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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Christian Self-Control (Matthew 23.25-26)

Sermon by:Robert Austell
July 29, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: Concerto in A Minor (Mvt. 3) (Walker Austell, piano) (Miller)
Song of Praise: "Prince of Peace" (Imboden/Rhoton)
Song of Praise: "The Stand" (refrain) (Houston)
The Word in Music: "Rooftops" (a capella choir) (Jesus Culture, arr. Youngblood)
Offering of Music: "The Stand" (refrain) (Houston)
Hymn of Sending: "Take My Life"

"Christian Self-Control: a fruit of the Spirit"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: Matthew 11:28-30

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today’s sermon will be short to make some room for the youth testimonies, but we are continuing our series on the fruits of the Spirit, those character traits developed by God's Spirit in all who believe, for the sake of making God known to the world.

Today we are looking at self-control and we turn again to the teaching of Jesus to better understand what is meant by this term.  We are returning to the “eight woes” we looked at two weeks ago… the “curses” or implications Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees and all who live outside God’s will.  I walked us through those eight messages then and won’t repeat them now, but we will focus today on the sixth curse, in which Jesus warns of cleaning up on the outside without facing our sin on the inside.

What is Self-Control? (v. 25)

You might wonder where I get self-control out of these two verses.  I get it from one of the two sins Jesus gives as examples of the internal sin that creates the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees.  Those two sins are “robbery” and “self-indulgence.”  It strikes me that the second one, self-indulgence, is the opposite of self-control.

One reason I think it is helpful to think about this fruit-in-reverse is that it can be hard to exert more self-control.  Often, it is something that we are blind to.  But, if we think about places and ways in which we indulge ourselves, it might be easier to see where we can cut back, show restraint, focus on others, and so on.  And that would be showing self-control!

It turns out, too, that the two sins Jesus names are related.  Robbery and self-indulgence: they are both selfish sins that seek to put our needs and wants above those of others.  In the case of self-indulgence, it is an over-focus on our own needs and wants.  In the case of robbery, we are actually taking something away from another person.  Those distinctions may also provide some insight into what self-control looks like.  It is a temporary or enduring denial of self; but more than that, it helps re-orient us away from self and towards others in a Great Commandment kind of way.  It is when we are not slaves to our needs and wants that we can really focus on the question of what it looks like to love God and love others.

So, if you look at the problem Jesus names in this verse, it starts with a pre-occupation with how others see me on the outside, wrapped around a pre-occupation with self on the inside.  Self-control turns all that inside out and looks towards God and others. 

Can I Grow in Self-Control? (v. 26)

In these verses, Jesus describes some of the practical steps we can take, with the Holy Spirit’s direction, to grow in self-control.  It’s there in verse 26: “first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish.”  In other words, repent and turn from the internal sins of self and the spiritual growth will follow in due course.  What is repentance?  It is simply acknowledgement of sin – in this case, “God, I’ve been really focused on myself”; and asking God for help – “Help me focus more on you and others.”  And God's promise is to forgive and clean us up from the inside out, like Jesus describes here.

Jesus adds the result of that kind of acknowledgement and repentance: “the outside…may become clean also.”  Rather than being spit-and-polished Sunday Christians, we will be the kind of loved and forgiven ones that are so much more authentic and real.

And by way of reminder, that is the work of the Holy Spirit through these fruits… that we may then bear witness to God to the world.  It’s not a “Hey, look at me!” kind of witness, but a more authentic demonstration of what God has done in my life.  That is both winsome and compelling.

In just a few moments we will pray the Prayer of Confession that we usually pray after the message.  If, like me, you need God to do this kind of interior work, I invite you to dig in extra hard as we pray those words together and then hear the assurance of God’s forgiveness.  Amen.

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