"Addicted"  (January 2009)

As most of you know I go to the local drug and alcohol recovery center once a week where I live.  At the beginning of each service one of the counselors plays a song from a Christian CD before I start into the message.  A couple of weeks ago she played a song that talked about “swapping addictions”.  The essence of the song was to change from one addiction to another- from the things of this world that you are addicted to and get addicted to Christ instead.

Did you know that the Bible actually talks about “addiction”?  We all know it talks about bondage's of the flesh that hold us captive and dictates our lives- like, drugs, alcohol, pornography and other lusts.  But it also talks about another type of addiction- a good one.  “I beseech you, brethren, (ye know the house of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints,).” (1 Corinthians 16:15)  Normally, when we think about addiction the first thing that comes to our minds is something bad.  This verse talks about a “good” kind of addiction.  The saints in Stephanas’ house were “addicted” to the ministry of the saints.  Among the meanings of the word “addiction” the good sense of the word is defined as:  addict, devote, consecrate, dedicate.  The Greek meaning of the word in our verse above indicates that this is the addiction that is being talked about.  Strong’s
Concordance defines this addiction as:  to appoint on one's own responsibility or authority; to determine; to put in order.

These saints were addicted (devoted themselves) to ministering to other saints.  How did they become addicted?  What would cause them to devote themselves to someone else?  Why would they be determined to help meet the needs of others?  What would cause them to take on the responsibility to care for someone else?  This addiction came as a result of another addiction that had already taken place in their lives- their “addiction” to the Lord.

How does a person become addicted- to anything?  Addiction starts first as an encounter.  You have to have an encounter with something before you can become addicted to it.  To encounter something means to meet it “face to face”- be up close and personal; to have a personal dealing with, even if by chance, briefly or suddenly.  For example, a drug addict could have never become a drug addict if he had not had a personal encounter with drugs.  If an alcoholic had not taken (had an encounter with) that first drink he would have never become an alcoholic.  It’s the same thing with pornography, addictions to cigarettes, chocolate, coffee- and an endless list of other things.  You first had to have an encounter with it first, whatever it is, in order to become addicted to it.

The Apostle Paul was a man who was addicted (devoted, consecrated, dedicated, determined) to the Lord.  Paul often replayed his testimony of how he encountered the Lord- became “addicted”.  “And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me.  And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?  And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.” (Acts 22:6-8)  Paul had an encounter with Jesus.  He had met Jesus “one on one”, “face to face”, up close and personal- it was not an angel and not just a man of God.  This encounter with Jesus was the beginning of his “addiction”.  He had tasted and seen for himself that the Lord was good. (Psalm 34:8) 

An encounter is the first step to addiction, and addiction is the first step to transformation- either for good or for bad.  With addiction comes a transformation.  In dealing with addicts and alcoholics I have heard this from them, from their families and from those who know them.  I have also seen it first hand in the lives of some that I have known personally- they don’t even act like the same person, there is a transformation that takes place in them.  Everything about them changes- their associations, their mindset, the way they conduct themselves, their moods, their self image, their attitude, their disposition and in most cases even their physical appearance.  This is not a good transformation.  On the flip side, the transformation that we saw in the life of Paul was a good one- one for the better.  His encounter with Christ so radically changed him that he was never the same again.  Up until that point he was going about persecuting the church- not ministering to it like the saints in Stephanas’ house.  “And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.  As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.” (Acts 22:4,5)  Up until that point we see him as a very religious man intent on doing some sort of religious duty.  “Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:4-6)  His encounter with Jesus even changed his name- how he was identified.  He went from being called Saul to being called Paul.  The changing of his name signified that a change had taken place in who he was and in his character.  He was no longer Saul which meant “desired” but Paul which meant “little”- from pride to humility.  His encounter changed him forever.  Without this encounter he would have remained the same.  “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.  Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:  That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” (vv. 7-10)  “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)  Paul went from pride to humility; from persecuting the church to building the kingdom; from consenting to the death of the saints to instructing them in righteousness; from preaching the law to preaching the kingdom of God; from making proselytes to making disciples; from self-will to God’s will; from fulfilling his agenda to fulfilling God’s plan.

Paul was addicted to the Lord which was evident through the way he lived his life.  Even though he had been a religious person, religion could not bring about the change that starts on the inside and works it’s way out.  Religion cannot change a man’s heart.  Religion is adhered only through ceremony, and externals, it’s the turning over of a new leaf, the changing of a few habits, but it can’t bring true and lasting transformation, and true and lasting transformation takes place through an encounter with the living God.

Look through the Bible with me for just a moment at some of the people who had an encounter with the Lord that changed their lives.  Simon and Andrew had an encounter with Jesus and left their nets, jobs and families.  “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.  And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.  And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-20)  “Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.” (Mark 10:28)  Zacchaeus the tax collector was another one who was transformed by an encounter with Jesus.  “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” (Luke 19:5,8)  Mary Magdalene had an encounter with Jesus that transformed her whole life.  Jesus cast seven devils out of her and she followed Him the rest of His life and was one of the first women that the Lord appeared to after His resurrection. (Luke 8:2; 24;10)  Job had an encounter with God that transformed his life.  “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.  Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5,6)  The prophet Isaiah was another one.  “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.  Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.  Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” (Isaiah 6:1,5,8)  Jacob also had an encounter with God, and he never “walked” the same after it- spiritually or physically.  “And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.  And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.” (Genesis 32:30,31)  And the list goes on and on.

You might wonder how do we have an encounter with God?  Let me preface this by saying-- it’s God’s desire that you have an encounter with Him.  He desires that you “meet” Him and through that meeting come into an intimate personal relationship with Him.  God wants you to encounter Him/His presence- He sent His Son Jesus into the world as proof.  “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” (2 Corinthians 5:19a)  It has always been His desire to have a relationship with mankind.  In the very beginning that was God’s purpose for creating mankind.  When the Lord delivered Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, it wasn’t for the sole purpose of taking them into the Promised Land.  His purpose was to bring them to Himself.  “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.” (Exodus 19:4)  God has always desired a relationship with us- to be our God and we be His people.   

I want to talk about Moses and the children of Israel for a moment.  This is a perfect example of what we are talking about- encounter brings addiction, addiction brings transformation.  Let’s compare the life of Moses and the children of Israel- you will notice that there is quiet a difference.  Why?  They all lived in Egypt.  They were all delivered from Egypt.  They all were delivered by the same God, etc.  Moses had a personal encounter with God, the Israelites didn’t.  God delivered Israel out of Egypt to bring them to Himself.  He then issued them an invitation to come into His presence.  He told Moses to tell the people to sanctify themselves for two days and on the third day He would come down on the mountain and meet with them.  (Please take time to read Exodus 19.)  On the third day God came down on the mountain.  “And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.  And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.” (vv. 17,18)  Because no man could see God’s face and live and because God’s glory out shines the sun, God clothed Himself in a dark cloud and smoke so that the people could look to Him.  When they saw the smoke and heard the thundering, they became afraid and drew back and told Moses to go to God for them.  While they called Him their God, while they looked to Him for provision, while they wanted Him to deliver them, they did not want an encounter with Him.  So Moses went up to the presence of the Lord and the people stayed at the foot of the mountain not desiring to go any closer. 

This is such a sad picture to me.  God longed to have His people near Him, He gave them an invitation to come into His presence, He covered Himself with a dark cloud so that they could approach Him, yet they didn’t want to draw near.  They wanted to keep their distance from Him.  They wanted to camp out at the foot of the mountain and dance around an idol they made with their own hands.  Even sadder than that is the fact that the church is doing the same thing today.  God desires to have us near to Himself.  He sent Jesus to break down the middle wall of partition that was between us and God- removing that which kept us separated from God.  “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.” (Ephesians 2:13-15)  He extended an invitation to us to come to Him through the shed blood of His Son Jesus.  But we too are content to stay “around the foot of the mountain”.  We are happy with our little programs, our church parties and our little dab of religion. 

Earlier we said that we were going to compare the differences between Moses and the children of Israel, well here are some of them.  The Israelites “talked” about knowing God, Moses knew Him.  They talked “about” God, but Moses talked “with” God.  They said they were God’s people but they built a golden calf and worshipped it.  They weren’t living a life that was reflective of knowing Him, Moses was.  They were religious, Moses had a relationship.  They stayed at the foot of the mountain- on what represents a “worldly/fleshly” level; Moses went up to the top of the mountain- the place that represents a higher level spiritually.  Moses knew God’s ways- why He did what He did; the children of Israel knew His acts- they only saw what He did.  “He made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the children of Israel.” (Psalm 103:7)  Moses’ encounter with God brought such a transformation that even his face shone so brightly that he had to put a veil over it so the people could look at him.  “When he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.  And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.” (Exodus 34:29b,33)

I sincerely believe what we lack- even in the church- is an encounter with God.  We need encounters not religious meetings.  We need encounters with God not just a few songs and fifteen minute sermons on Sunday morning.  We need to have an encounter with God at the altars, not just repeating a prayer or shaking a preacher’s hand.  We need to have an encounter with God so that we can be changed- transformed- by His power.  I know that once we receive Christ there is a process that begins to take place in our lives- it’s a process of continual transformation.  But you cannot come in contact with the presence of God (have an encounter with Him) and not have an initial transformation take place.  This is what the scripture means when it says that if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature, old things pass away, all things become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)  There is a “metamorphosis” that takes place inside of you.  You are no longer the same- you have become “addicted”.  Addicted (devoted, consecrated, dedicated) to the Lord- His will, His desire, His plan, His work, His presence.