A Discussion of What is Loving, Not What is Sinful
Alcohol consumption is an issue that can serve to divide the body of Christ. This should never be so. The Bible is clear that drinking wine or other alcoholic beverages by themselves is not sinful. Drunkenness, certainly sinful, but Jesus Himself drank wine. So while there may have strong feelings on both sides of the issue, we can respectfully disagree with another’s position and still remain in loving fellowship. If God does not specifically say not to, then it would be wrong of me to make something a requirement. So I state clearly at the start of this post that drinking alcohol is permissible and my intent is not to claim otherwise.
That said, if we are followers of Jesus, our intent should never be to just avoid sin. Our lives should not just be defined by the boundary lines of what we consider sinful. If we set out to live just to avoid sin and be happy with that, we will quickly descend into legalism. It is the type of thinking from the Old Testament that led the Pharisees to follow the rules down to the smallest letter and yet completely miss Jesus.
To love God and love our neighbors is the Greatest Commandment according to Jesus. It is upon this foundation that we are called to build our lives. It is not “do not do evil unto others”. Rather, the affirmative call is to do to others as we would want to be done to us. When we apply this standard to our lives, we will get a different answer on many of “do or not do” questions of everyday life. Love often compels us to not do what we have every right to do solely for the good of someone else. This is the starting point from which I suggest it is the Christian best practice to avoid intoxicants of any kind including alcohol. I would suggest that its imperative for anyone in any type of leadership. Let me explain why I think so.
We Have Alcoholic Sheep in the Church…including Me
The very thought that I am writing this post opposing alcohol consumption is astounding. It is a testament to Jesus’ power. For much of my life, drinking was as natural as breathing. Raised in a family of alcoholics, I could not even contemplate not drinking. My worldview was so intertwined with alcohol, the idea was not rational. My family drank with holidays, with birthdays, with the good and with the bad. Every time the family gathered, we drank heavily and called it good family time. If good things happened in life, we celebrated with lots of beer. If terrible things happened, we wept and drank copiously. We met our friends and spouses over drinks and bonded with our parents and children over drinking. Alcohol became so associated with emotional life, I could have sooner thought of not eating than not drinking.
My father, a smart, funny extraordinarily accomplished man and my idol growing up, was and is an alcoholic. My grandfather, the scariest man I ever met who was also a pillar in his field was an alcoholic as well. At least four generations of male relatives, talented, smart, funny men shared the same addiction. They, in their own way, were also each destroyed by alcohol. They took the children God gave them charge over down with them. Divorce, drunk driving, spousal and familial abuse were as much family trademarks as our dark Irish appearance. With my family history, one would think that I would avoid alcohol like the plague. Despite seeing the wreckage surrounding me, drinking was still pushed as the center of all things thought to be good in my life. Somehow taking away the pain with the same thing that caused the pain makes sense. The emptiness and pain that comes along with a destroyed family of addicts has to be filled somehow, right?
I was well on my way to destroying my life with booze like my dad and grandfather when Jesus stepped in and saved me. He freed me first from my sin and then from the burden that my father still bears every single day. The thing is though, it was a really close call. I should not be here based on me. I was incapable of not drinking based on me and even after I was saved, I did not immediately stop drinking. Despite many attempts previously, I always came back to the trough of sin. I went to church, served in the church community and was leading a Bible study but my flesh greatly wanted to continue sinning. The world would have been delighted had I continued to drown myself with wine rather than be filled with the Holy Spirit. Tommy, the son, grandson, great-grandson of alcoholics would have been happy as well.
Fleeing from Sin Provides Safety to Jesus’ Sheep
A 2017 study showed that 1 in 8 Americans have significantly struggles with alcohol. That is roughly 24 million people. That does not include drug addiction. Some of those millions are in your church and you might not know it. At a recent event, I polled the 15 guys sitting around the table and found an even worse percentage. All but one of them had a problem with alcohol at some point in their lives. In 2012, 3.3 million deaths were related to alcohol. That was almost 6 % of deaths for that year.
As God was working on me, we started going to a new church and heard the Word taught plainly. I began to seek what God wanted of me. I wanted to hear from God in my life and family and professional career. Unfortunately, I did not want to hear God in the one area that I really needed to hear him, drinking. The area that He had been telling me to leave for years but I had been ignoring. As crazy as it seems now, drinking was off-limits for direction from God despite the fact that I knew He was speaking to me. The addiction that was trying to kill me had to stay but I was otherwise praying for God to show me where to go. It makes no sense now but that it is the non-sensical logic of a kid from an alcoholic family. I was saved but still in a prison of my own making.
The new church had interesting differences from the ones we had attended. It was great and vibrant and taught the Bible unfiltered. It left out the traditions and opinions of man. The folks there sought to follow the Word and Jesus as much as they could. They sought to provide a safe place for those who were struggling with the sins of the world. Though the Bible says that wine is not a sin, our new pastor did not drink simply because he did not want to trip up someone like me. Our new church friends did not drink for the same reason. They understood that they had the freedom to drink and never told anyone, not to themselves, but they chose not to out of love for the Lord. God had been showing me for quite a while before this that I should stop drinking. I was able for the first time to see people who I liked and respected live without alcohol and with no regret.
To my shock, it was not a dry and dusty life, but one that was free from any spirit that would sap or compete with the Holy Spirit’s influence. Do not be drunk with wine which leads to debauchery or dissolution but be filled with the Holy Spirit. It was only now that conviction overcame sinful desire. I fell to my knees and asked God to save me from my addiction to alcohol. He answered and set this captive free from bondage to alcohol. I know this is a miracle. If you knew me or my father and grandfather you would be praising Jesus just like I do every day I wake up and don’t think about alcohol.
But what if my pastor and new church friends had been drinkers?
What if the pastor had said all the right things about freedom in Christ and were drinking in front of me?
There is a good chance I would still be trapped today. My church would not have been a safe place for me. It would have been just as much of a minefield as the world around it.
If there is the example of drinking pastor and drinking elders, what choice would I or any of the millions of others who are struggling with alcohol would make when trying to get free of addiction?
Knowing the alcoholic mind, I am pretty sure that I would have gone on drowning the conviction that the Lord was putting in me. For those who make a good choice, how much harder is recovery when their spiritual leaders are drinking? Addicts are awesome at justifying themselves to continue their addictive behavior. In talking with my pastor and friends later, they had no idea that I was struggling with generations of alcoholic bondage. I was very good at hiding it and new to the church. They did know that someone could be struggling and did not want to add to their burden. It is the low hanging fruit of the Christian life.
Now multiply my example by the thousands and tens of thousands of people who battle with alcohol every day. Moderation may make sense to some, but it is just the opening act leading to excess to others. Many of them are like I was, trying to get out of that life, but struggling mightily because of what sin has done to them.
The question can be boiled down to its simplest form, “What do we want to be to God’s struggling sheep? Safety or stumbling block?”
But brothers and sisters in Christ, this one is easy. The loss is nothing to God’s work and the possible damage is huge. Saying no to a glass of wine is a minor thing that could impact someone’s eternity. Yes, it’s permissible, but is it worth it.
I realize that is an unpopular opinion in the world and also in many churches. Craft beers and small groups at bars are a thing these days. But Jesus is always our example. He came to an undeserving population and gave up everything so that we could be saved. He knew He had the right to march into Jerusalem and place HImself on the Throne of David. He could have, by rights, simply judged each and every one of us at any point while here with us. Yet, because He loved us, He let go of those rights and laid down everything for us before we even asked Him to. He made heaven a safe place for us through His sacrifice. His did so voluntarily out of love solely for our benefit.
I can also say through personal experience that the selfless love of simple believers in Christ helped save me from a lifetime of struggle.
Are you willing to do the same for your brothers and sisters imprisoned by drugs and alcohol?