Galatians 5:22,23 The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…
Methadone, a long acting pain (opioid) medication, is sometimes used for addiction maintenance therapy. In this type of treatment for heroin addiction, the addict is prescribed this long acting pill, taken daily, in an attempt to curb the hunger for heroin. It is very much like a heroin pill. It is just not heroin.
Depending on the program, the addict may remain on the pill indefinitely (life-long) or may be prescribed gradually reducing doses, in an effort to wean off it. Whether or not the drug is successful at preventing one from using heroin, the addict is still very much addicted, just to a different drug. Methadone maintenance is an effort to manage a symptom of a disease, trading a greater problem for a lesser one, without ever addressing the actual disease.
I have been there. I may not have participated in methadone maintenance, but I am familiar with trying to manage the symptoms of my disease. In yesterday’s passage, Paul spoke of the defects (symptoms) of the flesh, including intoxication. In today’s passage, he spoke of self-control as a fruit (side effect) of the spirit. In my addiction, I saw my hunger for a high as my greatest problem and thus, self-control was my greatest need.
I begged for God to take away my hunger and to give me self-control. He did not. It took a disaster for me to understand why. Only after I got sober and began making a genuine, daily attempt to deny self and follow God, did I begin to understand. My hunger for drugs was but a symptom of the greater disease of self. Self-control was but a side effect of living the spirit life.
In seeking only relief from a symptom and in pursuing only a side effect, I was not addressing my disease and I was not seeking the cure. I wanted the benefits of abandoning me without doing the work of abandoning me. I wanted the fruit of the spirit life without growing the tree. As an addict, I just wanted the easy route.
Paul, in today’s passage described the effects of living the spirit life. When I pursue God, I grow the fruits of love, joy, peace and self-control. If I lack self-control then, the cure is to do whatever it takes to abandon self and follow God. In that process of growing God’s spirit life (the tree) in me, I will develop self-control (the fruit). I do not get the fruit without growing the tree.
In my addiction, I desired only the presence of the fruit and the absence of the defect. I was as the methadone addict, attempting to manage symptoms and side-effects. It was futility. As I was unwilling to abandon self (confess, go to treatment), I could not stop using. As I was unwilling to follow God, I could never develop self-control.
Only in the disaster of my consequences, did I finally see that I did not have to live enslaved to self. Though I will always feel the influence of my defects, I do not need to live addicted to them. If I am willing, I can daily, do what it takes to abandon self and follow Christ. In doing so, I daily treat the disease of me, embracing the cure of Christ.