The question of alcoholic beverage use among Christians is often an emotional one. There are basically two camps when one considers this issue. There are those who proclaim their liberty in Christ to drink alcoholic beverages so long as they refrain from being drunk. On the other side of the issue are those who claim a person might not even be saved if they have a beer or wine with their dinner. Before I share with you my conviction on the matter and what I preach from the pulpit, let’s consider what the Bible has to say about alcoholic beverages as well as our Christian liberty in Christ.
When we look at what the Bible has to say about alcoholic beverages we should be immediately impressed with the warnings. Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, said, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Proverbs 20.1). We know from this warning there is the potential for strong drink to make a fool of us and if we go down that path we are not wise. It was also Solomon who said, “Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? Who hath babbling? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine” (Proverbs 23.29-30). The rest of Proverbs 23 describes the sorrows and hurts associated with wine and strong drink. Hosea the prophet said, “Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart” (Hosea 4.11). Hosea said this in the context of Israel’s willful ignorance of God. The wine was part and parcel to their illicit sexual sins and rebellion against God. The same is prophesied against the Gentile nations by the prophet Joel, “And they have cast lots for my people, and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink” (Joel 3.3). Again, strong drink is inseparable from their illicit sexual sins. The prophet Habakkuk recorded a vision of God where God said, “Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home” (Habakkuk 2.5a). Then we see in the New Testament the clear instruction, “And be not drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5.18a). We also see in Paul’s letter to Timothy how part of the qualification for pastors and deacons is that they are, “Not given to wine” (1 Timothy 3.3a). This quick survey simply tells us there is a danger present with alcoholic beverages. Can a person use strong drink and not be drunk or forsake home and God? Yes, there are many who drink alcoholic beverages and never allow it to control their lives, however, the danger is still there. It only takes getting bit by alcoholic beverage one time to ruin life and testimony. Whether you believe your Christian liberty allows you to drink or not, the biblical fact is, it is dangerous.
The second consideration concerning alcoholic beverage has to do with testimony and the value it brings to our walk with Jesus. The apostle Paul set the standard for us when it comes to areas of Christian liberty and how we are to view them. He said, “Wherefore if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Corinthians 8.13). The context is set in the eating of meat that had previously been offered to idols. Jews who had been saved by faith in Christ still carried with them a strong conviction concerning the sin of eating meat offered to idols. Under the law it was a sin, however, under grace they now had the liberty to eat the meat if they wanted to. Paul had every right in his liberty in Christ to eat meat, no matter what it had been used for before it was placed in the meat market. However, out of consideration for his brothers and sisters in Christ who might be offended or caused to stumble at his eating meat offered to idols, he said he would give up eating meat altogether to make sure he did not hurt their walk in Christ. Out of love for his brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul surrendered what was in actuality a Christian liberty in his day. Now, let’s apply this same principle to the issue of alcoholic beverages in our day. In my case, as a pastor, there is no way I can allow alcoholic beverages to be a part of my life. My use of alcoholic beverages would cause someone to stumble in their faith, even though I have the Christian liberty to drink a beer or have wine with dinner if I so choose. What if a young man in the youth group is struggling with alcohol or drug abuse and he sees me buying a six pack of beer at the local convenience store? Most assuredly that young man would be damaged in his battle with alcohol and drugs. He might very well be influenced by me to make bad choices in his life. Let’s take the principle outside the issue of alcoholic beverages. There is a restaurant a few miles up the road called “Hooters.” The reason it is so named is seen in the way the waitresses are dressed. I have the liberty in Christ to eat there as often as I like, however, I choose to never eat there. The reason I don’t eat at Hooters is the same reason I abstain from alcoholic beverages, I don’t want to cause a brother or sister in Christ to stumble.
The last thought for today has to do with spiritual benefit. There are things in life that are within my Christian liberty and yet they have no spiritual value in my life or the lives of others. What’s more, some Christian liberties may even have a detrimental spiritual effect on my life. Consider again what Paul had to say, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not” (1 Corinthians 10.23). The word expedient means to be profitable for me. The idea here is my Christian liberty has in it some things that are not profitable for me or others. Likewise the word “edify” means to build up in the faith. My Christian liberty has in it some things that are legal, but they do not make me stronger in my faith nor do they help others be stronger in their faith. The idea here is this, just because I can apply my liberty in Christ to something I might want to do does not mean it is good for me, good for others, or that it is the right thing for me to do.
My conviction, based in part on what we have looked at in these passages, is that it is best for Christians in our day to abstain from alcoholic beverages. Notice I said best because it really is an issue of what is good and what is best. There are certainly some good things a person might say about alcoholic beverages, however, given the stigma in our day it is better and best for Christians to abstain. I do not believe a Christian can have a truly effective witness for Christ and avoid causing someone to stumble if they use alcoholic beverages. In the end you and I have to answer to Christ for ourselves concerning the life and testimony we live. Do we really want to stand before Jesus someday knowing we forced our Christian liberty on some habit or lifestyle that hurt and hindered others? I pray God will give me wisdom to use my Christian liberty in a way to bless others and draw lost men and women to Him. I pray you feel the same way.