The Bible has a lot to say on the subject so I’m going to do my very best to give a thorough presentation of the biblical data and help us come down on what I believe to be the best position for Christian living.
The Good Side of Alcohol
Alcohol is described in the Bible as a positive in at least 4 ways.
1. General References to the goodness of alcohol.
“You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart” Psalm 104:14-15.
Also see Psalm 4:7, Ecclesiastes 9:7, 10:19.
2. Wine is associated with God’s blessing.
“He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you” Deuteronomy 7:13.
See also: Genesis 27:28, Isaiah 25:6, Isaiah 55:1, Hosea 2:8, Amos 9:13, Zechariah 9:17, Zechariah 10:7
Wine is a symbol of God’s blessing on his people in:
1) The Law – where God’s covenant is spelled out with his people.
2) The wisdom literature – where the path that leads to blessing is described. (See Proverbs 3:10)
3) The Prophetic literature – where God’s future promises of blessing on his people are made. (See Joel 2:24-25 and Jesus promising wine in the New Kingdom-Matt. 26:29).
3. Wine contains medicinal benefits.
a) Soothes the dying or suffering: Proverbs 31:6, Matthew 27:34
b) Stimulates or revives the weary: 2 Samuel 16:2
c) Cleans wounds: Luke 10:34
d) Has general medicinal benefits: 1 Timothy 5:23
4. Wine is used in the Worship of God in both the Old Testament and New Testament.
a) Old Testament temple sacrifices – Drink offering.
“And with the first lamb a tenth measure of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering” Exodus 29:40.
b) New Testament sacrament – communion (See Matthew 26:26-29).
So, Alcohol is a good gift of God that is to be stewarded properly. But, like all of God’s gifts, it can be misused and abused and become a bad thing.
The Bad Side of Alcohol
The good use/enjoyment of alcohol becomes wrong when drinking leads to drunkenness.
Drunkenness is repeatedly condemned as sin in the Bible.
“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy” Romans 13:13.
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” Ephesians 5:18.
The Consequences of Drunkenness:
1. Drunkenness makes you like the world
“For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” 1 Peter 4:3.
2. Drunkenness can get you kicked out of the church
“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one” 1 Corinthians 5:11.
3. Drunkenness can get you kicked out of heaven
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 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” Galatians 5:19-21.
Of course this begs an important question. At what point am I considered drunk? When have I crossed the line? There’s no easy answer to that. The Bible constantly calls us to sober-mindedness so it seems that at the point that I’m no longer sober-minded and clear headed, at the point I’ve lost control over my mental and moral reflexes, I’m getting outside of God’s will for me as a Christian.
How many drinks does that take? It’s hard to say. Maybe this explains St. Augustine’s perspective on Christian liberty in general when he said, “Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation.”
Thus far we’ve talked about drunkenness but are there other negative things about alcohol in the Bible?
1. Alcohol can dull your spiritual senses and cloud your judgment.
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap” Luke 21:34.
See also: Proverbs 23:30-33, Isaiah 28:7
2. Alcohol can become addictive.
“Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
that they may run after strong drink,
who tarry late into the evening
as wine inflames them” Isaiah 5:11.
3. Alcohol consumption/drunkenness can lead to other sins and consequences.
- Fighting – Proverbs 20:1, 23:34-35
- Murder – 2 Samuel 13:28, 1 Kings 16:10
- Manipulation – 2 Samuel 11:13
- Irreverence – Daniel 5
- Nakedness and Shame – Genesis 9:20-27 – Noah uncovered before his sons.
- Sexual sin including Incest – Genesis 19:30-38 – Lot and his daughters
- Poverty – Proverbs 21:17
- Staggering and blurred vision – Isaiah 28:7
- Foolishness and lack of understanding – Hosea 4:11
So alcohol, although a good gift from God, has a propensity to be abused and can lead to all types of other sins and consequences.
Further considerations about alcohol from the scriptures?
God’s servants sometimes abstain because of their calling.
Priests could not drink while performing their duties, Nazarites abstained entirely (Numbers 6), John the Baptist abstained from alcohol, Pastors and Christian leaders cannot be drunkards, and some spiritual leaders like Timothy thought it best to abstain (at least for a season) presumably to further their ministry.
I don’t want to stress this point too far though, because the greatest servant of God, Jesus Christ, did partake of alcohol. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that we see some of God’s servants abstaining because of their particular calling.
God’s servants sometimes abstain because of their context.
The question of drinking among Christians ultimately falls into the broader category of Christian liberties in general.
Christian liberties deal with issues that are not sinful in and of themselves, but can potentially stumble other believers into sin, which is sinful. And, if it’s determined that your liberty could cause others to sin, scripturally you are called to set that liberty aside and abstain from it to serve the conscience of your brothers and sisters.
In Romans 14:21 Paul says, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.”
That means I have to ask myself as a Christian, if I drank would other believers be stumbled into sin by my example? Would somebody whose conscience doesn’t allow them to drink, be emboldened to drink because of my example, thus violating thier conscience and sinning?
If your answer to that is yes, you need to abstain from drinking in front of them, talking about drinking (positively) around them, and posting pics of you drinking for them to stumble across. For me, whether I would actually cause a brother or sister to stumble into sin or not, is an aside. For me, there’s a more important issue at stake which causes me to abstain from alcohol.
In the cultural context that I live in and minister in, just the knowledge that I drink, would be an obstacle to the gospel of Christ. And Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:12 “we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.”
What I mean, is that for many of the people to whom I’m trying to minister to, alcohol has very negative connotations. For some, alcohol is connected to their abusive father, or negligent mother, or their friend killed by a drunk driver, or their uncle who died way too soon because of cirrhosis of the liver, or the time they lost their virginity because some guy date raped them, or the marriage that fell apart, or the DUI and legal troubles or…you fill in the blank.
And so, the knowledge that I drink would immediately cause some people to lose some degree of respect for me, have more trouble receiving spiritual counsel from me, and have heightened suspicions about my personal integrity and spiritual well-being.
Whether that’s right, wrong or indifferent is totally irrelevant to me because it’s reality. And I want to deal with that reality.
I would rather put that liberty aside than put any sort of hindrance in the way of the gospel or handicap my effectiveness in any way.
Now, if I lived in another cultural context, people might not make those same connections with alcohol so this would be a moot point. Or if this cultural context changed in the next 30 years, this would no longer factor in. But this is my cultural context. So for me, I understand the connections made between the people I’m seeking to minister to and alcohol. And I know that for some of them, the thought of their Pastor drinking raises question marks in their minds. Therefore, I choose to abstain.
Whether or not you decide to completely abstain or partake in moderation, one thing is clear. The use of alcohol deserves serious consideration and should never hinder the Gospel. And, whatever side of the fence you fall on in this discussion, do everything in your power to not pass judgment on those who fall on the other side. Afterall, the Apostle Paul’s deeper goal in his discussions on Christian liberty is always Christian unity.
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