Drink But Don’t Get Drunk?

Is drinking alcohol a sin?

For the Christian, drunkenness is a sin and not to be pursued in any way. Period. It’s not expected of a man or woman to be under the influence of alcohol and be without self-control. Both the Old and New Testament are crystal clear on the subject matter so the problem isn’t so much as to whether drunkenness is acceptable or not; the issue really is whether or not it’s permissible for Christians to drink in moderation. Is it okay to drink but not get drunk? Well, let’s get on with it.

Nowhere in scripture are we told that drinking alcohol is sinful. However, there’s a lot of admonition on how we handle alcoholic beverages. King Solomon described wine as a “mocker” and a “brawler” because of the havoc it wreaked on people’s marriages, families, friendships etc. He was right. Alcohol is very addictive and can have disastrous effects on us. It has the potential to impair one’s judgment often leading to unrestrained behaviours. Already, it’s a struggle to keep ourselves in check even under perfectly sane conditions. MORE GRACE! *looking up to God*. Throwing alcohol into the mix, to me, is like trying to quench fire with petrol. Many people have suffered serious health problems, relationship troubles and premature deaths due to excessive drinking. In US alone, nearly 88,000 people die every year from alcohol-related incidents (check link). Don’t get me wrong. Alcohol isn’t inherently bad. As a matter of fact, God told the people of Israel that they could exchange their tithes with money and use it to buy whatever they liked INCLUDING wine or other fermented drink (see Deuteronomy 14). The Psalmist said that God brings forth food from the earth, and wine that makes glad the heart of man. As I said earlier, drinking isn’t sin but how we handle it determines whether it’s going to be beneficial or harmful to us.

It’s always been my fear that one may cross the line and do something regrettable in their attempt to drink in moderation. I feel like it’s the same story with the many alcoholics out there. They probably intended to drink only soberly but unfortunately became mastered by their booze. It’s one of the many reasons I for one prefer to stay away from alcohol because it’s very addictive plus I can’t really trust myself on staying within limits. But it’s not just about you or me. It’s not so much about knowing our alcohol intake limits. We need to be very mindful of how our actions affect the people around us. Jesus was really strict with the warning against causing others to sin. He said, “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come BUT WOE TO THE PERSON THROUGH WHOM THEY COME!” It means you’re not only responsible for your actions but also how your actions affect and influence others. Apostle Paul also addressed this same issue of causing others to stumble in most of the letters he wrote. In Romans 14, Paul spoke against eating or drinking or doing anything lawful in a manner that might cause another person to stumble. Oh yes! It’s very possible to do lawful things unlawfully. Eating meat was offensive to the new converts then even though meat in itself wasn’t sinful (they perceived meat as something sacrificed to idols). According to Paul, it was wise for the strong Christians to abstain altogether from eating meat if it was going to hurt someone’s conscience and by extension cause that individual to sin. Paul expected the believers who are strong in faith to apply this same wisdom in their dealing with alcohol. It makes a lot of sense considering the fact that we’re examining the lives of people who prior to salvation performed religious acts of worship to gods in a drunken state. It means most of them were probably drunkards and you sure didn’t want to in anyway reintroduce them to what once a heavyweight in their lives. There’s absolutely no greater love than this: that we do nothing to offend or weaken our neighbor’s faith no matter how permissible or lawful that thing in question may be.

It appears to me that there’s a lot of controversy over the subject of Jesus turning water into wine in the New Testament (see John 2). First of all, if you’re wondering whether Jesus drank wine or not, He probably did. In Luke 7, Christ Himself said He came eating and drinking and the religious leaders tried to launch sham attacks at him by calling him a glutton and a drunkard. In addition to that, wine was used during the Last Supper prior to Christ’s crucifixion. In all these occasions, you can say Jesus probably took in some wine. Ok, so you want to use those instances to excuse your drunkenness? Don’t get it twisted! Nothing about what transpired in any of those instances should endorse anyone to indulge in alcoholism. Wine in those times was quite indispensable in their culture. It was often served alongside meals at home and at ceremonial functions. It had a lesser alcoholic content as compared to what we have in modern times (the process of distillation we use today increases the alcohol content). And what amazes me is the fact that there was the strong urge to drink soberly in an era where drunkenness was a hard feat to achieve. Bruh! you had to chug down lots of wine before you could become intoxicated…an unfortunately easy achievable feat in our time. Anyway, it was pretty hard to do away with wine considering the fact that it was the best healthy liquid alternative they had in a community with little or no safe drinking water. Furthermore, wine had its healthful benefits in the past (as it does in modern times too). Do you remember when Paul instructed Timothy to no longer drink water but use a little wine for the sake of his stomach? Exactly! Paul wasn’t trying to contradict the bible’s warning against intoxication. He urged Timothy to use wine to treat the ailment in his stomach. The fact that Jesus made more wine available at a wedding feast or Timothy drank a little wine for the sake of his stomach doesn’t mean it’s license for anyone to be hooked on to alcoholic beverages. Bible frowns on drunkenness that leads to dissipation – uncontrolled speech and actions – and anyone involved in such illicit acts (according to scripture) would have no place in heaven.

In my opinion, I wish everyone would go with abstinence. It isn’t because abstaining from drinking wine will draw one closer to God. No. Your abstention or involvement in moderate drinking will not make you less/more righteous before God. I just feel abstinence is a better choice looking at the rate at which drunk driving, homicide, sexual assault, violence and other alcohol-related incidents occur. It may not be you or I engaging in these dangerous activities but is it really worth it to lead someone else astray just so we can enjoy some few glasses of wine? We shouldn’t shrug our shoulders and whisper ‘well that’s their problem’ under our breath. If we’re really concerned about the well-being of others, it shouldn’t be a big deal to relinquish our right to do certain things. Not to spite you dear reader, but it’s not like anyone became deficient in vitamins or mineral salts because they did away with alcohol. All I’m saying is we shouldn’t be too keen on wanting to exercise our freedom to either satisfy our personal convictions or prove that we are at liberty to do lawful things. Paul gave up his rights to do so many things just so he could bring salvation to many. I believe it was very tough for him but he rather put up with anything than be an obstacle to the propagation of the Good News of Christ. No matter what, love must always lead.

When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus said that the first was to love God with our heart, soul, mind and strength. And that we ought to love our neighbours as ourselves. It’s my sincere prayer that whatever choice(s) we make with respect to drinking wine brings peace and mutual edification to the glory of God. May God grace us with the needed wisdom so that the exercise of our freedom doesn’t hinder the gospel of Christ. Let’s do what we do for the sake of the gospel, so that many may share in its blessings.

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WRITINGS IN THE SAND

writing-in-sand“We never read that Jesus Christ wrote but once in His life.” – Pasquier Quesnel

Jesus did not author a single book while He was here on earth. And just the only one time He wrote, His words have unfortunately remained anonymous to all. Even the Apostle John fails to capture them.

I don’t count myself to have received any special revelatory insight into what Jesus scribbled in the ground when the adulterous woman was brought before Him (John 8:1-11). I can only go as far as surmising from His manner of handling crucial matters as He went about His Father’s business. If you take time to study the life of Jesus, you find out His every single action always affirmed His statement of not coming to abolish the Law or the Prophets; He came that He might fulfill them (Matthew 5:17).

What did Jesus really write in the sand? Three things I would like to point out here:

  1. Jesus probably referred the accusers to the Messianic writings of the prophet Jeremiah, “Those who depart from Me shall be written in the earth (“inscribed in the dust”—Complete Jewish Bible), because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters.(Jeremiah 17:13 NKJV). Prior to this incident, Jesus had already made a clarion call (on the climactic day of the Feast of Tabernacles) announcing to the crowd that He was the source of living waters to anyone who was thirsty and wanted to drink—another startling decree that would incite the anger of His critics (John 7:37-40). The Pharisees as usual would reject His claims with a top-up statement saying God’s curse was on them that believed in Christ for they foolishly followed Him, ignorant of the Law (John 7:47). Fast-forwarding to the scene of adultery; Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground, lifted Himself up, and again He stooped down. His not-so-cool response develops a conviction of conscience in the minds of the angry accusers with at least three options; 1.Remain with Jesus, accept their sins with its embarrassment and plead for forgiveness and a change of heart. 2. Depart from Jesus with their sins (which they cannot deny) and fail to surrender to the Master who held the power to forgive sins on earth. 3. Hurl their stones at Jesus with the intention to end His life because “enough was enough.” We needn’t guess the response to that as we are told they began to slip away one by one, beginning from the oldest until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman (John 8:9) depicting the forsaking of the Fountain of living waters just as it was prophesied by Jeremiah.
  1. Jesus’ act may have been in reference to the Mosaic Law that dealt with the trial for unfaithful wives— ordeal of jealousy (Numbers 5:11-31). If a man felt that his wife was being unfaithful, with or without evidence, this was the accepted ritualistic rite performed to prove his wife’s innocence or guilt. The husband would take his wife to the priest who presents her first before God. The woman is made to drink a potion (holy water mixed with dust from the floor of the tabernacle as directed by the Law (v. 17)) after which the priest burns an offering, made of barley meal, on the altar (v. 26). It was solely God’s prerogative (not the priest, not the Pharisees) to pronounce the final verdict; if she was innocent, she would be spared, if she was guilty as charged, she would suffer an abominable curse (her thigh would rot and her belly would swell). One may safely say (on the basis of mere conjecture) that Jesus’ finger in contact with the dust of the Temple grounds posed a question as to whether the culprit had been presented before the priest by her husband to be tried by that law. Had she already gone through the ritual of swearing an oath (invoking a curse on her if she told a lie) and drinking from the vessel that contained the holy water mixed with dust? The accusers who had knowledge of the Law had to answer that which leaned firmly against the door of their conscience.
  1. Jesus scribbled in the dust with no intended meaning to his writings. He wasn’t doodling in the dust to stockpile some time and process His thoughts as some believe. He remained silent for a while, the kind of silence that is as painful as a pin pricking the skin. James Hastings, the Scottish Presbyterian minister and Bible scholar in his commentary paints an interesting picture of how the accusers got more furious as Jesus’ silence began to bear intolerable weight on them. “Stop with the funny diagrams in the ground already and speak up!” They just couldn’t take it anymore. Hastings describes the unpleasant experience as a taste of Gehenna itself! It wasn’t as though their pain was His gain nor was He devoid of any decent reply. His perfect timing to utter His speech is not surprising at all considering how words fitly spoken are always like apples of gold in settings of silver (Proverbs 25:11). Jesus made a very hard statement at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication, as He walked through Solomon’s Colonnade in the Temple. The crowd wanted to know if He was the Messiah or not but He said to them, “…I and My Father are One” meaning if you had seen Him, you had seen His Father too. His brief silence, as if not paying attention to the aggressive opponents wielding stones of different sizes and shapes, was something characteristic of His Father; God gives a deaf ear to men who are cozy with evil (Psalm 66:18 MSG). We read repeatedly of how God responds not to the petitions of the unrighteous and the wicked one. If Jesus really is one with God and claims to do whatever He sees His Father do (John 5:19), then His unwillingness to give a listening ear to the evil accusers is something we would have expected from Him. John Calvin, the Reformist, makes this interesting remarks about the person of Christ: “Christ intended, by doing nothing, to show how unworthy they were of being heard; just as if anyone, while another was speaking to him, were to draw lines on the wall, or to turn his back, or to show by any other sign that he was not attending to what was said.”

There are many more postulations to this event (though some may not be in harmony with God’s Word). My stance? Not an easy choice I must admit but my preference seems to skew more to the first of the three. As I said earlier, this is just a mere conjecture that seeks to help us search a little deeper than we always do. Charles Spurgeon once said that ‘nobody ever outgrows scripture; the Book widens and deepens with our years’. It makes a lot of sense considering the many pieces we so often overlook when we read this Living Manual. There’s more to what we read than meets the eye. Good news is we have with us the Holy Spirit who searches the deep things of God revealing the deep mysteries of His Kingdom. It is hard to believe the soul that develops an insatiable thirst to know more about the person of Christ would be denied access to heavenly wisdom when there is a genuine willingness to be edified mentally and spiritually.

Remember this: That finger once pressed His commandments on stony tablets. It lifted up on behalf of the Israelites and their enemies were scattered. It inscribed words of judgment on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace against the immoral King Belshazzar. Before the woman’s accusers and I quote the deep thoughts of the English Anglican John Trapp, perhaps He thus wrote to show that sin, which is written before God, and graven, as it were, with a pen of iron, and with the pane of a diamond, is pardoned and blotted out by Christ as easily as a writing slightly made in the dust.” If you deem thoughts such as these to be praiseworthy, you may want to think about them.