In the ancient world, the Greek city of Corinth was a center for all the vices known to man. As a port city, it was very cosmopolitan, frequented by sailors from all over the Roman Empire and even beyond. It made money by catering to all their needs and wants.
Corinth was similar to the big cosmopolitan cities of the world today—New York, San Francisco, London, Sydney, Hong Kong and others.
The congregation in Corinth was not unlike today's Church, which is why Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians can be so encouraging.
In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 the apostle Paul wrote, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God...And such were some of you."
"And such were some of you." These very words give encouragement to all Christians struggling with personal problems, challenges and sins.
Some years ago, my wife and I visited a Church member at one of the country's most reputable institutes for eating disorders. There we sat through a number of lectures on the three eating disorders that afflict so many Americans—anorexia, bulimia and the most common one of all, obesity.
The director of the institute told us that addictions are mostly a Western phenomenon. The reason, he said, was that people in the Western world are all stressed out. Our lives are out of control, and many react to this with a diversion that, in time, becomes an addiction—something they may spend the rest of their lives battling.
As Christians, we know the need to change, to overcome addictions, some of which are clearly sins. Others still come between God and us, as we should "seek first the kingdom of God" (Matthew 6:33) and "have no other gods before" Him (Exodus 20:3).
Addictions tend to control people's lives. One young man I know spent 18 hours a day playing video games, while neglecting his wife and children. Inevitably, he lost his job over it, then his wife and children. Even then, he still could not deal with the addiction. I was not surprised to see that a rehabilitation center for video game addicts has now opened in the Netherlands.
Jesus Christ tells us to become perfect (Matthew 5:48), emphasizing the need for Christians to change, to strive toward perfection. We find further incentive to overcome in these words: "And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations" (Revelation 2:26).
Some addictions are of a moral nature. They may not be criminal under man's law, but they can certainly keep us out of the Kingdom if we do not overcome them, as the apostle Paul made clear.
Of course, some addictions are criminal, mostly those of a sexual nature—including rape, sexual molestation and pedophilia—but also including addictions to illegal drugs. Others, like alcoholism, can certainly lead to problems with the police and the courts.
The apostle Paul also wrote, "let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1).
The Need to Share
The brother of Jesus Christ, the apostle James wrote: "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16). The Greek word for "trespasses" is paraptoma, which means "a falling aside, a fall, a fault or trespass" (Companion Bible). The marginal note in the New King James Version translates the first few words of this verse as "Therefore confess your sins."
Clearly, when we are struggling with a sin, an addiction or some other form of dysfunctional behavior, it helps to share it with others. Depending on the problem, it may not be wise to get up and share it in front of the entire congregation, but it should be possible to select one or two people who can help you or encourage you when needed.
Elsewhere, Paul tells us that one of the roles of the Church and of the ministry is "for the equipping of the saints [that's all of us] for the work of ministry" (Ephesians 4:12).
Ministry is service. In today's world, it is highly unlikely that anybody called into the Church will not come with "baggage," the heavy burden of mistakes and accumulated sins, along with addictions. How can we best help them? We can start by trying to understand, by realizing that it's not easy for people to overcome some of these problems. Patience is needed.
Do Not Condemn
Jesus Christ warned us not to judge, lest we be judged (Matthew 7:1). "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged" (verse 2). Here, the Greek word for judge is krino, which means to condemn. We should be very careful not to condemn others for their sins and weaknesses. The following verse asks: "Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?" As has often been said, when we point the finger, there's four others pointing back at us!
When the woman caught in the act of adultery was brought before Christ, her accusers wanted her stoned to death, which was the prescribed punishment. Jesus gave her accusers something to think about when He said: "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first" (John 8:7). We should all think about this before judging others.
Jesus Christ mixed "with tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 9:11), yet many of His followers today would find it very difficult to do likewise. Perhaps we need to remember, "those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (verse 12).
God has called, is calling and will call those with all manner of problems. We need to be prepared for this and react accordingly, as Jesus Christ would have reacted. People need help, and we should be prepared to help them.
The apostle Paul wrote about his own struggle with sin in Romans 7:14-25. "For what I am doing, I do not understand," he wrote in verse 15. These words perceptively sum up all sins and addictions. People often do not know why they do what they do. Thankfully, the apostle Paul gives us hope in verses 24 and 25. Through Jesus Christ, we can overcome.
Paul wrote further about his own struggles in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Paul here mentions his "thorn in the flesh" (verse 7). "Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (verses 8-9).
After pleading with the Lord three times to have this trial removed from him, he came to understand that God's grace was sufficient for him. He arrived at a point of acceptance, realizing that his problem would likely never leave him, but that he must learn to cope with it.
Those who struggle today should take encouragement from this.
Peter tells us to "grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord" (2 Peter 3:18). Rather than carrying around a heavy burden of guilt, we should appreciate God's grace more, that without His unmerited pardon we could never begin to hope for eternal life.
We should also seek deeper knowledge as to the causes of our own personal addiction, as well as greater understanding of the problems of others.
In an effort to help Church members gain understanding, the United Church of God has a Web journal called Breaking Free (breakingfree.ucg.org). The Web site provides members with an opportunity to share accounts of their own personal struggles in the hope that this will help others. They may also write of how addictions within their own family environment, with a spouse or an adult child, have affected them.
Articles should be kept to a maximum of 1,500 words and sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. If preferred, upon request, the article can be posted as "Anonymous."UN