Drunkenness: A Christian’s Attitude Toward Alcohol11 min read
Before coming to the solemn and weighty subject of alcohol and its effects, we need to be aware of the fact that differing views exist as to its use. Yet there is no way to cater to all beliefs, and even if there was a way, we would betray Scripture to say that all views are equally valid. We need to see what Scripture says: the eternal Word of God alone can be and will be our standard. The question is, will we believe it?
What Does the Bible Say?
Before looking at specific verses, we need to understand something: the intake of alcohol in and of itself is not a sin. Drunkenness is the sin. If intake of alcohol was forbidden in its totality, we could not use some medicines and could not partake of the Lord’s Supper. However, the story doesn’t end there in any capacity. Scripture has much more to say on the issue.
Considering the principle of first mention to be important, we would do well to see where the first mention of an alcoholic beverage is in Scripture. We would find that in Genesis 9 with Noah. We know he was a husbandman. We do not know why he became drunk – was it intentional or was it because he accidentally took one too many drinks? This is what we know, however: it was the drinking that led to the drunkenness that led to shame upon shame. It caused family disunion, shame, and exposure. What a way to see alcohol in its first light! Yet how appropriate it is. Surely in this world’s lack of temperance, this is the main picture we see of abusing such a beverage. In fact, the same thing happened ten chapters later with Lot; except incest was the sin on display that time. It is no wonder, then, why a drunkard is in the list of those requiring assembly discipline. Drunkenness destroys testimony in a way that is unimaginable and uncontrollable and often irreversible.
The question is, at what point does drunkenness officially start? The answer is that no one really knows. Alcohol has effects with the first drink – obviously, or else no one would want the first drink. After, it only increases with the second, third, and fourth. There is no definite point at which we can say “If I drink one more, I will be drunk.” With that in mind, consider Romans 13:13-14 – “Let us walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting and drunkenness… But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” We are not only commanded to resist the flesh and its desires: we are commanded to avoid giving in the means to fulfill those desires. Especially when it comes to things that can be addictive (pornography, alcohol, drugs, etc.), even slight provision can trigger a fall into sin that one never could have imagined. To play with these types of things is like inching toward a cliff’s edge in thick fog. In our optimism, we may like to assume that the point of falling is far away, but it is still plain foolishness to go closer when it could be at any moment. Proverbs says “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: whoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” Here is another question of concern: is the man deceived after he becomes drunk or when he approaches the issue without understanding his ability to fall and the severity of alcohol?
What About Social Drinking?
This is an extremely important issue to address, because some would view social drinking as a part of Christian liberty, when in reality it enslaves them to a compromised testimony and perhaps eventual drunkenness. Consider a Christian young man who is willing to attend a party where he knew drunkenness would be prevalent. Not only is he willing to attend, but to take part in the drinking with his only rule being that he cannot become drunk. But why would it be logical to think that he would stop at one drink if he was willing to go that far as it was? If he was already coerced into going by his worldly friends, why would he suddenly have strength to say no to another drink even when he is already surrounded by a worldly atmosphere? Provision for the flesh combined with a worldly atmosphere will lead to a fulfillment of the flesh. After all, it was no doubt Lot’s desensitization because of his exposure to Sodom that allowed him to be drunken so easily two nights in a row. At the moment, such affiliations may not lead one to absolute ruin, but they will add up to a failure at one of life’s defining moments. It is a very frightening thing to be in that position by voluntary will.
But what if that young man were to attend the party without drinking? Would that then be okay even though others were getting drunk? Let’s take the question to another example. What if a Christian young man were to attend a strip bar with co-workers, while being sure that he closed his eyes whenever a stripper came up to him and that he was not going to fornicate that night? Would that be okay? Without question, the answer is no in each one of our minds. Scripture calls us not only to “touch not the unclean thing” but to “come out from among them and be ye separate.” (2 Cor. 6). It is not only actions that defile us but affiliations. You see, those looking on really could not care less about what is going on in that young man’s mind. They see him with a certain group of people, and they rightly assume that is where he enjoys being, since he consented to attending. It really doesn’t make a difference to our general testimony by not drinking when we have already consented to that atmosphere. While the young man will know he didn’t drink, why would anybody else have the reason to assume that also? Social drinking is never right for the believer in any capacity. It is never part of Christian liberty to blend in with the world.
Some Practical Explanations and Considerations
At this point, one might rightly raise Scriptural objections saying “What about Paul’s telling Timothy to take wine?” or “Didn’t Jesus turn water into wine?” or “Doesn’t Psalm 104 speak of wine making glad the heart of man?” Perhaps a few points of clarification would be helpful.
- In many contexts Scripture speaks of wine for medicinal use, and even then in extreme moderation. Even with Timothy’s “frequent illnesses” Paul advised him to take “a little wine.” Isn’t it interesting too that Timothy had to be told to use wine? It obviously was something he didn’t want to be be known for drinking. With modern medicines available today, we don’t necessarily need wine for that purpose.
- Wine is often used in Scripture for a symbol of joy and prosperity (Gen. 49:11-12 / Zech. 10:7) or a symbol of deception (Rev. 18:3). When Scripture uses a symbol, it points to something greater and uses an object to illustrate that. It is a fact that wine creates joy, and it is a fact that wine creates sorrow and deception. These are things we need to treat, not as commentaries on wine itself, but as symbols.
- We need to understand the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Israel was earthly and physical in nature and in their promises; so when wine was mentioned, it was associated with Israel’s prosperity as a nation and as something for them to enjoy. For the Church, however, Scripture is very reserved when it comes to the topic, and as New Testament saints this is our pattern. As it was said at the beginning, Scripture does not say the bare intake of alcohol is sin. Nevertheless, wherever it is mentioned as pertaining to believers, there is freedom with a huge warning sign on it. In Romans 14, the issue is one of conscience, – meaning it is between a person and God – yet it says “It is good neither to eat flesh or drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbles, or is offended, or is made weak.” Here we see freedom with limits (and, of all issues, this issue of alcohol is one very apt to stumble another). Again we see in Ephesians “Do not become drunk with wine, wherein is riotousness, but be filled with the Spirit.” Here we see freedom with limits and a focus away from the wine toward our true spiritual heritage. The same is true of the other mentions of “wine” in the New Testament. They technically allow for freedom, but always in a very reserved light. So must our attitude be toward the issue. Considering the change of alcohol percentage from Bible times to present times, we should be especially reserved in these issues.
Perhaps, not from Scripture, one might object “Is there anything wrong with a drink after I come home from a long, stressful, depressing day at work?” Well, for one thing, with stress and levels of depression causing lack of inhibition as it is, that would be one of the worst possible times to take a drink. Of all times, that is when a man would be likely to abuse it. It might not happen the first time, but what about a time down the road when he is used to it and is slowly desensitized as to its dangers? Also, what does that teach the man’s children? How fatherly of an image is it to see one’s dad, even in a mild form, drinking his cares away? Does this not teach the children that drinking is the key to solving life’s problems? Is this not the very notion that gets people into addictions?
In conclusion, one might be asking “I thought you said the consumption of alcohol was not a sin in itself: so why is the whole article about alcohol’s dangers?” The answer is simple: alcohol in history has been a controversial topic for a good reason. We cannot be naïve about the issue. Having money is not a sin, but it doesn’t mean it is fine to play the lottery. So it is with alcohol: it has a very special place in which it can be used without conscience issues. Yet even with that, there are so many more factors that need to be accounted for, which is why we will close with a few final considerations on the subject.
- “Do I need alcohol in some form to be happy in my life?” Scripture says no, for “Your love is better than wine.” Not only that, but we should be asking, “Do I really have to risk so much just to find some seemingly legitimate way to have a form of alcohol in my life?” It is a foolish thing to desperately want that which can easily ensnare us and chain us into bondage. Proverbs 31 says that wine is not for kings, but for the desperate: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.”
- We should also consider the true danger of alcohol. It is a drug after all. It is a main cause for divorce, abuse, death, accidents, mental issues, and crime. One could say “These will not happen after one drink.” Perhaps, but there is also the factor of addictive tendencies. Some people tend toward addiction more than others, and we really don’t know who those people are. Horror of horrors to find out the hard way!
- Influence is also a huge issue. What about our testimony? What about those who look up to us and will stumble after seeing us play with alcohol? What about children who see their father drink and ask “If it’s okay for you to drink one, why is it wrong for me to drink two or three?” What answer can the father give them that doesn’t appear hypocritical? Are we ready to not only risk our lives but the lives of others because of a silly drink?
- But in all of this, there needs to be a Scriptural attitude. This is an attitude that wants to conserve godliness, but that also recognizes that some believers do use very limited forms of alcohol on very limited occasions in front of a very limited audience. Those who hold such convictions should never be looked upon as “second-class” (if there were such a thing) for that reason. In that situation, it really is between them and God. On the other hand, those who have less convictions regarding alcohol should not feel open to talk about it, because they also should respect that some don’t want that influence in their lives. Let us be mature about this issue.
In all of these things, our standard must not be preference but profitability. If we are truly free as Christians, we are free to not do some things if we see too much danger in them. Are we going to be Christians who live on the edge of a sin that has wreaked havoc on so many? Even being drunk once can ruin a lifetime of testimony: are we willing to get remotely close to that? Or will we understand that it really is okay to say “No” to drinking? One does not have to apologize for refusing, especially God’s people.