Ministering to Addicts

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Does the Bible say anything about addictions? Does it offer any hope to those within its enslaving grasp?

Introduction. You may be thinking I have never seen the word “addiction” in the Bible. The word addiction is not but the Bible deals with drunkenness and various forms of idolatry and other sins that apply to our topic.

How to Help. So how do we help or can we? There are many ways to help. However, this paper can only cover a fraction of what is needed. Therefore, I seek to explore what I see as most important, reorienting worship. However, I do not presume that this is a simplistic process; it is not. It is dynamic; the necessary counsel is always in need of nuancing, yet the underlying problem is always consistent, yea with different expression.

Compassionate Hearts. As we seek to help those with addiction problems, we must not forget the important qualification of compassion. Without compassion what otherwise would have been helpful will be self-righteous.

We know from the Gospels that Jesus had compassion on people. He was even criticized by the religious leaders of the day because of the type of people that He reached out to and helped (cf. Matt. 9:9-13; 11:19; 21:31-32; Mk. 2:15-17; Lk. 3:12-14; 5:29-32; 7:36-50; 15; 19:1-10 for example). He ate with tax collectors even though they would cheat and steal from people (Matthew, the Matthew who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, was previously a tax collector [Matt. 9:9-13]!). He talked to Gentiles who were basically unacceptable foreigners to many people. He reached out and literally touched lepers (Lk. 8:1-3). Lepers were people with a skin disease. They would call out “unclean, unclean” when they walked by people (cf. Lev. 13:45-46), and Jesus touched them! Jesus ministered to prostitutes and the friends that were closest to Him were not the religious elite but humble smelly fishermen. If we are to minister compassionately, we must imitate Jesus.

As we seek to minister compassionately, we must remember the gospel. We must understand that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10 and see following), and this includes you, me, and the addict. All have sinned and are declared righteous by God’s grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:23). In fact, the Bible says we were all once vile sinners, a.k.a. addicts, but we have been washed, made holy, and declared righteous in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

It is a Heart Problem. This “approach” is essential because it gets to the root of the problem, the heart. Jesus alone “satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things” (Ps. 107:9 cf. Ps. 42:1-2). Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn. 14:6 cf. 1 Tim. 2:5). He alone gives people new birth (Jn. 3; Eph. 2:1-6), new identities (Rom. 6:20-22; Eph. 2:1-10; Col. 2:13; 3:7-17), and a completely new heart that is empowered to do His will (Jer. 24:7; Ezek. 36:26-27), free from the enslaving sin of addiction (Rom. 6:20-22; 7:15-25).

We can deal with externals all day but we really need to get to the issue from which they flow. We can smash bees all day, and we do at my house, but what we really need to do is destroy the nest from which they all come (see Ps. 36:1; Matt. 12:35; 15:18-20; Lk. 6:45; Prov. 4:23). We do not just want behavioral modification, that is too shallow. Our aim is not mere modification but transformation, and this truly comes from the inside out.

We need to get to the root of the problem. Think of it this way, if a toilet is clogged and continually spewing forth all sorts of filth what is the immediate thing to do? Should we automatically grab a mop and try to keep up cleaning the floor as the toilet continues to overflow? Or should we take a different approach to the situation, should we get down to the heart of the problem and kill the source of the mess?

We should not take a mop to the problems of society. We must seek to change the heart of the problem, sinful hearts, by the gospel of Christ. The gospel alone is the power to salvation, sanctification, and thus societal change; even the changing of substance abusers.

What needs to happen is the “addict” needs to stop trusting and worshiping the pleasure, comfort, coping ability, and all the other supposed benefits of the drug and turn to the LORD God. That is the problem. But how is it addressed? If the person is a Christian is the problem automatically fixed? Or if they start having a really good time at Sunday morning worship will their temptation to say for instance, heroin, leave altogether? Not likely. We need to have a holistic approach to help the person struggling with the enslaving sin. Obviously, the main problem is the main problem, and that must be dealt with, and that is the heart problem. However, to truly help, and to help as Jesus did, is to minster to the whole person, this may involve social issues, physical issues, financial issues, and the like.

The Problem is not Simplistic. Though “addiction,” heroin, alcohol, or otherwise, at its root is a heart problem, there is still other components to consider. What I am saying is we should not have a simplistic approach to these problems and we also should not have the mentality that one size fits all. We cannot expect to say the same couple of verses to each addict and tell them to repent and go on our way and think we are done with helping them. That would not be helpful, or biblical. The person could have a dependence that is the result of chronic pain. This also must be addressed with biblical wisdom and love as well.

We need to address the heart because what enters our hearts will eventually flow out of our hearts but where is the heart situated? It is vitally connected to the body. We are psychosomatic unities—body and heart/soul. So, as we address the heart/soul we must not forget the physical component. We must also not forget the cognitive, emotive, and volition side of our souls. Our approach should always be biblical but to be biblical is always to be nuanced and sensitive to the particular circumstance that we are addressing (1 Thess. 5:14).

Practical Steps. As we saw, the main thing that has to be dealt with is the worship disorder, the idolatry. The heart problem must be addressed. However, as we said, we are body and soul so there are other things to consider. What are some practical things to do to help those with addictions?

All problems are related. Problems are holistic. If someone has an addition to drugs, it will not only affect their health it will affect their family, their career, in short, every area of their life and vice versa. It could also be the case that part of why they are running to drugs is because they cannot (or think they cannot) deal with all the issues in their life so they try to escape. As the Drug Abuse Sourcebook says, “Stressful events may influence profoundly the use of alcohol or other drugs. Stress is a major contributor to the initiation and continuation of addiction to alcohol or other drugs, as well as to relapse or a return to drug use after periods of abstinence”

So what is the biblical response? We should help them avoid the stresses that they can avoid and work with them by the grace of God to deal with the stress in their life. If there is marital strife leading the counselee to desire to escape to their substance (or whatever their addiction of choice is), then marriage counseling is in order. If there are bad memories from past abuse that the counselee is trying to forget or not deal with by running to drugs or alcohol then those things must be dealt with. It must be remembered that addiction is a fruit that sprouts from the heart.

If we are going to take practical steps to help someone with an addiction we must understand or seek to understand where the problem originated. Did the problem start as a teenager with parties on the weekend? Did it start because of memories of rape? Whatever the exterior issues it flows from an interior issue. We should come to the person compassionately, realizing they have a past that accounts for their current situation. Though, that is not to say they are not responsible for their actions.

As we address the problem, we must remember that it is encapsulated in real life. There may be things in the person’s life that “feed” the problem. These things must be addressed. We must also ensure that the real problem is being addressed and not flung off on other supposed, or even real, problems. As the cliché goes, “The first step is admitting you have a problem,” and the next step is going at it head-on.

It is interesting that in some ways the secular solution is similar to the Christian solution. We see in Scripture that we are to take radical steps to avoid sin, we should avoid “environmental triggers” (see Matt. 5:29-30; 18:8-9). Scripture also agrees that “social support plays a role in successful treatment” (see Heb. 3:12-14; 10:24-25), though it may disagree over the form of the social support.

However, that is not all we must do. If we understand our obsession/addiction to be a form of idolatry, we must work at fostering worship of the one true God. When we seek to feed on our sinful lust, whatever it is, we must fight the fight of faith, and set out minds on God’s truth.

The Ultimate Solution. Jesus is the ultimate solution (one of my favorite verses here is Rom. 6:20-23). It is through Jesus that people are both saved and sanctified (i.e. made holy). Once again, I am by no means saying this is an easy process, it is not (see http:// gracecrossingchurch.org/2013/04/05/messy-church/).

In the New Testament we see Jesus heals physical maladies, casts out demons, dies on the cross for our sin, and from the grave. Truly Jesus has live changing power. We also see from Scripture that through grace we’re taught to renounce selfish ungodliness (2 Cor. 5:15; Titus 2:11-14). We see that the Bible is the Word of God that equips us, changes us, to be fully mature (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3).

Conclusion. We must minister to those with enslaving addiction problems, body and soul. We must remember the main problem is the heart (or soul) problem. However, we must not leave out the physical component. We must seek to minister to the whole person, remembering that there is no “cookie cutter mold,” but that each individual must be ministered to as an individual. This will not be an easy thing and will take much prayer, biblical wisdom, and the help of the church community but by the grace of God addicts can be successful in overcoming their addiction.