Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Christians and Drinking

How should Christians handle the question of alcohol consumption? This is a question Christians struggle with and argue over. Seriously, people get passionate discussing this issue.

Whenever I begin a blog concerning important issues (this is one) I feel I must give a disclaimer of the quality of work. This format is more of a conversation than a scholarly work. As a pastor, I get this question a lot from three basic groups of people: 1) the “parent” who is looking to me as the voice from God to affirm their position that consuming any alcohol is an abomination in God’s eyes; 2) the “partier” who is seeking to use the Scriptures to affirm their position that consuming alcohol is a gift from God and should enjoyed liberally by all; and 3) the “searching one” who is struggling (on either end of the spectrum) to understand what the Bible says and how it applies in their lives. My aim is to respond to this last group for the sake of helping someone, not for the sake of getting into a theological sword fight.

A few disclaimers. First, I am not covering every verse of the Bible concerning this subject. I am seeking to share some thoughts that come to mind concerning this issue. Second, Scripture is very clear about submitting to the authorities. So in light of this discussion, the Bible would frown upon any alcohol consumption that violates the law of the land.

Our relationship with God is based upon His grace poured upon us through faith in Jesus. As a young Christian I struggled with this concept of grace. When I “fell off the wagon” and went on a bender I was riddled with guilt and failure. I thought God’s love for me ebbed and flowed like the ocean tides and was contingent on my success or failure trying to walk the Christian walk. This works based relationship is not of the Lord. If you are reading this and struggling in this area, know that God loves you because He created you, He paid your debt of sin, and He is working on you in this area in you because knows what is best for you! On the other side of the coin, I haven’t drank in something like 10 years. This doesn’t mean that God loves me more simply because I am observing this law that I have placed over myself because of my own failure with moderation. I have been tempted to have a glass of wine just to remove my ability to say with a prideful heart, “I haven’t consumed alcohol in over 10 years. Look at how awesome I am!”

The dangers of alcohol. How can I adequately cover this section? I can’t. I would venture to say that alcohol has killed more people, destroyed more lives, devastated more relationships than any other drug. Forget biblical reasons for just a moment—consider alcohol from a purely pragmatic perspective. I often share with people that I didn’t stop drinking for religious reasons, I stopped because it was destroying my life. I was abused by my biological alcoholic mother until I was removed from her custody when I was about 12 years old. I started drinking at an early age which resulted in a number of terrible things in my own life—hurt shoulder (to this day) from crashing a dirt bike while drunk in the desert, an abortion, and a resisting evading arrest charge that led to the losing of my security clearance for a number of months. I literally can’t think of any good thing that alcohol has produced in my life (okay, I’ll give credit to rubbing alcohol and NyQuil).

Proverbs 23:29-35 shares wisdom concerning the temptation and danger of alcohol:

Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?

Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.

Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging.

“They hit me,” you will say, “but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?”

Jesus’ first miracle was making wine. Yes, this is true. It was wine, not grape juice. There is nothing more frustrating to me when people manipulate the Bible for the sake of supporting their side. Jesus made wine. Jesus drank wine. Jesus was NEVER drunk, for that would be a sin.

There is freedom for a Christian to consume alcohol—so long as they do not get drunk. This issue is ultimately control. There is no clear line between sobriety and intoxication. The Bible makes it clear that we are to be controlled by the Spirit of the living God. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). I find this verse uncanny. Drunkenness is forbidden and the Spirit filled life is commanded as the key to maintaining healthy relationships (i.e. Husbands to wives and vice versa, parents to children and vice versa, employees to employers and vice versa) in this life. The uncanny part is the vast destruction drunkenness has caused to these relationships throughout the history of humanity. How many lives and relationships could have been spared if people set down the bottle and lived Spirit filled lives?

Sure, you have the freedom in Christ to have an alcoholic beverage, but be very careful because the warnings concerning drunkenness are severe.

I am up pretty late writing this. I apologize for typos or thoughts that are incoherent. I am losing steam. I want to end with an important section of Scripture. I would encourage you to open your Bible and read through Galatians 5. Pray and ask God to give you wisdom concerning this issue in your own life.

Galatians 5:16-26—the deeds of the flesh contrasted with the fruit of the Spirit.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

1 comment:

Hairy said...

I wholeheartedly agree! In spite of your being tired, I think you did a pretty good job explaining such a touchy subject in American theology. This isn't such a big deal in Europe, Canada, or Latin America because they never went through "Prohibition" when "drink" was demonized like it was here. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. Romans 14:21 ESV Even Yeshua (Jesus) was accused of being a "drunk" -- The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
Luke 7:34 ESV
As far as I can tell, the scriptures are balanced. The only people expressly forbidden to drink alcohol are Nazirites: “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. Numbers 6:2-3 ESV