A few months after starting our new life group at church, the group decided to go to a pizza place here in town. Given that I can’t say no to a good pizza with friends, my wife and I happily joined the fun. Our waiter came to our table and we started ordering drinks. ” What would you like Sir?” “Water please.” “And you?” “Tea, thank you.” On and on it went until my turn. “Sam Adams please.” I would like to tell you that I ordered that drink as a thought out plan to educate my tea totaling Christian friends on the virtues of alcohol. In all honesty though, I just wanted a beer. To there credit, I didn’t get bombarded with sharp looks or awkward silence. What I got was a sigh of relief. When the waiter brought us our drinks, one of our friends who was with us said “I’d like a beer too.” Our host graciously trekked off to the bar only to return to hear, “I’d like one too please.” One at a time (I’m not kidding) we made this poor guy get all of us some form of alcohol. The result of our imbibing in frothy beverages……a greater and deeper sense of fellowship. We talked of our mutual love for the drink. Our favorite microbreweries were discussed in detail. In a literal since, the drinks loosed our tongues. It’s one of my favorite memories from that group. I have since imbibed with them on numerous occasions. Alcohol and fellowship with these amazing individuals seem to go hand in hand. The real question though is why were we afraid to admit to each other that we enjoyed a good beer with our dinner? Christians are strongly divided on this issue. When we get together we are hesitant to even talk about it for fear of offending our brothers. Lets set aside opinions for a moment and take the truth test. What does the bible say about alcohol? I do have a strong opinion on this, but I will try my best to push it aside.
Truth Test 1 What does the bible say about alcohol?
Therefore may God give you Of the dew of heaven, Of the fatness of the earth, And plenty of grain and wine. (Genesis 27:28 NKJV)
It’s a gift from God.
Likewise deacons must be reverent, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy for money, holding the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience. (I Timothy 3:8, 9 NKJV)
There are rules associated with its consumption.
Go, eat your bread with joy, And drink your wine with a merry heart; For God has already accepted your works. (Ecclesiastes 9:7 NKJV)
But it’s not forbidden.
For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:33, 34 NKJV)
Jesus drank wine
The truth is the Bible says both good and bad things about alcohol. It says “Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise”. (Proverbs 20:1 NKJV) It also says, “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities”. (I Timothy 5:23 NKJV) How do we answer this question then? Is drinking alcohol good or bad? The evils of wine are in its abuse. Wine can make the heart merry, but it can also lead to drunkenness. On top of that, wine can be addictive. If a substance is abused, is the substance itself bad or is the abuser the one to blame? Abstainers and Prohibitionist would argue that even a little wine leads to drunkenness, so the substance is at fault. I would argue that sex is also addictive and can lead to abuses, but that does not mean that we should abolish or abstain from sex.
Another argument frequently used by abstainers is the meaning of the word wine. Did it mean the same thing as our modern day wine or was it a weak or nonalcoholic drink? For that we need a historic perspective.
Weak forms of wine, as well as grape juice is found in biblical times. The deluded forms were actually quite rare however and most wine at that time was between 5 and 20% alcohol. Plenty to get someone drunk. There also was a type of kosher wine that was common in Israel during the time of Christ and was fermented. Also, grape juice naturally turns to alcohol due to the natural yeast found on its skin. The only way to get grape juice was to drink it freshly crushed. Modern pasteurization has made grape juice more prevalent. ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_in_the_Bible) There stands a chance then that Jesus drank the rare grape juice or weak wine, but it seems unlikely.
Abstainers are right on one point. To alcoholics alcohol is sinful. The Devil has made them a slave to it. To break free from that slavery, they must abstain. To deal with sin Jesus said
“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire—” (Mark 9:47 NKJV) Jesus is not advocating self mutilation here. He is saying, be willing to take drastic measures to deal with sin. Abstaining from alcohol, a good and joyous gift from God, is drastic. Addictions happen when the love for creation exceeds the love for the Creator. The slave to the addiction is using the behavior as a means of medicating problems in their own life instead of truly trusting in God to help them deal with it. The advantage of alcohol is that it is not necessary for life. You can abstain from it and live. Those addicted to food and money don’t have the same luxury.
Truth Test 2: How should we as christians respond to alcohol?
Paul sums it up nicely.
“I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. (Romans 14:14-17 NKJV)
To put it another way: If you are with a brother who is an abstainer (offended by alcohol), or they are an alcoholic (made to stumble by alcohol), then abstain yourself for the sake of your brother. If you are with like minded brothers, then eat and drink to the glory of God.