10 ways to know you rule your own spirit

“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32).  And on the other hand, “Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). 

Self-control is a mighty good thing to have.  And as rare as Spanish doubloons in the Sunday offering plate.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).  So, the much-desired quality of self-control is found among the nine traits making up the “fruit of the Spirit,” which is also a pretty solid description of Christlikeness.

The ability to master one’s own spirit is not as recognizable as its opposite, the failure or inability to control one’s inner self.  That trait–a spirit out of control–is quickly on full display whenever its owner is offended, attacked, questioned, called to account for something he/she has done, or otherwise challenged. The uncontrolled spirit has no defenses against temptation, no muscles for hard tasks, and no patience with difficult people.  “Love one’s enemies”? (Luke 6:27) The uncontrolled spirit has difficulty loving its own friends and thus nothing in reserve for its opponents.

The angry motorist determined to set another driver straight cannot control his own spirit.  The disgruntled employee who returns with a gun to settle accounts cannot control his own spirit.  The gossip who simply cannot resist the urge to pass along the juicy morsel about someone cannot control their spirit.

The list is endless.  And so depressing.

So, let’s take the positive approach! Here, straight out of the wonderful book of Proverbs, are ten traits of the person in control of his/her own spirit.

One.  You can take chastening from the Lord and appreciate discipline when you have it coming.

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What those in the flesh resent

“For the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not subject itself to the things of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Romans 8:7).

It’s not just that believers and unbelievers think in different ways.  Rather, it’s that spiritually-minded Christians and carnally-minded church members (let’s assume they are believers, but it’s hard to know) also act and value in opposite ways.

Let the church take notice.

In an article on sacrificial giving, I made a statement that attracted drew a lot of attention: Those who are in the flesh resent being told they are in the flesh.

More than one reader reacted to that in anger.  (Thus proving the point, some might conclude.)

God’s shepherds (i.e., pastors of all varieties) can appreciate the strong division Scripture makes between being spiritually minded and carnally minded.  The Lord’s Word does not allow a blurring of that line, but draws a stark contrast between the two.  “The mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6).

The reality of the dichotomy, the reasons for it, and the results that follow are vastly different. (No, that is not a sermon outline, although it might work. One hopes, however, that every preacher knows “alliteration doth not a sermon make.”)

Two passages of Scripture deal with this division, the opposing operations of “the mind set on the spirit” and “the mind set on the flesh.”  Romans 8 (here) and also First Corinthians chapters 2 and 3.

Now, we know the spiritually-minded are redeemed Christ-followers. They are saved. But are the carnally-minded saved?  Answer: They may be either. Unsaved people are, of course, “in the flesh” since they have not been “born of the Spirit.”  However, immature believers may look and act, walk and think, “in the flesh” also, thus confusing the issue.  This is one reason we preachers must be careful in assuming everyone who does not act like Christ is lost and needs to “get saved.” They could simply be immature, untaught, and in need of a friend in Christ.

Our primary concern here is with church members who are carnal.  They may look just like lost people, but based on First Corinthians 3:1-4, we conclude they are immature believers who are not walking or thinking “in the Spirit.”

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Don’t give us your testimony; show us Jesus.

“For this purpose I wrote to you, that I might know the proof of you, whether you be obedient in all things” (2 Corinthians 2:9).

“I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).

On this website, I chronicled the doings of a few church members who were angry over nothing, raging all the time, finding fault where none existed, then pinning blame when confronted.  I suggested the primary reason for this behavior: They are lost.  Unsaved.  “The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God,” says I Corinthians 2:14, “for they are foolishness to him. Neither can he understand them for they are spiritually discerned.”

That says it as well as anything.

Then, a few days after posting that, the Lord explained something to me.

He called to my mind His statement in John 15:21. These things they will do because they do not know the One who sent Me.  The persecutions of the faithful– all “without cause,” He emphasizes–have a solid reason.  These people do not know God.  They are lost, unsaved, unredeemed, unforgiven.

That explained it to the satisfaction of our Lord.

And I thought of something.

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Joe’s interview about spiritual maturity

Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall. (I Corinthians 10:12)

When a friend texted to ask if he could interview me for some seminary assignment, I agreed. I laughed when he said the subject was spiritual maturity.

I said, “That is a lot like humility.  About the time you think you’ve achieved it, it’s a dead giveaway that you haven’t.”

Nevertheless, I agreed.  We met online yesterday for 45 minutes.  And this morning, for reasons that elude me, I decided to post a reasonable recap of the interview.

QUESTION:  ARE THERE UNIQUE CHALLENGES IN A MINISTER’S SPIRITUAL LIFE? 

How about that we speak for God?  Is that an assignment or what?  (See I Thessalonians 2:13.) The minister rises to speak and all eyes are on him.  For some, it’s a heady experience.  The expectations are enormous.  Some of which are self-imposed.

This “speaking for God” can be abused by the unscrupulous.  And it has been, unfortunately.

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Half right, totally wrong: Shallow things religious people believe

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine.  –Titus 2:1 

We hear them all the time.  Something about these oft-repeated claims just does not seem right, we think.  Here are a few that have occurred to me. You’ll know others….

One. “Christianity is not a religion;  it’s a relationship.”

Sounds right, but it’s wrong.  Ask yourself one question:  As a follower of Jesus–by which I mean in a relationship with Him–would it be all right if I joined a religion and became a Buddhist or Taoist or a Jew or a Muslim? After all, as a Christian I’m not in a religion as such (according to this thinking) and there would be no reason not to.   Of course, those religions are incompatible with the way of Jesus Christ and that’s why we counsel believers to avoid them.

“The way of Jesus Christ”?  We call that The Christian Religion.

Friend, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, well….

A religion may be defined as a systemized practice of worship involving a God, a place or places of worship, a system of beliefs, and in most cases exclusivity (that is, it claims to hold The Truth).

Sure sounds like the Christian faith to me.

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No place for sarcasm in the Lord’s work

“Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).

Mary Todd Lincoln was gifted in the dark art of sarcasm. Her sister Elizabeth said of her, “She was also impulsive and made no attempt to conceal her feelings; indeed, it would have been an impossibility had she desired to do so, for her face was an index to every passing emotion.  Without desiring to wound, she occasionally indulged in sarcastic, witty remarks, that cut like a Damascus blade, but there was no malice behind them.”  Lincoln’s biographer notes, “A young woman who could wound by words without intending to was presumably even more dangerous when angry or aroused.”  (Honor’s Voice: The Transformation of Abraham Lincoln by Douglas L. Wilson).

Woe to the person bound in marriage to one gifted in sarcasm.  Lincoln bore many a scar from the blade his wife wielded.

Pity the church member sitting under the teachings of a sarcastic pastor week after week.  Such ministry will bear bitter fruit.

These days, Christian leaders are finding themselves apologizing for public pronouncements–in the media, on cyberspace, in print, on radio or TV–in which they were sarcastic toward someone who criticized them or opposed them or questioned them.

We even have websites given to satire and sarcasm. And some claim to be Christian.

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Sixteen lies Satan feeds us about worship

“God is Spirit. And they who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

“Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; tremble before Him all the earth” (Psalm 96:9).

If worship is powerful–that is, if kneeling before Almighty God in humility and rising to praise Him in gratitude and going forth to obey Him in faithfulness has power in the world to change lives and redirect society–then the enemy will be working to put a stop to it.

Count on that.

If God uses our worship to transform sinners, starting with us, then the enemy will do all in his power to neutralize it.

So–how is your worship these days?

Are you working at worship, at learning to humble yourself and praise Him more effectively?  Are you giving yourself anew to the Savior throughout the day, every day?

Notice the one question we did not ask: Are you getting anything out of your worship? Scripture does not allow us to ask that.  We are promised nothing from worship.  In worship, we do the giving. We give Him praise and prayers, offerings and love, our time and our attention, and ultimately ourselves.

Warren Wiersbe used to say, “Worship pays. But if you worship for the pay, it won’t pay.”

What has the evil advisor told you in the secret recesses of your mind and heart to dissuade you from worship?

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Learning to receive graciously

Freely you have received; freely give. (Matthew 10:8)

Is there a Scripture telling us to “freely receive”? I can’t think of one.

The giver is in the power position.  While it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), many of God’s children have also found it easier to do so.

A friend suggested an article on “how to receive graciously.”  So, when someone suggests an article, I asked for their back story.  (There is always a reason behind these requests.)  Thank you, Pastor Doug Warren of Brandon, Mississippi.

In 1969 while a student at Mississippi College, I served a church as associate pastor/music. One day the pastor and I were calling on seniors in their homes.  Mr. and Mrs. Thom were an elderly couple, she was an invalid, and they were poor.  As this was the Christmas season when our churches promote the “Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions,” at one point Mrs. Thom asked her husband to “get my purse.”

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What “be strong in the Lord” really means

“Now consider how great this man was…. Now, beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better.”(Hebrews 7:4,7)

I’m going to make a series of statements here about “who is greater” or stronger or whatever.  The subject is still a work in progress in my mind, but I hope to get it started in yours.

First:  The one who blesses is greater than the one blessed.

According to the anonymous writer of Hebrews, Melchizedek was greater than Abraham since it was he who blessed the patriarch and not vice versa.  The blessor is greater than the blessee, to paraphrase 7:7.

Thomas Beckett was the archbishop of Canterbury martyred in the 12th century. One issue that kept resurfacing in those days was whether the king of a country had the right to “invest” the new archbishop with the symbols of his position, implying that the king himself was granting powers to the spiritual leader.  The symbolism meant a great deal. The pope, to no one’s surprise, wanted to end this practice, insisting that the church is autonomous and beholden to no earthly power. Kings fought to keep all evidence in place that the church existed under their authority and its leaders should obey them above the pope.

The dispute illustrates Hebrews 7:7 perfectly. If the one giving the blessing is greater than the one receiving it, he is then the top dog. Such symbolism meant everything in medieval times.

Scripture informs us of numerous other such truisms worth our consideration. Let’s try these on for size.

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Moderately important Christianity

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.  –C. S. Lewis

How important is the Christian faith? Listen to the Lord Jesus in just two of hundreds of similar statements from Him:

–“I tell you, no. But unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5)

–“Unless you believe that I am, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

The faith of the Lord Jesus Christ is a life or death proposition.

Of the 100,000 excellent things C. S. Lewis said in his writings, and of the hundreds of memorable quotations we pass along from this brilliant British brother, perhaps nothing is of more lasting significance or greater benefit than the way he sharpened the line between faith and unbelief, between weak allegiance to Jesus and the real thing.

“(People say) ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Mr. Lewis would be amazed and more than a little disgusted by the lukewarmness of modern Christianity.

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