It's a well-worn doctrine: Drinking alcohol, in any amount, is a sin. Ok, maybe it's not a doctrine, but it's a firm tenet! Well maybe it's not quite a tenet either, but it's certainly a Biblical belief! Maybe not exactly Biblical...Let me start over.
There are many people who believe Christians should not, under any circumstances, drink any alcohol. Personally, I find this a difficult position to defend since, after all, Jesus' first miracle was tending bar at a wedding. So for me, it's difficult to reconcile how a God who has supposedly decreed a thing is a sin would then partake in and provide others with that thing.
Drunkenness is another thing altogether. It is a sin and that is pretty clearly communicated all over Scripture. Use of a thing created by God isn't a bad thing; abuse of that same thing certainly is. Essentially, we can say that God gives wine "to gladden the heart of man" (Psalm 104:15) but that we must "not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery" (Eph 5:18). There is no contradiction here. Wine is intended to "gladden" our hearts, the exact definition of which can be debated elsewhere, and yet we are not to abuse this good gift to the point of drunkenness or abuse. That much, at least, is clear.
Paul's direction in Ephesians above is specific to wine, but no one would then say it is then, acceptable to drink beer or hard liquor to such excesses as drunkenness. This is because we recognize that Paul was concerned more with the state of drunkenness and sober-mindedness than the particular beverage used to reach that state.
Alcohol, like other drugs, is a good thing, created by God for a good purpose. What’s happened, is people have used these drugs for purposes other than what it was created for. We can substitute alcohol for other mind-altering drugs and come to the same conclusion. My favourite drug to pick on at this point is the most widely consumed psychoactive drug in the world: caffeine.
Everyone's favourite mind-altering drug certainly has less potential for harm if abused; nobody is disputing that. Paul, however, doesn't seem to care as much about the real-world consequences as he does about the spiritual ones. Abuse of a substance, ie: using it for a purpose outside that which God intended is, at its core, idolatry.
Seeking escape at the bottom of a bottle, or "needing" that first cup of coffee to get going in the morning is indicative of the same heart-issue: idolatry. If we use the simplest definition of idolatry: worship of anything more/other than God, then it's not a stretch at all to see how we can get there from the 'need' for coffee or a drink.
Comfort food is idolatry too! It's all the same. Finding comfort in a created thing rather than the creator is the definition of idolatry. Let's be really honest about this. There is one place that we, as Christians should be going for comfort in times of stress and hardship. Spoiler Alert: It’s God! (Psalm 121: 1-2 for the record.)
Now, I am not saying that it is never acceptable to eat or drink in response to circumstances. After all, scripture also teaches us to "drink and forget [our] poverty and remember [our] misery no more" (Proverbs 31:7). Additionally, there's the story of that wedding in Cana which we shouldn't neglect. There is a time and place for alcohol, there is a time and place for food, there is a time and place for caffeine, and there is a time and place for other mind-altering substances (Morphine anyone?) They are all parts of God's good creation that can be used for worshipful purposes or for idolatrous ones. Yes, alcohol abuse is far more societally damaging than caffeine addiction, no doubt. But you can't deny that regardless of the damage to your body or society, running to a created thing (food) rather than the creator of that thing for comfort can have the most dire of spiritual consequences.
As a Biblical conservative, a cultural Liberal, a husband, a dad, and a pastor, I want to see the church act differently in the world. My big passion in ministry is to see how believers can bring the Gospel into the world around them while pursuing the lost art of winsomeness. It is what fuels me and drives me to write. Engaging culture with the truth of the Gospel in a way that is winsome, wise, and as Colossians 4:6 directs us: “seasoned with salt.” It’s my hope that what I say here helps you not only in your own faith, but helps you share it more effectively and fruitfully.
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