Recovery Culture Churches: Galatians 6:1-10

RecoveryChurchIt would surprise many within the recovery community to know that the Bible speaks to the issue of overcoming addictions. Many of my friends and colleagues in the larger recovery community leave little room for the Scriptures to speak to these issues. Generic spirituality is welcomed, medication, group therapy, and the twelve steps can all be part of a conversation, but mention the Hoy Word of God and conversation comes to a screeching halt. The longer I spend helping friends wrestle with addictions, however, the more convinced I am of the role of the Bible in the recovery process. The Bible has much hope and help to give to the addict, and so in this series I want to introduce readers to some of the key texts that have shaped my approach to counseling addicts.

Galatians 6:1-10 has become an important verse for my addiction counseling. Here Paul highlights the role of the corporate body in helping one another fight sin and temptation. The crux of the passage is found in verse 2: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. We have a responsibility to bear one another’s burdens. But Paul’s point is made all the more profound by its surrounding set-up. These verses highlight the compassion, responsibility, and humility required of Recovery Culture Churches.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is set as a challenge to false teachers and a warning/counsel to the true believers in the church at Galatia. Acts 13 and 14 record Paul’s missionary work in Galatia the development of the church there. Initially he preaches in the synagogues in Galatia but the Jews do not accept the message of the gospel. They are so hostile to it in fact in that in one case Paul’s very life is threatened. So in turn, Paul preaches the gospel to the Gentiles and many believe. But after Paul’s departure it seems that a sect of Jews come to the church and tell them that if they are going to truly be Christians they must submit to the Old Testament law. They are seeking to undermine Paul and his teachings in particular. They do this in three particular ways: (1) they undermine his authority; (2) they add works to justification; and (3) they question Paul’s life and doctrine. Paul has all of this in mind as he writes the letter, then, and confronts these attacks head on, specifically focusing on addressing the issues of justification: how a person is made right with God. In chapter 6 Paul is both confronting these false teachers and their ideas as well as commending a godly approach to support within the body of Christ.

The section begins by discussion those who are “caught” in sin. That’s an important word for thinking about the nature of addictions. The text is not just discussing those who sin, but those who are “caught” in sin’s snare, in bondage, enslaved, even surprised or caught unaware. That is a good description of addictions of various kinds. Our brothers and sisters struggling with addictions did not plan to become addicts. They didn’t plan to become slaves to unrighteousness. No one makes that their long-term goal. Now we can point to choices that we all make that leads us down certain paths, and there is real truth to that. And yet addictions stand in this unique terrain between voluntarism and slavery. Ed Welch calls addiction “voluntary slavery.”It’s the description Paul gives in Romans 6 of “letting sin reign” and of “sin reigning,” it is a both/and. Addictions are best understood in this realm of “habit.” We make choices to develop habits, but once they are developed we don’t have to think intentionally about doing those things, it comes automatically. Breaking a habit, then, is not simply about choosing to stop. Addictions, then, can very literally feel like slavery, like being “caught” in sin.

Paul urges, then, that those who are “spiritual” should come to the aid. In such scenarios, Paul tells us here in Galatians, those who are spiritually mature are to “restore” such brothers. That means that we as a whole church have a responsibility to care for those in bondage to addiction. Restoration in each case is going to look different, and it will involve multiple layers of interaction and activity. It will certainly involve confrontation and accountability. But notice in verse 2 that it also involves bearing one another’s burdens. Recovering from life dominating sin and sorrow does not happen in isolation. It requires a community to help bear some of the load, to give comfort, support, challenge, assistance, and practical counsel. It involves walking alongside somebody for the long haul and not giving up on them every time they fall of the wagon.

We saw this done really well in our own Recovery ministry here at CBC. One of our own brothers began to work through his issues in recovery and found that he had a support network of people who came alongside him and empowered him to change. On his own he had struggled and floundered and been through multiple rehabs with the same pattern of relapse. Under the supervision, care, and support a team of brothers he found victory. Bearing one another’s burdens is huge in the process of recovery. Helping one another fight temptation, avoid places of temptation, restructure a life, rebuild broken relationships, and generally put-off and put-on (Eph. 4:22-24) is how we work to “restore” a brother or sister.

Next Paul moves to a stern rebuke. The Galatian church was full of false teachers who were claiming to be super-spiritual. There were some who were challenging the apostles and challenging the very gospel and claiming that they were more holy and more attuned to God than other Christians. Paul rebukes them here and, by implication, us. He says, in verse 3, if you think you’re something you’re really not. In essence if you think you’re better than those “caught in any transgression” think again. You’re not. A Recovery Culture church recognizes that we are all, at one level or another, in recovery. We are all addicted to sin, and all in need of spiritual help and assistance from our brothers. Some of us need to be coming to recovery on Thursdays, but our pride will keep you from confessing our sin and keep us from finding the hope and help we need. Others of us need to guard our own hearts from a sort of spiritual pride that elevates us above those whose lives appear more messy than ours, whose sins seem more gross than our own, whose brokenness seems more frustrating than our own brokenness. This is sin and we need to repent of such things. Recovery Culture churches know that we are all in the same boat, that the ground at the foot of the cross is level, that we are all sinners and all in need of God’s grace and one another’s help.

In fact verse 6 relates to this point by stating that student and teacher are to share all things together. We both benefit from one another. No one in the church is so “spiritual” that they are always in the role of “teacher.” We can and should learn from one another, we are all addicts, and therefore we do not need to act as though we are above one another. That if our sin is more well hidden or less obvious than we are the superior Christians always giving instruction to others. Recovery Culture churches don’t view themselves as the rescuers and addicts as the projects in need of our help. No, rather they view addicts as one among them. They find mutual benefit from each other.

Verses 7-8 may speak to the reality of relapse in all our lives. The temptation to return to the bondage of sin is real. Information alone will not keep us from it, and so Paul warns us all: Do not be deceived! What you sow is what you’ll reap. Information does not naturally lead to transformation, it must be applied. And He gives us then this encouragement: don’t grow weary. It’s a word for us all as both those struggling with sin and those seeking to “restore.” Don’t grow weary in well-doing but keep fighting for recovery. Change is hard and we are all tempted to give up. When change gets hard we need to fight harder the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12), believing that the process of recovery is worth it. We need also to keep doing good when relapse does happen with others. In counseling and care it can become frustrating when a person “falls off the wagon.” It’s easy to make snap judgment and conclude that someone is not really trying or that they don’t really want to change. Don’t grow weary in well-doing. Keep walking alongside somebody, continue to “bear their burdens” as best you can. “Let us do good to everyone,” Paul concludes.

These verses are rich with application to Recovery Culture Churches. I have been deeply encouraged and challenged by meditating on them and they will continue to shape the way I counsel and care for addicts, for my brothers and sisters. These verse will also continue to influence my understanding of Recovery Culture Churches. Galatians 6:1-10 teaches us that Recovery Cultures Churches are to be places of compassion, responsibility, and humility. We are to be places of compassion as we seek to truly understand the nature of addiction and relapse. We are to be places of responsibility, where believers recognize their role as “spiritual” people to “bear one another’s burdens.” We are to be places of  humility as we remember we are all addicted to sin, and none of us is any better than anyone else. Such places are truly on their way to becoming Recovery Culture Churches.

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