“Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things; he who purses his lips brings evil to pass.”
“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.”
“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”
Emotion is a servant that seeks to be a master. Therefore, you must manage your emotions, or your emotions will manage you.
This verse is about self-control, which is what is meant by “he who rules his spirit.” The importance of self-control cannot be overstated. It is the final fruit of the Spirit that the apostle Paul gives in the book of Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5.22-23)
Self-control is the critical factor in this list of characteristics. It is the virtue that determines how effectively we build all other virtues into our life. Without self-control (or self-discipline), we will not operate with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness.
Self-control in Galatians 5 is the Greek word egkrateia. It comes from the root krat, which denotes power or lordship. Self-control means exercise powering over yourself. It is keeping yourself under control. It is self-mastery over your inner desires, thoughts, actions, and words. In the language of Proverbs 16.32, it is “he who rules his spirit.”
Egkrateia is the control you must exercise over your life, and it is the cornerstone spiritual virtue in your battle against the old nature.
I believe this is one of the great spiritual issues of our generation. It is possibly the issue of our time. Proverbs 25.28 states it this way: “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Without self-discipline we are left wide open to the attacks of the enemy and the impulses of our sin nature. Without self-discipline we are vulnerable and at great risk of defeat. Without self-discipline we are easily “broken into.”
Every Christian has discovered the painful reality that the works of the flesh — the impulses of the old nature — come to us easily and relentlessly. It you fail to “rule your spirit” and you let your guard down just a bit, the impulses of the old nature will take over. It is for this very reason that self-discipline is the final fruit of the Spirit in Paul’s list in Galatians 5.
Walking in the Spirit and bearing the fruit of the Spirit requires trusting God, and it also requires discipline. It requires faith and effort. Obviously, there is self-discipline that is disconnected from the Spirit, which we could call “self-driven self-discipline.” That is not what Paul is talking about here. Paul is calling us to Spirit-empowered self-discipline, which is what happens when a Christian trusts God, seeks to obey scripture, asks for the Spirit’s power, recognizes and rejects the impulses of the sin nature, and exercises the spiritual virtue of self-control.
The fruit of the Spirit is produced when we respond to God working in our lives. It is a choice — a decision — that we must repeatedly make. This is the message of Galatians 5. Remember how the passage began: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Galatians 5:16-17)
Here is what the scripture is saying: Recognize the impulses of the old nature and reject them. Recognize the fruit of the Spirit and walk in them. Make the choice!
Spiritual growth is largely determined by our commitment to self-discipline. Without this foundational virtue, there can be no sustainable growth in grace. Before other disciplines can be applied, whether in the home, business, community, or church, there first must be Spirit-empowered self-discipline.
Again, in the words of Solomon, ““Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”