Drunkenness

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"We drink to remember, while the world drinks to forget." - Jim West

The Bible clearly teaches that alcohol is part of God's good creation.

1) Wine gladdens the heart of man (Ps. 104:15).

2) Being in the presence of God is compared to free and plentiful wine (Isaiah 55:1-5).

3) The Ancient Israelites were encouraged to purchase "strong drink" and rejoice before the Lord (Deut. 14:26).

4) Jesus enjoyed food and wine to the point that he was accused of enjoying it too much (Luke 7:33-34).

And church history is filled with examples of godly men and women enjoying the gift of alcohol.

1) A law in 13th century Augsburg read: "The selling of bad beer is a crime against Christian love."

2) The Puritans loved Jesus and loved good drink.  The first permanent building in the Puritan colony of Plymouth was a brewery.

3) C.S. Lewis believed that there was no better time than a group of men sitting at a pub, talking theology, and laughing wildly over good beer.

Like every other good thing in creation, we can drink to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). We can celebrate the truth that our God has come to save us and conquer death by eating and drinking, just as the disciples did with Jesus after he rose from the dead (Acts 10:40-41).

Alcohol isn't bad in itself, but sin has infected this gift from God.  Drunkenness is not only unhealthy and dangerous - it is a sin against our creator (1 Cor. 6:10).  As the maxim goes, "Alcohol comes from God; drunkenness comes from the devil."

What is Drunkenness?

So where is the (wobbly) line drawn? One Puritan went so far as to define the drunkard as one who falls to the floor from drinking and can't rise to drink anymore.

His definition is not exactly accurate.

While there is no "legal limit" presented in the Bible, the parallelism in Ephesians 5:18 gives us the key: drunkenness is contrasted with being filled by the Spirit.  Being filled with the Spirit means being led in thought, word, and deed.  Case in point - the first Christians were so filled with the Spirit that they were accused of being drunk (Acts 2:13).

Being filled by the Spirit also means practicing self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).  So, as Luther defines it, drunkenness is "when the tongue walks on stilts and reason goes forward under a half sail."

There is a point where alcohol goes from ally to Benedict Arnold - it betrays us, guiding or even controlling our behavior.  This level differs among people, and can't be broadly defined, but we must use the utmost caution so as to not drink too much.

So here are some questions to ask yourself:

1) Am I glorifying God when I drink, or am I drinking to ease emotional pain, gain confidence, etc.?

2) Are my thoughts and speech gracious and loving when I drink?  Am I able to make rational decisions?

3) Do others think I am crossing the line?

Overcoming Drunkenness

For many people, drunkenness is a serious problem and even the smallest amount of alcohol is dangerous.  John Calvin says this of the person who knows they have a problem with alcohol yet continues to drink: "If a man knows that he has a weak head and that he cannot carry three glasses of wine without being overcome, and then drinks indiscreetly, is he not a hog?"

For those who struggle with drunkenness, abstinence is a must.  As Pastor Jim West says, drunkenness is defeated by "amputating the hand, not loosening the grip."

There is also a concern of our witness to the world.  Sometimes we must practice voluntary abstinence.  The great preacher Charles Spurgeon loved good beer and wine, but, living in a very prude age, eventually stopped drinking so as not to "offend his brethren."  Sometimes, we may have the right to do something but must give up that right for the sake of spreading the gospel (Rom. 14:21).

There are also matters of conscience where alcohol can be abstained from without denying that it is God's good gift, such as to avoid the health risks or to support a family member in AA.

Additionally, those in church leadership are held to a higher standard.  Elders and deacons must not be addicted to "much wine" (1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Tit. 1:7) and must be "above reproach," (Tit. 1:6) meaning that no one should have reasonable grounds to accuse church leaders of being drunkards.  Those who aspire to these offices must be especially careful about how they conduct themselves with alcohol.

In summary, alcohol is a gift from God.  Receive it and enjoy it with gratitude and self-control as a reminder that we will one day drink with Jesus at the raging marriage supper of the lamb (Rev. 19:6-9).

Unless you're under 21.  You have to wait for this gift like it's Christmas Eve.