Christians and drinking

Straight Talk

The Question

Why do some Christians think it is okay to drink as long as they do not get drunk? Can you give me something on this subject?

– SP from East Wareham, Ma.

The Answer
Part 1: Drinking and scripture
Part 2: What about overindulgence?
Part 3: How should Christians view drinking?

Drinking and scripture (Part 1)

From your question it sounds like you certainly don’t think it is okay. That is fine and is probably the very best decision in our current culture. However, does scripture support it? Let’s look at some instances of “drinking” in scripture to gain a perspective of what God is saying about its use.

When Jesus performed his first miracle he turned water into wine at a wedding so the hosts would not be embarrassed that their own supply had run out. Was this actual wine? Certainly it was. Remember the headwaiter’s compliment to the bridegroom after tasting it. “‘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.'” (John 2:10)

The implication is that after the guests have had some wine and are already a little happy from it, they will not notice the decline in the quality. Since Jesus attended this wedding with his disciples, he no doubt also drank wine, along with the wedding food.

At the Last Supper Jesus gave the disciples wine which was always used at Passover. He blessed it and told them it represented his blood which would be shed. “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.” (Luke 22:20)

On the day of Pentecost, the 120 who were filled with the Holy Spirit were acting so funny they were accused of being “full of sweet wine.” (Acts 2:13) This was not true but it indicates that the wine of their day was fermented and capable of causing intoxication.

Paul actually recommends wine to Timothy, his spiritual son. “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (1 Timothy 5:23)

These examples give us much information. I have heard people say that “Yes, they drank wine in the Bible but it was really only unfermented grape juice.” That is not the case. Wine was actually wine in both the Old and New Testaments and drinking per se was never forbidden. Is that a green light for Christians to drink then? Not exactly.

What about overindulgence? (Part 2)

Scripture has something to say about overindulgence too. Since it is possible to drink too much and become drunk, the Bible addresses it. Paul says outright in Ephesians 5:18; “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.”He does not tell them not to drink wine but he says not to get drunk.

How much wine you drink has something to do with holding leadership positions in the church. Paul wrote this criteria for an overseer in Titus 1:7; “For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine” and he goes on from there. Being addicted would probably be comparable in today’s society to habitual drunkenness or alcoholism. This activity is a disqualifier for a position of authority over other believers.

Let’s go one more from the Old Testament. Proverbs 20:1 makes a pretty clear statement about overindulgence. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.”

While scripture does not forbid the use of alcohol, it does warn against drunkenness and all the behavior that can result from the loss of control. Considering how dangerous drinking can be, would it be better for Christians to simply leave it alone?

How should Christians view drinking? (Part 3)

Total abstinence from all alcohol is a valid position for Christian and non-Christian alike even though it is not mandated by scripture. Drinking is never required and is probably inadvisable for many people.

For instance, I know a man who grew up with an alcoholic father and suffered much from it. His position is that he will never take a drink of anything and I think that is wise on his part. He knows it runs in his family and he doesn’t want to take a chance. On the other hand, his wife has no such background and she occasionally takes a drink.

There is another consideration for Christians as they examine their own convictions about drinking. Their decision needs to be made in the context of love. They also need to consider the wider community.

Paul says in Romans 14:21; “It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.” All of our actions and personal decisions must be made in light of what it will do to our Christian witness.

We are called to live holy lives. We should not look indistinguishable from the world. If we drink (even without excess) and it causes someone to stumble, we should take the high road and refrain. For those Christians who drink in a responsible way however, there should be no condemnation. Each person needs to prayerfully make their own decision and not judge another who comes to a different conclusion.