Christmas is coming, and with it the inevitable holiday parties where food and drink of all sorts will be offered.
I love eating and drinking! Food and drink are among the chief pleasures of this life. Our capacity to enjoy food and drink is a wonderful blessing from our generous Creator. But, like all good things, these blessings can be abused.
In this short reflection, I want to consider the topic of alcohol use. My frame of reference in this post is that of a Christian believer. If you call yourself a Christian, I’m hoping this post will prompt some sober reflection on how we ought to look at this issue.
I grew up in a Dutch immigrant family. In my family growing up, it was considered normal to drink wine at celebrations. Alcohol was offered to adults, but drunkenness was frowned upon. Since surrendering my life to Christ at the age of thirty-four, I’ve given quite a bit of thought to this matter. As a new believer in the late 1980s, I soon learned that many of my new evangelical Christian friends saw alcohol use as totally off-limits for any genuine Christian. So I had some thinking to do. This post is the fruit of those reflections.
I have friends – brothers and sisters in Christ – who are recovering alcoholics, or who are married to recovering alcoholics. For them, alcohol is dangerous. It’s a no-go zone.
I have other friends – brothers and sisters in Christ – who have never touched a drop of alcohol, and who believe and teach that no Christian should ever do so. This conviction stems from their awareness of the potentially destructive power of alcohol.
I have yet other friends – brothers and sisters in Christ – who believe that moderate alcohol use adds to their enjoyment of social gatherings and does no harm.
My friends in the third group would probably see this as a matter of Christian liberty of conscience, much as the apostle Paul did in regard to the matter of clean and unclean foods (Romans 14), which was a divisive issue in the first century community of believers. His position was that as a believer you are free in Christ to follow your conscience in these matters.
But he also said something else, and to me this is the crux of the matter. None of us lives for ourselves alone.
Having given this matter careful consideration, I don’t see any Scriptural basis for forbidding alcohol use. It’s clear to me that wine was a common part of life in the Hebrew scriptures, in the Jewish community from which the first church sprang, and in the New Testament world in general. The use of wine was considered to be normal. I’ve heard the arguments that the wine used in the Bible was alcohol free, but I don’t think this conviction holds water.
Drunkenness, however, was and is absolutely forbidden for followers of Jesus. To live a life that’s led by the Holy Spirit, we need to keep ourselves free from other influences. This means that for a disciple, alcohol use needs to be restrained and moderate. And when in doubt, we need to follow the most important and simple rule of all. Are we walking in love? In other words – is our conduct helping others live well, or does it have the potential to cause harm to another? Is what we are doing aiding or hindering in our primary calling – to display the goodness of Jesus to a needy world?
So, to my friends who exercise their liberty to enjoy a glass of wine or a bottle of beer in moderation, I have a question for you to consider. When you make the decision that it’s OK for you to enjoy a glass of your favourite brew or vintage, can you honestly say that you honour God as the Creator of all good things? If so, good on you. But if you drink to excess, and lose control of your ability to govern your own behaviour, how is this glorifying to God? And even if you’re very careful to stay sober, do you choose to draw attention to your exercise of your liberty, maybe by posting a pic online, or mocking those whose conscience won’t let them join you? If you do, whose good are you thinking of? Is this in any way doing good to your brother or sister? Or is it potentially causing division in the Body of Jesus, and doing harm to someone who can’t handle alcohol at all, and might be influenced by your choice?
And to my friends who never touch a drop of alcohol, I have a question for you to consider as well. Are you mature enough to see your abstinence as a personal choice, an expression of your own obedience to God? If so, good on you. Or are you using it as a measuring stick by which you assess who’s “in” and who’s “out” of God’s favour, presence and Kingdom? If so, be careful. It’s not up to you and me to exclude people that God doesn’t exclude. From what I can tell by my reading of the gospels, Jesus ate food and drank wine with some people that were counted as “unclean” by the religious rule-makers of the day. Their salvation was more important to him than someone else’s external rules about who was in and who was out.
I was trying to think of a good way to end this, but I can’t really find a better way than by quoting, once again, from the words of Paul. Love does no harm to a neighbor (brother, sister). Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. When you get right down to it, it’s not about us. When we think it is, we get messed up. When we keep our focus on giving delight to God and loving those around us, we do well.
Happy Holidays! And may your celebrations make Jesus smile.