This is a tough issue, and one quite honestly that I’ve avoided for a long time. What should a Christian’s perspective be on the topic of drinking alcoholic beverages? Opinions vary, and it’s not hard to understand the reasons why. On one extreme are those who have family or friends whose life has been destroyed by alcohol. Even if they recovered, it’s a lifelong battle to stay away from this “demon” so that they don’t relapse. On the other extreme are people who’ve grown up in a very controlled environment of alcohol consumption, who have a glass of wine with a meal but never overindulge, and have no problem controlling this behavior.
Once you move this argument into the religious arena you’d think it might become simpler, but it really does not. In our U.S. American culture where protestant churches have dominated, we see a mindset of total abstinence, partly due to the wanton ways of those involved in our westward expansion (cowboys celebrating the cattle drive, in saloons, etc.). On the other hand, when you go to many other countries you see alcohol as part of everyday life for most families, including Christians. When my wife and I were in Italy we had tour guides who were Christian telling us about helping their kids learn to drink responsibly when they were growing up by watering down the wine and gradually introducing it to their children. Once they are adults they generally drink responsibly, usually with meals. Like any adult behavior (including eating food) there can be issues, and people who abuse their freedom.
Where does that leave us? How about this. If we are Bible believing people we usually base our beliefs on what the Bible teaches, right? So why not do that with this subject? Let’s take a look.
We might start by asking, “What would Jesus do?” On the one hand we have no specific example of the Bible saying Jesus drank anything alcoholic. But, we have no place where he condemned it either, and in fact we have an example where he provided it to many. You remember it, the wedding at Cana of Galilee. It was his first miracle! Some try to say it was just good grape juice, but that goes against common sense for a wedding of that day and that culture. And because this was a miracle, the miracle would seem to be taking water and turning it immediately into wine (which normally needs time to ferment). You could turn it into grape juice just by squeezing grapes into it. It’s the wine factor that really makes this a miracle. Once Jesus turned water into wine, and not just any wine, it was the best they had experience so far (John 2:10), do you think he forbade them from drinking it?
As Tevye of Fiddler on the Roof would say, “On the other hand…” We all know alcohol can be dangerous. Some people just can’t handle it. The Bible does warn us about such. We are told in Proverbs 23, “Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.” Deuteronomy 32 says wine can be like the poison of serpents. No doubt about it, we are not being responsible if we fail to see the potential dangers of alcohol. The Bible says that getting drunk crosses the line into sinful behavior. “Do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).
Again, where does that leave us? Jesus once gave an illustration of the kingdom he was initiating where he said “No one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” (Mark 2) If he wanted complete abstinence you’d think Jesus would use a different illustration or say, “Destroy that sinful wine!” He didn’t. His point was that his kingdom could not be contained in the old wineskin of the Law, his kingdom would be of the Spirit. Are you, as a Christian, controlled by his Spirit, do you walk according to his Word? If so, you’ll control this area just like you do others. That’s the bottom line, what is it that motivates us, what is it that leads our thoughts and actions? If we allow it to be anything other than the Lord and his Spirit, we are in trouble, even if we never take a sip of alcohol.
A general guideline for the Christian? Thoughts can vary, but how about this: Don’t flaunt it in front of others who may be weak (Rom. 14:21), if you do it at all do it responsibly, never getting drunk, never drinking and driving, and consider abstinence as possibly the cleanest and safest path.
If we are Christian, our goal is to honor the Lord at all times!