Word of the Week
February 18, 2023
Egkrateia: Who’s in Control Here?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control . . . .
I was online with the computer tech, connecting my laptop to a new phone system, using my mouse to manipulate the cursor. Suddenly, it started moving around by itself, clicking on things and rearranging the screen in ways I didn’t expect. Somebody else was in control! (It’s OK – I gave him permission.)
This was a reminder that we encounter many situations where we are not in control, even when we try. I have discovered that you can guide a horse along a path, but it’s hard to keep it from halting to munch a bite of grass.
Some of us have discovered that it’s just as hard to keep going past a plate of cookies! Something in you instinctively slows down long enough to reach for one.
Self-control is a big issue for us all, so it is no surprise to find that it rounds out the list of character qualities described as the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5.
We can gain valuable insights by taking a closer look at the Greek word used for self-control in this passage.
The actual Greek term is egkrateia (pronounced en-KRAH-tey-ah). It only appears in 3 places, but we can add three more references by including the matching verb and adjective.
Even secular Greeks recognized the importance of self-control. The philosopher Aristotle explained that a person with egkrateia has strong desires but is able to say no to them. The Stoics valued the ability to be moderate, avoiding excess in sensual desires or the enjoyment of food and drink.
Self-control in athletics. Athletes in training for the Olympic or Corinthian games provided an obvious example of self-control. The apostle Paul declared, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25). A runner or wrestler in training would resist the urge to postpone practice for an extra hour in bed. He would pass up the extra jug of wine or the chance to gorge on feasts every night.
Similarly, Paul said “No” to anything that would hinder his ministry, avoiding even legitimate pleasures if they damaged the people he served.
Self-control in marriage. Sexual urges demand self-control. When Paul was advising the Corinthians church about marriage, he suggested that there were advantages to staying single. He recognized, however, that sexual drives are very strong, and it would take a great deal of self-control to remain unmarried and holy. His verdict: “If they do not have self-control, let them marry” (1 Corinthians 7:9).
Self-control in secular leaders. The apostle Paul was in custody, accused of serious crimes by the Jewish leaders and now he had a private audience with the Roman governor Felix. Instead of pleading his case, Paul proclaimed the gospel. He talked about faith in Jesus. His presentation focused on three topics that greatly disturbed this high official: righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come (Acts 24:25). Egkrateia was evidently a touchy issue for Felix. As an elite Roman, he had the freedom to indulge his desires with little accountability. Who would tell the governor, “You can’t do that!” Paul reminded him that there is a God whose judgment applied even to Roman elite. The thought shook Felix deeply – but not enough to bring him to repentance.
Self-control and Christian leaders. What does it take to be a leader in the church? Paul provided a checklist of the necessary qualities for his protégé Titus, and self-control holds a prominent place in that list (Titus 1:8). But egkrateia is not just for leaders!
Self-control and maturity. Peter opened his second epistle with the grand promise that God has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness – everything we need for life! We have a part to play, however. He goes on to say that we need to be diligent in moving forward in becoming all that God wants us to be. He starts with faith and says, “Add moral excellence.” But don’t stop there, go on to add knowledge. But even knowledge is not the ultimate goal. The next step on the ladder of virtues is self-control (2 Peter 1:6). It’s not enough simply to know what is right; it takes self-control to choose to DO what is right, refusing to give in to the impulses that pull us off the path.
So what does egkrateia mean when we see it in the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:23?
First, it is the opposite of the nasty traits designated “works of the flesh” in the previous verses: immorality, impurity, strife, outbursts of anger, drunkenness, carousing and the like. All of these are the results when our lives are driven by our natural impulses. Just think of the damage that a two-year-old could do if he had an adult body to act out his tantrums! Self-control refuses to let our desires control us.
Second and most important, it is more than just control by my self; it is control by the Holy Spirit. I can only get so far by making New Year’s resolutions and imposing restrictions on myself. The fruit of the Spirit is a description of the character qualities that God Himself builds into our lives as we walk with Him. The process starts when we place our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, and it continues as a slow growth in maturity. Finally, God will complete the process when we see Him.
Egkrateia is built on the word kratos, which is one of the Greek words for power or authority. In Greek, dunamis is the word for ability, the potential to accomplish a task. Exousia is the word for authority, the legal right to do something. Kratos is power exercised to exert control over something, authority in action. It has come down to us in English is words like “democratic” (control by the demos or people). It gives us a hint that the word for “self-control” focuses on the issue of who calls the shots in a situation. When your instincts say, “Blow up in anger!” what controls the events of the next few seconds: your urge or your choice?
Q: A writer was making the point that Jesus was deeply emotionally affected by sin and suffering. He cited the healing of a deaf person in Mark 7:34, where it says, “Jesus sighed.” He said that the Greek word for “sigh” is anastenazo, also used for His reaction to the unbelief of the Pharisees in Mark 8:12, as well as the groaning of creation under the curse in Romans 8:22. I tried to look up these passages and couldn’t find any listing of anastenazo. What am I missing?
A: The problem is that the writer was imprecise in his description of the Greek here. There is such a word as anastenazo, but it doesn’t appear in any of these passages. Instead, you’ll find words built off the same base: stenazo or sustenazo. His basic point is valid, but he should have said, “The Greek word for ‘sigh’ here is stenazo and you can get a clearer picture of its meaning by looking at these other passages where members of the same word group are used.”
What can be more important than the word of God? We only learn about Him when we look at His words. Did you know that there are two Greek words for “word”? Next week, we will look at the less familiar of the two.
©Ezra Project 2023
This is my first experience of the weekly Greek word. I studied Greek in seminary and have kept it up all these 52 years. I am not fluent in reading it, but I know enough to use it in my Bible study, and I have read through the NT in Greek several times, with the help of dictionaries and grammars. I enjoy writing Bible studies and such and often refer to the light Greek throws on an English translation. On of my writings is Light from the Greek New Testament in which I explain helpful info about the Greek words. It is about 15 pages. If you would like to read it I will be pleased to send it to you by email. I would also be glad for you to critique my understanding of the words. I am not an expert, but I have always enjoyed studying and using Greek.
I enjoyed today’s word and look forward to more. This is a real treat for me. Thank you!
Go ahead and send your article! I’ll be glad to see what you have discovered, and I’ll be glad to provide feedback. I’m always happy to start a friendship with someone else who appreciates the Greek New Testament.