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When I was growing up it seemed to be common knowledge that Christians didn’t drink alcohol. As the phrase made clear, “Christians don’t smoke, drink, or chew, or hang around those who do.” Interestingly enough, the only sinful behaviour you could point to was drunkenness, and protecting God’s temple (our bodies). So it became common practice to stay away from these often damaging substances. For me, however, the question has always been, “why?” Is there a biblical reason why I should completely abstain from alcohol? Since asking this question, I’ve arrived at an answer – I simply choose not to drink alcohol. Here are three reasons why:
1. Early Christians weren’t known to “loosely” drink alcohol.
Even though many before me have attempted to prove Jesus and his disciples never consumed alcohol, I think it’s a far stretch. Jesus was a Jew and Jewish tradition included meals like the Passover. The Passover Meal included four cups of wine symbolizing the four promises found in Exodus 6:6-7 – “I will bring you out”, “deliver you”, “redeem you”, “and will take you to me for a people.” In celebrating, Jesus and his disciples shared in this meal (The Lord’s Supper). The third cup is of special significance to the believer – the promise to “redeem you.” Jesus and his disciples shared a “new covenant” by sharing in this cup of wine, and the symbolism of blood and wine is simply amazing. I think it’s fair to say, that if Jesus didn’t drink wine during these important customs, the Pharisees would have gladly questioned him.
But just because Jesus consumed alcohol, doesn’t mean consuming alcohol is a good idea for us today. The early church clearly continued this practice; however, one thing is really clear – they weren’t known for using strong wine or drunkenness. In Acts 2 the early church was filled with the Spirit and began speaking in languages they didn’t know. A few witnesses mocked them by saying, “They are filled with new wine.” This is the only time the Greek word gleukoV (gleukos) is used for wine. It literally means “sweet new wine still in the fermenting process.” So essentially, the mockery was based on the fact that they were somehow drunk on the “weak” and “conservative” wine they were known to consume. And as Peter pointed out, no one was drunk, and all were reacting to the Spirit’s work in them.
In our context today, I choose not to drink alcohol because I want to be known as the early church was known – a conservative follower of Christ who remains in complete control of my thoughts and actions.
2. Drunkenness is always a sin.
Consuming alcohol is never mentioned in scripture as sinful. In fact, if Jesus consumed alcohol than the action can’t be sinful because Jesus was sinless. If simply consuming alcohol was a sin than Jesus died on the cross to cover his own sin, not ours. Drunkenness, however, is mentioned and is always mentioned as sinful behavior (Pro. 20:1; Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:10; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:18; 1 Tim. 3:8; and, Titus 2:3.) Paul said it this way:
19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: [including]…drunkenness…and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit [include]…self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:19-25, ESV)
In our culture, the road to “drunkenness” seems a little ambiguous at best. The results of a couple drinks could be innocent, but the spiral from “tipsy” to “buzzed” to “hammered” can happen quickly. It’s a difficult one to argue. To avoid this, I’ve chosen not to drink alcohol at all.
While Timothy seemed to have a similar boundary of abstinence, Paul was somehow able to create boundaries that included a little wine for health reasons and encouraged Timothy to do the same:
23 No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. (1 Timothy 5:23)
Paul used the common Greek word for fermented wine (oinoV ; oinos) and clearly gave Timothy some boundaries by saying “little” and “for the sake of your stomach.” If Timothy was trying to stay “pure”, as verse 22 implies, than Paul was simply showing him how to create a healthy boundary to allow one to take advantage of the health benefits of wine.
With that said, healthy living has come a long way in 2000 years and there are now many ways to gain health benefits without drinking wine. Not to mention that too much wine can have negative health effects. As a result, I choose not to drink alcohol because I want to create a boundary that distances myself from even the potential of drinking too much. This leads me to my third reason.
3. Culture influences the consumption of alcohol.
Many traditions include the custom of drinking wine. For the Jewish culture of the 1st century, drunkenness was an issue, but conservative wine drinking was still normal behavior and was included in many meals. After all, drink options were limited and water wasn’t always clean. It’s possible to say the culture of the time, allowed for the consumption of alcohol.
My North American 21st century culture is quite different. Drinking has become a way to relax, have a good time, and forget about your troubles. In reality, it’s normal for alcohol to be abused, rather than restricted. For the same reasons why Timothy was trying to live a “pure” life, Christians need to avoid the cultural response and adhere to biblical ones. In continuing in his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote:
24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Drink options are now vast. There are so many available and affordable options to choose from that don’t distort judgement and impair thinking. Communion and sacraments can be used with red fruit juice with no impact to symbolism. And social gatherings can include everything from clean water to juice to soda.
It may also be wise to note that there were no cars, or otherwise motorized vehicles that could have been operated under the influence of alcohol in the 1st century. Whether we want to realize it or not, one of the best ways to stop drinking and driving is to either altogether stop driving or altogether stop drinking. We know we can’t stop driving, so perhaps cutting out alcohol is a possible solution.
While the 1st century culture allowed for the consumption of alcohol, the 21st century culture I live in has disallowed consumption for me.
This is not to say any Christian who chooses to consume alcohol on a social basis, with boundaries against drunkenness, should be looked down upon or disregarded in any way. There is nothing in scripture to disallow the consumption of alcohol. I am simply saying, that in our culture, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not wise for me, as a believer, to drink alcohol as the benefits aren’t as great as the possible risks and issues involved.
The challenge is to seriously evaluate the boundaries you have in your life regarding alcohol consumption. For some, it may mean adjusting when and how much you drink. For others, it may be best to discontinue the practice all together.
In the pursuit of holiness, our job is to create boundaries that bring us closer to God personally, and allow us to build up the kingdom socially.
While my evaluation may change in the future, I’ve personally chosen not to drink alcohol.
Have you thought about this before? If so, what have you chosen to do? If not, what will you choose to do?
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