimes you can almost tell what kind of church they’ve been in, or even whose ministry has influenced them. God produces far greater variety of fruit than fruit farmers, of course, and that’s such an encouraging thing to think about and even to look for in people.

The last variety of fruit is self-control. Now, we could get the wrong impression here. Self-control was a virtue that was admired by some of the philosophers and moralists of antiquity, especially those we know as Stoics. For them, the model person had self-control. It was a sign of real strength. But precisely for that reason, self-control can seem metallic. The self-controlled person can be the strong-willed person and may even be an intimidating kind of person, someone who somehow or another leaves you feeling small.

But think about this. It may seem a bold thing to say, but if that is true of someone in the church, it’s a sign they’re not really bearing all the fruit of the Spirit. Because while there are all kinds of fruit, as we’ve seen, at the end of the day, there’s really only one fruit of the Spirit, and it’s this: being more like the Lord Jesus.

The life of the Lord Jesus was one of perfect self-control, but what that means was that He possessed and expressed all these fruit of the Spirit fully and in perfect balance with each other. The result was that even though His presence made people conscious of their sin and need, Jesus never demeaned them. He didn’t repel the weak and the needy. No, there was something magnetically attractive about Him, not metallic. His self-control really meant that He was able to express all the fruit of the Spirit in a way that must have felt like listening to beautiful voices singing in harmony, weaving in and out of each other to enhance every single voice.

That’s how the fruit of the Spirit functions. When love, joy, and peace sing together, the harmony enhances the quality of each of their voices. And then we can triple that: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—three groups singing three-part harmony, uniting together to sing nine-part harmony, heavenly music. And that’s how self-control functions.

No wonder Paul adds on at the end of all he says here, perhaps unexpectedly, the comment, “Against such things there is no law.” Does that strike you as strange, a kind of loose end hanging out here inexplicably? But remember what his letter to the Galatians is actually all about. It’s all about a misuse of the law. And what he’s saying here so wonderfully is this: that the Spirit of God works within the believer to produce a conformity to God’s law that God’s law itself could never reproduce.

What he’s saying here is exactly the same as what he says in Romans 8:3–4: But what the law couldn’t do because it was weak through our sinful flesh, God has done Himself, sending His own Son in the likeness of the flesh of sin and for sin, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

Only the Spirit of the Lord Jesus can make us like Jesus and produce in us the fruit of the Spirit. And when He does that, our lives become like trees that are bearing fruit and blossoming wonderfully.