In this week’s video we were talking about enslavement, and I mentioned that this principle had far-reaching applications that I’d speak more about in a blog.
Here’s that blog!
Firstly, if you missed the video, here it is. I’ll talk more about it after the break.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from someone asking whether cigarette smoking and drug-taking was a sin, and if so, which Biblical principles made it so. There are probably two or three angles we could come at that question from, but certainly one of the angles is through this issue of enslavement.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians saying, “You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12). The fact is that both cigarettes and drugs are enslaving by their very nature, and that’s just one reason they’re sinful.
In the video I tried to define what enslavement looks like. It’s fair to say that smoking and drug-taking inevitably fulfils these criteria. Cigarette smokers and drug takers do indeed use them compulsively, the substances do create addiction, they do leverage mastery or control over their users, both substances interfere with daily life to a lesser or greater extent, both leave users finding it very difficult to stop, even temporarily. Therefore, both are enslaving to people, and both are definitively sin.
The fact is that, as Christians, we mustn’t allow ourselves to be mastered by anything at all. The only master we are permitted is God himself (Romans 1:1, Ephesians 6:6, Colossians 3:24, 1 Peter 2:16).
Something else I wanted to add to the video for clarity was that there are two types of appetite. There are, what I’ll call, “Intrinsic Appetites”, and there are, what I’ll call “Invented Appetites.” Here’s a graphic that might help explain what I mean.
The difference between intrinsic and invented appetites is this: An intrinsic appetite won’t disappear if you ignore it. An invented appetite will. Eventually, at least.
If you ignore your intrinsic appetite for food and rest, and sexual release, the desire only gets stronger until the appetite is met in some way. (I’ve left a question mark next to “sex drive” because we’re still wrestling with that issue in the series. Based on what we’ve seen so far it seems to belong in the “intrinsic” column, but there is more ground to cover as the series progresses.) The reason intrinsic appetites don’t disappear when ignored is because they are natural and hardwired into us from birth.
Invented appetites however, are those cravings that are not in us from birth but which we create through our behaviour. No-one is born a caffeine-addict. You must first expose yourself to caffeine to create that addiction within you. No-one is born craving sweets. It’s only once you’ve exposed yourself to sugar that the addiction is created within you. No-one is born craving nicotine. You must smoke first to create that addiction within you. The same goes for drugs too.
In the video I said that complete abstinence from an appetite didn’t seem to be a good idea. I need to make a distinction though. Complete abstinence from intrinsic appetites doesn’t seem to be a good idea. Complete abstinence from invented appetites however, is possible. And indeed it’s often quite desirable if it helps to break the bonds of an addiction.
I guess this is a challenge for us. Are there any invented appetites in our lives that we aren’t in control of right now? Coffee? Sugar? Nicotine? What can we do to change that?
Finally, it should be noted that there is Biblical scope for abstaining from intrinsic appetites too…but only for limited periods of time. Not entirely. Fasting from food, for example, is mentioned as a spiritual discipline in the New Testament over 30 times, and always favourably. Jesus never gives a command to do it, and he never specifies a particular time, place or method either. But in the New Testament it is assumed that Christians will be fasting occasionally as part of their spiritual life. There are many reasons for fasting but one is to exercise discipline and self-control. Again, we mustn’t be mastered by anything. Not even our intrinsic appetites! Remember, Paul also says married couples may want to abstain from sex for limited periods of time too, so they can give themselves more completely to prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5).
So invented appetites can be abstained from entirely; intrinsic appetites can only be abstained from for limited periods of time. In both cases, the bottom-line is that the Biblical emphasis is on discipline, self-control, avoiding enslavement to anything, and retaining mastery over one’s body.