As a pastor, I am often asked if alcohol use is sinful. Someone wrote to me the other day with the following question:
What is your view on alcohol? I don’t drink at all. However, my wife likes to have an occasional drink. The church I attend preaches against alcohol. My wife says she doesn’t feel convicted over having a drink. I don’t ever say anything to her, but there’s times when I feel convicted for her having one. I know everyone’s convictions are different. So was just seeing what your thoughts were.
The answer to this question is a simple one: The Bible does not condemn alcohol itself as sinful, it condemns the abuse of alcohol when it is used to induce inebriation or drunkenness (Eph. 5:18). The problem is not alcohol. In fact, the Bible actually commends wine itself as one of God’s good gifts that gladdens the heart (Ecc. 10:19; Ps. 104:15). This question would have been a foreign one in Jewish culture since gathering together for communal feasts and celebrations was an important part of daily social life in Israel. Wine was viewed as a commonly enjoyed blessing in Israel.
The apostle John recognized this social aspect of Jewish life when he told the story of Jesus turning water into wine in John 2; this was a miracle so notable to the guests that the master of the feast expressed irritation “after the people had drunk freely” that the best wine was brought out last. It is completely untenable, as some have tried to advance, that this was grape juice. Yes, this was the best fermented wine possible in Palestine that Jesus created for a Jewish wedding.
With this recognition should come a word of caution. The reason this question is frequently asked is because the line between enjoyment of a good gift in this life and its abuse is not always clearly perceived. The sad truth is that we have a remarkable ability to abuse God’s good gifts. The human heart is incredibly deceitful. The reader should consider the shocking statistics of alcohol abuse in the U.S. here.
Samuel Miller in his work, “Clerical Manners” writes:
Thousands have been insensibly betrayed into habits of drinking before they were aware of being in the least danger…This is a sin [intemperate drinking] so unquestionable and degrading, so destructive of health, of reputation, and of all that is good…that thousands are drawn into them without the smallest apprehension of danger. Happy is he who sees the evil far off and is wise enough to escape from every measure of its influence…Intoxicating drinks do more to generate crime, to destroy human life, and to prostrate domestic and social peace and happiness, than sword, famine, and pestilence, all combined.
I quote Samuel Miller, a Presbyterian and Reformed minister, to provide a necessary pushback to making the liberty of drinking a cloak for vice (1 Pet. 2:16). We are not living in an age of teetotaler’s and abstinence. We are living in an age of intemperance. As a pastor, what I often observe is that once people have been “set free” from extreme environments of legalism (environments that have produced some of the worst drinking problems in those who grew up under churches and parents who incessantly condemned all use), and discover a freedom to now drink with “Luther and Calvin”, is that, truth be told, the pendulum swings to what Miller observes is a lack of complete awareness of any danger.
Drinking excessively and frequently, even before entering into a state of drunkenness, promotes the following harmful effects on one’s life: depression, inactivity, guilt, health problems, digestion problems, dulled senses, isolation, the ruin of relationships, and a sense of alienation from God. Covid-19 has made the problem exponentially worse.
There are two sins the Bible tell us to flee: sexual immorality and idolatry. Note that I did not say fight, but “flee”—run away from as far as you can. Typically, people find that if they are stuck in sins of sexual immorality, alcohol was the gateway to dull the senses in its pursuit. Idolatry is, of course, something that we run to in place of or alongside of the only true God.
The question of idolatry is the larger question that needs to be asked with regard to alcohol use. Has alcohol use become an idol in my life? Is it promoting other sins, like that of sexual immorality? Can I go without alcohol or is there excessive dependency to find relief from the hardships of life?
These are personal questions that only the reader can answer. Is alcohol use wrong? Not in principle. But depending on the factors discussed, it may be wrong for someone personally. Should I judge my wife for having a drink each night after a long day’s work? Who am I as a husband to rob God’s good gift to her? The question has to do with one’s own personal conscience and the issue of the dependency of the heart.
Some people have very addictive personalities and should guard themselves from those things that are harmful to their walk with Christ. For others, alcohol use is a non-issue, and doesn’t lead to other problems. At the end of the day, it’s a wisdom issue, applying Peter’s rule that each person should conduct themselves with fear throughout our time on this earth for God’s glory (1 Pet. 1:17).