Everything You Wanted to Know About Alcohol Use (But Didnt Know What to Ask)

 

Seven months ago, as I write this, I visited a doctor. I was a new patient to her. After checking my blood pressure, she asked me, ‘Do you take alcohol?’ Apparently, the silver lining on her sphygmomanometer was not at the pink level.

‘Moderately’, I answered.

She shook her head. Not just because she thought it was bad for my pressure and could lead my body to a premature closure, but also because she thought it could put my soul to eternal coma. I knew her background. She had many years earlier converted to pentecostalism from her traditional episcopalian church.

‘There’s no prohibition for alcohol use in my church,’ I told her, in response to the shaking of her head, ‘as long as we don’t overuse it.’

But she shook her hoary head with more firmness. ‘Any church that allows its members to drink just cannot be a true church’, she emphatically said.

‘But the Bible says it’s ok if one drank in temperance’, I reasoned.

‘The Bible nowhere says it’, she corrected me. ‘Jesus used grape juice, not fermented wine.’

I knew that line of argument. It’s true the contents of Jesus’ cup at the Last Supper is translated ‘fruit of the vine’, a term which includes grapes, grape juice, and raisins for pentecostals, and which means only ‘wine’ for the winos. If she was right, then even drinking grape juice is not the best thing for Christians, because the Pharisees and Sadducees accused Jesus of being a ‘grape juice bibber’, which is how this doctor and her fellow believers read Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34.

‘The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber’.

And if we use that line of argument in reading Paul’s instruction to Titus in his epistle about admonishing the older women in the church, it is also not good for senior Christian ladies to drink too much grape juice – but obviously it’s ok for our mamas if they drink it in Godly moderation.

‘But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine, that…the older woman…that they be…not given to much wine [‘should not be over-fond of wine’ (Phillips); ‘They must not be heavy drinkers’ (NLT)]’   Ti 2:1-3

But there is another hole in her scriptural premise. If Jesus was so averse to drinking wine, then the barrelsful of liquid he made at Cana was no mere heavenly cider. It is translated from the Greek word which means the real stuff, as all Bible versions agree. So the Lord didn’t mind being responsible for making others at banquets a little tipsy with wine while he himself refrained from it. That, for me, is more difficult to swallow than a piece of whale meat.

I have taken grape juice innumerable times, and it quenched my thirst and it satiated my tummy’s desire for a delicious drink, but never once did this juice, even of the finest grapes from the best vineyards of California, was able to gladden my heart or make cheery my mind.  But the Psalmist says God made wine which ‘gladdens the heart of man’ just as he made oil to smoothen his skin, and bread to strengthen him. (Ps 105:15) The Message version says, ‘wine to make people happy’. When his children are happy, God the Father is even happier.

But I did not put forth all these theological arguments to the busy doctor. I just said, ‘The Bible says you can take real strong liquor’. In righteous indignation she declared, ‘No. In all my years of Bible study, I have never seen any scripture saying that. And if I see one, I will change my belief.’

For a woman of her denomination to say that she would change her belief is the equivalent of a Shiite Moslem saying he would be willing to drink Guinness beer. I told her I will get back to her with that passage.

After I got home, I found that passage, wrote it on a slip of paper, put it in an envelope, went back to her clinic, and not having the the heart to confront the venerable doctor directly, handed it to her assistant with the firm instruction, ‘This is important, and the doctor is waiting for it’.

On my next visit, she did not broach the subject and I wisely did not anywhere try to revive it. As far as I know, she still attends her pentecostal church, and the glaring Biblical evidence I handed her did not convince she may occasionally allow her heart to be gladdened with this beverage.

So is it ok for a Christian to drink in moderation? It surely is, from every Scriptural angle. But is it best for every Christian to drink even in moderation? Now, that’s a different question altogether.

There are far more passages in the Bible about the deadly consequences of drinking than there are about the merry effects of wining. It means, the chances are higher for the average Christian – unless he is constantly in the very presence of Jesus, like the disciples were – to become less of a Christ follower by drinking than by not drinking.

I was a beer and brandy guzzling Christian for several decades before I overcame my addiction. So I think my judgment on the effects of moderate drinking can be trusted for your guidance and encouragement, as what I am writing here is based on my own sobering experiences.

By the way, I am not going into the health aspects of drinking. If drinking is injuring a person physically in any way, and his doctor has proscribed it for him, he should never drink under any circumstances. If he does, he is damaging not just his body but the temple of God which he should always maintain in excellent condition to his utmost capability. He would then be sinning against his Savior who redeemed his body, soul, and spirit together.

But the emotional and spiritual aspects of what drinking does to one’s mind is my concern here.

Ethanol, the organic spirit that is commonly called alcohol, even in a small quantity, as soon as it is absorbed into the blood transforms a person’s emotional state. A few minutes into sipping the beverage, he begins to feel a pleasant and warm sensation sweeping over his whole body starting from his toe tips and racing all the way to his scalp. This is the state of the mind the Bible calls ‘a merry heart’. This is the purpose of serving alcohol at banquets. Even a normally morose Pharisee would cheer up after a couple of goblets. Being cheerful in a Godly festive situation is what our Creator wants us to be. This is why Jesus bibbed wine at the feasts he attended. As a cheery celebrator of weddings, he even must have enjoyed the wine he made from water at Cana.

Because the ancient chosen people of God had difficulty in getting exuberant about God’s festivals without being fueled by some external spirit of cheer, God gave them a command so his people cannot have any excuse not to be happy at his ordained celebrations:

‘Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink [‘strong drink’ – King James Version], or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.’   Dt 14:26 NIV

That was the verse I passed on to the Godfearing, but not Biblically very thorough, doctor.

If you are a normal Christian satisfied with your normal relationship with God, it is a good thing to enjoy wine or bourbon or margarita at events where God’s people assemble and celebrate his festivals. Because you are surrounded by believers, your chances of doing something unChristian, such as getting drunk, at such places is remote.

But even in such safe situation as drinking in the company of other believers, some people tend to carry their induced exhilarations into their daily home life. I used to attend one of God’s festivals with a church for many years. True to the recommendation in Deuteronomy, we enjoyed wine and other fermented drinks, including the local arrack. The preachers drank with us, the preachers’ wives drank with the laymen’s wives, the deacons poured drink into the members’ glasses, and everyone was happy and cheery in God’s presence. We always had a great festival every year. But one member I knew, to whom I used to pour out a peg or two myself, was slowly getting addicted, unbeknownst to the rest of the members. The last time I saw him at the festival, I invited him along with some other close members to my room, and poured out the merrymaker as usual. The next morning, the pastor came to me and told me, with a mild rebuke in his tone: I should never offer that member another drink. The member’s wife had complained to him that her husband was given some brandy by me, when he had been diagnosed with serious liver problem. I had not been aware of his condition. I apologized and promised never to invite him for another cheery session in my room.

This member had taken to drinking excessively, a habit unwittingly encouraged by church doctrine, and his liver was affected as a result. He died about two years after I poured him the last drink.

Had the church never allowed its members to drink, this dear friend of mine might have been alive today. Is it the church’s fault, then? Absolutely not! If it is, then it is Moses’ fault even more for writing such verses which gave the church the authority to sanction Godly use of alcohol.

The point is, not every Christian should drink, even if it is Biblically sanctioned. Some people should not even sip a drop of anything that’s even mildly fermented under any circumstances. Others should always exercise the utmost alertness and wisdom when using this liberty.

Especially, if you are a minister of Christ – a preacher, a pastor, a deacon, or some other church leader whom people look up to for counsel and instruction from God’s Word – you should be extremely wary of taking alcohol even in moderation. You were chosen to a position of leadership in God’s church because you fulfill the conditions for stewardship of God’s flock:

‘If anyone wants to provide leadership in the church, good! But there are preconditions: A leader must be well-thought-of, committed to his wife, cool and collected, accessible, and hospitable. He must know what he’s talking about, not be overfond of wine…’   1 Tm 3:1-3 The Message

If a church leader is very fond of wine, he stands the risk of providing his congregation with some spirit-diluted or watered down counsels because of a slightly dilated brain.

While it is ok for him to drink occasionally in moderation at other times, it is absolutely forbidden by God for a preacher or priest to have even a least amount of alcohol in his blood when he goes before his congregation to give a sermon or conduct a church service.

‘Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying: “Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses.” ’   Lv 10:8-11

Even a single sip of cabernet will put the preacher at risk of saying the wrong word, or in the least, of not being able to use the best word in his message to God’s people.

But if you want to be an extra-vigilant servant of Christ in God’s sight, then it may perhaps be better to get rid of even your inclination to drink occasionally!

‘Kings and leaders should not get drunk or even WANT to drink. Drinking makes you forget your responsibilities’   Pr 31:4-5 CEV

That’s because an utmost minister of the Lord is an overseer of God’s precious little flock not only when he is standing in the pulpit, or at the altar, but 60 x 60 x 24 x 7 (inspired by the grocery store near my home which displays ‘24 x 7’ to say it is open all the time) – every second of his life! Even a little bit of light beer in his system can affect his thinking ability to that minuscule extent. In God’s sight, he who is faithful in the infinitesimal is faithful even in the infinite (see what Christ said about this in Matthew 5:19 and Luke 16:10).

Again, if you have faith that you can be extra-vigilant even while you take a draft or two of lager, enjoy!

Both God and Satan watches more attentively the person who drinks than the person who does not drink. The One always desiring his child will never let go of his alertness for a fraction of a second, and the other always hoping his targeted prey will make just one tiny slip through which he can wiggle in a toehold onto the person’s thoughts. Tragically, many wellknown servants of God did slip enough for the devil to sneak into their thoughts for a few moments – enough to wreck havoc not only in their own lives but the lives of their descendants generation after generation. Let me tell you three true stories, two from the Bible and one from recent history.

Noah, after being adrift on water for a year, planted a vineyard among his first acts on solid earth. It’s been a long while since he enjoyed the fruit of the vine. He drank, and drank, and wallowed in drink. When he finally got up from his self-partying, his clothes fell off him, but he didn’t realize it. He staggered naked to his tent and went into a deep slumber. Somebody then did something very dishonorable to him. On waking up, he realized to his horror what had happened, and uttered the greatest curse ever to be pronounced upon a human being. As a result, the descendants of the cursee have been suffering more than any other race throughout history, serving not only as slaves to other nations, but even as slaves to other slaves! (Genesis 9:20-27. Read the New International Version or New Revised Standard Version, which gives a more accurate description of the curse than the New King James Version.)

All because of one too many a swig.

Lot was a righteous man, says God’s Word. When his two daughters kept pouring brimful after brimful of wine into his bowl, he should have suspected something was not right. But he gave in to the overwhelmingly pleasant sensation of intoxication. He too went into a deep slumber. The daughters did it again the next day, and he again went into a deep slumber. The result of just two nights of heavy boozing? Two wicked nations down through history again.

Coming down to the twentieth century, Jehovah’s Witnesses are a dedicated people of God, as much, perhaps a little more, than the average Christian denomination. It doesnt matter that some Christians consider them as cults. They may be doctrinally in serious error, but they keep God’s commandments and the fruits in their lives are significantly better than those of the average church-goers I observe around me.

Now, this denomination allows its members to drink in moderation. But the second President of the Watchtower Society – the leader of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who was responsible for the founding policies of this sect – was a victim of alcohol, just as Noah and Lot were.

‘Joseph Rutherford was a known alcoholic and binge drinker. He eventually died from intestinal cancer, a direct result of his long life of heavy alcohol consumption. There is actually a photograph of Mr. Rutherford and staff sitting around a keg of beer, toasting the camera, during Prohibition He even stated at one time that in his opinion, Prohibition was the work of Satan.’   Quote from one of the various sources mentioned in Wikipedia

Some years ago, when I still used to enjoy chilled beer in my hot country, I went to a beverage outlet to get a couple of bottles. I noticed a new label on the liquor shelf. The name of the new brandy was ‘Lord & Master’. How appropriate a name, I thought even in those days. For I could see all around me even in the beverage shop people merrily in servile bondage to their lord, the masterbrewer.

Just as a Christian cannot serve God and Mammon together, he cannot serve both God and Alcohol. A Christian must be the master of Mammon, not its servant, using money to help him serve God better. Even so, he must be the master of every drop of alcohol he allows into his system, so he can use it to praise God with a more cheerful voice.

Now, let me clarify a few theological points.

By deciding never to touch a drop of alcohol so you can be a more alert Christian does not make you a greater person in God’s sight than your neighbor believer who decides he can occasionally enjoy a cold pint of Budweiser on a sultry day. It is a personal decision between you and your God. If you know it makes no difference at all in your love and closeness to God by a quick downing of tequila now and then, go ahead and down it quickly – as long as you are not going to preach or drive until the next day. Your standing before Christ does not go down one notch lower as a result.

But if you know it makes a even a slight negative difference to your physical health or optimal mental state, then not drinking under any circumstances is truly pleasing to God.

As for me, given a mission that requires me to be 100 percent sober every second of my life – someone could call me any time of the day or night with a problem to seek my counsel – I have to be extra vigilant in the matter of alcohol. I had been drinking regularly before I entered the Lord’s ministry and several times I overdrank, and in my inebriated state I acted and spoke in unChristian ways. After I began to serve in the Lord’s work, I allowed myself a safe measure of alcohol – around two pints of beer once a week, but after several years of such moderate use, I found that even this once a week habit was beginning to exert some slight power in me. When the weekend came, I found myself being swamped by a strong urge to drink, a craving for beer that seemed to override my will at times. And such craving, I knew, had its origin not from the Holy Spirit, but from the spirit that the Devil has set over the domain of alcohol abuse. I also knew what the Bible says specifically about craving for beer.

it is not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed, and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.’   Pr 31:4-5 NIV

Once I was convinced that the wrong spirit had managed to sneak into my weekend beer habit, I stopped drinking weekly. Now I no more take beer or any other alcohol, not even the smallest quantity, on a regular basis – even if that regularity is only once a month. Now I drink occasionally, if a situation calls for such enjoyment before God, such as during the Feast of Tabernacles, or at a dinner outing with my wife.

There is a good reason why pentecostals, and some other church denominations forbid their members to drink. It is the same reason Islam forbids its faithfuls from even an exceptional use of alcohol in their lives: to protect their members, and to ensure that their community is not tainted in the least by any member who might misuse the liberty.

It is the same reason God commands those undertaking a special vow of spirituality to abstain from alcohol. Vows to God is an extremely serious matter, and if a person under vow drinks a little too much and forgets his special spiritual status, then he commits a grievous sin. That is why God told the person who wants to take the Nazirite vow that he or she must absolutely abstain from wine – an absoluteness that is reinforced by even forbidding him to eat anything that is a product of the vine, including grapes and grapejuice. (Numbers 6:1-21)

It is also the same reason why one prudent father asked his children to avoid wine.

‘ The Message that Jeremiah received from God…“Go visit the Recabite community. Invite them to meet with you in one of the rooms in God’s Temple. And serve them wine.”…Then I set out chalices and pitchers of wine for the Recabites and said, “A toast! Drink up!” But they wouldn’t do it. “We don’t drink wine,” they said. “Our ancestor Jonadab son of Recab commanded us, ‘You are not to drink wine, you or your children, ever…We and our wives, our sons and daughters, drink no wine at all…We’ve listened to our ancestor Jonadab and we’ve done everything he commanded us.”

Then Jeremiah received this Message from God: “God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel, wants you to go tell the people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem that I say, ‘Why won’t you learn your lesson and do what I tell you?…The commands of Jonadab son of Recab to his sons have been carried out to the letter. He told them not to drink wine, and they haven’t touched a drop to this very day…So here’s what is going to happen. God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel, says, ‘I will bring calamity down on the heads of the people of Judah and Jerusalem—the very calamity I warned you was coming—because you turned a deaf ear when I spoke, turned your backs when I called.’”

Then, turning to the Recabite community, Jeremiah said, “And this is what God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel, says to you: Because you have done what Jonadab your ancestor told you, obeyed his commands and followed through on his instructions, receive this Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, the God of Israel: There will always be a descendant of Jonadab son of Recab at my service! Always!” ’   Jr 35:1-19 The Message

I could sense a thrill in God’s voice as he spoke of the wine-avoiding Recabites. Of course, he was not thrilled merely because this was a teetotal race. His joy was that they carefully obeyed their ancestor’s command, while the whole of Israel ignored their Creator’s instructions. But the avoidance of wine was a significant reason for the sobriety and prudent living of the Recabites, ensuring the survival of their race forever.

Now how can you know whether it is best for you to enjoy moderate drinking or best for you to abstain from it altogether? Ask God to speak to your heart through his Holy Spirit about what he feels about your drinking for his glory. Also, you can use the following indicators to help you make a decision.

If you have a past history of severe alcohol abuse, then it is best you never touch alcohol again. Once a habitual drunkard, there is always a risk present you may be deceived by the devil into gradually becoming a drunkard again. But if you are absolutely sure in light of the Holy Spirit that even with a past history, you can now drink safely without any future risk whatever, then you may.

Do you tend to become excessively gregarious and loquacious when there is some alcohol inside you? In other words, do you tend to talk too much and hug too freely when the spirit of merriness fills you? Do repressed and suppressed emotions awake in you whenever you drink – memories of past sinful encounters, lewd images flitting by, inclinations to do something or watch something you would never think of twice when you are sober? Do you tend to get more argumentative when tipsy? The next day, do you feel your mood is at a lower level than it was on the day before you drank? These are all sure indicators that the devil is using alcohol to subtly and slowly trap you into total bondage to him. If these symptoms persist whenever you drink, shun alcohol totally!

Never drink in the company of unbelievers. While you are toasting your drink in the Spirit of your Father in heaven, they are toasting in the spirit of their father in this world. (John 8:44) There was a time I used to take drinks with colleagues and old friends who had not been called to the Christ-life. They were normal, decent people. But after two rounds of scotch or port, I noticed that their conversation would subtly deviate to topics with a raunchy flavor, which I didn’t hear from them at other times. I would immediately and firmly ask them to change subjects, and they unwillingly would. So, don’t clink your pristine wine glass against that of a person whose life is not directed by the Holy Spirit.

If you have never taken a drink in your life so far, then better to keep it that way for the rest of your life. Sure, ‘life is fun with a little beer’, as one pastor, serving me up a frothful, remarked. But life can be even funner without taking any risk with it, I think.

I have given up my weekly moderate drinking, and now I dont take even an ounce of alcohol on a regular basis. I am waiting till my Lord, the world’s greatest brewmaster, comes with his kegs so I can taste again, as often as I desire, all my favorite beverages I had poured out of my regular life, especially lager from Copenhagen and the tender toddy in my native village.

‘On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines’…‘of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees.’   Is 25:6 NIV; NKJV

 

Pappa Joseph

 

 

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