The following is one article in a series on dealing with alcohol Biblically. You can read the rest of the series here.
Alcohol is a powerful drink, and a potentially dangerous one. Many people have experienced the pain of families wracked by alcoholism; others have seen friends go down a dark hole of drunkenness. These risks have led many well-intentioned believers to unequivocally condemn alcohol. We must ask, however: what does God say?
Condemnation of drunkenness:
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise. Proverbs 20:1
Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of the nobility, and your princes feast at the proper time, for strength, and not for drunkenness! Ecclesiastes 10:17
[Jesus said,] "But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” Luke 21:34
For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 1 Peter 4:3
Drunkenness is clearly sinful. When leaders are drunkards, it is bad for their entire country; men led astray by it are foolish. Drunkenness is one of many sins that characterize the lives of nonbelievers. Drunkenness turns people away from faithfully waiting on Jesus’ return. Drunkenness is bad, and is rightly condemned by Scripture.
Praise of wine:
And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil... You shall be blessed above all peoples. Deuteronomy 7:12-14
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart. Psalm 104:14-15
On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. Isaiah 25:6
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” Matthew 11:18-19
God gives wine as a blessing to people who are faithful to him. He made wine to cheer men’s hearts. He promises wine at the feast that ends the ages.
Wine (and perhaps more generally, alcohol) is ripe with temptation to evil, but it is also good.
In this, alcohol is like many other aspects of our fallen world. Fire is both devastating when unchecked and incredibly helpful when carefully controlled. Human sexuality is a glorious gift, yet it destroys countless lives when exercised outside marriage. Life and death are in the power of the tongue; what we say makes an immense difference in the lives of those around us. The fact that something is powerful and potentially dangerous does not make it evil; rather, it calls us to guard it and use it only in God-honoring ways. We should celebrate alcohol as a gift from God, and treasure it as something to be used joyfully and carefully.
It is easy to go off in either direction from this healthy view: to condemn all alcohol as evil, or to treat it too lightly. To do either is to ignore much of what we see throughout the Bible.
The first danger is to make well-intentioned pronouncements that all drinking should be avoided—pronouncements that are ultimately counterproductive. Paul wrote to the Colossian church,
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism…
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—"Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:16-18a, 20-23
Stop for a moment; reread that passage and think about it carefully. Asceticism has an appearance of wisdom, but is useless at actually stopping sin. The Colossian believers were encouraged by a particularly fastidious sect to refrain from practices that were culturally tarnished (much as alcohol is today): food and drink sacrificed to idols, pagan festivals, and so on. Yet Paul argued that abstaining did not keep them from sin! External strictures cannot make us righteous, and they cannot remove our sinfulness.
The same is true with drunkenness; the problem goes far deeper than having a drink. The man who tends toward drunkenness may decide never to drink again—may in fact succeed in following this prohibition—without ever actually overcoming the sinful heart issues that led him to take up drinking in the first place.
The other side of the coin is that people can quickly stumble into drunkenness if they do not handle alcohol carefully. Some believers should personally refrain from drinking, given past experiences or family history. As believers we are to walk wisely, avoiding temptation (especially where we are particularly weak), and we should even go out of our way to help each other overcome sin. We should support and encourage men and women who struggle with alcohol, and if our drinking around them causes problems, we should refrain.
In summary, Scripture shows us that alcohol is a gift from God—one that we can twist to our own destruction. We should enjoy it wisely. We must be careful not to forbid what Scripture does not, but we must also exercise Biblical care in exercising our freedom.
In my next post, I will deal in detail with the most common arguments against alcohol.
What do you think? Leave a comment below with your response!