Yesterday I mentioned that people who are labeled as codependents typically receive counsel to put their own (felt) needs first rather than sacrificing themselves for the sake of others. In the sort of “Christian” counseling that uses Scripture (generally quoted of of context) to authenticate psychological principles, counselors find ways to convince clients that God would not want them to lose themselves in service to others.
In their article, Codependency, A Biblical View, the writers at Southern View Chapel say:
We are being told that it is very difficult to discern whether the behavior of a codependent was caused by his “illness,” or the “illness” was caused by his behavior. At any rate, Melody Beattie groups the problems of codependent people around the following categories: caretaking, low self-worth, repression, obsession, controlling, denial, dependency, poor communication, weak boundaries, lack of trust, anger, sex problems, miscellaneous and progressive (Codependent No More, p37-45). After reading her lists, you realize that few, if any, can totally escape the codependent label.
Minirth and Meier blame addictions and compulsions on codependency. Even more importantly, they claim that a codependent is unable to obey God: “The Christian’s foremost privilege and responsibility is to hear and respond to God. The codependent can neither hear clearly nor respond adequately. It’s that simple” (p171). How cruel God must be, to demand obedience from people who cannot obey because of their emotional illnesses (caused usually by harsh parents), then punish them because of their disobedience. Either the apostles of codependency are right, or God (in His Word) is — we cannot have it both ways!
I believe, based on my own involvement in “counseling ministry,” that Southern View Chapel is absolutely correct in their assessment that the theories on codependency diametrically oppose Biblical teaching. I’ve seen several instances in which Christians (whether genuine or merely professing) have declined to serve others out of concern that doing so might pull them into codependent behaviors. In essence, teachings on codependency boil down to convenient excuses for selfishness.
The Bible, on the other hand, calls Christians to exercise the same sacrificial love that Jesus Christ exemplified on the cross. As it so happens, the passage I’ve been working through in my Quiet Time lately reinforces God’s command to love at one’s own expense:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. ~~1 John 4:7-11 (ESV)
Let me be clear that Christ’s death on the cross extends far beyond a mere example of self-sacrificial love. Regular readers know that I’ve written many essays on Christ’s purpose in giving Himself to be crucified, and I’ll undoubtedly write many more such essays as time goes on. I definitely don’t want to reduce the implications of Christ’s atoning work to simply an example for Christians to follow. It means so much more than just that!
Yet Scripture does plainly teach that the Lord’s act of dying in our place establishes the standard of Christian love. The apostle John maintains that this type of love marks true believers. In contrast to codependency theories, love demands self-denial and calls Christians to set aside our own interests in order to benefit others.
Teachings on codependency appeal to our sinful natures. Perhaps saying it that bluntly seems harsh, but shouldn’t we be a bit harsh when it comes to mortifying our flesh? As Christians, we must reject psychological principles that lure us to disobey Scripture, and especially when they promote selfishness. Love, for Christians, is more than a choice — it’s a command from God.