This Bud’s For You: The Christian And The Use Of Alcohol
August 19, 1991
This is not the first time I have addressed this subject. Over the 13 years I have served as a pastor, the subject has come up again and again. A few days before I preached on this subject in my church in Texas, I came into my office and found a brown bag on my desk. It was labeled, “For your sermon on drinking.” Inside was an empty bottle of Schlitz Malt Liquor. I started my sermon by holding up the bottle and saying, “I have only one question: Why was it empty when it got to me?”
We had a good laugh about the empty bottle, but it points out our basic problem in this area. The evangelical consensus against social drinking has largely evaporated in the last few years. A generation ago, it was a given that if you belonged to an evangelical church, you didn’t drink. Period. End of discussion. Drinking was something that Lutherans and Catholics did. We didn’t want any part of it.
Times have changed. More than once since coming to Calvary, people have pulled me aside and said, “You know, don’t you, that you’ve got some church members who drink.” Sometimes those church members are named; more often they are left faceless, nameless, anonymous. My response is always the same. “Since we don’t have a church rule against social drinking, I assume we have some people who choose to do that.” Then I usually go on to say, “In a church as large as Calvary, all kinds of things go on. I’m glad I don’t know what everybody does. Some of it would probably surprise me.”
Having said that, I think it is useful for us to revisit the subject of the Christian and social drinking. After all, the Bible does have a great deal to say about the use and abuse of alcohol. From time to time it is good to remind ourselves about the biblical teaching so that we can make wise decisions in this area.
It’s OK To Disagree
I am aware that there will be several different responses to the things I say. First, there are those who know how I feel on this issue and who profoundly agree with me. In fact, there are some who agree with me more than I agree with myself, if you know what I mean. They think it’s high time the pastor addressed this issue.
Second, there is a large group of people more or less in the middle. Some occasionally take a drink, some do not. The distinctive of this larger group is that they are not greatly worked up about social drinking one way or the other.
Third, there is a group—how large I could not say—who know how I feel and who already disagree. Some because they are Christians and church members and social drinkers. Some because they think they heard all this a long time ago. It is to this particular group that I direct the larger part of my remarks.
Let me say frankly that it is OK to disagree with your pastor. No man can have all the answers. Disagreement is normal, natural and even healthy. And if it happens at the end, that someone does not see the issue the same way I do, that’s OK. We’re going to love each other anyway.
Having said this, I would like to frankly state my position, define it, tell you how I came to it, and explain the reasons why I believe the way I do.
A. My Position: Voluntary Personal Abstinence
By voluntary, I mean it is a decision I have come to on my own. No one has forced me to take it. By personal, I mean it is a decision I have made respecting myself. It is the same kind of decision each Christian must make in every area where the Bible does not give us final answers. And in preaching this decision, I have no desire to compel any person into joining me. This sermon is in the area of persuasion, not compulsion. By abstinence, I mean the non-use of alcoholic beverages.
What all that means is that I have chosen not to drink at all. Not even a little bit. Not even on social occasions. I have simply chosen not to do it.
The most important thing I can say to you on the matter is this: No one has forced me to take that position. You may think that I am an abstainer because I’m a pastor. Well, in the three churches I have served, no one ever made drinking or non-drinking an issue of employment.
B. How Is It, Then, That I Have Come To This Position Of Voluntary Personal Abstinence?
Perhaps the easiest way to say that it was not because of the home in which I was raised. It is sometimes alleged that the two reasons people abstain are l. Because they were taught to do so as a child or 2. Because they lived in an environment where alcohol was a problem. Neither was true of me.
In the home where I grew up, my parents were exceedingly careful about drinking. It was an unusual thing to see my folks drink anything at all. Oh, it was there and we knew it was there but it wasn’t for daily use. What liquor or beer was around was saved for very special occasions. They had a little cupboard where it was kept and woe to the unfortunate boy who was caught even looking in there. I can truthfully say—to the credit of my Mom and Dad—that they could hardly have been more responsible. My home was like millions of others in America. There was alcohol but it was not a problem. And they never encouraged us to drink. Although they never said it, I suppose they assumed we might eventually take a drink when we were older but there was no pressure either way.
Somewhere along the way I just decided I wouldn’t drink. It wasn’t a conscious choice or a flash of insight. In fact, I can’t remember when I made the decision but sometime during my high school years I decided to just say no. And that decisions has stuck throughout the years.
If you were to take all the beer I have drunk and the wine and the vodka and the liquor and put it all together, it would fill up less than half a glass. That’s no big deal. In one sense, it’s a disadvantage because someone could say, “He never really tried it,” and that’s true. On the other hand, I made that decision about 20 years ago and I’ve lived by it. This is one of the few areas in which I can truthfully say—I practice what I preach. I bear witness to the fact that you can choose voluntary personal abstinence and live without regretting it.
C. The Reasons Why I Choose Voluntary Abstinence
1. Because of the varied nature of the biblical record concerning alcohol.
While the Bible has a great deal to say about intoxicating beverages, and the danger of abuse, it does not lay down a binding rule about drinking per se. Therefore, a personal choice is necessary.
There are a great many references to wine, strong drink, and drunkenness scattered throughout the Bible. The earliest reference is in Genesis, the last in Revelation. The total number of verses would run up into the hundreds. However, there is not a binding rule, i.e. “Thou shalt not drink.” In one place the Bible says “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging. Whoever is deceived by them is not wise.” In another place, the Bible speaks of “wine which makes glad the heart of man.” In one place, Paul says no drunkard shall inherit the kingdom of God. In another place, he says “take a little wine for your stomach’s sake.”
Because there is not universal rule, each believer must make his own decision guided by the larger teachings of Scripture, his own situation, the counsel of others, and common sense. As the song says, You gotta make up your mind.
2. Because of the repeated warnings concerning the dangers of alcohol.
Proverbs 20:1 “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler.”
Isaiah 24:9 “Strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.”
I Corinthians 6:10 “No drunkard will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Ephesians 5:18 “Be not drunk with wine.”
Galatians 5:18 “The works of the flesh are these…drunkenness”
I Peter 4:3 “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do— living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.”
One of the passages influential in my thinking is found in Genesis 9. It’s the strange, sad story of Noah’s drunkenness. The Bible says that he was a “man of the soil.” He planted the first vineyard, made the first wine and ended up the first man to get drunk. From that drunkenness came the shameful episode where Ham saw his father’s nakedness which led to the breakup of a family and the fragmentation of the whole human race. That story stands as a warning to all who would minimize the dangers of alcohol.
I do not say that drinking is condemned in the Bible. I do not say that these verses mean “Thou shalt not drink.” I do not say that all drinking is a sin. I do not say that you are a sinner if you have a glass of wine.
I do say that the Bible warns us over and over and over again of the dangers of alcohol. How it is deceptive, how it is joined with obviously sinful activities, how it can lead to many tragic results.
Would you like one more passage? How about Proverbs 23:29-35? “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine (I take that as a reference to spiked punch and the modern wine coolers like Bartles and Jaymes). Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. ‘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?’”
What is the Bible telling us? That we cannot drink? No. That it’s a sin to take a drink? No. It’s telling us there’s danger ahead. Think twice before you take the first drink.
I often think of it as if you’re traveling through the mountains and come to a fork in the road. One fork says “Safe for all travelers.” The other is labeled, “Dangerous road. Watch out for falling rocks. Soft shoulders. Landslides possible. Sharp curves, no guard rails. Travel at your own risk.” Both roads are open, Both offer scenic views, you see cars going both ways. Which way are you going to go? I suppose it depends on how ready you are to risk your own life. Either way, you’ve got a choice to make.
The Bible does not say, “Don’t drink.” It does warn us over and over about the dangers in alcohol.
Several years ago Ann Landers printed a piece about the deceptive nature of alcohol. It promises one thing and delivers another. The piece is called “Positively Negative.”
We drank for joy and became miserable.
We drank to get along and got in an argument.
We drank for sophistication and became obnoxious.
We drank for friendship and made enemies.
We drank for sleep and woke up exhausted.
We drank to get high and ended up depressed.
We drank for “medicinal purposes” and ended up sick.
We drank to get calmed down and ended up with the shakes.
We drank for confidence and became afraid.
We drank to make conversation easier and the words came out slurred.
We drank to diminish our problems and instead saw them multiply.
We drank to feel heavenly and ended up feeling like hell.
We drank to cope with life and invited death.
Be warned. Before you take that drink, think twice. There’s danger ahead. Drink at your own risk.
3. Because of the effect my choice has on my family.
Most of us know the terrible toll that alcohol exacts in our society. What you may not know is how bad the problem has become for our children.
How bad is it? So bad that there are 3 million teenage alcoholics.
How bad is it? So bad that 60% of all teenage deaths are caused by alcohol abuse.
How bad is it? 70% of all teenagers 12-17 drink at least occasionally.
How bad is it? 9,000 teenagers are killed by drunk drivers each year.
How bad is it? The average teenager begins to drink between the ages of 13 and 14.
How bad is it? 40% of teenage suicides are drunk at the time of death.
How bad is it? According to psychologist Gary Forrest, author of How to Cope with a Teenage Drinker, most teenagers drink and many are “episodic alcohol abusers”, meaning they go on occasional binges, experience hangovers and temporary blackouts.
How bad is it? According to Dr. Forrest, “More teenagers drink today, drink earlier and more consistently mix alcohol with other drugs.”
You don’t believe it? Just ask any teenager. You’d be surprised at what our kids know.
What can we do to protect our children? These are the words of Allan Luks, executive director of the New York City affiliate of the National Council on Alcoholism: “The greatest influence on young people is the parental drinking patterns they witness from early ages, and until that changes, unfortunately, you’ll never wipe out youthful alcohol abuse.” The roots of the problem are in the home. That’s where the solution must come form. If you want to change attitudes, you’ve got to start in the home.
Dr. Winton Beavan is dean of the Kettering College of Medical Arts in Kettering, Ohio. In speaking of the influence parents have on their children, “Studies have shown that a tendency to drink is associated to a great degree with the extent of drinking in the home.” He goes on to make this statement: “Studies confirm that families who have firm discipline, who have a strong religious foundation, and who do not drink have the greatest likelihood protecting their children against alcohol use and abuse.”
There are so many things we can’t protect our children from —the advertising, the peer pressure, the example of their rock music heroes. When they hit junior high, they will enter a world in which most of their friends drink on a regular basis. How can we help them? How can we give them the inner strength to say no? The experts say we can do three things: l. Exercise, firm, loving discipline. 2. Provide a strong religious foundation. 3. Make sure there is no alcohol in the home.
Mom and Dad, your own example is the best weapon you have to protect your child from alcohol abuse.
4. Because of the effect my choice may have on other people.
There are the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 14:13: “Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.’ It’s never enough to say, “It doesn’t hurt me” or “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” Your Christian responsibility doesn’t end there. If the Christian faith means anything, it means that I love my neighbor as myself.
Look what Paul says, “As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself.” (14:14) Meaning, I can eat anything I want. If I want to , I can eat steak, lobster, ice cream, pizza, or even Jimmy Dean Pure Pork Sausage. No law against it. But that’s not the end of the story.
He goes on to say, “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.” (14:15) The principle: You have freedom to eat and drink. But it is never right to use your freedom in such a way that it injures other people.
Look at the conclusion in verses 20-21. “All food is clean.” I can eat what I want and drink what I want. “But it is wrong to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.” I am free, Paul says, but not free to do what I please without regard to my brother. Here’s the bottom line: “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”
Let me give you four key points:
In the area of food and drink, all things are permissible or clean.
I have liberty to partake. I have liberty not to partake.
I must be mindful that my choices have consequences for other people. I must be fully aware of those consequences and act accordingly.
Especially, I must limit my liberty in those areas which could harm another person.
A long time ago a man asked the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer, for the Christian, is always yes.
Many of you recognize the name Bubba Smith. He was once a defensive end for Michigan State and the Baltimore Colts. Several years ago, he started appearing in commercials for Miller Lite beer. Those were some of the funniest commercials ever made. Two years ago, Bubba returned to his alma mater to serve as grand marshal of the homecoming parade. As he rode down the street, he heard students begin to chant the Miller Lite slogan. One side shouted, “Less Filling,” the other side answered, “Tastes Great.” Bubba was even more distressed when he saw students at the pregame bonfire who were, in his words, “drunk out of their heads.” That night he decided to stop making the ads. The company claims their commercials are aimed at an older audience. Bubba concluded, “I was selling to children.”
How much did his decision cost him? A contract in the six figures. When he realized what the commercials were doing to kids, he thought, I’m not going to do it anymore—and he hasn’t.
That is the spirit of Romans 14. God bless Bubba Smith and God bless all of those who understand the importance of their own example.
D. What Would It Mean If You Decided To Just Say No?
It’s easier to say what it wouldn’t mean. For instance, you wouldn’t necessarily have to:
Give up all your friends.
Make a big scene when you where offered a drink.
Spit in someone else’s beer.
Become a blue-nosed prude.
It also wouldn’t mean that you …
Couldn’t laugh at Spuds McKenzie or Bartles and Jaymes
Could never go to a place where they serve liquor. (If you know how to say no, you can go wherever you want.)
Could never have any fun for the rest of your life.
If you decide to say no, it would simply mean that you choose—for good and sufficient reasons—for your own sake and for the sake of others—to voluntarily abstain from alcoholic beverages.
The Lawyer Who Met Jesus
Outside of these doors is a world drinking it’s way to Hell. Drinking to cover up a desperate sense of guilt. Drinking for fear that when the alcohol wears off, things will still be the same. Drinking because they are afraid to stop.
And we have the only lasting answer for them. The Gospel of Jesus Christ. In 2,000 years, it has cured more alcoholics, saved more marriages, restored more homes, purified more lives, rescued more children than all the government programs ever invented. It’s the only solution that really works.
The Gospel works because it is supernatural. It works because it changes lives. It works because it gives man a new heart and a new desire.
Some years ago in Saint Louis, a Christian businessman said to his lawyer, “I’ve been wanting to ask you a question but I’ve been a coward.”
“Why?”, said the lawyer, “I’ve never known you to be a coward about anything. What’s the question?”
“Why are you not a Christian?”, asked the businessman.
The lawyer looked downward and said, “Isn’t there something in the Bible that says no drunkard shall have any part in the kingdom of God? You know my weakness.”
“That isn’t the question. I asked why you aren’t a Christian.”
“Well, I can’t recall that anyone ever asked me if I were a Christian and I’m sure nobody ever told me how to become one.”
The Christian opened his Bible, read some portions, and said, “Let’s get down and pray.” The lawyer prayed a simple prayer, expressing his faith in Jesus Christ and asking God to break the power of alcohol in his life.”
Later, speaking of his deliverance from alcohol, the newly born-again lawyer said, “Put it down big, put it down plain, that God broke that power immediately.”
That man was later called into the ministry and became famous for an edition of the Bible with notes at the bottom. Millions of copies were sold. The lawyer’s name was C. I. Scofield. His Bible was called the Scofield Reference Bible. It was his system of theology that became the basis for Dallas Theological Seminary. There’s a church in Dallas named after him—the Scofield Memorial Church. His faith in Christ set him free from alcohol. (Jack Van Impe tells this story in his book Alcohol, the Beloved Enemy, pp. 156-157)
I do not say it will always happen as dramatically or instantaneously as that. But I do say it can happen today. By the power of Jesus Christ. If you will turn to Jesus Christ, the chains of sin can be broken in a moment. That can happen right now.
The Decision Is Yours
I close by speaking to those who are already Christians. I want to say it again and say it clearly. Where the Bible makes no binding rule, we must not either. Therefore, my appeal is to your heart and to your mind. In some ways the question of drinking is only a peripheral issue—a minor point among many things more pressing. In other ways it is of paramount importance. The pressure is on all of us to give in to our culture. Hardly a night passes that those seductively funny TV commercials do not enter our living rooms. We constantly face the temptation to drink—at work, at a nice restaurant, with our friends, when we visit family. It is easy and very acceptable to become a social drinker. In fact, it is easy to slide into that position by default—a drink here, a glass of wine there, and suddenly we’ve changed our minds altogether.
My appeal to you as your pastor is very personal. Make up your mind now. Don’t be sucked into a compromise by peer pressure and the deception of advertising. If you are free to drink, you are also free not to drink.
Which will it be for you?