What does Christian Love Mean in the Context of Addiction – Part 2

Boundaries are Good

This is Part 2 in a series dealing with the issue of Boundaries and Addiction.  Part I is here

Do you have an addict in your family?  They may be a shell of their former selves as the alcoholism, drug dependence or other addiction takes its toll.  I understand and feel your pain.  I am from a long line of alcoholics.  All sides of my family have been destroyed by addiction for generations.  They are still picking up the pieces today.  I was far along the same path with my wife and kids when Jesus saved me.  My Story – Kind of 1 and How I Stopped Drinking and 5 Powerful Spouse Evangelizing Tools.   I have been the loving family member and the addict.  I know how hard it is to deal with the addictions of the ones we love.  It is a terrible position to be in with the one you would give anything for.  It can also be terribly confusing.  Having been on both sides, I am not taking this lightly but know how necessary it can be in some circumstances.

In the first part of my series on this subject, I answered the question of whether it is ok to say no to an addict.  I discussed how God has boundaries with His people for their benefit looking at the example of Saul and Samuel.  Part I is here.   In this post, I will look to Jesus and how He handled boundaries.  Yes, Jesus is the same God as the One who set a boundary with Saul.  But I don’t want people to miss His example of loving that includes saying “no” when it is necessary.

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Jesus Loves but Doesn’t Enable

Jesus came and died for you out of love.  He gave everything He had so that you could be saved.  His love is what set you free.  He gave His life for you when you were still lost so you can be saved.  Jesus is every Christians wonderful example of agape, selfless love that expects nothing in return.

A close look at the life of Jesus shows, however, that He had clear boundaries.  There were times that He clearly said “no” to people when it was good for them.  From the Pharisees to His own disciples, Jesus turned people down when agreeing with them would hurt them.  He also was never emotionally manipulated into saying “yes” to someone.  It is His decision following the Father’s will.

Jesus never enables anyone.  Enabling is giving someone the ability or authority to do something according to the definition.  Enabling addicts simply means making life easy for them so that they don’t have to choose between comfort and sin.  They can choose to serve their addictions and allow those around them to feel the consequences of their sin.  This never helps the addict.

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Jesus Lays Out the Truth

We see the boundaries of Jesus on display very clearly in His interaction with the Rich Young Ruler.  You may know this story.  It is very familiar, but don’t lose what is happening in that familiarity.  Jesus very clearly sets an expectation for someone and lets them make a choice.  He sets a boundary and leaves the man to decide whether he wants to respect it.  From Mark:

Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’

Since we know the end of the story, it is easy to miss the significance of the man’s arrival.  He runs to Jesus, kneels before Him and asks Jesus for the answer to the most important question of all time.  “How do I get to heaven?”  He shows what he thinks of Jesus by asking it from his knees.  We only should ever kneel before God.  He is outwardly showing all the signs that he wants to follow Jesus as Lord.  He looks like he wants to do everything possible to do the right thing.  He has not yet heard the cost of this devotion, though.

This often happens when things get tough for those struggling with addiction.  Addiction is a terrible monster to tangle with and the pain they feel is very real.  In moments of clarity, the heartfelt desire to do anything to stop the pain they are feeling is just as authentically honest as the question of the Rich Young Ruler.  “How do I get saved from this addiction?”  They want to stop hurting but run into the same issue…what is the cost?

20 And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”

21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him,

Jesus Loves Addicts, Alcoholics and Sinners

Jesus’ response to the man’s feelings of self-justification – “I am good just as I am”, the Ruler essentially says – is also highly illuminating.  He doesn’t throw the man out on his ear.  Jesus doesn’t scold him or treat him like the lost sinner the man is.  Jesus looks at the Rich Young Ruler and loves him.  This is no minor thing for that moment and what is to come.  God is love, remember.  21 Wonderful Bible Verses on God’s Love – A Warm Hug from God  God is also perfect.  So the love that Jesus has for this seemingly willing man cannot be improved upon.  It is what all Christians aspire to in their walk with Jesus.

In the immediate context, the imperfect man has come before the perfect God and professed that he is perfect as well.  The man claims he has kept all of the Commandments from his youth.  If you read the Sermon on the Mount and understand what is actually involved in these directions from God, you can see how completely wrongheaded the Ruler is in making that statement.  For more, watch The Heart of the Sermon on the Mount and other recent Sermon’s from Matthew 5 on Youtube, here.

No man other than Jesus has kept the Commandments from their youth.  This is the sheer unadulterated pride of man expressed to God Himself.  This is spiritual blindness and sin.  The Ruler is just like you and me, he has some things right and a whole lot to work on.  Yet, because God is love, Jesus meets him where he is and offers the entire world to him.  Jesus offers what the man is blindly fumbling around looking for – Eternal life.  Come and follow me, Jesus offers, but because Jesus really loves him there is a condition.

The Rich Young Ruler must give up the sin that caused his blindness.  Though we don’t have more context, his riches are evidently enslaving him.  His money and possessions define him.  They are his god and he is serving them.  He is addicted to stuff and he will never move forward to follow Jesus as long as he is following mammon.

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Jesus’ direction here is not about money.  Cash is neither bad nor good, in itself.  It is about allegiance.  As long as the Ruler followed money, he could never follow Jesus.

The same can be said about those suffering from addictions.  As long as they are imprisoned by their dependency, they can never serve Jesus as He intends.  They need to stop following the false god of pleasure, drugs, alcohol, and self for their eyes to be opened to the real Jesus.

Jesus lays out a clear boundary with the Rich Young Ruler.

“One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”

Here is what the Rulers needs to do to go further in our relationship.  Give up the thing that is deceiving you.  Forsake the idol that has you in prison.  Turn from your addiction and then we can move forward…together.  What an amazing message, right?  Jesus loves him despite all that has taken place and offers a way out.  He offers love in response to the man’s sin.

I am sure you have had a similar conversation loved one?

Just get help and we can move forward.  Please stop stealing from me and doing drugs in the house and we can work on this as a couple.  We love you but need you to stop!  

It is not punishment.  It is a wonderful expression of the grace and forgiveness of God being offered.  It is opening the door of a prison cell and offering freedom.  Yet, look what happens:

22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Jesus gave the man what seems like a hard boundary to his flesh but was really his salvation. The man’s only way out of the life that was destroying him was shown to him by Jesus.  The man chose not to take it and as a result, he went away sad.  Jesus let him go and experience the sadness.

Jesus is Love and Jesus has Boundaries

Jesus is love and God has boundaries with us.  The example for really helping and loving – for saving people – still is God.  When faced with the choice of a call to love, as defined by a lost person, and refusing to enable we must look to God’s example to determine what is loving and what is hurting.  We must look to God’s direction as set out in His Word.  If we want to know how to love, we should look to God – He is love after all.

God has boundaries with people in both the Old and New Testaments.  When it is good for them, God says “no”.  The goal is not punishment.  It is to allow their own sin and the damage it causes to change the heart that chose sin in the first place.  God allows the persistent child to feel the pain of a hot stove with the hope they run away from the danger.  God set a boundary with Saul in the Old Testament and with the Rich Young Ruler in the New Testament.  Love includes saying no when it is necessary.

No one knows what happened to the Rich Young Ruler.  I hope that he came to his senses after mourning over his choice.  I pray that the addict in your life never gets to the point that these terrible choices need to be made.  It can be the hardest thing we could ever do as a spouse, sibling or parent.  I would never recommend setting such a boundary without prayer and trying everything else.  The point is, though, if Jesus loved the man and let him go after the man-made a really bad decision there are times that you are faced with the same path.

There are no guarantees when it comes to those struggling with addiction.  It is a burden that destroys thousands every day in the world.  There is also no requirement to always say no to the addict in your family.  Love can also mean saying yes and putting yourself out in extraordinary ways for them.  God does that for the world in Jesus.  Yet, loving an addict well can mean not giving them an inch when doing so means hurting their chances of actually changing.  It can mean stepping out of the way of the temporary hurts that are coming at them so they can avoid the eternal punishment that is coming.   If they have been told they have a problem, have been given a clear way out, know the Gospel, and have refused to change, you can respect their choice and let them live the life they choose…pain and all.  Like Saul, it is then left up to them to make a choice.  Until they do, you may just be making sin easy for them.  You never want to do that.

God says no when saying yes results in sin.  God says no when it is good for us.  God has boundaries for the good of His people.  We should always follow God’s example…even when it hurts and God certainly knows how much it hurts to lose a family member.

For further reading on boundaries, I highly recommend this book Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend.  It was life-changing for me.  Here is how I stopped drinking for further insight.  If you are dealing with addiction in your family, you should read this book.  Al-Anon also has great resources.

Love to all,

Tom

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