Christians & Alcohol
This topic can be a confusing one for Christians. But that’s nothing new. Even those living at the time of Jesus were confused about this issue. The Bible says, “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”‘ (Luke 7:33, 34). First century Jews rejected John because he was so strange. He would not eat what normal people ate nor drink what normal people drank. They rejected Jesus because He behaved like everyone else, eating what they ate and drinking alcohol like everyone else in His day. So what’s a Christian to do? Abstain? Indulge? Does the Bible offer any direction?
The use of alcoholic wine and other alcoholic drinks was common in both the Old and New Testament. The prophet Eli accused faithful Hannah of being drunk when she was praying fervently for a child before the birth of Samuel. Jesus changed water into alcoholic wine at the wedding feast. The headwaiter of the banquet said? “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:10) The practice in Jesus’ day is based on the effect fermented wine would have on the guests’ abilities to distinguish “good” wine from “just average” wine after a drink or two.
There are many examples of people suffering from the effects of over-drinking throughout the Bible, and much said against drunkenness. The Bible speaks strongly against the abuse of alcohol. Intoxication is condemned in many places (Proverbs 20:1). It is mentioned as one of the most dangerous sins because it can take control of a person’s life. Certain sins that have the ability to become a destructive lifestyle receive special warning. Abuse of alcohol is listed among those “deadly sins” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21). The foolishness of intoxication is described in detail in Proverbs 23:20, 29-35. Drunkenness is opposed to the very spirit of God (Ephesians 5:15-18). Faithful Christians and faithful churches will oppose any use of alcohol that leads to abuse.
The Bible actually speaks of alcohol in positive ways as a gift from God. In Psalm 104:14-15 it is listed among blessings given by God like grass for cattle and food for man. Its purpose is to “gladden the heart of man.” Psalm 23 is one of the most loved chapters in the entire Bible. In that chapter David compares the overflowing blessing of God to a goblet of wine that is filled to overflowing, a good thing. In 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul told Timothy to not only drink water but to add wine to his diet in order to aid in the digestion and appreciation of his food. To this very day it is the custom of many to serve a glass of wine with special meals to cleanse the pallet and sharpen the taste buds. Isaiah 1:22 compares the corruption of people with wine that has been diluted with water. No one would serve their guest wine that has been corrupted in such a way, just as it would be inappropriate to be less than authentic as a child of God.
Faithful Christians and faithful churches must be careful not to make laws where God has not (Systematic Theology by Grudem, pg. 132-133 footnote #6). To oppose the use of alcohol by others because it has potential to be destructive would be equivalent to opposing prescription medications, sex, money, or even food, which are all God-given gifts that can be used in immoral ways. So what does the Scriptures teach us when it comes to Practical Applications of its standards for the use and abuse of alcohol?
- Alcohol is not evil, but can be abused and becomes the cause of evil behavior (1 Corinthians 6:12).
- We should not criticize or otherwise question the sincerity of Christians who use alcohol in moderation.
- We should not criticize or otherwise question the sincerity of Christians who refuse to drink alcohol even in moderation.
- As Christians we must obey the law (Romans 13:1).
- That means we abide by the age policy set by our state for the sale, purchase and consumption of alcohol.
- Some states forbid the sale of alcohol on Sunday.
- Most states have laws against open containers in automobiles.
- There are legal limits established for drinking and driving, but the best rule is to have a designated driver who completely abstains for the safety of all.
- Most states have procedures to obtain permits for public consumption of alcohol that must not be violated.
- If we are responsible for a party or a gathering where alcohol is served, we should make sure to the best of our ability that it is not abused or the law violated.
- We should refrain from exercising our freedom to drink legally if our example would cause another person to sin against their own conscience or drink even though they have a history of alcoholism, abuse, or abstinence due to faith (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:12; 8:9-13; 10:23-24; Romans 14:1-15:13).
- Due to the significant responsibility of especially Applications #5 and #6, a host or ministry leader should wisely choose not to have alcohol served unless each guest is personally known well.
Most important of all, we should guard our witness as children of God. We need to make sure that we never assume a self-righteous spirit of judgment towards weak Christians or non-Christians who need help to overcome the problem of alcohol abuse. We should be careful never to allow the exercise of our freedoms to become license for sinful abuse of alcohol or any other potentially harmful habits. Right or wrong, people will often judge our faith and our Savior by the behavior of those who call themselves Christian.
*Material from Christians and alcohol: A statement of position Retrieved March 2009, from St. John was used in A Statement of GFC Position.