The following is the manuscript from a message titled “Wisdom & Wine” (preached August 28, 2011 at Northshore Baptist Church)
This summer throughout our Proverbia series, we’ve been talking about relevant, practical topics for our lives and our relationships. We’ve talked about things like pride and humility, marriage and parenting, friendships, work ethics, and money. Last week, we even talked about sex. And this week promises to be another practical topic: “Wisdom & Wine.” Today, we’re going to talk about a biblical and practical perspective on alcohol.
I believe today’s message is actually more difficult than last week’s. When we talk about sex, the Bible is absolutely clear on God’s expectations: don’t have sex outside of marriage. But with our topic today, “Wisdom & Wine,” the use of alcohol by followers of Jesus is a disputable and sometimes even contentious topic.
Our background and personal experience impact how we interpret the Bible in this area. It impacts how we develop a personal perspective on the use or non-use of alcohol. Some of us come from legalistic church backgrounds that taught and even demanded complete abstinence of alcohol. So some have wholeheartedly adopted that stance. And some have rejected that position in pursuit of Christian liberty and freedom. And then some unfortunately take Christian liberty and freedom to an extreme, and it becomes a license to do whatever they want because, after all, “we’re under grace not law.” Some of us come from families where alcoholism was involved, and we’ve experienced firsthand the devastation of alcohol addiction. Our environment has a profound impact upon our interpretation and practice.
Today as we discuss “Wisdom & Wine,” we’re going to look at three things: (1) The Proverbs & Alcohol, (2) The Bible & Alcohol, and (3) The Believer & Alcohol. And as we discuss these three themes, here’s the big idea, the conclusion that I hold biblically, personally, and pastorally: Drinking alcohol is not a sin, but drunkenness is.
#1 The Proverbs & Alcohol
When we read the Proverbs that relate to alcohol, we discover that they condemn drunkenness and describe the degenerative and destructive effects, physically and mentally, of the person who drinks too much.
Proverbs 20:1. Here’s what this verse says: When people are drunk, they’re belligerent and boisterous. The key to interpreting the verse is the second half… “whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” When a person drinks too much alcohol, their filter disappears. They begin to lose respect for others in their speech, attitudes, and actions. They become belligerent. They become boisterous. Apparently when people get intoxicated, their hearing stops working, and they just get stupid and loud.
Proverbs 23:19-21. Here’s what this proverb teaches us: When people overindulge, they go from revelry to rags. Notice that this proverb speaks to overindulgence in drinking and eating. The proverb writer calls us to the path of wisdom and cautions against any kind of overindulgence. And he explains why. When we overindulge in drinking or eating, it begins to consume our heart (it becomes an idol and addiction), our money, and it can impact our work ethic and ability to be good employees who provide for our ourselves and our families. Overindulgence can have serious consequences.
Proverbs 23:29-35. Note what this proverb teaches us: When people are drunk, they don’t see clearly, they don’t think clearly, and they don’t act rightly. In v. 30, the one who “lingers over wine” and is constantly “in search of a drink,” their vision, their motor skills, their brain, and their conscience become distorted. Think about a party where a lot of alcohol is consumed. Perhaps it’s at a college party or a neighborhood block party or an annual party for work. When people get drunk, they just act stupid. They’re staggering around hugging everyone or getting mad at everyone, they’re saying ridiculous things, or they’re stripping down to their underwear riding a skateboard off a second story roof into a swimming pool (I’ve never seen this… I’ve only heard about this). And then some of them get behind the wheel of a car and kill somebody. Drunk people just get stupid. They don’t see clearly, they don’t think clearly, and they don’t act rightly. So the proverbs condemn drunkenness and describe the degenerative and destructive effects, physically and mentally, of the person who drinks too much. Be warned!
#2 The Bible & Alcohol
The Bible has a lot to say about drinking and consuming alcohol. Here’s the first thing we see about the Bible and alcohol.
The Bible speaks positively of alcohol in celebration.
Psalm 104:14-15. Notice what God gives… grass for cattle, vegetation for man’s labor, “wine which makes man’s heart glad.” As we see throughout the Bible, wine, the fruit of the vine, is a gift from God and can be enjoyed as such and is often used in celebratory occasions.
Deuteronomy 14:26. We see that God’s Law in the Old Testament permitted the consumption of wine and “strong drink” (fermented drinks of honey, wheat, grain, etc.), and in the specific context of the verse, as the worshipper celebrated God’s goodness, alcohol could be a part of feasting and celebrating with God and with each other.
John 2:7-11. One of the first places we go to for a New Testament perspective on alcohol is John 2 when Jesus turns water into wine. Here’s the backstory. Jesus, His mom, and His disciples are invited to a wedding party in a town called Cana. During the party, an embarrassing social faux pas happens… they run out of wine. So let’s pick it up in v. 7. Now please hear me on this… the main point of this passage is not a theology of wine and alcohol. The main point of the story is that Jesus supernaturally and miraculously changes the molecular composition of water and turns it into wine. Please don’t lose the proverbial forest for the trees. But nonetheless, there is something instructive about the reality that Jesus turned water into at least 120 gallons of wine. And He turned it into good wine… so good that the headwaiter goes up to the groom and asks him why he was saving the best wine for last.
Matthew 11:19. Here’s another verse, this time from the lips of Jesus as He explains what people were saying about Him. Let me read between the lines for a moment. All of the uber-religious people are calling Jesus a glutton and a drunkard because He’s going to these parties where people are eating and drinking too much. And here’s my assumption in this verse. Jesus is likely eating the same food as everyone else, but He’s not becoming a glutton. Jesus is likely drinking the same beverages as everyone else, but He’s not getting drunk.
Excursion on Wine in the Ancient World. When we read these passages about Jesus turning water into wine or being at the parties eating and drinking, some theologians and pastors teach that it wasn’t really wine as we know it today. It was really grape juice, unfermented wine. I’ve read the articles. I’ve heard the arguments, and here’s the deal. Wine means wine. Wine doesn’t mean grape juice. The Greek word oinos means fermented grape juice that is alcoholic in content. And historians tell us that the alcohol content was likely similar to our wine today. If it were only grape juice with no alcohol content or a dramatically reduced alcohol content, why would the Bible condemn getting drunk off of wine? In a moment, we’ll look one of the prohibitions against drunkenness in Ephesians 5:18, “Don’t be drunk with wine (oinos).” I’ve never gotten drunk off of grape juice. Please hear me on this. If you come to the biblical, prayerful, and personal conviction that you should abstain from alcohol, awesome! That’s the way the Lord is personally leading you. But please be biblically, historically, and intellectually faithful and accurate to the text.
The Bible speaks negatively of alcohol in drunkenness.
Ephesians 5:18. Don’t get drunk with wine (and by implication any other mind-altering substance). If you choose to drink alcohol, stop before you feel any physical or mental affects. Don’t let alcohol take control of you. Let the Spirit of God take control of your life, your attitudes, and your actions.
Galatians 5:21. In this passage, Paul tells us what it looks like to live life in our own power vs. living life in the power of the Holy Spirit. And drunkenness is an indicator and warning sign that we are living life on our own terms in disregard to the design and desire of God.
1 Timothy 3:3. Paul tells us what church leaders’ lives should look like, and then by implication, because church leaders are to model the heart and behavior of Jesus, he tells us what all of our lives should look like.
#3 The Believer & Alcohol
Here are some practical applications for us in regards to our perspective and practice concerning alcohol:
1. Don’t get drunk. I can’t get any clearer than that. We’ve seen that the Bible clearly speaks against drunkenness because of the degenerative physical and mental effects, as well as how drunkenness distorts our actions and judgment. And on a side note, if you’re under age 21, obey the law. Don’t drink at all. And if you’re over 21, if you do choose to drink, don’t get drunk!
2. Don’t be a legalist. If you come to the personal, prayerful, biblical conclusion that you should abstain from alcohol, don’t use that as a tool for self-righteousness, and don’t force your personal conclusion on others. Don’t try to be holier than Jesus. In the early church, different groups were using different things to demonstrate that they were more holy than other people in the church. Some people thought that worshiping one day of the week was more holy than the others. Some thought that if you ate certain foods, you weren’t a true follower of Jesus. So here’s what Paul has to say about that (and it’s a long passage): Romans 14:10-23. If you come to a personal conclusion about something where the Bible hasn’t clearly spoken, don’t become a legalist and make it a mark of holiness.
3. Be sensitive about your surroundings. This is the other side of the coin of the legalism argument, also addressed in Romans 14. If you choose to use drink alcohol, be sensitive about who you’re around. For example, if you invite someone over to your house for dinner, and they’ve come to the personal conclusion to abstain from alcohol, don’t become a reverse legalist and look down upon them because they choose not to. And if you pressure them to take a drink, and they violate their personal conscience to please you, you’ve caused them to sin and therefore you’ve sinned. Also, if you’re around someone who struggles with alcohol, don’t drink around them and definitely don’t ask them if they’d like a drink. This is what it means to cause someone to stumble. Be sensitive about your surroundings. Don’t use your Christian liberty and freedom as a license to cause others to sin.
4. If you have a problem, get help. If you are struggling with any kind of substance abuse (alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal drugs), get help. And here’s what I mean by struggling. If you think you don’t have a problem and you can quit anytime, but you keep going back to it, you have a problem. If you’re drunk or high and your problems seem to disappear, you have a problem. And you know this… when you come back down and sober up, you realize that your problems didn’t disappear. In fact, now they’re even worse because now you have new problems… relationships are strained, work suffers, and finances are consumed by the costs of alcohol or drugs. As we discussed last week, we have an amazing ministry at Northshore called LIGHT. We have individual counseling, recovery groups, and people who can walk alongside you one-on-one to be a support. If you have a problem, get help.
So as we’ve discussed “Wisdom & Wine,” we’ve talked about the Proverbs and Alcohol, the Bible and Alcohol, as well as some practical applications for the Believer and Alcohol. I want you to think biblically about this subject. I highly encourage you to prayerfully develop a personal position on alcohol. If you’re a parent, take the initiative to talk with your kids about alcohol, especially if they’re in junior high or older… because it’s in their world (and if you think it’s not, you’re being naïve).
At the end of the day, we all need Jesus’ help. Only Jesus and the Holy Spirit can give us the wisdom and grace we need to develop a personal position on alcohol. Only Jesus and the Holy Spirit can give us the grace we need to extend to other people who come to a different conclusion. Only Jesus and the Holy Spirit can give us the self-control we need so that we don’t walk in sin and drunkenness. And that much needed self-control extends to every area of our lives where temptation abounds… our finances, our work ethic, our relationships, and our sexual integrity. Only Jesus and the Holy Spirit can give us the healing and hope we need when we’ve blown it or when we’re struggling with a dependence upon alcohol or something else.
Come to Jesus and ask Him for wisdom and grace… for self-control… for healing and hope. Jesus is fully God, and He came down here to die on the cross so that any sin, shame, guilt, and condemnation that you’re experienced might be removed. And He was raised from the dead to give us this new life… this new way of living life… this new power for living life. So come to Jesus, so that you might have His wisdom about how to live at the intersection of life and wisdom.
Here are some additional resources for further exploration on the Christian’s use of alcohol:
“The Bible & Alcohol” by Dr. Daniel Wallace
“Wine in the Ancient World” by Dr. R.A. Baker
“Is it Okay to Drink Alcohol?” Interview with Dr. John Piper
“Total Abstinence and Church Membership” A message by Dr. John Piper to his congregation on his personal and pastoral stance on alcohol