The Christian and Alcohol

Or 5 biblical principles that should control our use of alcohol

The Preacher says “In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness. Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise--why destroy yourself? Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool-- why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.” (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18)

The subject of ‘the Christian and alcohol’ has been a controversial one in the church, a subject with extremes of opinion. The only way to gain wisdom on this subject is to take seriously what is written in the entirety of God’s Word concerning it, and to heed the warning of the Apostle Paul: "Do not go beyond what is written." (1 Corinthians 4:6).

This is a brief topical overview of the Bible’s teaching on the subject of alcohol, with a particular focus on the New Testament’s ethic for its use and applications for Christians (Point 5).

1. The Bible actually teaches that alcohol is from God.

E.g. Psalm 104:14; Ecclesiastes 9:7, 10:19; Proverbs 31:6. The Book of John gives an account of where Jesus turned water into wine in order to meet needs and bless a newly married couple on their week long wedding party (John 2:9-10). On one occasion the Apostle Paul needed to tell Timothy to stop abstaining from the properties of wine which could be helpful/good (1 Timothy 5:23).

2. As with anything in this world, the love of alcohol and the indulgence in it is sinful.

E.g. Just to focus on Proverbs alone, see 23:20-21, 20:1, 21:17, 23:39-35.

Because even a small amount of alcohol can be intoxicating , even more wisdom and self control is needed than with other things of this world that we use. Christians are told in scripture to take particular and serious care, not to ‘cross the line’ by drinking to intoxication: Ephesians 5:15 -18.

3. The evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in a Christian is the continuing death of their sinful nature, and the outworking of the new nature of Christ that is in them. Part of this nature is self control, and so the Christian way to treat alcohol is with self control: Galatians 5: 16 – 24.

Accordingly, the world should be able to see the nature of Christ in us by our action (self control displayed whenever we drink or partake of anything in this world that is from God) that they may take seriously God’s message that we preach, and turn to Him: Titus 2:2-13.

4. This lifestyle of self control with alcohol is even more important for leaders of God’s people.

E.g. 1 Timothy 3:1-3, 8; Titus 1:7.

5. Every Christian, as part of the body of Christ, is to building others up and restrict themselves to what leads to the good of others. And so it is sinful to do anything that causes other Christians to stumble, even if you know you’re theologically free to do that thing in Christ. This is a very important principle of God’s Word that applies to alcohol consumption.

It may be that the Christian, who sees you drinking alcohol, even though they know the Biblical perspective on it, doesn’t have the character that you have. Then, when they follow your example, they don’t have the self control that you have, and so really they are unable to follow your example in the first place. They fall into sin, but you have contributed to it. If this is at all a possibility with somebody then don’t set that example until they’re ready for it, so that they won’t stumble.

It may be that a non-Christian who sees you drinking, or a Christian for that matter, doesn’t understand the Biblical perspective on it as you do. They may judge you for it, thinking you’re a hypocrite. How then can you share the gospel with them, since they will discredit everything you say? And so you’re drinking in that case hinders the work of the gospel, which is more important than you’re freedom to drink. And it’s more important that they understand the truth of the gospel than they understand the Bible’s teaching on drinking. So in circumstances where drinking might destroy the work of God in somebody’s life, it is of course better not to drink.

However it may be that in certain situations you could use your consumption of alcohol as an aid to point out the true nature of sin and the difference between religious living (bondage because of the law) and Christianity (freedom because of grace in Christ), and so share the gospel in explanation of their wrong thinking on this issue.

And what about another Christian if their conviction is that it is sinful to drink alcohol? For them drinking is sin, because they would be rebelling against God in their hearts if they were to drink (anything that does not come from faith is sin: Rom 14:23). The apostle Paul describes this as a ‘weak conscience’, meaning, an over sensitive conscience; and also as ‘weak faith’, because a strong faith knows that through the cross we are free to live and enjoy all things from God in this life as the Spirit bears the fruit of faith in us. However, we are still responsible to make sure we don’t sin ourselves by causing those with a weak conscience to stumble. The entire chapter of Romans 14 explains this principle in depth: Romans 14:19-23.

This is a general principle of the New Testament, and applies to all areas of our freedom in Christ. We should cease doing anything that hinders the gospel, or causes our weaker family members (in faith/character) to stumble; whether smoking or drinking, or our choice of language/vocabulary, or dress or cultural etiquette: 1Corinthians 8:9 -13; 10:23-11:1

Therein lies the heart of the matter: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God--even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1)

It’s the grace of God shown us in the cross of Christ that teaches us to live this way: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:11-13).

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