Be Wise About Alcohol

 

Sunday School Lesson for February 8, 2004

 

Selected Proverbs and Other Passages

 

Introduction

 

A Controversial Subject

 

Our lesson this week deals with an issue that is often found at the center of controversy among believers. The use of alcohol by Christians is obviously a highly sensitive matter—one that Christians of equal commitment to Christ and the Word will radically differ on. The purpose of this study, however, is primarily to introduce the biblical teaching regarding the abuse of alcohol. This simple outline is intended to sound a warning to every Christian regarding the dangers associated with the misuse of adult beverages, yet leaving room for flexibility on the issue of total abstinence.

 

As with every lesson I write, the comments and interpretations that follow do not necessarily represent the views of the Founders Ministry, the Southern Baptist Convention, or any other entity. These are the views of one believer only, and they should be carefully scrutinized in the light of Scripture.

 

The Authority of the Word

 

As I offer these brief comments regarding this admittedly sensitive issue, I am guided by a commitment to the absolute authority and sufficiency of the Word of God. My opinions and interpretations, to borrow a phrase from Luther, are held captive by His Word. Therefore, I will endeavor to say only what Scripture says regarding alcohol and go no further. Where Scripture is silent (on this and other similar issues), I will appeal to the responsible and wise use of Christian liberty.

 

Room for the Exercise of Freedom

 

As indicated above, I will be arguing for the wise and compassionate exercise of Christian freedom in the use of alcohol. That is, while I believe the use of alcoholic beverages by adults is not forbidden by Scripture and, therefore, is a matter of Christian freedom, I will contend that one’s freedom should be exercised responsibly in light of the explicit biblical exhortations (cf. Rom. 14:1-15; Cor. 8:1-9:27; Col. 2:16-23). I would encourage each reader to become very familiar with these passages before going any further.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wine and Scripture: Passages Revealing the Dangers of the Abuse of Alcohol

 

Proverbs and Drunkenness

 

The Bible, and particularly, the book of Proverbs, is replete with warnings and commands related to the abuse of alcohol. There is certainly no controversy surrounding the fact that Scripture clearly forbids drunkenness. In short, the sin of intoxication, or drunkenness, violates God’s will particularly in terms of idolatry.  A legitimate case may be made that the surrender of one’s body and mind to an intoxicant amounts to nothing short of the worship of a foreign god. Interestingly enough, history is replete with evidence that pagan idol-worship was often accompanied by the abuse of alcohol and perverted sexuality. Additionally, drunkenness is clearly a form of self-abuse—a misuse of the body, which, according to Scripture, is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Furthermore, the body is sacred in that it serves as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6: 19-20; Eph. 5:18) and, consequently, belongs to God. 

 

Note carefully how the book of Proverbs makes some of these exact points:

 

Proverbs 20:1

Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.

 

Here we see that wisdom and drunkenness are incompatible. The abuse of alcohol prevents one from the experience and exercise of wisdom. Remember, in Proverbs wisdom represents a life of worship and submission to the one true God who reigns over all things.

 

Proverbs 23:20-21

Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; 21 For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe a man with rags.

 

Once again it is clear that surrender to an intoxicant, like the sin of gluttony, brings displeasure to God and violates His will.  Apart from the obvious spiritual consequences associated with such excesses are the practical consequences of poverty and a lack of sense. Here, we are warned to stay away from those who abuse their bodies with alcohol and food. In other words, in the eyes of God the drunkard and the glutton stand condemned together.

 

Proverbs 23:31-35

Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly; 32 At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper. 33 Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind will utter perverse things. 34 And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, or like one who lies down on the top of a mast. 35 "They struck me, but I did not become ill; They beat me, but I did not know it. When shall I awake? I will seek another drink."

 

This passage presents an explicit description of the effects of drunkenness and supplies a dire warning to avoid the abuse of wine. Duane Garrett [Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, TNAC, 197] comments that these verses graphically depict the “pathetic physical and emotional decline of those addicted to alcohol.”  Here the text makes it clear that the abuse of wine “brings physical pain and debilitation, exhausts one’s resources, takes away mental acuity, and yet leaves one craving for more of the same.”

 

Other Passages on Drunkenness

 

In addition to the book of Proverbs, other sections of Scripture are equally clear regarding the misuse and abuse of intoxicating beverages. Below are just three of the more prominent references from the Old Testament prophets.

 

Isaiah 5:11, 22

Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink; Who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them!

 

 

Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink;

 

Note that Isaiah employs the prophetic word of final judgment—“woe”— in reference to drunkenness. This indicates that the abuse of alcohol is a sin that uniquely sparks the display of divine wrath and judgment.

 

Hosea 4:11

Harlotry, wine, and new wine take away the understanding.

 

In this passage, the abuse of wine is linked to other sins of the body, most notably harlotry. What such sins have in common is their power to destroy a person’s “understanding,” or more literally, to take away their “heart.”

 

 

Wine and Scripture: Passages Employing Wine as a Symbol of Greater Realities

 

A Source of Joy

 

Psalm 4:7

Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than when their grain and new wine bound.

 

In this passage we begin to see that Scripture often employs wine, positively, as a symbol of rich and satisfying spiritual realities. In this case, the joy or “gladness” known in fellowship with God is compared to the gladness produced by the fruit of the vine and the abundance of the grain harvest.

 

Psalm 104:15

And wine which makes man's heart glad, so that he may make his face glisten with oil, and food which sustains man's heart.

 

This passage suggests that wine is a gift from God to His people, specifically designed to foster a spirit of joy and celebration.

 

 

A Symbol of Divine Judgment

 

Psalm 60:3

Thou hast made Thy people experience hardship; Thou hast given us wine to drink that makes us stagger.

 

Here wine, and more specifically, drunkenness, is set forth as an emblem of God’s righteous judgment. Interestingly, this image prevails on through the ministry of Jesus who took the cup of God’s wrath for His people (Lk. 22:42).

 

Revelation 14:10

he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

 

Following the Old Testament prophets, this passage depicts the eschatological wrath of God in terms of wine.

 

 

A Symbol of the Gospel: The Grace and Mercy of God

 

Carefully observe how the Old Testament speaks of the grace and mercy of God in terms of an abundance of wine.  Specifically, wine is symbolic of the final salvation of God’s covenant people and their eternal enjoyment of the lavish blessings associated with redemption.

 

Proverbs 3:10

So your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.

 

Isaiah 25:6

And the LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine.

 

Isaiah 27:2

In that day, "A vineyard of wine, sing of it!

 

Isaiah 55:1

Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

 

Jeremiah 31:12

And they shall come and shout for joy on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the bounty of the LORD-- Over the grain, and the new wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; And their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.

 

Joel 2:19

And the LORD will answer and say to His people, "Behold, I am going to send you grain, new wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied in full with them; and I will never again make you a reproach among the nations.”

 

Joel 2:24

And the threshing floors will be full of grain, and the vats will overflow with the new wine and oil.

 

Joel 3:18

And it will come about in that day that the mountains will drip with sweet wine, and the hills will flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah will flow with water; And a spring will go out from the house of the LORD, to water the valley of Shittim.

 

Amos 9:13-14

"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "When the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; When the mountains will drip sweet wine, and all the hills will be dissolved. Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, and they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them, they will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, and make gardens and eat their fruit.”

 

Interestingly, Christ’s first recorded miracle was the turning of water into wine (John 2:1-11). In line with the Old Testament symbolism, wine becomes an emblem of the gospel of God’s inexhaustible grace in this miracle. When Mary tells Jesus that the wedding guests “have no wine” (2:3), the point is that they are spiritually lifeless and do not know the blessings of salvation. However, Jesus provided a miraculous supply of divine grace, represented by the 120 gallons of “good wine.”

 

John 2:10

and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first, and when men have drunk freely, then that which is poorer; you have kept the good wine until now."

 

The fact that Jesus and His disciples drank wine is well evidenced in Scripture. The argument that the wine they used was not fermented has little, if any, foundation.

 

A Symbol of Christ’s Blood and the New Covenant

 

Matthew 26:27

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.

 

The wine shared at the last supper represents the atoning blood of Christ that cleanses us from all iniquity.

 

 

Wine and Scripture: A Medical Benefit

 

1 Timothy 5:23

No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.

 

As Paul’s words to young Timothy reveal, wine has long been recognized as having medicinal benefits that may be legitimately enjoyed by believers.

 

 

Practical Suggestions Regarding the Use of Alcohol

 

In light of these and other passages, several conclusions are humbly offered for consideration.

 

On Drunkenness

 

  • Intoxication is clearly wrong in the eyes of God. There is no place for drunkenness in the life of a believer. Furthermore, the spiritual and physical dangers associated with drunkenness are legion. A flippant attitude toward intoxication is both dishonorable and deadly.

 

  • The Church should offer compassionate counsel, help, support, and prayers for those who are addicted to alcohol or other intoxicants.

 

 

 

 

On the Use of Alcohol

 

  • The responsible use of adult beverages does not violate Scripture. Therefore, whether one indulges or not should never serve as a test of faith or a basis for Christian fellowship.

 

  • The use of alcohol is restricted to adults. Since God has ordained the governing authorities as legitimate servants of His kingdom (cf. Rom. 13:1-4), the civil laws pertaining the use of alcoholic beverages should be respected and observed. Thus, the use of alcohol by minors is not only illegal, it is also a violation of God’s will. Children should also remember that they are directly under the authority of their parents and that by obeying them they are actually obeying and honoring God (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1-3; Col. 3:20).

 

  • To state this same point from another angle, we may say that wine is a gift from God, like human sexuality, that is to be enjoyed within the confines of His will. That is, it is good and right only under certain conditions. Apart from these specific circumstances, the gift is abused and God is dishonored. [I would argue that there is a vast difference between an illegal drug and wine or other such beverages. Illegal drugs, like cocaine for example, are solely used to produce a state of intoxication—they have no legitimate purpose, and often the mere use of such substances does irreparable damage. On the other hand, one may enjoy an adult beverage without becoming intoxicated in the same way that one may enjoy food without becoming a glutton].

 

 

On Exercising Christian Freedom

 

  • Adult believers who chose to exercise their freedom in the responsible use of alcohol should remember that not all Christians share the same degree of liberty. In this case Paul’s “weaker brother” argument must be applied (1 Cor. 8:1-13). Note how the Apostle specifically exhorts the “stronger brother” to sacrificially set aside his freedom if it offends the “weaker” one (1 Cor. 8:13; cf. Rom. 14:21).  

 

  • Likewise, adult believers who choose not to use alcoholic beverages have a responsibility to respect their brothers and sisters who do. That is, no one should adopt a pharisaical attitude toward a brother or sister in Christ who has such freedom (Rom. 14:1-12).