January 28, 2016
There is very little direct mention of addiction in Scripture. However, there are several passages that when taken together shed light on a discussion about the development of addiction in a Christian’s life.
In the two New Testament passages outlining the qualifications for elders and overseers — 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 — there is a common phrase used. One of the requirements of an overseer, given in 1 Timothy 3:3 and in Titus 1:7 is that he is “not addicted to wine.” The Greek word used here is “paroinos,” which literally translates “given to wine” or “drunken.” These are the only two places this word is used in Scripture, and although the New American Standard Bible (NASB) translates the word using the phrase “addicted to much wine,” its use here is admittedly not a clear indicator of addiction.
However, in the next chapter of his letter to Titus, Paul is admonishing men and women in how to live godly lives. In Titus 2:3 he writes, “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine.” Many translations use the same English word “addicted” that NASB uses earlier in the overseer qualifications, but the word Paul uses here is different. Here he uses the word “dedoulomenas,” which NASB translates as the English word “enslaved.” This word is a version of a word used in several other Scriptures, all of which explicitly indicate slavery.
Taking these three Scriptures together is certainly consistent with the assertion that A. addiction is real, and B. people are personally responsible. This is a “both-and” situation, not an “either-or.” The argument can be made that by a person’s careless or sinful habit of being “given to much wine” (paroinos), he or she could eventually become “enslaved” or addicted to wine (dedoulomenas). The implication here is that what begins as a sinful choice can become an enslaving addiction. Although these Scriptures specifically address addiction to alcohol, it is not a stretch to apply the principles to other addictions.
Much of the research being conducted in the area of sexual addiction involves the study of neurochemical responses to sexual stimuli. Specifically, much research has been done on the way the brain and its chemicals respond to prolonged use of pornography. The conclusions suggest that when a person views pornography or engages in habitual sexual behavior like masturbation, the brain releases abnormally high levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, oxytocin and other chemicals.
Here’s the problem with this overload. God has created and designed us with chemicals that prompt sexual focus and pursuit of our spouse (dopamine and norepinephrine) as well as chemicals that bond us to the person with whom we are sharing the sexual experience (oxytocin). When we compulsively engage in sinful sexual behavior outside of the marriage relationship, we are training our brains to require unhealthy amounts of the pursuit chemicals, and we are training our brains to bond to an experience rather than a person. What begins as making one sinful choice and then another eventually becomes enslavement.
Christians who are addicted to sex and/or pornography are enslaved. They experience a spiritual enslavement as well as enslavement to their own hijacked brain chemistry. We were meant for freedom and so a sexually addicted Christian obviously experiences guilt, shame and a total lack of the pleasure they initially believed they were providing themselves. When leaders within the Church reject the concept of this enslavement, they unwittingly discourage those who are struggling from ever coming forward. Fear of rejection and condemnation keeps the addicted Christian in isolation, not experiencing the freedom that James 5 describes as coming through a process of confession, prayer and healing.
James 5:16 instructs Christians to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” The specific context of James 5 deals with physical sickness and its link to confession and healing. James recognized that although not all sickness can be attributed to sin (John 9:3), there is a clear link between hidden sin and physical illness. In Psalm 32:3–5, David describes the devastating physical toll that secret sin had on his body, and the relief that came through confession.
When Christians take the bold step of confessing their struggles within a safe community, they allow the body of Christ to respond to them with grace and support. They can experience love and acceptance rather than judgment and condemnation. Obviously it behooves the members and leaders of the local church to understand how we are to respond to revealed or confessed sin. As Christ’s body we have a tremendous responsibility to communicate to struggling people that the Church is a safe place to acknowledge one’s sin and to receive support and restoration.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Greg Oliver was a worship pastor for 15 years before his secret addiction to pornography and sex was exposed in January 2009. Since then he has been on a journey of recovery, coming to know God better and experiencing His grace like never before. He and his wife, Stacey, have experienced healing and restoration within their marriage, and through the ministry of Awaken they walk with individuals, couples and ministry leaders to help them experience connection and healing in the midst of sexual brokenness.