Should a Christian drink any beverage with alcohol in it? What does the Bible actually say about this issue?
We believe that the Bible is God’s inspired word, in which He reveals a great deal of who He is, who men are to Him, and how He expects men to relate to Him. In the Bible, He makes some of His feelings and will about certain issues very clear, and on other issues, a bit of understanding that is born of spiritual revelation and guidance, is required to know what God actually expects from His followers.
The issue of whether Christians should consume alcoholic beverages is one that has been debated since the beginning of Christianity and will continue to be debated till our Lord comes back! Various stands have been vigorously and religiously (pun intended) taken on this issue which have, for the most part, left believers and non-believers more confused than enlightened on what is actually expected of believers in Christ concerning alcohol intake. The following is my humble take on the issue…
- MY CASE FOR ALCOHOL CONSUPTION BY BELIEVERS
Let’s be clear about one fact: There isn’t a single place where the Bible states that alcohol intake is forbidden to God’s followers. So based on this, Christianity does not forbid alcohol intake. Any church that teaches that Christianity forbids it, is playing religion, pure and simple! I know of one particular denomination that forbids beer drinking, but allows any other type of alcoholic beverage. How can anyone not be confused by such an inconsistent and hypocritical stance on the issue?
Here’s something the Lord Jesus said in Matthew 11:18-19, when comparing Himself to John-the-Baptist: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon. 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (NIV)
So let’s analyze this statement with a clear and unbiased mind: We know that John-the-Baptist maintained some very strict rules about his lifestyle which, no doubt, included abstaining from alcoholic beverages.
On the other hand we know that tax collectors and sinners do not shy from alcoholic beverages. So what they drank in the Lord’s presence must have been alcoholic. And we also know that ‘drunkard’ means one thing: A drunken individual!
So in that statement, the Lord Jesus clearly said: John-the-Baptist didn’t drink, and you thought he was strange for that. I came and I hung out with people who drank alcoholic beverage, and you call me a drunk.
Many pastors try to explain that what Jesus drank was ‘new wine’; the unfermented non-alcoholic kind of wine. But I beg to differ because if the Lord only drank non-alcoholic new wine, He would not have complained about people thinking of Him as a drunkard. He would have simply pointed out that what He drank wasn’t even alcoholic. (And if He didn’t even drink any kind of wine, but drank only water, He would have made that clear as well.) BUT HE CLEARLY DID NOT DEFEND THE CHARGE. He was only astonished at how inconsistent and hypocritical the people could be.
So whether the Lord Jesus consumed alcoholic beverages or not, He clearly never condemned it.
Neither does the apostle Paul, whose advice to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:23 has been a ‘lifesaver’ to those in the Church who believe they ought to be allowed to indulge alcohol. They will religiously remind anyone that Paul told Timothy “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (NIV) You’d be amazed how many believers out there claim to have stomach issues so they can stand on this advice to quench their thirst for alcohol. It shouldn’t have to be so.
Here are perhaps, the most compelling statements made by the Lord Jesus and Apostle Paul, which make alcohol consumption by a believer not sinful:
Jesus said in Mark 7:14-23 “…“Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) 20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (NIV)
And Paul said in Romans 14:20 “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.” (NIV)
The bible makes it clear in these two passages that all foods INCLUDING alcoholic beverages are ‘clean’ before God, meaning acceptable to Him for consumption. ANYONE WHO SAYS OTHERWISE IS GOING AGAINST THE EXPRESS WORD OF GOD!
What we do see a lot of in the Scripture, is God’s contempt for heavy drinking and drunkenness. The book of Proverbs, for instance is full of rebuke of the practice. Isaiah 5:22 says ” Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink” (KJV). We know that anything done in excess can be bad. Therefore, God expects that anyone who consumes alcohol must do so wisely and with measure.
Consider this fact: A lot of the foods we eat contain trace amounts of alcohol. Do we sin because we ate such foods? NO! Understand something: It’s either sinful in God’s eyes or it’s not. No middle ground! God does not play with sin! If something is sinful, there’s no circumstance in which he would consider it okay to engage in such a thing. So if alcohol consumption is sinful, there’s no way Apostle Paul would have advised Timothy to touch it. Let us stop playing religion with this issue and teach the truth: Nothing that is ingested as food – alcoholic beverage, rum cake, dishes cooked with alcohol, foods that naturally contain alcohol – is sinful before God. What is sinful is the evil that proceed out of us – out of our hearts, minds, mouths, actions!
2. MY CASE AGAISNT ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION BY BELIEVERS
By His declaration in Mark 7:14-23 the Lord set us free and we are free to eat and drink what we want. What is expected from us is to exercise this freedom in a wise and godly manner. Therefore, the reason a believer ought to consider abstaining from alcohol consumption is that it can cause a lot of harm to the Body of Christ in so many different ways, namely:
- Offending people
- Bringing shame and reproach to a believer
- Hinder a believer’s walk with, and growth in, the Lord.
a. Offending people:
Paul’s statement in Romans 14:20 (quoted above) says it all: The very purpose for which he made that statement was to encourage the Christian brethren who consumed alcohol to abstain from alcohol consumption because doing so was causing problems for some other believers who felt that it was wrong.
This brings up reason #1 for a believer to abstain from alcohol consumption: Stay away from it because your drinking might be a problem for those around you – believers and unbelievers – who believe it’s wrong for a believer to drink alcohol. You will agree with me that most unbelievers expect that believers should abstain from alcohol consumption! Many believers have left the church because they could not stand what they perceived to be ‘hypocrisy’ from their fellow believers. And many unbelievers have found it hard to accept the Lord because they feel that the church is one very hypocritical place.
So out of love for God, Jesus and your fellow men, you ought to do the right thing and give up alcohol consumption because you do not want to:
- Offend anyone
- Cause anyone to sin in their heart
- Be a stumbling block to anyone
Consider it as part of your sacrifice unto God as a believer who loves Him and wishes to do only things that will benefit His church, and nothing that would cause harm to her.
b. Bring shame and reproach to a believer:
In advising both Timothy and Titus as church leaders, Paul taught them that:
- “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach…” (1 Timothy 3:2, KJV)
- “Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.” (1 Timothy 3:11, KJV)
- ” For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; 8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate…” (Titus 1:7-8, KJV)
- “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world…” (Titus 2:11-12, KJV)
Even in the secular world, certain positions require that the holders thereof refrain from any kind of behavior that would bring reproach to them and, consequently, to their position. There’s even an expression: ‘sober as a judge’! By virtue of their exalted position, judges are to be without reproach! This is ever more true with Christians! A drunken believer, or worse yet, a drunken leader in the church, can never be a good thing. They can only bring shame and reproach to the church. The passages quoted above cover ALL BELIEVERS: The bishops (referring to the leaders and anyone in a high position within the church), their wives (referring to women), and “ALL MEN” (see Titus 2:11), referring to EVERYONE who considers himself a believer, not just those in leading positions.
And as we can see in 1 Timothy 3:2, a bishop must be … “apt to teach”. How is a believer going to be teaching people the word of God while drunk? He would only incur shame and reproach. Therefore, in order to ALWAYS be ready and ‘apt’ to teach the word of God, a bishop must NEVER be drunk.
c. Hinder a believer’s walk with, and growth in, the Lord:
Alcohol impairs. It impairs a lot of things in a man: his mind, his senses, his spirit, his speech, his vision, his motor skills… This can cause – and it does cause – a lot of problems for a believer who seeks to walk with God. And if a believer cannot walk with God, he cannot grow in God.
Here are some other advices given by the spiritual giants from whom we learn how to walk with the Lord:
- 1 Thessalonians 5:6: “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” (KJV throughout)
- 1 Thessalonians 5:8: “But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.”
- 1 Peter 4:7: “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.”
- 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…”
As someone who wakes up in the middle of the night to spend hours in prayer on a daily basis, I can tell you that prayer is indispensable for a successful walk with the Lord and for spiritual growth! I can also tell you, as someone who used to get seriously drunk, that you can’t spend time in prayer while drunk! Notice all the crucial advice given to us believers by Apostles Paul and Peter:
- Do not sleep, but watch
- Put on the breastplate of faith and helmet of salvation
- Watch and pray
- Be vigilant; or be devoured by the devil
These are all indispensable actions that a believer MUST CONSTANTLY take in order to succeed as a follower of Christ, and for every one of these actions to be successfully executed, we must be sober! Think about this:
- You can’t go before God all drunk or at least intoxicated and expect to get into his holy presence.
- With the alcohol numbing your senses, how do you expect to communicate with God?
So if you can’t spend time with the Lord in prayer because you’re drunk all the time, how do you expect to grow in Him?
And if your argument is that you’re not always drunk, well here’s the problem: During those times when you are drunk or at least intoxicated to a degree, you could fall into all kinds of troubles that can affect your standing as a Christian. 1Peter 5:8 addresses this: Your enemy the devil will be watching for those moments when you’re spiritually weak from drunkenness or even mild intoxication, to attack you in some way!
I could go on and on about reasons for a believer to abstain from alcohol as a matter of spiritual duty, but anyone reading this ought to have gotten the point by now.
It’s a matter of wisdom. Note that in none of the passages quoted above did the Apostles command anyone to not drink at all. They only advised – very strongly – to be sober! To me, personally, being sober means to not be even remotely intoxicated. Totally alcohol-free! To another, it may mean a glass a wine, no more. I don’t know what it means to you, dear reader. Even if the Lord Jesus did consume alcohol in those times when He dined with alcohol drinkers, the fact remains that He did not go around drinking and getting drunk. So even if it was that He drank some, I know that He was wise and strong enough to know how little He ought to take. And that’s the problem with the rest of us. We seldom know our limits, and often end up getting very intoxicated, which then brings a world of shame to us and to the church. As we know, the Lord prayed EVERY NIGHT! So it’s clear that on those occasions when He dined with alcohol, He made sure that He took very little if any, so as to be sober and ready to spend time with the Father later in the night. And we know that He was ALWAYS ready to teach. So even if He drank at all, it would be in such an insignificant amount that it wouldn’t have any effect on Him at all.
In my case, the Lord advised me to completely stay away from alcohol! God knows me, and knows that I’m not the type of person to have one or two bottles of beer and call it the day or night. In fact, the words of Isaiah 5:22 quoted earlier, used to refer to me. I was known for a mixture called Black & Tan, which was a mixture of dark ale and regular beer. Needless to say, it was a powerful mixture. For this reason the Lord didn’t just advise, but ordered me to entirely stay away from the substance. And He did a great miracle for me and enabled me to give up alcohol cold turkey!
Therefore, I’ll close with this:
- If you know in your spirit that the Lord is prompting you to abstain from alcohol, do so! Because even though alcohol consumption is not sinful in itself, anyone who’s been ordered – or feels led – to abstain from it would be committing the sin of disobedience if he still indulged in it.
- Even if you haven’t received any command from the Lord to totally abstain from alcohol, and you do drink regularly, there might be an occasion when He might want you to abstain, and order you to abstain. It might be for any reason, which He might reveal to you or not. He sees and knows things that we don’t. Examples: It may be because there’s someone around who might get offended by your drinking at that very moment. You don’t know this, but the Lord does. You might be getting pulled over by the police in a routine traffic stop later on after you’ve left the place where you are about to drink. The Lord knows this and is trying to keep you out of jail. He may be wanting you to share His word with someone some time later, or in that very place where you are, so He needs you to stay clean and sober for the task ahead.
This is why my personal advice to anyone who seeks to honor God with his own life is to totally stay away from alcohol. The detrimental effects of alcohol consumption to a Christian far outweigh whatever benefits he may gain from it.
May God grant us the grace to always do the right thing in our walk with Him here on earth, and in our race to be with Him in heaven FOR ETERNITY!