One of the most debated issues in Christianity concerning freedom is that of social drinking. Denominations differ. Backgrounds divide. Experiences direct. When most pastors communicate to students concerning the sins to abstain from in America, the list normally starts with premarital sex, drinking, and smoking.
These are areas which the Bible actually does address, but few ministers ever mention the sins of hating one’s brother, developing an envious heart, supplanting God for another, etc.
Why has the American church focused so much on the previous? It is that these actions are observable, concrete practices while so many other areas are matters of the heart. I can physically see if someone is drinking alcohol or not. I cannot perceive whether or not someone has bitterness in the heart towards another.
So is it wrong to drink? Can a Christian go to a party? Can he socially drink?
As our culture progresses, the line keeps getting blurrier. Not only do different churches and Christians disagree on this issue, but also it appears as if the Bible supports both sides or is at least ambiguous about the topic. So to address this issue, I encourage you to lay aside your tradition, denomination, preconceived notions, parental instruction, parental example, and join me in looking at what God’s Word really says about the issue of alcohol.
Where the Bible is Pro-Drinking
Whenever this discussion is brought up, someone normally joins in and says that Paul told Timothy it was OK to drink. For all the people who have alluded to that verse without knowing its actual location, here goes: 1 Timothy 5:23 states:
“No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.”
It appears here that Paul is advocating the consumption of alcohol. Now before any of you bingers out there decide to memorize that as your life verse, let’s see what’s really going on in this passage.
What’s important to note is that earlier in this letter Paul instructed his son in the faith, Timothy, to have leaders in the church that were above reproach in their moral integrity. You know what one of the qualifications for the elders and the deacons to serve was? They could not be drunkards (1 Tim. 3:3, 8). So from this passage, we at least see Paul telling Timothy to drink wine for his health, but he was not to put anyone in spiritual leadership who constantly drank a substantial amount of alcohol.
I’ve heard a lot of people find allowance for alcohol in the fact that Jesus turned water into wine. Opponents to social drinking will reply, “He might have turned it into wine, but you never see him drinking it.” If you are unfamiliar with the story, let me explain it. In John 2, Jesus’ first recorded miracle is at a wedding. The hosts of the wedding run out of the wine, and Jesus’ mama comes up and tells him about the situation wanting him to do something. Jesus turns the water into wine, and apparently, Jesus knows how to brew well because the party is raving about this batch being the best they have consumed all day.
Some people have claimed that the wine that Jesus transformed was something more like grape juice and that wine in that day was really not alcohol. That assumption is simply incorrect. Jesus did not turn water into Welch’s grape juice, but he didn’t turn it into a Colt 45 either.
In addition, there are many biblical passages that discuss the presence of wine in a healthy time of celebration.
It is careless and incorrect to teach that the Bible strictly condemns alcohol.
If you’re like me, you look at these passages, and you still walk away without a conclusive argument about whether or not you can go to a keg party on Saturday night and go to the late service at church on Sunday morning without feeling guilty.
Where the Bible Is Anti-Drinking
You cannot say definitively that the Bible is against alcohol. Without a doubt, you can say that the Bible is against drunkenness and negative effects of alcohol. So, how do you know when one’s alcohol consumption has gone too far?
What does the Bible say concerning alcohol concretely? Here’s what we know without a doubt:
#1. Drunkenness is frowned upon.
While biblical alcohol is not completely parallel to the stuff served at your campus’ parties, wine was a part of life for many in biblical times. Without a doubt, the consumption of too much alcohol always had a negative effect within the pages of the Bible.
What is too much alcohol? Is there a blood count level that the Bible prescribes to steer clear?
Unfortunately, there is not, but there is example upon example to allow us to form a pretty safe rule:
If your alcohol consumption could cause you to do something you regret later, that is an unwise amount.
Let’s take the first account in the Bible concerning alcohol. Noah has been chosen to lead the only family that God wasn’t going to obliterate on the earth, and so he takes his family and all the animals (they came in by twosies, twosies) onto the ark before the flood comes. When the waters subside, Noah, his family, and all the animals debark from the boat. God tells them to live it up on the earth and repopulate it. He tells them that every time they see a rainbow in the sky, they should remember his promise that he won’t destroy the earth again (at least by a flood). They have a worship service, and then Noah gets plastered.
Granted, if I had been stuck on a boat with the lovely aroma of all his beastly shipmates for as long as he did, I might have hit the bottle too. Noah decides to begin the first moonshine company recorded in the Bible. He makes a vineyard, he indulges himself with the fruit of his labor, he gets hammered, and then he gets naked. That description sounds a lot like some of the college parties going on in the States actually. Often college parties will either climax with some guy hurting himself, the party getting busted, or somebody starts getting in the nude.
Noah’s incident is pretty bad, but in the Bible, alcohol is also attributed to many other sinful practices.
- God once said that wine was robbing his people of their senses because they were making horrible decisions partially due to their alcohol consumption (Hos. 4:11).
- In the Book of Proverbs, a father tells a son not to associate with those people who drink too much since their lives will end in poverty (Prov. 23:19-21).
- The author even states that if someone drinks too much, he is a person who is constantly complaining and always feeling sorry for himself (Prov. 23:29).
- He even warns that alcohol will be tempting, but you will pay severely in the morning with a hangover (Prov. 23:31-32).
- When God’s people were in serious trouble, God traced the problem back to their leaders consuming too much alcohol that rendered them helpless to make correct spiritual decisions (Isa. 28:7).
- In the Bible, kings who forgot to take care of the people’s needs were those kings who drank too much (Prov. 31:5).
#2. Drunkenness is often listed in a group of sins from which Christians should abstain.
Drunkenness is seen as counterproductive to the fruits of the Spirit (Ga. 5:21). At parties, how many people have you seen display self-control, peace, or kindness? Sure you may have seen them display joy, but I don’t think drunken hysteria can be equated to biblical joy. No one knows where the line is concerning where it is imperative to stop. You don’t know when to stop because you are unable to think clearly. In the last years, our nation has seen numerous deaths on college campuses because drunk friends encouraged someone not to stop for the sake of a few laughs.
In Eph. 5:18, we are warned not to cheapen our lives by getting drunk. Paul equated it as literally cheapening our lives by drinking ourselves to a state of confusion. He did state that we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit instead. As a child of God, we are to be directed by the Holy Spirit with his governing and directing every action. When alcohol gets out of control, we are no longer directed by the Holy Spirit, but by a cheapened state of ourselves.
#3. Christian leaders’ lives are not to be characterized by a large or consistent amount of alcohol.
I already mentioned that Paul told Timothy not to put people in church leadership that were hooked on the bottle. He didn’t want anyone making spiritual decisions that affected others if they couldn’t even make wise decisions regarding themselves on when to stop drinking.
Even if Christians disagree about alcohol consumption, our culture consistently holds that Christianity and alcohol are in contradiction to one another. For some people outside the faith, they are constantly searching for an excuse of why they don’t have to convert to be a Christian. On college campuses, I have been amazed at how many non-Christians criticize Christians for drinking indicating that there is no different between that person and those Christians.
#4. Alcohol can lead to poor decisions.
The Bible is also consistent in encouraging God’s people to always make the wisest choice when confronted with multiple options.
Solomon made it clear when he stated that “wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1).
Have you ever seen alcohol cause someone to turn into a mocker or a brawler? It happens all the time. Someone gets a little too much of the goods in their system, and all of a sudden they confess things that should not even be revealed to Oprah and Dr. Phil. And while that person does that, the person’s best friends just allow it to happen all in good fun.
Beer is definitely a brawler. Fights break out, and alcohol is normally one of the components. When a person’s alcohol level is high, he is unable to truly judge how he feels or responsibly react to what is happening around him. Due to these reasons, Solomon just claims that if alcohol causes humiliation and anger, then it is simply unwise for a child of God to be intoxicated by it because it makes normally wise people do stupid things. Of all people, Solomon should know. He persistently indulged in alcohol to cheer himself up (Ecc. 2:3), but he ended up saying that it was a worthless, meaningless pursuit because it could not provide him satisfaction (Ecc. 2:11).
Based on the examples we have seen, if we derive our worldview from the teaching of Scripture, we have to at least say that drunkenness is disobedience to God.
Disobedience to God is sin. A true follower of Jesus does not continue on knowingly in sin without any conviction or attempt for improvement (1 John 3:9).
How Old Are You Anyway?
As a side note, this debate shouldn’t even be an issue for some of you reading. If you are under the legal age of alcohol consumption, it should definitely not even be in question for under-age drinkers.
I am shocked at how many claim that they are free to do it, and they are under the legal age of drinking. Read Romans 13:1 to see how God’s Word instructs us to be obedient to the governing authorities that he put over us. If you are of age but you belong to a dry campus or organization, you should also honor that institution’s standards and submit to their policies. Part of our witness in this world is to allow our outstanding behavior in society to draw people to God (1 Pt. 2:13-15).
The right to drink for some comes from an argument based upon “Christian liberty.” The verse that they are casually quoting comes from 1 Cor. 6:12 where Paul says: “All things are lawful for me.” But most people don’t finish his thought where he states that not all things are beneficial. He also states that he will not be mastered by anything. In Christ, we may have the “rights” to do certain things, but does it make it beneficial? And how do you know if you will be mastered by it or not? How do you know if you could be one of the many that gets addicted?
In my life, I have struggled a lot with this issue.
For me, I resolved the issue in my mind by looking to a situation that Paul had to address a few chapters over from the previous verse. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul was confronting the Corinthian church about a problem in their congregation. Some people were upset that people were eating meat that had been sacrificed and used in the worship of idols.
Translation: this food had been used in worship to foreign gods, and then Christians were eating it.
Paul said in 1 Cor. 8:4, “Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one.“ So even if he did eat of that food, he knew that in his Christian liberty, he was in essence not doing anything wrong at all.
He then states in v. 9-13:
“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who has knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.“
What is he saying? Paul is stating that he could in fact get away with eating that meat, but for the sake of those younger, more immature believers, he would not do it – even though he could. If he did partake, that action would actually turn into sinning against Christ (1 Cor. 8:12) because it is making his children stumble.
So Paul’s resolution: I would never do anything that would cause my brother to stumble.
Love limits freedom.
He would rather do the loving thing for the sake of others than he would do the “free” thing for the sake of himself.
I see that personally, as a direct correlation concerning social drinking. Is it a sin? If you are not getting drunk, it’s probably not.
The Bible does state that it is unwise (Prov. 20:1).
“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” (1 Cor. 10:23). Edifying, building one another up in the Body, is one of the major reasons why we are still on this earth (Eph. 4:12)!
Someone Is Watching
In fact, Jesus actually said that if we caused someone to sin, it would be better for a stone to be wrapped around our neck and sink to the bottom of the sea (Matt. 18:6). While that seems a little extreme, I understand what he means.
Let’s just say that I decide in my Christian liberty that it is acceptable to drink a glass of wine with my meal at a restaurant. I never drink enough to enable me to swing from the chandeliers or anything, but I just simply drink a few.
While I’m at the restaurant, a couple of Christian college students that attend our church’s Bible study approach the table to talk. They are spiritual babies. They haven’t been walking with Christ for long. But on that night, they see the person who tells them to make everything in their lives about Jesus enjoying life by knocking back a few. They now feel as if it is acceptable for them as well.
That is the cost of spiritual leadership. And even if you aren’t in a leadership position, there is somebody looking up to you, and you influence his or her decisions.
Let’s imagine that those college students leave the restaurant, and since I approved by example the consumption of alcohol, they partake of it as well, but one of them isn’t like me. He can’t merely drink one or two. He drinks a whole lot more. In fact, he gets addicted to it. He craves it.
What if he eventually became an alcoholic?
Alcohol can lead people to addiction, abuse, depression, dependence, murder, and suicide just to name a few.
Where could I trace the beginning of this problem? It all started with my Christian liberty. It all started that I was acting on what I wanted.
In the community of faith, I am always to be more concerned with the needs of others than I am my own (Phil. 2:3-4). Love limits freedom. If I love those brothers and sisters of mine, I will forsake some selfish desire for the sake of their spiritual maturity. It’s not an issue any longer.
Could I drink socially and God not throw lightning bolts at my beer-guzzling body? Probably.
Do I want to? Personally, I have chosen to decline.
Do I have a problem with Christians who do drink alcohol? Nope, as long as they can handle it and drink it for the glory of God and consideration of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:31).
I have just chosen not to go down that path.
For me, life is too short to waste time in the gray areas, and certain spiritual lives could be damaged because I choose to embark upon my pursuit of liberty. My liberty isn’t worth it to me if it could mean the chance of messing up someone else’s spirituality.
Love limits freedom, and I love the people around me too much to mess up their walk for the sake of a passing pleasurable moment that I may never remember.