What does 1 Corinthians 6:12?

Question
Brother, I read your article about smoking in third millenium (see link below). Let me ask you another question: Are all addictions sinful" Example: I am addicted to movies. Some people I know are addicted to "clean" things" to internet, coffee, video games reading etc. What does 1 cor 6:12 means in your opinion?
Answer
For a bit of detail on 1 Corinthians 6:12, please take a look at: https://thirdmill.org/newfiles/ric_pratt/NT.Pratt.1Corinthians.6.12-20.html

In general, the idea of "mastery" in 1 Corinthians 6:12 is that sometimes things have control over us in one way or another. Sometimes they control us in ways that we might call "addiction" in a technical sense, such as drugs that cause physical withdrawal when we stop taking them. At other times, things control us because we willingly submit ourselves to them (cf. Rom. 6:11-14). At still other times, we feel that we are mastered by things because we lack the spiritual strength to fight against the influence of sin in our lives (cf. Gal. 5:17; Rom. 7:14-25).

Since the word "addiction" can be used in so many different ways, I don't think it is safe to say that every addiction is sinful. At the same time, we need to recognize that addiction is often associated with sin, either as its cause or as its effect. So, when we find that something has mastered us or is controlling us, we need to look at it closely and critically to discern whether or not it is sinful.

With regard to things like movies, the internet, videogames, reading, and the like, it is probably more accurate to say that people use these things habitually (sometimes even compulsively) rather than that these things are addictions. In any case, these types of activities are not wrong in and of themselves. And the fact that we like them and engage in them frequently is not necessarily bad. However, when our involvement with these activities begins to intrude into more significant responsibilities in life, we should recognize that we are abusing our freedoms in a sinful manner.

This is not to say that we should always choose a responsibility over a recreational activity — God himself decreed a Sabbath day of rest, so in some sense even recreation can be viewed as a responsibility. Moreover, it is reasonable to pursue some happiness for ourselves, just as we pursue the happiness of others.

It takes wisdom to know when our recreational pursuits are crossing the line into sin, and it's impossible to define that line clearly and precisely — especially for someone else. The location of that line changes according to the circumstances of our lives, and according to the conviction and inward leading of the Holy Spirit at any given moment. Certainly we have crossed the line into sinful mastery/subjection when the thing or activity that influences us somehow leads us into sin. We are probably also in the realm of sinful mastery when we lack the spiritual strength to avoid the activity or thing in question (here we need to be clear that our spiritual strength is not will power, but rather reliance on the Holy Spirit). Perhaps the most common way that our recreational pursuits cross the line into sin, however, is when they constitute a foolish use of our time (Eph. 5:15-16) — when we could and should be doing something more productive, such as when the benefits of those other activities outweigh the benefits of our recreations.

Matters of physical dependence or addiction are somewhat different, and often harder to discern. Consider coffee/caffeine. We might say that if a person gets grumpy without caffeine, that person has been mastered by caffeine. But what if a person gets the same grumpy result from not eating enough? Or if he doesn't take his medication? We might be inclined to say that caffeine is an illegitimate physical need since it is not a necessity, and that keeping your blood sugar high enough is legitimate because food is a necessity. And we might not have any idea what do with the question of medication, since it is so hard to define "necessity" in the first place. Moreover, Paul's description in 1 Corinthians 6 doesn't suggest these kinds of fine distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate needs. And his specific application wasn't directly related to the question of addiction and dependence (see the commentary linked above). Instead, Paul spoke in fairly vague generalities, and mostly about things that master us because we find them so attractive. But we can still draw some general principles from his teaching. For example, I would tend to say that physical dependence is sinful primarily (or even only) when the use of the substance is itself sinful, or when our pattern of use (and/or non-use) of the substance inclines us toward sin.

Does this help at all?

Ra McLaughlin

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.