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Occasionally people email me asking for my opinion on various personal or church issues. I recently received the following question which I have reprinted it below, followed by my response.
“Bob, what are your thoughts and what are the Biblical teachings about Christians who drink excessively…or Christians who apparently have to drink in order to have a good time? I have Christian friends who I dearly love, but I just can’t deal with the drinking every night, It seems they have to have a cocktail to have fun or relax. I’ve tried everything to discuss it with them, but they turn it around to “target” my imperfections, and say I’m trying to control them. But it’s because I want to see people have a better life. I don’t think we can talk the talk when we’re not walking the walk.”
In recent years there has been a dramatic reversal of attitudes about “social drinking” on the part of Christian people. When I was growing up most assumed that followers of Christ would be total abstainers. We weren’t far-removed from the days of prohibition and the “evil of strong drink” was preached regularly in American pulpits. Temperance Leagues were active in nearly every community, encouraging God’s people not to drink at all.
Yesterday’s ministers pointed out that not only did the Bible condemn drunkenness but Solomon advised, “Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper” (Prov. 23:31-32). Billy Graham once told of people hiding their liquor glasses when he walked into a restaurant. They didn’t want the famous preacher to see them consuming alcohol.
But times have really changed. Last week an April Fool’s joke teased that the Southern Baptists announced they are switching from grape juice to wine in their communion services. Obviously in today’s culture the consumption of alcohol has become more widely accepted in Christian circles. It’s not uncommon at minister’s conferences to witness preachers drinking wine with their meal or sipping a beer on the golf course. They are quick to point out that the Bible doesn’t condemn the use of alcohol; it counsels Jesus’ followers to practice self-control and avoid drunkenness. Common explanation are, ’I’m not an alcoholic, but I do like a little wine with my meal.” and, “I see nothing wrong with having a cold beer on a hot day.” “After all, Jesus turned water into wine so why does the church have this hang-up about drinking?” people ask.
Some believers who drink in moderation make the approval of their practice a test of fellowship. The opposite is true also – some total abstainers refuse to befriend people who drink. So not surprisingly the evening meals at preacher’s gatherings tend to be divided between the total abstainers and the wine drinkers. The Apostle Paul pleaded with his readers not to flaunt their freedom and not to allow it to become a stumbling block to others. (See 1 Cor. 8:9.)
I consider whether or not a believer drinks alcohol in moderation a matter of opinion. I choose to be a total abstainer for reasons I explained in a previous blog post here. But I have Christian friends who drink wine with their meals and I don’t make that a test of fellowship. They don’t encourage me to drink and I don’t object if they do. It’s a non-issue. It doesn’t threaten our friendship. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food” (Romans 14:17-20).
Jesus was accused of being a “glutton and drunkard” (Matt. 11:19) because He befriended those who enjoyed parties. As we mature in Christ we should become so secure in our faith and so comfortable with those who don’t share our convictions that people are attracted to our joyful, confident spirit wherever we are. I think the best motivator to total abstinence is a non-drinker who is fun to be around – not one who has a dour attitude.
However, in the situation you describe, you suggest drinking has become an integral part of every gathering of believing friends and is considered an essential for fun or relaxation. In my opinion, you are right in seeing a red flag. King Solomon advised, “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor and drowsiness clothes them in rags” (Prov. 23:20-21). There’s an old Indian proverb that says, “A man takes a drink, the drink takes a drink and then the drink takes the man.”
We’ve all witnessed the tragedy of alcohol becoming a crutch, then an addiction that destroys families, undermines faith and alienates friends. Since you sense your friends’ drinking has become excessive and they are making a god of alcohol (losing self-control and inhibiting their ability to drive safely), you have a responsibility to lovingly confront them with your concerns. (See Matthew 18:15.). If they refuse to listen to you, approach them with another believer who agrees with you. If your friends still ignore your counsel, then it may be wise to associate with them less frequently and find your primary source of Christian fellowship elsewhere.
I like the way THE MESSAGE paraphrases 1 Corinthians 8, “…God doesn’t grade us on our diet…But God does care when you use your freedom carelessly ””in a way that leads a fellow believer still vulnerable to those old associations to be thrown off track (1 Cor. 8:8-9).
The Bible encourages us, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery, instead be filled with the Spirit…” (Eph. 5:18). It seems to me the more we are filled with the Holy Spirit of God the less we need the fermented spirits of this world to make life meaningful.