The Sobering Truth about Alcohol
Dealing with Addiction - Part 3
In this third chapter on the topic of addiction I'd like to talk about the substance that has addicted more people throughout history than any drug or pill - that would be alcohol.
Despite all the interest and increased use of marijuana, alcohol in its various forms is still the addictive substance most widely used all over the world and most often abused. Part of the reason for this is that it is legally obtainable and cleverly marketed as a positive lifestyle product. Commercials and ads for beer, for example, have a certain message or view about people who drink beer and not the beer itself. They rarely, if ever, say, "Drink our beer; or our beer is on sale – 15 cans for the price of 12."
The major marketing efforts for beer products promote ideas or images that imply or demonstrate that:
- Beautiful, sharp, hip people drink beer (or wine, hard liquor, etc.).
- Drinking is fun or it's what to do when you're having fun or want to have fun. This is why there are funny commercials about beer. I remember when I was using drugs I wouldn't go out to a party or a club or concert without some form of drug with me because I thought it wouldn't be fun if I didn't get high. The drugs made everything better, or so I thought.
- Another subtle message is that drinking doesn't make you drunk. Strange, but lots of beer commercials show people doing things requiring a clear mind (i.e. driving, skydiving, water skiing etc.). They never show a guy in his lazy boy with an empty six pack of beer dozing off during the Super Bowl.
- One effective message is that you are desirable to women with a beer in your hand (or brandy or tequila, etc.). What makes you mature, sexy, worldly is that you consume alcohol without apology or negative effect.
- Then there's the "recruitment" type ad which sells the idea that everybody drinks (men, women, older men, younger women). The point here is that you are on the outside of normal social interaction if you don't drink.
Of course, with the rise in alcohol addiction and death due to alcohol abuse, the marketing of alcohol changed to incorporate an additional message built around the theme of responsibility.
Now, therefore, we are "educated" via the new, more caring ads for alcohol which promote the following themes:
- Drinking is acceptable, so long as you do it moderately.
- Try to know why you drink: These are soft focused ads featuring a young person with their dad or other older and wiser characters.
- Drinking alcohol is a mature thing meant for mature people. In other words, the ads went from drinking is for beautiful, sharp, dynamic people to drinking is for smart, mature successful people.
- My personal favorite in these soft-sell type ads are the ones that promote the idea that manufacturers of alcoholic products actually care about people, the environment and the well being of society.
This last message is the most cynical and dishonest of all because alcohol has been an addictive curse on mankind going as far back as Noah 4,000 years before Christ. These deceptive messages are necessary to convince and encourage people to buy and use a product whose major active ingredient is the addictive substance of alcohol.
The less flashy and alluring images about alcohol are found in the cold, hard statistics that reveal a much less shiny picture of the real-life effects on the people who use this substance in its various forms. There are all kinds of brands, drinks and mixtures but they all have a common denominator, they all include the addictive substance of alcohol as their basic ingredient.
Here are some of the latest statistics related to the use of alcohol and the negative outcome as a result.
- Alcohol is an addictive substance. It works like other substances to addict and kill those who use it.
- 28% of highway deaths are alcohol related.
- 40% of all violent crime committed is by those under the influence of alcohol.
- 12% of all teens are alcoholics.
- 30% of all suicides committed are while under the influence of alcohol.
- Alcohol consumption has been directly linked to cancer (mouth, liver, throat, lung).
- 50% of domestic violence, child abuse, and drowning involve alcohol abuse.
- Alcoholism costs the government $175 billion a year to treat and deal with each year.
- 1/3 of all prison inmates were drunk prior to or during the crime they committed.
- Unlike other addictive substances alcohol is legal and heavily promoted.
And so, what people say about alcohol is very different from the reality of what is happening in our society because of alcohol.
Is Drinking Alcohol a Sin?
Of course, the question that is debated among Christians is, "Is drinking alcohol a sin?" This is not a question asked by non-Christians. Their questions about alcohol usage revolve around legality and safety: what's the legal age to drink or purchase alcoholic beverages and please be careful not to drink and drive.
Since alcohol is addictive, we have to practice moderation and teach our young people to use alcohol responsibly. It's more complicated for Christians because we are called upon to remain sober minded and not jeopardize our spiritual alertness, clarity of mind and self-control with any substance or pattern of thinking (false ideas, or teachings).
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
- I Peter 1:13
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
- I Peter 5:8
Who do you think he devours? He devours the drunks.
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.
- Ephesians 5:18
There are also scriptures that repeatedly warn believers about the dangers inherent in the use of alcohol.
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,
And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.
- Proverbs 20:1
29Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has contentions? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
30Those who linger long over wine,
Those who go to taste mixed wine.
31Do not look on the wine when it is red,
When it sparkles in the cup,
When it goes down smoothly;
32At the last it bites like a serpent
And stings like a viper.
33Your eyes will see strange things
And your mind will utter perverse things.
34And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea,
Or like one who lies down on the top of a mast.
35"They struck me, but I did not become ill;
They beat me, but I did not know it.
When shall I awake?
I will seek another drink."
- Proverbs 23:29-35
This last passage describes well the experience of the alcoholic (3,000 years ago – same as today).
For example, my uncle Paul started with wine at a wedding when he was fifteen years old. He eventually developed and died from bone cancer from his lifelong alcohol addiction.
So, back to our original question, "Is drinking alcohol a sin?"
There are only two possible answers (yes or no) and I'd like to examine the reasoning behind each of these.
A. Yes, and consumption of alcohol in any of its forms is sinful, for several reasons:
- The Bible warns of the negative consequences of its repeated use, which we ignore in doing so. This is called rebellion.
- Having one drink may not be sinful by itself but every addiction always begins with a first ingestion of the addictive substance. This is called foolishness.
- Using alcohol in any amount begins to diminish our spiritual awareness and mental clarity. It dilutes the effectiveness of our sobriety, which we are told to guard. This is called disobedience.
- Using alcohol diminishes the effectiveness of our Christian witness as sincere, even zealous believers. People see Christians who drink as lukewarm, worldly minded and soft. This is called hypocrisy – we say that we're one thing but purposefully do what contradicts what we say.
- The use of alcohol contributes nothing to our faith, nor does it glorify God in any way. This is called worldliness.
B. Let's now take a look at the no side of this issue.
Christians rarely say that drinking is not a sin, period. They may say things like:
- The Bible says drunkenness is a sin, not just having a drink. That's a little like saying, lusting in your heart isn't a sin, it's when you have sex with that person that it becomes a sin. We know what Jesus said about that – the first step on the road to sin is sin just like the last step.
- The most common defense of this practice is that drinking in moderation is not sinful because there is no drunkenness. This is how many believers participate in social drinking at parties and clubs. "I'm drinking responsibly and moderately so it's ok."
C. Here are some responses to this type of thinking and attitude towards alcohol use:
- Social drinking is the consumption of alcohol simply for pleasure's sake. This then is the use of alcohol for what this substance does – lowers inhibitions, relaxes the senses and motor skills. These are things that diminish the spirit and stimulate the flesh.
- Social drinking undermines our Christian witness. Using any type of highly addictive substance for recreation's sake, to fit in, to downplay our purity and godliness diminishes the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Non-Christians with whom you drink may be relieved that you are not some kind of religious zealot and will go out and have a drink with you, but they are not impressed with your faith or attracted to Christ by your attitude. In the end, you're one of them, comfortable in the world.
- Social drinking puts one at risk for addiction. If you drink socially and privately, the regular ingestion of the poisonous and addictive substance of alcohol continually heightens your risk of addiction. All Alcoholics began as social drinkers. Why would a Christian knowingly do this?
- Social drinking makes you less useful to God. God does not call those addicted, fighting addiction, or too immature to realize the danger of addiction into the service of serious ministry. He doesn't recruit the weak-willed, worldly, spiritually compromised to do the heavy lifting in the church.
What Did Jesus Do?
Many justify their consumption of alcohol based on the fact that Jesus drank wine and even transformed water into wine (John 2:1-11). As a Jew, living at that time and place, it is safe to say that he drank wine and even produced wine miraculously at the wedding in Cana. However, research about the customs of those times reveals the following:
- Jesus used wine as food. He was not a social drinker using strong drink for recreational purposes in public houses and feasts.
- The wine the Jews used in the 1st century was low in alcohol content (2 - 3%) as opposed to today (beer 6%, wine 13%, liquor 50 to 60%).
- In addition to this, the Jews would mix their wine with water thereby further deluding the alcohol content. Those who drank fully fermented wine without deluding it first with water were considered "Barbarians" and wine-bibbers/drunkards – (Matthew 24:49).
- There is no reason to think that the wine Jesus miraculously produced was any different (0-2% alcohol level) since the quality of the wine was based on the type of grapes used, not the percent of alcohol contained.
The comment of the steward, that the host kept the best wine for last means that he kept the wine from the best grapes for last, not the wine with the highest alcohol content for last.
So, if Jesus is your model for drinking, then you are drinking wine (2% alcohol) diluted with water. And you drink only this fruit of the vine, no beer or liquor and no consumption of alcohol for recreational purposes, or in bars or clubs, etc.
What About Paul's Instruction to Timothy?
No longer drink water exclusively but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.
- I Timothy 5:23
Note that Timothy only drink water at a time when water, especially in cities with public supply, was often contaminated. The only alcoholic drink that can help stomach issues was red wine.
Research has found that red wine contains polyphenols which increase the good bacteria in the stomach which in turn helps with digestion. (Oct. 23, 2012 arshadmalkmd.com). Note that the instruction is a little wine with water as a medicinal treatment, not a green light for social drinking of various kinds of alcoholic drinks.
We see the medicinal use of alcohol for those near death or extreme sorrow in the Old Testament as well.
Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to him whose life is bitter.
- Proverbs 31:6
Alcohol was used in primitive medicine, however, today we have effective medication to treat digestive issues, chronic pain as well as emotional issues like depression - we no longer need wine as medicine.
Summary – How Do We Decide?
Part of maturing in Christ is the ability to make correct decisions that reflect both the teaching and the spirit of God's Word. I know that even in my own life, my understanding, teaching and practice concerning the subject of alcohol has evolved over the years and is now represented in this particular lesson on alcohol and what is commonly referred to as moderate social drinking.
To summerize, good decisions about the use of alcohol by Christians (as well as good decisions about any number of topics that involve what is right or wrong for believers) need to be based on facts and the teaching of God's word, not feelings, commercials, what's popular or what others choose and encourage us to do.
In this spirit, therefore, I give you 5 reasons for and five reasons against the consumption of alcohol in any amount.
5 Best Reasons to Drink Alcohol
- Makes you feel good, free and happy for a time.
- Alcoholic drinks taste good, and are enjoyable to consume.
- Most people can drink without getting drunk or addicted.
- Alcohol is inexpensive and easily available.
- Everybody drinks!
- - at work, business
- - family occasions
- - friends encourages my social drinking
- - I often see other Christians drink
5 Reasons Not to Drink Alcohol
- Alcohol is the number one drug problem in the world.
- Alcohol is one of the major causes of illness, accidents, death, crime and a major cause of family destruction.
- Alcohol does not contribute to a person's physical, emotional, social or spiritual well-being in any way.
- The Bible warns against the dangers of alcohol and repeatedly condemns its abuse in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
9Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
- I Corinthians 6:9-10
- Christians who drink alcohol weaken their spiritual lives and undermine their influence for Christ with the unsaved.
No one admires a Christian who permits himself the use of alcohol.
My only regret as far as this topic is concerned is that I was late in coming to these conclusions especially as someone who abused drugs for many years and was rescued from that destructive life by the love of Jesus and the gospel of forgiveness - I should have known better, it might have helped others.
In any event, you have the facts before you and I ask you to decide:
If you drink casually, moderately, once in a while, every weekend or every day - reconsider your decision based on the Bible and the facts and stop - it's the right and Biblical thing to do as a follower of Jesus.
On the other hand, if you don't drink:
- Decide now ahead of time that you won't start.
- Prepare your answer for those who insist that you join in a drink.
- Don't be ashamed to say that you don't drink because you're a Christian.
- Be ready for the blow-back, the disappointment, the laughter, the ache of hurt and the quiet rejection that might follow.
Just remember that there is sometimes a price to pay for being a disciple of Jesus, but realize there is also a reward for doing the right thing at the right time and for the right reason.