The Dynamics of a Biblical Intervention


While channel-surfing one night, you may have seen a reality documentary on A&E about a person struggling with substance abuse. The documentary, Intervention, follows an addict for a period of time and finally confronts them concerning their behavior. According to their website

“A&E’s Emmy® Award-winning and critically-acclaimed docuseries Intervention profiles people whose uncontrollable addiction to drugs, alcohol or compulsive behavior has brought them to the brink of destruction and has devastated their family and friends. Intervention brings attention to the enormous social, economic and environmental cost of addiction.”[1]

Believe it or not, the Bible actually has something to say about intervening in the life of an addict. Interventions have been occurring ever since the time of Jesus. Did you know that Jesus has given His followers instructions on how to conduct a biblical intervention in someone’s life that pleases and honors God?

In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus unfolds for us the dynamics of a biblical intervention. Christians should use these steps as a guide to help them intervene in the destructive lifestyle of the addict. Those who continue to live rebelliously against the rules that you and the Lord have established dishonors both you and God (1 Thess. 4:1-8). But what should Christians do when a loved one or someone that they know is living contrary to the commandments of the Lord?

The Bible tells us that it is the believers in Christ that are to conduct an intervention, starting with you. The Lord has ordained believers, along with the church, to help one another and to bring peace and resolution to particular conflicts (Gal. 6:2). According to Jesus, a biblical intervention has four steps.

Matthew 18:15–20 – “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

Step 1: Go alone to the addicted person privately (vs. 15).

A biblical intervention is designed to reconcile two Christians who are experiencing conflict. If your friend or loved one is an addict and does not have a relationship with Jesus, then you must pray for them and continue sharing the gospel with them. Keep your relationship open, but set consistent boundaries that protect you and your family. The only hope for behavioral change comes from Jesus and God’s Word (2 Cor. 1:10; 1 Tim. 4:10); Rom. 15:4).

If a believer has a problem with another Christian, whether they are an addict or not, the Bible tells us that you must go to them privately (one-on-one). If this particular person cannot be found at the moment, then wait until they return. It would not be wise to for a believer to go searching for an addict that does not want to be found. If an addict returns home, share with them your concerns and feelings.

First, explain to the abuser that their behavior is emotionally unhealthy. Not only does an addict experience a plethora of emotions when using drugs or alcohol, but also their loved ones and friends feel like they are experiencing an emotional roller coaster. These emotions include guilt and shame, which are not necessarily bad. The Bible teaches us that guilt and shame are biblical feelings that result as a natural consequence of sin.

Second, explain to the abuser that their behavior is physically unhealthy. Drugs and alcohol can do a lot of damage to the human body. It is important for an addict to realize that continued habitual use can cause physical illness such as neurological problems, liver disease, and kidney failure. Numerous studies have shown how drugs and alcohol affect the body. [2] Any quick search on the internet or in the local library will reveal the destructive nature of addictions.

Third, explain to an addict that their behavior is spiritually unhealthy. This is the most important category concerning the overall health of an addict. An addict’s continued abuse of any substance, or activity such as pornography, illustrates an unrepentant heart that loves sin more than God. Notice what the Bible says concerning the wickedness of the human heart:

Jeremiah 17:9 – The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Mark 7:21–23 – For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Also, notice the difference that Paul makes as he distinguishes the works of the flesh versus the fruit of the Spirit.

Galatians 5:19–23 – Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Therefore, habitual ongoing sin is not pleasing to God and it forfeits the assurance of having salvation (Rom. 8:7-8; 1 John 3:9). If the addict listens and changes his/her behavior, then Jesus says that you have won your brother or sister!! If this occurs, then great; the intervention can be placed on hold. But if they refuse to listen to you, then you must move on to the next step.

Step 2: Involve another believer (vs. 16).

If problems persist, you may need to involve another Christian, such as a friend, family member, or pastor. The meeting that takes place during the second step is the most common scenario concerning an intervention. Most television shows and secular counselors seem to start at this particular step and place the most emphasis on the second step as a true intervention. However, the Bible teaches Christians that a genuine biblical intervention involves all of these steps. These steps must be done in order because bypassing any of these steps is not biblical and can create a lot of additional problems.

How should a biblical intervention involving others be conducted?

First, open up in prayer. Christians should seek to use prayer in order to make their hearts right before God. Prayer also helps believers follow Christ’s agenda rather than their own agenda.

Next, everyone should write out what they would like to say in a letter (easy to read, especially when emotional; and make it concise and clear). This letter should include love, yet truth (Eph. 4:15). It is important to keep a biblical balance concerning truth. Truth without love can be harsh. Love without truth can decrease responsibility and accountability. A loved one’s letter should include the dynamics of a clear and healthy relationship. Include how their behavior has hurt you and how destructive their lifestyle is on them and other relationships. Also, include the steps to correct the problem: 1) boundaries must be established, and 2) an addict must seek Christian counseling and/or go to rehab.

Finally, share the Gospel, allowing the Holy Spirit to divinely intervene. If the addict listens, then praise the Lord! You have won your brother or sister and the intervention can be placed on hold.

Step 3: If they do not listen, then tell the leaders of the church (vs. 17a).

Many people, including those in church leadership, will not follow step 3. Some churches believe that this step will be harmful to the addict and their church. It may even drive the addict or church members away. But should the church argue with Jesus? Was Jesus wrong by establishing this divine technique? The answer is no!

The leadership should pray for the individual and seek to confront them about their behavior. This step should include the leaders of the church, such as elders or deacons. The pastor should be involved in this step if he has not been involved in the previous steps. This step should be kept private in order to prevent gossip. It is important that the addict and other family members know that the church loves and cares for them.

If the addict still displays an unrepentant heart, then the church leadership must proceed to the next step.

Step 4: If they do not listen, then they must be treated as an unbeliever (vs. 17b).

If the biblical intervention gets to step 4, then the addict must be treated as an unbeliever. This means that an addict forfeits his/her rights as a church member. Why? Because they are no longer professing to be a believer that is living in a covenant community. Rather, they are choosing to live like someone who hates God and His people.

Even though Christians are not to judge the hearts of others (Matt. 7:1-5), one’s fruit will be evident (Matt. 7:15-20). This may sound harsh in our current culture, but people’s souls are at stake. There must be a balance of truth and love (Eph. 4:15). Believers should always show the love and compassion of Christ.

Conclusion

The purpose of a biblical intervention is threefold: encourage the addict to:

1. Acknowledge their sin…

Confession is the first step to a successful recovery. The Greek word for confess means, “to say the same thing as.” In other words, an addict must agree with God that his/her behavior is sinful. Rather than being afraid of what God will do, the Bible reveals to us the love of God by saying, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Paul agrees with John when he writes, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Rom. 10:10).

2. Acknowledge that they are acting like an unbeliever or admit that they are an unbeliever who needs Jesus…

When conducting a biblical intervention, family members should attempt to continue sharing the gospel with their struggling loved ones. The Bible teaches us to please God (Eph. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:9). If the addict can admit to sinning against a holy and righteous God, it could result in the salvation of their soul. Not every confession results in salvation. But the key to eternal life is belief in Jesus and a genuine confession that results from a changed heart (John 3:16; Rom. 10:9-10).

3. Turn from their sin (repentance).

True repentance results in godly sorrow. In 2 Corinthians, notice how Paul describes godly sorrow: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point, you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter” (2 Cor. 7:10-11).

If you or a loved one have struggled with substance abuse, then there is genuine hope for change. Through Jesus any type of behavioral change is possible. If a child of Christ, then true repentance will result from a changed heart motivated to please and honor the Lord.

If you know someone who is ready to walk the road of recovery, then encourage them to join a faithful group of believers. It is time to no longer walk in darkness. Now is the time to experience what it is like to be a child of the Living God, called out of the darkness into His marvelous light (Peter 2:9).

If you have any questions or would like more help with any kind of addiction, feel free to email us at trainedinttruth@gmail.com.

[1] Taken from http://www.aetv.com/shows/intervention/about (Accessed, July 23, 2017).

[2] See https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/health-consequences-drug-misuse/neurological-effects.