We continue our series titled Biblical Solutions to Pandemic Problems. Today we will look at Overcoming Addictions. When we think of addictions, we think only about drinking, gambling, drugs and other bad habits. But addictions are on a spectrum and sometimes certain forms of addictions are applauded and accepted by culture. Michael Jordan in an interview says that he is addicted to competition. And this addiction has brought him tangible success and trophies. But on a closer look this addiction is as evil and destructive as any other addiction. His teammates feared him, he had a pattern of hurting people, he wanted to win at any cost and most times it is at the expense of others, his addiction to competition soon escalated into a gambling and alcohol addiction. But culture will not look at Michael Jordan and conclude that he has a problem with addiction.
Our reasoning most times is like this. Most of us deny that we have addictions. I am not addicted but I just struggle with something. Some of us are completely unaware of how deep our addictions can be. Some feel all their issues are under control, managed well, not harming anyone and therefore it is not a problem. This makes it ok. Some have categorised addictions as good and bad. So something like alcohol, gambling, drugs etc. can be termed as bad, something like work, shopping, eating, anger, thoughts can be termed as harmless. And there are some who are desperate and feel powerless, filled with shame and guilt, questioning whether they are even a child of God, living a defeated life. The Bible does not differentiate between good and bad addictions. The Bible even uses the term idolatry to describe such addictions. It goes deeper than behaviour.
Proverbs 25:28 says, A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. A city without walls can be attacked any time, it is vulnerable and open to destruction. Addictions are similar. They leave you vulnerable to destruction. It can wreck your marriage, financial stability, relationships, isolate you from friends, be unfruitful in ministry, lead a miserable and selfish life.
In this sermon we will see the anatomy of a habit or addiction or obsession. We will see why struggle, how we try to get out and how God gives us power to overcome our addictions.
A. Why do we struggle? Power of desire
1 Cor 9: 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Paul uses a games metaphor which was a common cultural practice. He refers specifically to running and boxing and those competing receive a prize when they win. In v.25, he says that every athlete exercises self control to win. They exercise self rule in order to win the prize.
An athlete’s self control is evident. His routine and habits are seen in what he eats, when he eats, the diet he follows, when he sleeps and wakes up, how he trains, what he avoids and what he does on a daily basis. This becomes his life style. This sets him apart as an athlete. And they do it, sacrifice, control themselves, suffer in some sense to win the prize. How they live their lives reveal the prize they are after and how valuable it is for them.
In the same way our routines, schedule, lifestyle, habits reveal our prize and what we are after. It reveals our passion, our loves and our desires.
James KA Smith in his book “You are what you love” says, “Your deepest desire is the one manifested by your daily life and habits. This is because our action, our doing bubbles up from our loves”. The reason we struggle with habits is because of the power of desire. It is what we deeply love.
Not all addictions appear bad. We know when it’s bad. We are filled with shame and it is secretive. - But many addictions are acceptable and applauded by culture and equally destructive. For example, money is not a bad thing. It helps provide for our needs, to help others in need, to save and lead a comfortable life. But when money becomes the most important desire for us, then it becomes an addiction. We will do anything to obtain money. We wont mind lying or cheating and we will never have enough of it. We will not rest and become more selfish in our attitude to money. These are all symptoms that the desire for money has power over us. This can be said about any addiction. Drinking alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, eating or shopping. They all have the same destructive pattern.
All these promises to give us something we want the most and leads us deeper and deeper into it. They are appealing to a deep want, a deep need and also offers a momentary escape from pain, hurt, disappointment or sadness.
Addictions reveal what we desire the most. And that’s why it is a struggle. It’s not just a behavioural problem, it is a battle for our heart.
B. How do we try to solve it? Power of self
In our culture, we recognise these desires and their destructive nature. Thats why most of our religious philosophies address ways to overcome the power of desire. One common approach is to live detached, ignore the desire and to consider the desire itself is bad. But these desires are not bad. Our desires come from the fact that we are made in the image of God. Our desires become bad because it is distorted by sin. If one extreme is to live detached, the other extreme is to indulge yourself. The more you indulge, the more bored you will become of the desire. That is not true. It will end up fuelling the out of control nature.
So we are modern professionals resort to the power of self in two ways.
Power of self will: we try to control our desires by the power of our will. This can lead to temporary success but it does not change our hearts. You can count from 1 to 10 to control your anger using your self will but at the end of 10, you are more angry than before.
Power of self interest: we try to pour our life into other passions, career, into our family or setting goals and working toward success. Again, this can lead to temporary success too. But pouring yourself into your career can make you more disciplined at work, focussed and manage your time and schedule but it can take you away from your family, children, hinder spiritual health and we can start lying or compromising to move our career forward.
Why is this? The reason is that our addictions reveal not just our loves but also our deeper stories of hurt, pain, sadness and disappointment. Self will and self interests do not have the power to heal our heart. They can medicate pain superficially, they can make you feel good in the moment, they can help you regain a sense of temporary control but pull you further into your addiction.
The power of desire cannot be overcome with the power of self will and self interest. There is something we deeply desire, control, approval or something we deeply feel like pain, sadness, hurt or disappointment which the addictions seem to placate and medicate.
C. How can we overcome? Power of the gospel
What is that one desire that can rule over all our desires and bring self control. What is it for Paul?
1 Corinthians 9:23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings
For Paul, it is the gospel, the blessings of the gospel. What is that? It is the message though you are broken, sinful and flawed, by what Christ has done on your behalf, you are loved, cherished and forgiven. Though you are a spiritual orphan, because of Christ’s sacrifice, you are now the beloved child of God. You could lose anything you set your heart upon but you will never lose the love of Christ. This gospel truth brings radical joy, security and self control.
And Paul is not intellectually thinking about this truth by himself. He wants to share what he’s experiencing, the beauty and power of the gospel with others. His chief aim is for others to see the beauty of Christ. Addictions will make you inward focussed and self-centered while the gospel sets us free to love others. The beauty and power of the gospel is experienced in community. It is when we meditate, pray, serve, repent and share the gospel in community, the power is unleashed. What we know to be true in our minds is now experienced in our hearts.
This does not mean we don’t take practical steps to become accountable or delete some apps or put some restrictions on our streaming content or fleeing the sight or presence or resisting by saying no to temptation. All our steps have to flow out from the power of the gospel. If it comes from our self will, then we are setting ourselves up for failure. It can create temporary change and success but does not change the heart. That is where the change needs to happen for a lasting behavioural victory.
The Old Testament in Genesis 29:20 talks about Jacob and his love for Rachel. Though Jacob was tricked into slaving for seven years in order to marry Rachel, he says it seemed like a few days because of his love for her. That’s incredible devotion that helped him overcome barriers, disappointment, challenges and lead a life of self control. His heart was set on a prize.
The New Testament points us to a greater Jacob who also set his heart toward a prize.
Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
How did Jesus endure the pain, suffering, shame and even the cross? What was his prize? What was his joy that was set before him? What was his beauty and delight? It was you and me. His love for you made him overcome all hurdles and live a life of self control. He endured the cross so he can be united with you. Do you see how much he loves you?
The extent to which you see how he made you his delight and prize, your heart will now begin to make him your beauty, delight and prize. This is how you overcome addictions and live a life of self control. This is how your heart begins to change and experience power.
The secret to self control is this joy and power that comes from the gospel. Only the gospel gives you this power to love the right things, it has the power to order all your loves and desires. And this self control is not experienced only in heaven. You don’t have to wait to be in heaven to experience victory and power. It is available now. Today, you can live with joy, purpose and freedom.
Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ
What is God showing or convicting you about? Do you see how you deal with your hurt, pain, sadness and disappointments? Where do you go for comfort? How do you medicate your heart?
Will you come to Jesus? Will you make him your overarching desire? Will you make him your prize as he has made you his?