December 09, 2008

Q and A 2.0 Revisited: #19--Alcohol

What does the Bible say about drinking alcohol?

Historically, Baptists have considered themselves against alcohol use. So many of you, like me, may have grown up with pastors who regularly railed against it’s evils.

But, let’s look at what the Bible clearly says, because that’s what matters.

Ephesians 5:15-18 “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

Drunkenness is a sin. Multiple scriptures mention this. If you think that this verse is only about wine, then you’re mistaken. The point is that it leads to debauchery, so don’t use anything that will impair your sensibilities or abilities to this point. This would include drugs and other substances too.

Romans 13:1 “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”

If you are under the age of 21 in this country, drinking alcohol violates the law, which is an authority that God has established. So, teenagers and most college students: you have no excuse to drink. It is a sin to break this law.

But what about an adult having a drink that is not to the point of drunkenness?

There is no command in the Bible that tells us to refrain from drinking alcohol. There were certain groups of people (the Nazarites, the Essenes, etc.) who chose to set themselves apart from other people by refraining from alcohol. Sometimes these vows were for life, but usually it was only for a short amount of time.

Most of the biblical characters drank wine, including Jesus himself. This was real wine, not sugar wine like some have claimed. Jesus' first miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding party.

1 Timothy 5:23 “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” Wine even had medicinal purposes and had a health benefit.

So is it right for us today? More importantly, is it wise? The answer is found in Romans 14.

The real issue is this: How do we go about deciding what is right before the Lord? How do we interact with fellow Christians when they arrive at different conclusions?

The first thing we have to do is remove all the strands of our own selfish desires, and consider others better than ourselves. Take an "others first" attitude.

In Romans 14, pagan people would sacrifice meat to their gods. Yhat meat was then resold in the markets, and some of the new Christians had no problem eating that meat. New converts from those pagan religions did. They thought it was defiled and a reminder of their past, so they thought people shouldn't eat the meat.
So is it OK?

Romans 14:1-2 “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand."

So what does that say? We accept those whose faith is weak without passing judgment on disputable matters. Just because we disagree with something doesn’t mean that God disagrees with it. Each one should be fully convinced in their own mind.

Romans 14:5-12 "One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’” So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God."

This is like the tattoo question. We are accountable to God, so we should hold our opinions and actions up to Him and see how they measure. Some things in life, like alcohol, are left up to our consciences. If you have guilt or doubt about it, then that is a clear sign that you shouldn’t be doing it. If you can drink alcohol with a clear conscience, though, then make sure you pay attention to these next verses. You have to make up your mind not to put a stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.

Romans 14:13-14 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean."

If your brother is distressed because of what you eat or drink, then you are no longer acting in love.

Romans 14:15 "If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died."

What you can handle may not be managable for someone else, and it can even destroy their faith. On the other hand …

Romans 14:16-18 "Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men."

Make peace and build each other up.

Romans 14:19-23 "Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin."

The answer? It’s between you and the Lord. You have to be culturally savvy and you have to be aware of what affect it will have on others.

We live in South Mississippi. What are the consequences, good or bad, of exercising your liberty in drinking alcohol or choosing to abstain? What are the chances of making a brother stumble in their faith…you have to weight them out.

As for me personally, I have chosen not to drink alcohol. It’s an issue of conscience. I couldn’t do it without doubt or guilt. Some verses that have served as a guide for me:

Proverbs 31:3-7 “It is not for king, O lemuel—not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights. Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.”

Those who are in a position of leadership are held to higher standards. and that includes me. So, I don’t want it to be an issue, and I don’t want it to become something that disqualifies me from my duties as a minister.

The qualifications of elders and deacons include men who are not given to drunkenness, and not indulging in much wine. Men like that have no business leading in the church.

Proverbs 20:1 “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”

Proverbs 23:20-21 “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor and drowsiness clothes them in rags.”

Gluttony and drunkenness are put together here. I didn’t exactly hear that sermon growing up.

Those are my reasons. The Bible teaches moderation without excess in everything, and with alcohol it’s up to your conscience and it’s up to you to keep from making your brother stumble.

Tomorrow we will see what the Bible has to say about gambling. Check out all of the Q and A series here.

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