A couple weeks back I preached on the story of Jesus’ first sign, as He turned water into wine at the wedding of Cana from John 2. In my religious heritage this passage was, well, at the best, awkward. I am thankful for many, many things in my Baptist heritage, including a passion for the Scriptures and a love for missions. But Baptists (along with several other evangelical groups) were often best known for their stance against moral evils including the evil of alcohol. So it was kind of hard to say in one week that drinking was evil and the next week be informed that Jesus turned water into wine. To get around this the running interpretation was that the wine Jesus made was not really wine, but a watered down version that was little more than grape juice. Honestly, the people who were so committed to the authority of Scripture fumbled on this one, because there is really no honest way to interpret this story as anything other than what it is, Jesus’ first miracle was to keep a wedding party going by turning water into fermented alcoholic wine, and not just any wine, the best wine possible.
So what are we to do with this story? Is Jesus endorsing sin here? Well, of course not. At Genesis the issue of alcohol is an open handed belief, we know there will be a range of belief and practice in our church. Biblically, consumption of alcohol is one of the issues of liberty and conscience addressed in places like I Corinthians 8, 10:23-32, Romans 14, I Timothy 4:1-5. These are issues where there is no clear line in Scripture, rather there are principles that help us make decisions. Jesus-loving believers can and do come to different opinions and approaches to these issues. They are bound by their conscience but given liberty. So, for the person whose conscience feels guilt, it is a sin for them to violate their conscience, they should not drink. But it is also an issue of liberty, so the person whose conscience is bound should not therefore seek to bind all consciences and call all consumption a sin. On the other hand, there are clear commands in these passages that tell the person who has freedom to consume that there are times and reasons to abstain for the good of unity in the Body of Christ, to remove stumbling blocks for new believers, and to preserve the witness of the church.
With this in mind, during the sermon on Jesus’ first sign, I took a few minutes to share some thoughts on alcohol and the believer. In the sermon I did not have time to build these thoughts as biblical arguments, but told the congregation I would write a blog with Scriptures supporting these ideas. So the main point of this blog is to demonstrate the Biblical support for the ideas I shared in the service.
Some thoughts on the Christian and alcohol
1. Drink is presented in the Bible as a gift from God and is often used as an image of joy. Throughout the Scriptures wine is used as an image of the joy that comes as a result of the faithfulness of God. People were to receive drink as a gift from God, and even commanded to “have a drink with God” as they offered thanksgiving sacrifices that led to a festal meal eaten in the Temple. These meals created the image of God’s people enjoying a meal with their God as a friends, and they included the offering and drinking of wine. A full glass brought a merry heart because God had been good to them, and an empty glass was a sign of God’s discipline. Jesus turning water to wine was an extension of this imagery and a sign of His messianic faithfulness. Furthermore, Jesus ate and drank with common people leading to the religious folks calling him a drunkard and glutton, which never would have happened if Jesus never consumed (Matthew 11:19). The truth is that there are more passages in the Bible celebrating drink as a gift than there are addressing the dangers.
Scriptures – Deuteronomy 14:22-26, Judges 9:13, Psalm 104:14-15, Ecclesiastes 9:7, Ecclesiastes 10:19, Isaiah 22:13, Joel 2:24-26, Zechariah 10:7, Matthew 11:19
2. The Bible also has strong warnings about the danger of drink. The thing about the view from my heritage is that they were taking seriously the warnings found in Scripture and played out in the real lives of people. Alcohol abuse is very dangerous, and countless lives have been devastated by its abuse.
Scriptures – Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Proverbs 20:1, Proverbs 23:29-35, Isaiah 5:11-12, Isaiah 5:22, Hosea 4:10-11, Amos 6:4-7, Ephesians 5:18
3. Being drunk and addicted to drink and other drugs is a sin. There are multiple clear texts telling us that being drunk is a sin, and not wise. We know that doing certain things like getting behind the wheel of a car when we have had alcohol is a horrible decision. The hard part is trying to figure out that line between freedom and sin. It’s not hard to figure out when a person is inebriated to the point of passing out or puking. But at what point do we pass from exercising freedom to sinfulness? Truth is that the Scriptures push us to be very careful here, but we should not reach the point where we are controlled by anything other than being filled with the Holy Spirit. And we need to trust our Biblical community to hold us accountable. Let me make this personal here, if you exercise your freedom to consume alcohol, you should never make the argument that you alone have the right to determine if you have had too much. As believers in Jesus, one of the important things we do is submit ourselves to the community of faith around us and the Elders that care for the souls of the flock of God. So, when confronted with the possibility that we might have overindulged we should err on the side of humility and repentance.
Scriptures – Romans 13:13, Galatians 519-21, Ephesians 5:18, 1 Peter 4:3
4. There are very good reasons for choosing abstinence for the sake of conscience or struggle. While we may not want to admit it, the motivation of those who argue that abstinence is the best policy is in the right place. The dangers can be significant. Truth is that there are myriads of stories of families being destroyed, towns corrupted, and even people losing their lives because of the abuse of alcohol. Those who have fought alcohol see the dangers and have often stood against it. The issue thought is that this clearly in Scripture is an issue of liberty and conscience, so it is a violation of Scripture to bind another person’s conscience. That being said, for some, past failures and family issues with alcohol give them a very good reason to choose abstinence. Other people will choose abstinence because their conscience feels uneasy or even guilty with the idea of drinking. For these people, abstinence is the best approach, and we should honor those who take this approach. Furthermore, abstinence should be chosen by all believers if the outcome would be division among brothers, the harming of one’s witness, the temptation of a brother who struggles (IE, to drink at a social gathering of your Community Group when one of the group members is a struggling alcoholic), or drink becoming a stumbling block for a weaker brother or sister in Christ.
5. Those who consume alcohol should do so in moderation with thanksgiving. For those who do drink, they should use their liberty to stay well within the bounds of Scripture. The question should never be, “How far is too far,” rather, in “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (I Corinthians 10:31)” So drink should be viewed as a gift from God to make one’s heart glad in Him, and enjoy God’s gift, but find ultimate joy in the giver.