Alcohol: God’s Dangerous Gift

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Psalm 104:14-15; Proverbs 20:1

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called Hot Button Topics, and we are addressing a series of issues where the culture often speaks a different message to us than God does in his word. So far, we have looked at the topics of abortion and assisted suicide. Today we are looking at the subject of alcohol.

One of the interesting things we will see this morning is that the Scriptures present alcohol in both a positive and a negative light. On one hand, alcohol is presented as one of God’s good gifts that he gives us to enjoy. On the other hand, Scripture also contains many warning about alcohol and its dangers.

That’s why we have two Scripture references to start our message this morning. Psalm 104 speaks of alcohol as a good gift from God, whereas Proverbs 20:1 speaks of the danger that alcohol presents. (Read Psalm 104:14-15; Proverbs 20:1 and pray.)

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Alcohol has both positive and negative aspects. If it was only all positive or only all negative, it would probably not be a hot button topic for us in the church. But especially because of the negative aspects, alcohol can be a very touchy subject among believers.

We have a long history of issues with alcohol in our nation – from the temperance movement in the 1800’s, to prohibition in the early 1900’s which prohibited “the manufacture, sale, transportation or importation of alcoholic beverages in the United States.” Interestingly, the one thing prohibition didn’t prohibit was drinking. If you already had alcohol in your home, you were free to drink it – you just couldn’t make, buy or sell any more.

There are three main views concerning alcohol in the church. We can call them: 1) prohibition, 2) abstention, and 3) moderation. (Kenneth L. Gentry, God Gave Wine, p. 3)

The prohibitionist view says that no one should drink alcohol. The prohibitionist position views alcohol as inherently evil, and that drinking alcohol in any amount or form is therefore sinful. The abstentionist view also says that Christians should not drink alcohol. However, this view says we should abstain from alcohol not because it is wrong in and of itself, but because of the culture we live in where alcohol abuse is so rampant. The moderationist position views intoxication as the problem, not alcohol itself, and therefore sees nothing wrong with drinking alcohol in moderation.

I believe the Scriptures teach a combination of the moderationist view and the abstentionist views. There is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol in moderation, but those who feel personally called to abstain should do so in order to maintain a clear conscience.

As we look at the Scriptures relating to alcohol this morning, please remember that God is a God of grace, and if you have sinned in any of these areas, God’s forgiveness is available for you in Christ. And if you struggle with alcohol or any kind of addiction, please know that God can help you with your addictions, and as a church we would be glad to help you find the appropriate support and resources you need to live a full and free life in Christ. (See resources listed at the end of the message.)

We are going to be looking at three aspects about alcohol from the Scriptures this morning. 1) Alcohol is one of God’s good gifts that he gives us to enjoy. 2) Alcohol poses special dangers. And 3) Alcohol use is a matter of Christian freedom.

I. Alcohol is one of God’s good gifts that he gives us to enjoy

Alcohol is God’s dangerous gift. So, let’s begin by looking at this first aspect of alcohol from the Scriptures this morning: alcohol is one of God’s good gifts that he gives us to enjoy.

   A. Alcohol is presented as a blessing from God
      – Psalm 104:14-15; Ecclesiastes 9:7

First of all, there are numerous Scriptures that present alcohol as a blessing from God. Let me share with you just two. Ecclesiastes 9:7 tells us: “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7) Here, alcohol is presented along with food as a sign of God’s favor or blessing.

Another Scripture that presents alcohol as a blessing from God is Psalm 104: “God makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart.” (Psalm 104:14-15) Here wine is presented as one of God’s good gifts right along with the basics of bread and oil.

Some people want to interpret the phrase “wine that gladdens the heart of man” as referring to intoxication, and that therefore intoxication is okay with God. To which I would say, nice try, but that’s not what the phrase means here. There are many things in Scripture that are said to make the heart glad – a kind word (Proverbs 12:25), a cheerful look (Proverbs 15:30), perfume and incense (Proverbs 27:9). All of these make the heart glad, but they have nothing to do with intoxication.

   B. Alcohol is used positively in celebrations
      – Genesis 14:18-20; Deut 14:26; Isaiah 25:6; Mark 14:23-25; John 2:1-11

We also find alcohol used positively in celebrations in the Scriptures. For example, we read in the book of Genesis about Abraham’s celebration following the successful recovery of his relatives who had been captured in war. Genesis 14: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’” (Genesis 14:18-20)

In the Old Testament the Israelites were commanded to observe a special yearly celebration of the tithe. We read in Deuteronomy 14:26: “Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice.” (Deuteronomy 14:26)

In Isaiah 25:6 wine figures prominently in the Messianic banquet that will take place at the end of the ages: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.” (Isaiah 25:6)

The Lord’s Supper Jesus shared with his disciples involved the drinking of wine. We read in Mark 14: “Then Jesus took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them … He said to them. ‘I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.’” (Mark 14:23-25)

And then we have the example in John 2 of Jesus changing the water into wine at the wedding at Cana in Galilee (John 2:1-11) Of course not everyone is convinced by this that it’s okay to drink alcohol today. There’s an old joke that goes like this: “Sure, Jesus changed the water into wine, but you can bet he changed it back to water again before it hit their stomachs!” The wedding in Cana is another example from Scripture of alcohol used positively in celebrations.

In preparation for this message I sent a brief survey about alcohol out to a number of our church members who drink alcohol in their homes. I found it interesting that a number of people who responded to the survey shared how they like to have a glass of wine or champagne to celebrate special occasions. This seems very appropriate Scripturally.

   C. Alcohol is also used for medicinal purposes
      – Proverbs 31:6-7; Luke 10:34; 1 Timothy 5:23

Another good use of alcohol we find in Scripture is for medicinal purposes. We read in Proverbs 31: “Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.” (Proverbs 31:6-7) People are sometimes confused by these verses, wondering if it means it’s okay to get drunk if you’re feeling lousy, but it’s really talking about people in physical pain and using alcohol as an anesthesia to reduce the feelings of pain.

We also see the medicinal use of alcohol in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan: We read in Luke 10:34: “He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.” (Luke 10:34) Here the alcohol is not being drunk but is used as a cleansing agent to guard against infection in the wounds.

But we find another medicinal use for drinking alcohol in 1 Timothy 5:23 where Paul writes to Timothy: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:23) Apparently Timothy was choosing to abstain from wine and drink only water. However, Timothy was also experiencing stomach issues, and Paul encourages him to use a little wine to help settle his stomach.

One of the people who responded to the alcohol survey mentioned that they will sometimes take some Scotch when their sinuses are blocked and they can’t breathe. This is strictly for medicinal purposes, and they do not drink enough to get intoxicated.

So, that’s our first point this morning. The Bible presents alcohol as one of God’s good gifts that he gives us to enjoy.

II. Alcohol poses special dangers (Proverbs 20:1)

However, the Bible also warns us that alcohol poses special dangers. Back to Proverbs 20:1 which was one of our starting verses this morning, Scripture warns: “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1)

Alcohol is such a danger in our society that we have multiple government-funded agencies dedicated to alcohol-related problems. The social and economic costs are staggering. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths (31 percent of overall driving fatalities). In 2010, alcohol misuse cost the United States $249.0 billion. (https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics)

Alcohol abuse is especially prevalent on college campuses. Researchers estimate that each year 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes. 696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking. 97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall. (https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics)

According to the Centers for Disease Control excessive drinking is associated with numerous health problems, including chronic diseases such as liver cirrhosis; pancreatitis; various cancers, including liver, mouth, throat, larynx and esophagus; high blood pressure; and psychological disorders. Excessive drinking is also associated with unintentional injuries, such as motor-vehicle traffic crashes, falls, drowning, burns, and firearm injuries. It is also associated with violence, such as child maltreatment, homicide, and suicide. Alcohol can also cause harm to a developing baby if a woman drinks while pregnant. There is no known safe level of alcohol use during pregnancy. (https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm) Alcohol is a dangerous gift, and it is no wonder the Bible warns about its dangers.

   A. The danger of intoxication
      – Leviticus 10:9; Ephesians 5:18; vice lists (Rom 13:13; Gal 5:19-21; 1 Pet 4:3-4)

So, what does the Bible say about the dangers alcohol poses? First and foremost, there is the danger of intoxication. Although Scripture does not condemn the drinking of alcohol, it does condemn intoxication or drunkenness. Interestingly enough, all three of the positions on alcohol agree with this – it is wrong to use alcohol to get drunk. Of course, some people would say that’s the whole point of drinking alcohol – that if you’re not going to get intoxicated, you might as well drink something else. But that’s not what the Bible says.

For example, we read God’s instructions to the priests in Leviticus 10:9: Then the Lord said to Aaron, “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting, or you will die.” (Leviticus 10:9) The danger here is if they drank too much, they might be intoxicated when approaching the Lord for sacrifice.

We read in Ephesians 5:18 in the New Testament: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) Here getting drunk is contrasted with being filled with the Holy Spirit. When you are filled with the Spirit, you are controlled by what God wants. But when you are drunk, you are controlled by the alcohol, and God says this is wrong. Anytime you are not in full control of your senses, bad things can happen – accidents, angry words, errors in judgment, mistakes that cannot be undone.

So, if intoxication is wrong, what does drinking in moderation mean? The Bible does not us give a specific amount, probably because it is different for each person. However, according to the government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate alcohol consumption is defined as having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. This definition refers to the amount consumed on any single day and is not intended as an average over several days. However, the Dietary Guidelines do not recommend that people who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason. (https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm)

The respondents to the alcohol survey all shared that they drink minimally – no more than one drink in a day, some only a couple times a month or on special occasions. None of them drank to get drunk, and they stopped far short of any effects of intoxication. That is a good example of drinking in moderation and taking seriously the Bible’s warnings about the danger of intoxication.

   B. The danger of potential addiction
      – Proverbs 23:29-33; Isaiah 5:11; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Titus 2:3

Then there is also the danger of potential addiction. Alcohol addiction is a terrible thing, and those of you who have either struggled with addiction yourselves or who have had loved ones who struggle with addiction – you know what a horrible toll it takes on individuals and families. It is especially important that teens stay away from alcohol. According to the CDC, people who use alcohol before age 15 are six times more likely to become alcohol dependent than adults who begin drinking at age 21. (https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm)

Alcohol affects different people in different ways, and you don’t know how it will affect you until you try it. Let me tell you the stories of two of my friends.

One friend tried alcohol for the first time at a business meeting when he was in his twenties. He was an instant alcoholic. For the next seven years, he never went a day without getting drunk. He told me later those years were a blur, and he barely remembers his kids growing up. When he became a Christian seven years later, God miraculously delivered him from alcohol. He never drank again and never desired to drink again. He later became a pastor with a big heart for people with problems.

My second friend started drinking in high school. When he became a Christian, the desire never went away. He would leave alcohol behind for seasons at a time, but he struggled with addictions all his life up to his death a few years back in his fifties.

Proverbs 23 well describes the person who is addicted to alcohol: “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? 30 Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. 31 Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! 32 In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. 33 Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. 34 You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. 35 ‘They hit me,’ you will say, ‘but I’m not hurt! They beat me, but I don’t feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?’” (Proverbs 23:29-33) These verses describe someone who has a drinking problem. There are all sorts of negative effects in their life because of alcohol, but they can’t seem to stop drinking.

Titus 2:3 says: “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.” (Titus 2:3) The word translated “addicted” in this verse means “enslaved.” Those who are addicted to alcohol are literally enslaved to it.

We read in Isaiah 5:11: “Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine.” (Isaiah 5:11) This verse describes someone whose life is completely oriented to alcohol. Their whole life revolves around alcohol, and they can’t imagine life without it.

   C. The danger of negatively impacting others
      – Proverbs 31:4-5; 1 Corinthians 8:9; 1 Timothy 3:2-3,8

And then beyond the negative impact of alcohol in your own life, there is also the danger of negatively impacting others. Proverbs 31 contains a strong warning about alcohol for kings and for all those in any positions of authority: “It is not for kings … to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what the law decrees, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.” (Proverbs 31:4-5) Too much alcohol impairs judgment, and so there is a double danger when you are responsible for others.

I know of so many families where the Dad goes to the bar right after work instead of going home to his family. Men, if that’s you, let me tell you, you need to go home. You need your family, and your family needs you. Every time you choose alcohol over family, you are causing untold damage and hurt. If you have kids at home, these years go by so fast. Don’t give your years to alcohol. Just go home. You and your family will be the better for it. And if you find you can’t go home, then you have a problem, and you need help.

Then there is the matter of Christian testimony, which is why Paul’s list of the qualifications for elder and deacon both contain warnings about alcohol. We read in 1 Timothy 3: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” (1 Timothy 3:2-3) And again in verse 8: “Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain.” (1 Timothy 3:8)

There is also the danger that your actions might become a stumbling block for someone else in this area. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:9: “Be careful … that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:9) Although it might be alright for you to drink alcohol, the exercise of your freedom in this area has the potential to cause others to stumble. We’ll talk more about that in just a moment when we get to the question of how best to handle Christian freedom.

But for now, understand that the Bible presents alcohol as a dangerous gift. Alcohol is one of God’s good gifts that he gives us to enjoy. And yet at the same time alcohol poses special dangers.

III. Alcohol use is a matter of Christian freedom

So, what do we do with all that? This leads us directly into the area of Christian freedom. Alcohol use is a matter of Christian freedom. Matters of Christian freedom are those areas where the Bible doesn’t specifically tell you one way or the other what is right. It’s not like lying or stealing where the Bible clearly tells you those areas are sin. Areas of sin are not areas of freedom. You are not free to disobey a direct command of God. But there are no direct commands of God not to drink alcohol – just strong warnings about the dangers.

There are two chapters in the Bible that speak most directly to the matter of Christian freedom – 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14. We don’t have time to look at both this morning, so we will just look at Romans 14. And I want us to draw three important principles from this chapter.

   A. We should not judge those with different convictions
      – Romans 14:1-3

First of all, when it comes to areas of Christian freedom, we should not judge those with different convictions. Romans 14:1-3 says: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.… The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does.” (Romans 14:1-3) Applying this to alcohol, those who do not drink alcohol should not judge those who do, and those who do drink alcohol should not judge those who don’t.

   B. We need to be sensitive to those who struggle with alcohol
      – Romans 14:13-16

Secondly, we need to be sensitive to those who struggle with alcohol. Romans 14:13-16 says: “Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way…. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.” (Romans 14:13-16)

I was impressed by the answers in the alcohol survey of how the respondents were very careful not to put a stumbling block in the way of anyone struggling with alcohol. One said, “If we are hosting a gathering, we always provide a selection of beverages that include non-alcoholic options. If we know that a guest has a problem with alcohol, then we won’t serve any on that occasion.” Another said, “If I know they struggle, I would encourage them not to drink at all. We don’t offer wine ever in our home, unless we know for certain the people coming over treat it as we do: Drink little. Drink slowly. No over-indulgence.”

Most people on the survey felt it was not appropriate to serve alcohol at church events, although some were willing to make an exception for serving wine at communion or perhaps a glass of champagne at a wedding celebration.

   C. We need to maintain a clear conscience before God
      – Romans 14:22-23; 1 Corinthians 10:31

And then finally, each of needs to maintain a clear conscience before God. Romans 14:22-23 says: “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:22-23)

The question you need to deal with is not so much is it right or wrong for a Christian to drink alcohol, but rather is it right or wrong for you to drink alcohol?

For example, let me share my own personal convictions in these areas. Because of all these warnings in Scripture and the dangers that alcohol presents, I made the decision long ago, when I was still in high school, that alcohol simply would not be a part of my life. For myself I have found the choice not to drink makes my life simpler. I don’t have to worry about how much is too much. I don’t need to risk addiction as happened to my friend. I don’t need to worry about causing someone else to stumble – especially my own children as they were growing up. I have seen too much damage caused by alcohol and frankly I don’t want anything to do with it. I don’t need it, and I don’t miss it. There are plenty of other beverages available for me to drink that don’t carry so much baggage.

But as we have seen, other Christians are fine with alcohol in the home. They receive it as a good gift from God, and they use it responsibly. They might have a small glass with dinner or use it to mark special celebrations. And they are sensitive to others who may struggle with alcohol.

In all of this I think 1 Corinthians 10:31 provides the guiding principle for all of us to follow: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) That’s our final goal in all of this – that God would be glorified whether we choose to drink or not to drink.

CONCLUSION: Alcohol is God’s dangerous gift, and we need to understand both the positive and negative aspects of alcohol from Scripture. On the one hand, alcohol is a good gift of God that is presented in Scripture as a blessing, that is used in celebrations, and that also has medicinal purposes. On the other hand, alcohol poses the special dangers of intoxication, potential addiction, and negative impact on others. Drunkenness is forbidden, and we should only drink in moderation.

For the believer, alcohol use is a matter of Christian freedom. We should not judge those who have different convictions from us concerning drinking moderately. We should be sensitive to those who struggle with alcohol. We need to maintain a clear conscience before God.

My prayer is that each of you here this morning will be careful to align your view of alcohol with Scripture. I pray that you will be non-judgmental to people who may have different views than you do on alcohol. Most of all I pray that each of you will seek God’s will as to your own use of alcohol. Yes, alcohol is a good gift from God. But it’s a dangerous gift.

© Ray Fowler

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Click here for more messages from the Hot Button Topics series.
Click here to return to the Sermons page.

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Recommended Resources on Alcohol

Books (* = highly recommended)
Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave by Edward T. Welch
Christians and Alcohol: A Scriptural Case for Abstinence by Randy Jaeggli
*God Gave Wine: What the Bible Says about Alcohol by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
*The Heart of Addiction: A Biblical Perspective by Mark E. Shaw
How Not to Die by Jan Garavaglia, M.D. (“Dr. G”)

Online Resources
Celebrate Recovery http://www.celebraterecovery.com/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/

Messages
For audio of the messages in this series: pccflorida.org/sermons/
For full text manuscripts of the messages in this series: rayfowler.org/sermons/hot-button-topics/

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Alcohol Survey
1) How do you experience alcohol as a good gift from God in your life?
2) How do you personally navigate the dangers of alcohol? (i.e. How much is too much? How do you know? Do you have any personal guidelines you follow in this area?)
3) How do you seek to be sensitive to others who may struggle with alcohol in their life?
4) Do you think it is appropriate to serve alcohol at church events? Why or why not?