As a former employee in the drug treatment industry, I have been both spectator and participant in innumerable staff meetings when the question was raised: “What is Recovery?” The next hour always entailed highly educated professionals fumbling over and rebutting personal convictions as well as proposed opinions the addicted person might share if they were in attendance. Without fail, each meeting closed without resolve. Recovery, everyone concluded, is whatever it means to the individual. And until today, the same cloud of mystery remains over the ultimate cause of addiction, the best mode of treatment and the definition of recovery.
What is recovery? Must the reply be only subjective, or is there a definitive, objective answer?
Addiction is NOT a New Word
The following excerpt from a national credible recovery center reveals the common perspective on the history and origin of the word addiction:
The Latin definition of the root word addict began changing during the sixteenth century. At this time, the word was used primarily as an adjective meaning to feel formally bound or obligated. This changed with time to refer to being attached to something or someone through one’s own inclination, or of being devoted to some practice.
The first known recorded reference of the term addiction in the more modern sense, was by Shakespeare in Henry V. Shakespeare used the word to imply a sense of strong inclination, having the Archbishop of Canterbury remark that the King’s knowledge of theology was an improvement over previous hobbies: “his addiction was to courses vain.” The Archbishop was basically saying that the King’s previous hobbies were boring.
From this point forward, the word addiction began cropping up in other writings, primarily being used to refer to someone that had an inclination towards a habit or goal. The word addict changed from an adjective to a noun at the beginning of the twentieth century, in specific reference to a person with a drug dependence.1
See also: http://www.worldwidewords.org/topicalwords/tw-add1.htm
Addiction in the Bible
The statement above sounds noble and well thought out, but the vocabulary of addiction is actually as old as the Bible.
1 Timothy 3:2-3a—An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine...
Here Paul uses the Greek adjective paroinos (addicted) which describes someone “tarrying at wine”. Think of this “tarrying” in the more modern sense of standing around a beer keg with your friends at a college party. You linger or “tarry” close by, making sure the tap doesn’t go dry before you get one final cup.
1 Timothy 3:8—Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine...
Here Paul employs a different word for addicted, using the Greek verb prosechō, which means “to turn the mind toward and apply oneself to; to devote thought and effort to”.
Elsewhere, listen as the same apostle highlights a number of sinful behaviors, among which include what we know as modern day chemical addiction. Galatians 5:19-21a—Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery (drugs), hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.
Addiction is NOT a New Problem
It’s critically important to observe in the above passage the distinction between the deeds of the flesh and the flesh itself. The flesh is one problem; the deeds it produces another. The “list” in Galatians 5 are symptoms revealing the real problem, the flesh or “self-life”. We might say it this way— “Addiction is but one leaf on the tree of self”. That might sound over simplistic, but consider the addiction problem only seeming bigger than life because its consequences are more far reaching than other sinful behaviors such as “quarreling.” Everybody quarrels, but wouldn’t you agree quarrels are less damaging than smoking crack? Yet Paul sandwiches drugs between codependency (idolatry) and anger. He places both drunkenness and envy side by side.
A New Perspective on Addiction
The flesh leads all people to the counselor’s office, both Christians and non-Christians alike. Having counseled countless hundreds of people, I automatically assume everyone who calls for help is addicted. This perspective comes from understanding that one of the most common characteristics of the flesh is that it holds people captive and victimizes them. This victim status or bondage is manifested when a person is consistently overcome by something such as: substance abuse, lust, obsessions, compulsions, eating disorders, depression, phobias, fears, panic attacks, the opinions of others, etc.
God’s plan is that as we are overcome we recognize the need for deliverance from our captive status. Jesus said “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me...He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives...to set free those who are oppressed.” Jesus later assured His followers that you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). If truth sets a person free, then lies create bondage and blindness. When we realize the flesh is grown in the soil of lies, one might say everyone is addicted, since everyone is in the habit of believing lies.
Biblical Recovery—God’s Solution to Addiction
The word recovery is used only one time in the New Testament. Jesus incorporated recovery into His own mission statement for His ministry saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind (Luke 4:18 NASB).
Recovery of sight is the Greek noun anablepsis and simply means “restoration of sight.”
The Bible tells us the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4).
We know from Genesis 3 the god of this world is the serpent of old who deceived the first man and woman concerning God’s goodness. Upon acting on this suggestion, the Bible says the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. As Romans 1:25 puts it, they exchanged the truth of God for the lie. That “their eyes were opened” means becoming, for the first time, blind to the beauty of Christ. This blindness was not physical but highlights the debut of both sin-consciousness and shame-consciousness—becoming spiritually naked before God and emotionally naked before others. Substance abuse (modern day fig leaves) would be a great way of trying to cover such a vulnerable condition.
The lie from the Garden is the lie from today—that God’s provision in the Person of Christ is not enough, even for the mounting problem of addiction. We need Jesus, yes, but Jesus + _________
In the Bible, light corresponds to truth whereas darkness reveals lies. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105). Lies darken our path and cause “relapse” into the captivity from which Christ set us free. Therefore...
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elementary principles of the world rather than on Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in him you have been made complete (Colossians 2:8-10a)
The common thought behind recovery is that the addict is in a process which is never complete. But biblical recovery is a noun, not a verb; a Person, not a thing. Our recovery is Christ in us living His life through us. Christians are a recovered people learning to enjoy their recovered status, irrespective of their past. Love is the new drug of God’s people.
The apostle Paul was addicted to ministering Christ’s love to others, and he strongly encourages the same posture in us. Paul did the Lord’s work “habitually,” out of a powerful, driving “compulsion.” The more he ministered the more he felt compelled to minister. His “tolerance” for godly work caused him never to be satisfied with what he was doing, much less with what he had done. He became “dependent” on Christ’s love in order to function. He could not live normally if he were not engaged in some needed service for his Lord, for the Lord’s people, or for the unsaved. I am sure that, had he tried to “take it easy” and relax for any length of time, he would’ve had severe “withdrawal symptoms.” He was not a workaholic, compelled to work for work’s sake. He was addicted to ministry for love’s sake. Paul highlighted a group of Christians at Corinth as a model for us describing them as having addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints (1 Corinthians 16:15 KJV).
If you are struggling with addiction of any kind we would love to talk with you and show you God’s solution. Please give us a call!