Drawing Near to the Lord

"No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught of God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me" (John 6:44-45)

Location: Charlotttesville, Virginia, United States

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

May a Christian Drink Alcohol?

By Mark Larson

“But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thes. 5:21-22, NASB). To some people, alcohol is readily perceived as an evil to be avoided at all costs. If you are like me, you carry with you some “emotional baggage” on this issue because of the trouble it has caused your loved ones. Yet, strong feelings are not sufficient to be our guide in religion (Prov. 14:12). Just because something seems to be evil, doesn’t mean it is.

The answer to our question may seem to some people to be easily answered. Yet, when one begins to look at the many passages of Scripture that deal with this issue, the question quickly can become both perplexing and challenging. It is for this reason that many prefer to “straddle the fence” and take both sides of the issue in order to get along with everyone and not stir up controversy. Yet, avoiding your stand on this issue is not an option. Considering how often the Bible addresses the subject, we have no choice but to study the Scriptures and then take our stand for the Lord. We must try to “learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Eph. 5:10).

If we, as the children of God, are truly dedicated to do “all in the name of the Lord” by His authority (Col. 3:17), then no area of our life will be exempt from the careful scrutiny of God’s word. Instead of uncertainty in life (Rom. 14:23), we must “walk by faith” (Rom. 10:17) and have no doubts about whether or not a certain behavior or activity is acceptable to God, and drinking alcohol should be no exception to our commitment.

Is Wine Approved or Condemned by God?

In many cases, wine was approved by God. The Lord accepted it as an offering upon the altar (Num. 18:12), Jacob blessed his son Isaac to receive it (Gen. 27:28), and wine is even used as a symbol for salvation (Isa. 55:1ff.). Hardly an indication that wine is evil!

On the other hand, in many other instances, wine was also condemned by God. Wine is described as “the wine of violence” (Prov. 4:17), a mocker and brawler that intoxicates making a person unwise (Prov. 20:1; cf. Prov. 23:20-21). Wine brings woe, sorrow, contentions, poverty and complaining, it bites like a viper, it confuses, causes visions, poor judgments, violence, bitterness, and destruction (Prov 23:20-35; 31:4-7; Isa. 28:7). Aaron and his sons did not drink wine when entering the tent of meeting in order to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean (Lev.10:8-10). Daniel refused to defile himself with the king’s wine (Dan 1:8). These passages and more ought to raise more than a “red flag” of the dangers of drinking wine.

Understandably, at least initially, we may be tempted to think that the Bible is contradicting itself! Why is it approved in one instance and condemned in another? To answer this question, we must consider what type of wine that they were drinking in these instances. The reason why wine was approved in some cases and condemned in others was because the former spoke of non-alcoholic wine and the latter alcoholic wine.

The Ancients Had a Choice between Alcoholic or Nonalcoholic Wine.

Very illuminating to our study on wine in the Bible is recognition of the fact that the ancients had a choice on what type of wine they drank. Many have assumed that whenever wine is mentioned in the Bible that it was alcoholic wine. Yet, there is no basis to make such an assumption. Instead, to be fair in our examination of the word wine in the Scriptures, we need to also acknowledge the alternative that wine in some cases referred to non-alcoholic wine.

What Makes Wine Alcoholic? Wine which is alcoholic contains alcohol because the grape juice is fermented. Fermentation is that process in which yeast cells act on the sugar content of fruit juice and convert the sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol. Thus, wine which is non-alcoholic has not gone through the fermentation process.

For the people in ancient times, making wine alcoholic (fermented) was not an easy process. Fermentation was a chance process that required temperatures of the wine to be carefully regulated. People take for granted the fact that distillation, the process used to make beverages have higher alcohol content (40 to 50% alcohol) such as whiskey, gin, vodka, and rum, was not discovered until 1100!

An Ancient Preference for Non-Alcoholic Wine: It may surprise some people to learn that there were those in ancient times that actually preferred nonalcoholic (unfermented) wine! For example: "The most useful wine has all its force or strength broken by the filter." (Pliny, A.D. 61-113); "Wine is rendered old or feeble in strength when it is frequently filtered. The strength or spirit being thus excluded, the wine neither inflames the brain nor infests the mind and the passions, and is much more pleasant to drink."(Plutarch A.D. 46-120; cf. Isaiah 5:11).It is for this reason, that the ancients developed ways to prevent wine from fermenting or becoming alcoholic such as the burial method, the boiling method (cf. pasteurization), and the filtering method.

Jesus and His Disciples had a Choice and So Do We! Having this knowledge about wine, we can more clearly understand why the Bible speaks of wine with approval in some cases (non-alcoholic) and disapproval in other cases (alcoholic). We can also easily determine what type of wine Jesus and His disciples drank! When Jesus miraculously turned water into wine (John 2:1-11) for example, we can know with certainty that Jesus made not the wine that “bites like a serpent” (Prov. 23:32) (alcoholic), but instead “wine which makes man's heart glad” (Ps. 104:15) (non-alcoholic). When Jesus established the Lord’s Supper, we can read of His emphasis on the “fruit of the vine” and can rightly conclude that this was unfermented wine or grape juice (Mat. 26:27-29), not alcoholic wine. Therefore, since Jesus and His disciples had a choice between the two, we do too! The choice we should make is very obvious as we examine the many biblical reasons why Christians should abstain from drinking alcohol.

Reasons from the Bible Why Christians Should Abstain from Alcohol

Abstain for Appearance Sake: Some Christians abstain from alcohol merely for the fact that it has an “appearance of evil” (1 Thes. 5:22, KJV). To be sure, the drinking of alcohol does put us at risk of setting a bad example for Christ, for many evils in society are associated with alcohol (e.g., immorality, lawlessness, violence, negligence, etc.). However, the above reasoning alone presupposes that if there was no social stigma attached to drinking, that it would be acceptable to God to drink alcohol! Our conviction on this issue needs to go much deeper than that!

The Modern Drink is a “Strong Drink” to be Avoided: Some Christians make the argument that drinking alcohol beverages in moderation is acceptable. Yet, how can it be that we can moderately drink the alcoholic beverages that are served today? The truth is, people cannot consistently know when they have had enough to drink. Kessel & Walton, authors of Alcoholism inform us that "from the first drink, our judgment, discrimination, and restraint are reduced and impaired.” This is because all modern day alcoholic beverages are “strong drinks” condemned by the Scriptures: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” (Prov. 20:1). Ancient alcoholic wines do not even begin to compare to modern day wines in alcohol content! To compare the fermented wine drunk today (which is greatly fortified with extra alcohol) from what was drunk in the first century, we discover that the modern wine contains over hundred times the amount of alcohol in a single glass of wine!

Alcohol Hinders Our Alertness Against Evil and Our Ability to Watch for the Lord’s Return: The Lord instructs us that we must be sober and alert in our fight against the devil (1 Pet 5:8-9). Studies have proven that alcohol lowers our ability to stay alert and discern between right and wrong. It is no wonder, for example, that the consumption of alcohol often leads to fornication among young people, parents neglecting their children, and an increase of aggression and violence. Rather than give the devil a foothold, we should eliminate altogether the drinking of alcoholic beverages in life.

Christians Are Commanded to be Sober-minded or Morally Alert So to Ready for the Lord’s Return (1 Thes. 5:4-7; cf. 1 Pet. 1:13; Luke 21:34): In the New Testament, a daily readiness for the coming of Christ is required. We want to be found by Jesus morally alert which demands that we abstain from anything that would hinder our faithfulness, including alcohol. How horrible it would be for the Lord to return and find us drunk and unprepared to meet Him! Let us take heed to these instructions: “For you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night” (1 Thes. 5:5-7).

Alcohol Can Cause us to Forget God’s Law: “Studies have shown that even moderate alcohol use can interfere with the ability to remember” (Aging & Technology Research). What good does it do us to have great knowledge of the Scriptures, only to allow alcohol to interfere with our ability to remember it!?! In time of temptation, when making important decisions, when teaching the lost, when it really counts, our memory may fail us when under the influence of alcohol and cause us to “forget what is decreed” by God (Prov. 31:4-7).

Alcohol Can Lead to Moral Recklessness: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Dissipation refers to wasteful, reckless living, shameless indifference to moral restraints. Studies have proven this to be true, that the drinking of alcohol lowers our inhibitions and increases our tendency to say and do things we normally would not. Indeed, the drinking of alcohol leads to a lack of self-control, a number of sinful behaviors (e.g., sexual immorality, reckless spending, utter selfishness, and indulgence), and a very destructive lifestyle.

Alcohol is an Addictive, Habit-forming Drug: Medical studies have proven that alcohol is addictive, leading many people to a psychological and physical dependence on the drug (Davis VE, Walsh MJ. Alcohol, Amines, and Alkaloids, Science 1970 Feb 13;167 (920):1005–1007; Alcohol Research and Health, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2000). Even the Scriptures teach that “wine” (alcohol / fermented wine) is addictive. A qualification of an elder (i.e., pastor / overseer) is that he is “not addicted to wine” - 1 Tim. 3:3; cf. Titus 1:7). Paul is not merely trying to say that an elder of a church cannot be a drunkard, for no Christian can be a drunkard (1 Cor 6:10). The phrase "given to wine" (KJV) or “addicted to wine” (NASB) from paroinos is defined by the Friberg Lexicon: “addicted to wine, drunken, of one who tends to be quarrelsome as he habitually drinks too much; substantially a drunkard.” Therefore, alcohol can dominate and control us and become our master! A life of alcoholic addiction is a miserable life (Prov. 23:29-35). May Jesus Christ be our only Master and Lord in life (Jude 4b; cf. Mat. 6:24; 1 Cor. 6:12b).

Christians Are to be Holy, Separate, and Distinct from the Rest of the World (2 Cor 6:17; 1 Pet. 1:16): We are not to be like the world that values the intoxication of alcohol (Rom. 12:2). Statistics show that 66% of the U.S. population consumes alcohol on a regular basis (www.alcoholics-info.com). To drink alcohol or practice “social drinking” is to be like the world which renders us without “spiritual flavor” and without fellowship with God (Mat. 5:13; 1 John 2:15-16). Christians must not give in the pressures to drink alcohol, not even for “social reasons” (e.g., drinking parties) (1 Pet. 4:3-5). Not even the medical use is the excuse for the social use of alcohol! (1 Tim. 5:23). Christians should be also be careful not to associate with drunkards (Prov. 23:20-21; 1 Cor. 5:11).

Drinking Alcohol May Cause Others to Stumble (Sin) Including Our Children! The choice we make concerning alcohol must not be selfish. Older Christians are to set a good example for the younger to follow (Titus 2:2-5). Woe to the one who is found guilty of causing another person to stumble or sin! (Mat. 18:5-7): “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt 18:6).

The Practice of Getting Drunk (Which is Rapidly Achieved by the Modern Drink) Will Cost Us Our Eternal Salvation! (Gal. 5:19-21; cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Rom 13:13-14): Failure to take heed to the Scriptures of the warnings against alcohol will cost us dearly: “... those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21b). Christian, drinking alcohol is simply not worth it!


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