Codependency is a word bandied about much in the culture today. What exactly is codependency?
The term developed as a way to describe spouses of alcoholics who entered into addictive behaviors of enablement with their partners. It eventually morphed into a term used to describe any compulsion to fix the wrongs of another or be controlled by another. Defined this way, codependency experts suggest that up to 96% of the population is codependent. If that is true, we are facing something of an epidemic in our culture.
The world’s way of dealing with codependency is to encourage ‘self-love’—teaching people to love themselves properly so they can love others properly. This concept is loosely based on the commandment, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” which seemingly implies one can’t love others until they first learn to love themselves. Encouraging people to love themselves first is therefore seen as the proper way of dealing with codependency.
The Bible is no stranger to this problem since it addresses so succinctly the human condition. But the biblical description of what is wrong could not be more different than the way of the world. It identifies the real problem as that of idolatry—the fact that due to human depravity, we gravitate towards idols and people are our idols of choice. When we are young we call it peer pressure; today it is called people pleasing or codependency. But the Bible simply calls it the fear of man. It indicates when we fear man more than God, we live in bondage to man. And we should not despair since even Bible giants as Aaron, Saul, and Peter had battles with it.
Knowing our propensity towards idolatry is necessary if we are to apply the Bible cure. It is a far cry from the way the world (and much of the Church) proposes we deal with it; by first learning to love ourselves. The Bible way is that we first repent that we have idolized people and learn instead to fear God. Regarding people, to quote Ed Welch, we need to learn to “need them less so we can love them more.” In other words, we must be free from fearing them so we can love them properly.
Much of the Church world does not teach people the reality of idolatry. For example, I have had many people over the years ask me to pray for them that they can deal with their rejection. But I don’t think I have ever had someone say that they needed to confess that they are idolaters—fearing people more than fearing God. Rejection is a symptom that we fear people more than God. Until a person deals with the idolatry, they will only want to get rid of the symptoms and not deal with the core issue. I know that I didn’t begin to get help with feelings of rejection until I willingly dealt with the fact that I had made people an idol, caring more about what they thought rather than what God thought.
This is part of the greater work of sanctification in our lives. When we first believe the Gospel, we are delivered from the penalty of sin through our justification. But then God begins to work on our sanctification, delivering us from the power of sin. This is the painful process of learning to recognize sin in all of its insidious forms, especially heart issues. This is the level where a person begins to deal with their heart-idols; learning to recognize those things that control them other than Jesus.
This work will continue until the Lord appears and we are once and for all delivered from the presence of sin. If the Bible teaches that the fear of man brings a snare, the fear of the Lord liberates. Take some time today to meditate on this verse from Isaiah: “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22).
There is only one cure for fear of man, and that is the fear of God! The more God appears to me as the awesome God he is in Jesus, the less I will be in awe of who people are. But the opposite is true: the more we fear people, the less God appears in his awesome glory. Author Ed Welch illustrates this principle with his book title: When People are Big and God is Small. Yes, that is the problem; people loom so large they obscure who God is to us.
Whom do you fear more—people or God? As sinners, we instinctively allow people to be our idol of choice. If you discover that this is true of you, repent and ask God to give you a healthy fear of Him that will put people in their rightful place.
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