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Is Drinking Alcohol Sinful?

Once we become followers of Jesus, a constant question should be always, what thoughts or practices enhance our relationship with Him and what thoughts and practices harm our relationship? One of those practices is whether to drink alcohol or not.

The question of drinking alcoholic beverages is one of those thorny issues that believers vehemently disagree. Some say you are dancing with the devil if you imbibe and others say you celebrate your liberty in Christ if you do.

My starting point is a statement that Jesus makes in Matthew 11:18-19, which says “For John the Baptist didn’t drink wine and he often fasted, and you say, ‘He’s demon possessed.’ And I, the Son of Man, feast and drink, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard’….” If the wine that Jesus was drinking was nothing more than grape juice, why was he accused of being a drunkard?

The first miracle that Jesus performed was turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). The context talks about barrels of water present for ceremonial purposes are the water that Jesus turns into wine. That part is clear. What is unclear is exactly what the wine was, some type of grape juice or a fermented drink. Later in the passage when the wedding coordinator gives the wine to the bridegroom he remarks “usually a host serves the best wine first… Then, when everyone is full and doesn’t care, he brings out the less expensive wines.” The key phrase is “when everyone is full and doesn’t care”. This suggests that they might be feeling great, maybe a little high, and therefore don’t care about what the wine tastes like after a while.

So then case closed. The Bible encourages drinking alcoholic beverages. Well, not so fast. In my research I discovered that while the Bible is okay with drinking fermented grape juice, it most definitely condemns drunkenness. Two of many examples are Proverbs 23:20, “do not carouse with drunkards and gluttons” and Isaiah 5:11, “destruction is certain for you who get up early to begin long drinking bouts that last late into the night.”

Okay so now we can develop a little clearer picture by saying that drinking alcoholic beverages are fine as long as you don’t do it to the point of drunkenness. Ephesians 5:18 certainly takes that position. The King James Version says it well, “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.” So like eating too much (gluttony), drinking to excess is the real issue and not imbibing a little.

Interestingly, there are certain groups in Scripture encouraged to not drink any alcohol. Examples are rulers making decisions, people taking the vow of a Nazarite, and most interesting to me is not to cause weaker Christians to stumble in their faith (Romans 14:21). On this last point, if a Christian has no problem having a glass of wine, but knows that another believer would be bothered to see him or her drink, then that believer should not drink in front of them.

Author Brad Whittington who wrote the book, What Would Jesus Drink, found 247 references to alcohol in the Bible; 40 are negative, 145 are positive, and 62 are neutral. Once again showing us that using alcohol can both be good or bad depending on how much one imbibes.

One last significant fact I discovered. Several researchers pointed out that the wine in New Testament times was different than in our current age because most times the fermented grape juice was mixed with water, usually at a rate of 3 parts water to one part wine. So that means the wine was still alcoholic but somewhat diluted. In fact a New Testament professor who authored an article written years ago in Christianity Today cites numerous quotes from secular sources and the early Church Fathers that actually detail the ratio of water to wine for consumption.

So here are my conclusions. Drinking mild alcoholic beverages are okay as long as you don’t go too far. How do you know you have gone too far? Well if you start to feel high, then stop! If you don’t know when to stop, then don’t drink at all. If alcoholism runs in your family, then don’t drink either. Wisdom always says take the more conservative approach if you don’t have good self control.

If you do believe drinking alcoholic beverages in moderation is okay, then see it as an enjoyment of something from the Lord. My strong admonition is don’t flaunt it or brag about it, like on social media. We are talking about a drink for goodness sake, not a life altering miracle of healing. So be sensitive to other believers who might not share in your “freedom.” Whichever position you take, don’t judge others and let love always be your guide.

Remember make your practice that which will bring you closest to Jesus. After all this is the essence of Christianity, our relationship to Jesus. “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God. And other people will approve of you, too.” (Romans 14:17-18).

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