SELF-CONTROL NOT FEAR

Bible Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-7

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear), but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control.” 2 Timothy 1:7 Amplified Bible

Have you experienced a sudden attack of fear and when you are starting to get it under control you ask yourself the question, “Where did that come from?” The Bible says that it is in the mind, and that the battleground of spiritual warfare is in our mind [2 Corinthians 10:3-5]. When we were born again our spirit was made alive to God and we received the mind of Christ. Paul states very clearly, “But we have the mind of Christ” [1 Corinthians 2:16].

One of Satan’s greatest weapons is fear. It is so powerful that God says “Do not be afraid,” “Fear not,” and similar words of exhortation over 350 times in His Word. Fear is so destructive. It is a fiery dart from Satan attacking our mind and causing us to believe a lie. Although we have a protection the helmet of salvation, we also have a choice to listen to the devil’s lies and believe them or to believe the truth of God’s word, and repel these vicious enemy attacks.

Love and a sound mind under the control of the Holy Spirit are powerful weapons against fear. The Greek word ‘sophronismos’ translated as a sound mind or self-control is found only in 2 Timothy 1:7. It is a word made from two Greek words, ‘sophron’ linked to ‘sozo’ meaning ‘to save’, and ‘phren’ meaning ‘mind’. This word literally describes a saved mind or sound mind. Not only is such a mind secure and sound, it is self-controlled and disciplined. Power, love and a sound mind are God’s antidote for fear! The Holy Spirit is within you giving you the ability not to panic, lose control and react in a way that is detrimental.

The Bible says that we are to draw near to God and to resist the devil. When we resist him in Jesus’ name the devil will flee from us [James 4:7-8a]. When fear attacks your mind speak out God’s word, “God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind.” God’s Word says, “He who is in you [the Holy Spirit] is greater than he [the world, the flesh and the devil] who is in the world” [1 John 4:4]. Each time that you overcome the enemy’s attack it will help you to win the next victory.

Questions:

How do you recognise an enemy attack on your mind? Having read the message today what will you do when that happens?

Why is it important to keep resisting the enemy every time that he attacks you?

If you have sinned by allowing the enemy to control you through fear, and have acted or spoken in a way that has not glorified God what should you do to get your heart right with God again?

SELF-CONTROL

Bible Reading: 2 Peter 1:5-11

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness… ” [2 Peter 1:5-6]

The Greek word translated as self control in Galatians 5:23 is ‘egkrateia’ and is found only four times in the New Testament [Galatians 5:23; Acts 24:25; and twice in 2 Peter 1:6]. The word comes ‘egkrates’ and means “mastering, controlling, curbing, restraining; controlling one’s self, temperate”. It is the spirit that has mastered its desires and its love of pleasure. The word “temperance” is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as “the control of your own behaviour”.

The same Greek word is used of the athlete’s discipline of his body – “And every man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” [1Corinthians 9:25]. I have been amazed at some of the discipline that I have heard in many athletes. They include watching what you eat, getting sufficient hours of sleep, and hours and hours of training. Paula Radcliffe, the woman’s marathon world record holder ran 130 to 140 miles per week, training on an eight-day cycle. That works out at approximately 17 miles each day or nearly three quarters of a marathon every day, and that is just to win, in Paul’s words, a “corruptible crown!”

William Barclay says of this Greek word, “Secular Greek uses it of the virtue of an Emperor who never lets his private interest influence the government of his people.  It is the virtue which makes a man so master of himself that he is fit to be the servant of others.” No one can be a great ruler of others until he has first mastered himself. As we yield to the Holy Spirit and let Him rule in our lives, He will give to us that self-mastery which will keep us alike from being swept away and from running away.

When we are under pressure, tired and having to deal with difficult situations it is to let our emotions take over and say or do things that we afterwards regret. Many years ago, I heard a wonderful testimony about Rosalind Goforth, a missionary to China. Her problem was anger, and she confessed this to the Lord. One day He set her free from this bondage. Her testimony was that she lost her temper because Jesus took it away!

Questions:

What is our part and what is the Holy Spirit’s part in the controlling of our behaviour?

What are the areas of self-control that you personally most struggle with? Will you now bring that to the Lord in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to help you in that area of your life?

What do you think is the important key to continually be filled with the Holy Spirit and growing in the fruit of the Spirit, and especially self-control?

GENTLENESS EQUALS TENDERHEARTEDNESS

Bible Reading: Psalm 95:1-11; Ezekiel 36:22-27

A gentle spirit leads to gentle actions and words. Some people might say that this is not their personality, and that they are not wired in that way, but one of the evidences of the Holy Spirit working in our lives is that He is changing us into the image of God who is gentle. Gentleness is related to tenderness.

We are warned in God’s Word not to harden our hearts. The writer of Hebrews quoting from Psalm 95:7-11 says plainly, “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” [Hebrews 3:7-8]. There is nothing worse than to have a heart that is hard towards God and men.

I recently met someone who had spent much of her life as a full-time Christian worker, and had recently married for the first time at the age of sixty-nine. She and her husband are living in a house owned by his daughter, who is a well-known Christian gospel singer. This daughter has taken a strong dislike to her step mother-in-law, and has told her that the day her father dies, she will evict his wife from the house. That is hardness of heart!

I know a man who faithfully sought to serve the Lord from his early years but has suffered much illness and today is bed bound. His wife, unable to cope with his illness that hindered her plans, divorced her husband and has recently become a minister in a well-known Christian denomination. That is hardness of heart! I understand this man’s heart when he is confused about how his former wife can conduct a marriage service and take a couple at their wedding service through their marriage vows.

It is impossible to have godly gentleness if your heart is hard! In Ezekiel we read, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” [Ezekiel 36:26]. Stone is hard and flesh is soft and tender! The soft heart is the work of the Holy Spirit. Writing to the Ephesians, Paul says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” [Ephesians 4:32].

One of the loveliest pictures of tender-heartedness in the Bible is in the story of Ruth. Ruth saw the loneliness and hurting heart of her mother-in-law Naomi. Both Naomi’s husband and her two sons had died. She had no one to care for her, and she was beyond the age when she could expect to remarry. Ruth had a tender-heart and chose to forsake her own ambitions and look after her mother-in-law [see Ruth chapter 1]. In making that decision she could never have realised how God would honour and bless her, and that she would become the grandmother of king David!

Questions:

Why do you think that people have hard hearts or harden their hearts?

What do you think is the relationship between coming through difficult trials and pain and tender-heartedness? One of the evidences of having a tender-heart is empathy. What is the difference between empathy and sympathy?

GENTLE WITH FELLOW CHRISTIANS

Bible Reading: Colossians 3:1-7

Meekness and tenderness are fabric of your make-up; this enables you to show compassion even in seemingly impossible situations, eagerly bearing with one another in an environment where love rules.” Ephesians 4:2 (The Mirror Bible)

Many years ago I heard this short but humorous verse:

   “To live above with saints we love,

   Oh, that will be glory;

   To live below with saints we know,

   Well, that’s another story!”

In Ephesians 4:2 Paul says that we should have an attitude of humility, gentleness and patience and forbearance towards our Christian brothers and sisters. But have you ever noticed how difficult it is to get on with some fellow-Christians? You expect better and instead are disappointed!

There are three kinds of people who are especially difficult and challenging. The first are those who disagree with us and aggressively try to make their point and prove us wrong. We have three possible responses. Firstly, let them frighten us… and then avoid the situation and run away. Secondly, become equally aggressive… let the adrenaline from our anger push us, or thirdly, keep our response under control with the fruit of gentleness. Remember that no one has to win or lose in a disagreement.

The second group of people are those who correct us. Paul had to correct churches but sought to do it with gentleness [1 Cor. 4:21 and 1 Thess. 2:7].

When corrected some people have a tendency to snap back, instead of being guided by gentleness – strength under control. Perhaps they have forgotten that whoever heeds correction is honoured and he who hates correction is stupid [Proverbs 13:18; 12:1]. I am so grateful for the patient and caring people who have taken the time to lovingly point out the blind spots in my life.

The third group of people are those who disappoint us and let us down. Paul, writing to the Galatians says, “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently” [Galatians 6:1]. God is merciful and gentle with us. He believes in us and when we fail he does not reject us. Just take a look at the remarkable way in which Jesus restored Peter [John 21:1-25].

Questions:

How do you handle the people who have hurt you and disappointed you?

Why is it important that we take criticism well and do no retaliate?

Are there any people you particularly struggle with and find it difficult to be gentle with in thought, word or deed? What are you going to do in order to change your attitude toward those people?

GENTLENESS TOWARDS SINNERS

Bible Reading: John 8:1-12

“And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” [2 Timothy 2:24-26]

There is nothing more powerful than seeing the gentleness of Jesus towards sinners. People respond to gentleness.

I recently met a lovely Muslim lady in a shop, just a few days after a vicious terrorist attack, which had caused quite a lot of antagonism and animosity towards Muslims. I spoke gently with her and apologised for the attitude of people who blamed all Muslims for this atrocity. Tears began to well up in her eyes, and she kept saying, “Thank you”, over and over again! Gentleness opens a person’s heart.

Jesus was always tender but firm with hurting people. Consider the amazing story of Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees and the woman caught in the act of adultery. He neither condoned the condemnation of her by the scribes and Pharisees, nor did He directly rebuke her because of her sin. She already knew that she was guilty and didn’t need anyone to tell her that! The only words that Jesus spoke to her were,  “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” and Jesus, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” Jesus was gentle, but not a soft touch. Whilst being tender with hurting people He was challenging and sometimes even scathing towards hypocrites. Jesus could have demonstrated incredible power but was approachable, kind, gentle and humble and the same qualities are the fruit of the Holy Spirit as we allow Him to have His rightful place in our lives.

We are to be approachable, kind, gentle and humble with people in just the same way that Jesus was. We should always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us the reason for our hope in Jesus, but this should also be with gentleness and respect [2:Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 3:15].

Questions:

Why do you think that gentleness is such a powerful quality in reaching lost sinners for Jesus?

Many pre-believers have an opinion, often borne out of a negative experience, that Christians are hard and judgmental towards sinners. What is the reason for this? How can we begin to change this wrong image?

Why did Jesus not condemn the scribes and Pharisees on this occasion, but with holy anger overturn the tables of the money changers [John 2:14-15] on another occasion?

DEFINING GENTLENESS

Bible Reading: Ephesians 4:1-5

In the New Testament, the word gentleness is translated from the Greek word ‘praüs’. The same Greek word is also translated as meek [Matthew 5:5] or humility [Titus 3:2]. Synonyms of gentle are humble, considerate, courteous and meek.

In secular Greek literature the word ‘praüs’ is used of tame animals, soothing medicine, a gentle breeze, and of those who were polite, treating others with dignity, courtesy and tact. It is a mild and caressing word.

Wayde Goodall says of gentleness, “Gentleness is not to be misunderstood as weakness or a lack of internal strength. In fact, it means quite the opposite: strength under control. People, who are mature in this quality pardon and forgive those who have injured them, know when to speak words of correction and when to remain quiet, and rule their own spirits. They understand the strength of being tender”.

Apart from Galatians 5:23, Paul uses the word gentle or gentleness several times in his epistles. He speaks about a spirit of gentleness [1 Cor. 4:21]. Paul pleads with the Corinthians by the meekness and gentleness of Christ [2 Cor. 10:1]. He says that we are to restore someone overtaken by sin in a spirit of gentleness [Galatians 6:1]. He says that we should show gentleness to one another [Ephesians 4:2] and that it is one of the qualities that Timothy should pursue as a pastor [1 Timothy 6:11]. Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand” [Philippians 4:5]. This last verse is beautifully translated in the Message Bible as, “Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them. Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. He could show up any minute!

It is clear from these verses that gentleness is vital if we are to enjoy good relationships with other people. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine an apostle, known as a “son of thunder”, later becoming the most gentle of men and being known as the apostle of love? The Holy Spirit had worked the fruit of gentleness in his life.

Questions:

As we have considered today the meaning of gentleness, would you say that this is a fruit that the Holy Spirit is growing in your life? How does this manifest itself in everyday relationships that you have?

Considering the meaning of the word gentleness, what would you say are the antonyms of this characteristic?

Why do you think it is that gentleness is not weakness but is a tremendous strength?

GOD IS GENTLE

Bible Reading: Psalm 18:1-50

There is something lovely about the very feel of the word “gentle”. In a national survey, women were asked what qualities they would most like in a husband and one of the more frequent answers was gentleness.

Some years ago, I was sitting on a London bus and there was a lady standing up. I stood up and offered her my seat. She got very agitated and angry and demanded, “Are you doing that because I am a woman?” I was actually shocked at my response, as I replied, “No, it is because I am a gentleman!”

God is gentle. In 2 Samuel 24:36 King David says of God, “Your gentleness has made me great.” This verse is repeated in Psalm 18:35. These two verses in a more modern translations use the words “stooped down” and “helped me” instead of gentleness. In the Message Bible Psalm 18:35 reads as, “You protect me with salvation-armour; you hold me up with a firm hand, caress me with your gentle ways”.

The church in Singapore, where I regularly ministered, were amazing in their love to me when I was going through difficult cancer treatment. They loved me, prayed for me, financially supported me and blessed me in so many ways. The senior pastor of the church said to me, “God is pampering you in this difficult time through His people”.

Listen to these beautiful words of Jesus from the Message Bible:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” [Matthew 11:28-30].

Don’t you see in these words the amazing gentleness of God? He is God and yet He stoops down and helps us in our need. In those difficult times He pampers and caresses us. If only we would learn to walk with Him we would discover that He will not lay anything on us that is heavy or ill fitting!

Questions:

Why do you think that this picture of a caressing and gentle God is so foreign to the thinking of most people?

What do you think David meant when he said that God’s gentleness had made him great?

“The Christian life is not one of being over active, driven and restless but enjoyment, walking with God and letting Him lead us.” What do you make of this statement? How does it apply to your life? What practical steps can you take to live the kind of life that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 28:28-30?

What do you think is the meaning of learning the “unforced rhythms of grace?

FAITHFULNESS & THE END TIMES

Bible Reading: Matthew 25:1-46

I want to begin this morning with two remarkable proverbs about faithfulness found in God’s Word. The first is, “Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find?” [Proverbs 20:6], and the second “A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished”.

[Proverbs 28:20]. Faithfulness ultimately is of more value than riches!

It is recorded in Matthew chapter 24 that the disciples of Jesus asked him about the signs of His second coming and the end of the age, and the remainder of that chapter is the record of Jesus’ answer. However, the next chapter in Matthew is not unrelated to the previous chapter, because Jesus then tells His disciples what their response should be to the signs of the end of the age, and it is summed up in one word – FAITHFULNESS!

Jesus said that we should be faithfully prepared for His coming [Matthew 25:1-13]. To illustrate this He told the parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins. All ten were waiting for the Bridegroom. The Bridegroom is a picture of Jesus. Sadly, only five had enough oil in their lamps and were still there waiting patiently for His coming. The five foolish virgins were unprepared and missed His coming.

Jesus said that we should be faithfully serving Him with the gifts that He has given us [Matthew 25:14-29]. To illustrate this He told the parable of the talents. Two of the men to whom He gave gifts developed them and made use of them, but one man buried his gift in the ground. When the Master returned he rewarded those who had used his gifts properly, but cast into outer darkness. The issue here is faithfulness. He said to the two men who had faithfully used the gifts he had given them, “Well done, good and faithful servant” [Matthew 25:21,23].

Jesus said that we should be faithfully caring for those who are poor and needy [Matthew 25:31-46]. Those who fed the hungry, gave a drink to the thirsty, gave hospitality to the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited those who were sick and in prison, were rewarded. But those who did not care about the poor and needy were sent away into everlasting punishment.

I cannot help but notice that faithfulness is active and not passive in these three stories – actively prepared, actively using our God-given gifts, and actively caring for others.

Questions:

No one knows exactly when Jesus is returning but if it was today would you be prepared and ready?

Are you faithfully using to the best of your ability the particular gifts and abilities that God has given to you?

Compare Matthew 25:31-46 with Isaiah 58:1-14. What are the special promises that God gives to those who care for and help others?

FAITHFULNESS

Bible Reading: Daniel 6:1-28

So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him” [Daniel 6:4]

You may have noticed that each aspect of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is a manifestation of God’s character in our lives. The reason for this is that the Holy Spirit is God and the more He works in our lives the more we will become godlike. We saw yesterday that God is faithful, meaning that He is totally reliable and dependable. Faithfulness as a fruit of the Holy Spirit means that we also become totally reliable and dependable.

The Greek word ‘pistis’ translated in all modern Bible translations as faithfulness is used commonly in secular Greek for trustworthiness. It is the characteristic of the man who is reliable, loyal and dependable. It hinges upon what we value as important combined with commitment.

Sadly, faithfulness has become an undervalued quality, and instead people are often more excited by ability, flashiness and cleverness. Recently, when speaking with someone about faithfulness they responded by telling me that it is boring! Some years ago, a woman came to me and asked me to give her a reference for a new post that she was applying for. She became very angry when I told her that I could not honestly give her a reference, my reason being that she had worked in six different jobs over a period of 21 years, and in each case had left with a six-figure pay-off. I could not question her ability but I had serious questions about her loyalty.

God places great value on faithfulness. Speaking of Moses, God said, “He is faithful in all my house” [Numbers 12:3; Hebrews 3:5]. About Abraham Nehemiah said, “You found his heart faithful to you” [Nehemiah 9:8]. David said, “The Lord preserves the faithful” [Psalm 31:23] and “The Lord will not forsake His faithful ones.” [Psalm 37:28].

On a visit to China in 1996, I met a very godly Chinese Church leader who had spent more than 31 years in prison or under house arrest. I asked him if he had a word for me, a man nearly 40 years his junior, and his response was the words of Jesus, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you a crown of life” [Revelation 2:10].

Unfaithfulness leading to irresponsibility is the child of self-centredness. The answer to this trend is God-centeredness, but that is not cheap because the cost is our lives being given over totally to Him and allowing the Holy Spirit to produce that fruit in us.

Questions:

Why do you think it is that God places such great importance on faithfulness?

In what way do you see Daniel’s faithfulness in our Bible Reading today?

How does faithfulness look in your personal life and daily living?

PROVING GOD’S FAITHFULNESS

 Bible Reading: Psalm 89:1-8

Today we will consider briefly three areas of our life where we can prove God’s faithfulness.

Firstly, God is faithful to forgive. “If we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” [1 John 1:9]. John’s letters are written to Christians who have been set free from a sinful nature but who are still are capable of doing sinful acts. The faithfulness of God means we can depend upon Him to forgive us at the moment we confess our sins. We don’t have to keep replaying the video of our failures!

Secondly, God is faithful to sanctify and keep us. Paul writes, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” [1 Thessalonians 5:23-24]. The faithful God promises to sanctify and preserve us.

Sanctification is God’s ongoing work in our lives to make us more conformed to the image of Jesus. God will never give up on us and will faithfully carry out His part in the building of our character. He promises to complete the work that He has begun [Philippians 1:6].

The refiner heats the furnace so that the dross may be removed from the silver or gold. It might be painful but it is necessary. The refiner knows when the work is done because he can see his face perfectly reflected as he looks at the refined metal. God is the refiner and His goal is to see a perfect image of His Son in us.

God is faithful in times of trial. Sometimes in life’s struggles everything becomes too much for us, and you may be tempted to wonder if God is really there at all. David experienced this and wrote, “You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore?” [Psalm 77:4]. But God is faithful! He promises that all our trials will be in proportion to our strength [1 Corinthians 10:13], and that He will never lay anything on us beyond our power to overcome. Even in times of trial He is there holding us, and inviting us to trust Him. Trust is so much easier when you can see, but so much more powerful when you cannot trace what God is doing. He is the dependable Rock that we can lean upon. David wrote, “When my spirit is overwhelmed within me, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I” [Psalm 61:2].

Questions:

Will you thank God today for His faithfulness [a] in forgiving you when you confess your sins [b] in working in your life to make you holy, and [c] for being with you and holding you firm in times of trial?

Why not write a prayer of thankfulness to God for His faithfulness to you and then use this prayer each day until thanking God for His faithfulness becomes a life-style?