I’m not an absolute abstainer and nor do I believe that you can make an argument for absolute abstention from the Bible. How could you? The Bible says that God made wine and gave it as a gift to mankind:
“You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.” (Psalm 104:14–15 ESV)
Jesus drank wine and Jesus made wine so there can be no biblical argument for absolute abstention.
A good argument can be made that the more influence you have, the less alcohol you should consume. We see that argument being made in both the Old and New Testaments:
“It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” (Proverbs 31:4–5 ESV)
When people depend on you for guidance and justice you have a responsibility to put a guard around your sobriety and alertness. A leader cannot afford to be compromised. Part of the cost of leadership is constant vigilance and awareness. Therefore, according to King Lemuel’s wise mother, the more responsibility one has, the less alcohol one ought to consume.
We see a similar argument being made by the Apostle Paul in his epistles. If you have influence over other believers, particularly the young and weak in the faith, you will need to be willing to make certain sacrifices:
“It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” (Romans 14:21 ESV)
The context here had less to do with scruples about alcohol per se and more to do with concerns about pagan contamination in a multicultural marketplace, but the principle remains universally applicable: a person of influence ought to be willing to restrict his or her own freedom for the safety and well-being of others.
Of course, this cannot be turned into an absolute prohibition of alcohol – it obviously wasn’t for Paul who could later say to Timothy:
“No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” (1 Timothy 5:23 ESV)
Timothy had obviously taken Paul’s general counsel seriously and was drinking very little wine or no wine at all and Paul advised him subsequently to moderate his practice for the sake of his own health. Clearly Paul’s advice was general and occasional in nature and was not an absolute prohibition.
I do think it odd how generally out of touch evangelicals have been with the balance of this teaching over the course of my lifetime. In my childhood evangelicals in this country were almost exclusively full abstainers – with all the distasteful legalism and judgmentalism that generally accompanies such commitments. In the last decade however, the pendulum has swung almost entirely to the other extreme.
I find it extremely odd to see how many pastors will post pictures of themselves hoisting aloft their favourite whiskey or fine wine without any consideration for the unhelpful influence that may exert on younger believers who struggle with prudence, moderation and self-control. Much of this I’m sure is simply an over-reaction to the mindless legalism of our childhood – but it would be helpful for us to pull back from that and to more fully align with the wisdom and caution of Holy Scripture.
Be aware of your impact on others, particularly the young and the weak.
Attend to your own health, but we willing to make sacrifices for the sake of others when required.
Give thanks for every good gift of God but enjoy those gifts in their proper time and season.
We are not yet home in our Father’s House. We are still laborers in the field of harvest. Therefore, let us conduct ourselves as servants for now, knowing that soon we will be seated and celebrated as sons.
Thanks be to God!
To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes. To access the entire library of available episodes see here.