“Codependency” is the commonly used term to describe the obvious accommodations that a person makes in order to adjust to an addict’s dependence on substances.
Consequently, it is damaging on two fronts: the addict is reinforced in their unhealthy behavior and the enabler is likely over-functioning in order to compensate for the lifestyle of the addict.
Codependents may feel as if they are some sort of hero for constantly saving the addict from themselves. But in reality, they are not helping the addict recover and are only compounding their issues. You could say that the codependent person has a control addiction in the same way that the addict does for a particular substance.
Substance addiction may be an extreme example of codependency, but it serves as a helpful one when we look at the nature of the human relationships trapped in this codependent situation.
The Bible teaches that every one of us is addicted to sin. The apostle Paul asserts in Romans 6:17, “though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance.”
There is no doubt that the church can become an incredible force for good in breaking addictions and providing a community where codependency traits can be eradicated from people’s relationships.
The New Testament is full of clear direction pointing towards God’s design for Christians to assist each other in growing and maturing spiritually. Some of these instructions include teaching, rebuking, correcting, training, encouraging, reminding, and restoring. All of these things are intended to help someone transition from an unhealthy reliance on another person to a healthy reliance on God.
However, codependency can become an issue for church staff members as they seek to help and pastor many individuals who are struggling in their lives. If leaders fail to maintain a healthy balance in their pastoral lives, codependent relationships can thrive, and burnout is never far away. Simply put – Christian leaders must look after themselves.
Though the main point of the parable is about being ready for the His return, Jesus touches on the subject of personal responsibility in his Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). When the foolish virgins find that they have run out of oil because they didn’t bring enough, they then attempt to borrow more from the wise virgins who refuse because they only brought enough for themselves.
Christians are ultimately responsible for their own faith. God never intended that we should be either the object or the source of some else’s faith. We must all seek after the Lord for ourselves, knowing that He is the one who can fulfill us and grant us strength and healing.
Depending on the Holy Spirit vs. Depending on Flesh
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord’” (Jeremiah 17:5). The clear message of this verse is that God is to be the church’s source of strength. So don’t place your faith in the church leaders or unbiblical systems of doctrine, but instead look to the Lord.
Many would describe the Christian life as “just one beggar showing another beggar where to get some bread.” This is a brilliant quote as it sums up what the Christian faith is all about. We all need the Lord and our aim should be to point each other to Him.
The apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:12, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” James says in James 1:2-3, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
These passages demonstrate the process of refinement that God brings about by means of trials that drive the Christian to seek Him out in the midst of the trouble. Of course, it is often much easier to simply instruct someone and think you have all the answers to give when they hit a rough patch in the life.
We must be careful not to try and think on behalf of others. This behavior disempowers the individual and will contribute to their dependent tendencies. It is always more helpful to try and enable the person to become the driving force behind tackling their own issues.
The church can help us with this! The church community should be a place where we spur each other on to grow in our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Codependency runs the risk of robbing people of the things that they need to experience in order to teach them dependence on God.
“What a person desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar.” – Proverbs 19:22
“One who is full loathes honey from the comb, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.” – Proverbs 27:7
These verses from Proverbs are excellent because they deal with the different ways people cover up their need for love. The first one addresses our desperate need for an eternal and unfailing love and how we might exchange this for something like money in order to feel secure.
The second one describes a person who does not have a sense of fulfillment, so they are more likely to search for it in places where it cannot be found. Both of these passages describe the motives of a codependent person. People with issues of codependency tend to cover up a hunger for love with something else. In turn, they fail to receive all that God has for them.
Those who are more susceptible to codependency are often seeking after a predictable way to attain a sense of value that has been lacking in their past.
The church is a wonderful environment in which we can be unconditionally loved and accepted, but it can also become a place where performance and pressure are rife. Too often, people are motivated to get involved in church in order to find self-worth. But this is never a good motivation in and of itself.
Christians must discover freedom outside of the “performance mentality” that demands perfect results in every sphere of their lives. Too often, those who are engaged in a codependent relationship have a tendency to behave in this manner.
Codependency is in direct contradiction to the unconditional “agape” love of God. It’s an attempt to exert control over how others feel or think about us, but it is a bottomless pit. You will never be able to do enough, please enough people, or perform to the level you think you should be achieving. When it comes to working for the church in either a voluntary or an employed capacity, we must carefully examine our motives.
There is so much freedom in knowing that God’s love is unconditional. When we are securely rooted in the finished work of Christ, we derive our ultimate value from Him. This helps us avoid attempting to overrule the work of God in other people’s lives. We must never think we know better than the Lord when it comes to dealing with the lives of those around us.
Dependency vs. Interdependency – The Culture of the Church
Of course, the church should be a place where we lean on each other. We are one body in Christ Jesus and must learn to be interdependent and selfless in our service to Him. But Jesus continues to challenge us just as he did with His disciples and listeners. Look at some of the key questions Jesus asked.
- Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3)
- Why then is it written that the Son of man must suffer much and be rejected? (Mark 9:12)
- Who do you say I am? (Matthew 6:15)
- Do you want to get well? (John 5:6)
- Why are you so afraid? (Matthew 8:26)
Jesus was a master at asking questions that cause us to search our souls and to think for ourselves. By these means, Jesus wants us to learn how to become people of bold and courageous faith, who both lean on Him and are able to take responsibility for their own spiritual lives alongside bolstering others in their faith.
Jesus calls us to be dependent on Him. This is, however, the only truly dependent relationship we should maintain. Of course, we should be interdependent in community – supporting one another, encouraging, and challenging each other. But we should always seek to harbor a special dependency on Christ, who is our master.
A wise piece of advice given to any person working in the ministry would be this: “The main thing you will give your congregation – just like the main thing you will give God – is the person you become.” We must embrace our testimony and utilize our life story for the glory of God. We must always seek to take care of our own issues in a healthy and appropriate way, and must never fall into the trap of thinking we possess all the answers for others.
Every single person possesses God-given ability to help others. As Christians, it is a central calling that we be a blessing to those in need. But we must be very careful not to enter into a relational dynamic of codependency, as this is never God-honoring and can be very damaging.
We must always seek to listen to the voice of God first and foremost. He is the one who can truly heal, restore and transform those people who are in need. We must never try and be the savior to others, as attempting to replace Jesus in the life of another is a dangerous and foolish endeavor.
Remember, interdependency in the context of a church community can be a wonderful blessing of rich joy, healing, and companionship. But we must always remember who is at the head of the body. Jesus is the only one who is able to guide our steps and lead us on into fullness of life; we are simply his vessels and the tools in His hand.
“Break”, Courtesy of Tanja Heffner, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Scripture,” courtesy of Aaron Burden, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Torn,” courtesy of Jiri Wagner, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Walking in the Park”, Courtesy of Mabel Amber, Pixabay.com; CC0 License