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Living Soberly

Drunkenness is a sin against which the people of God are warned. This is a sin which is increasingly prevalent in our day. It is a sin into which both young and old fall. But it is the godly young people of the church who must especially be warned against drunkenness, for there are many pressures and temptations before them to conform to the ways of this world. Sadly, much of this pressure comes from worldly young people in the church and is directed against those who live godly in Christ. What is drunkenness? One who is drunken is one who has consumed alcohol beyond the modest amounts which God’s Word plainly sets forth. To whatever degree this person has indulged, he suffers from the intoxicating and stupefying effects of alcohol in his body. One may be drunken occasionally or one may be a drunkard as defined in Proverbs 23:30, 35. To whatever degree one is drunken, or how often one becomes drunken does not matter. Drunkenness is sin. And it is a particularly dangerous sin because one is rarely drunken in isolation, but falls into many other sins.

When we look at Proverbs 23:29-35 we see the seriousness of the sin of drunkenness. Those who are drunken are in a terrible state. Alcohol has a profound psychological as well as physiological affect upon the body. (We will look at how this relates to the spiritual later.) Proverbs 23 lists these results of drunken behavior.

Beginning in verse 29 we see that the drunkard brings to himself “woe” and “sorrow.” These may be woes and sorrows which he physically brings upon himself as a result of his drunken behavior, or they may be the product of his imagination which runs wild. The drunkard is contentious. He is looking for a fight and will argue and strive with those around him. The drunkard is a babbler who talks about nonsense. He freely shoots off his mouth on the most vain and foolish topics.

Further, the drunkard of Proverbs 23 has cuts and bruises as a result of his foolish behavior. He is wounded in a fight and is unaware of his injuries. “They have beaten me, and I felt it not,” he says (vs. 35). He carelessly walks into a fire and does not feel the flames licking at his legs. He dives into the water, fearless of drowning.

Elsewhere in Scripture we find a further description of the results of drunkenness. We read of Noah (Gen. 9:21) becoming drunken in his tent and his son discovering his nakedness. As Isaiah 28:7, 8 tells us, those who are drunken “stumble in judgment.” While this refers to the mental aspect of drunkenness, it is also true that a drunkard literally cannot walk straight. A drunkard walks “out of the way” (vs. 7). He easily goes off course. In addition to this, his vision is errant. He cannot believe what his eyes tell him. He walks along, stumbling and halting, suddenly coming upon objects his eyes have not detected. And finally, according to verse 8, the table he sits at is covered with “vomit and filthiness.” He is surrounded by the filth of his own sin. What a spectacle drunkenness is.

Beyond the outward aspects of drunkenness, there are also mental or psychological aspects of drunkenness. These too can be found in the previously mentioned passages. A drunkard is one who “stumbles in judgment” and “errs in vision.” His mind is not right. His thoughts are confused. His perception is dulled. His feelings and emotions are mixed up. His memory is scattered. His imagination runs wild. His thinking and reasoning become twisted. He can no longer apply knowledge to the situation at hand. Consequently, the decisions he makes are ill-conceived and sinful.

Another problem which plagues an intoxicated person is a certain fearlessness and lack of awareness to danger. Proverbs 23:34 states that a drunkard is as one “that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast.” Due to the stupefying and numbing effect of alcohol upon the mind, the drunkard sinfully exposes his life to danger.

Beyond the sinfulness of drunkenness itself, many other sins often plague the drunkard. For good reason we read of drunkenness in Proverbs 23:32, “At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.” Part of the sting and bite of drunkenness are the sins which go along with it.

Among those sins are adultery and fornication. The drunkards “eyes shall behold strange women” (Prov. 23:33). Genesis 19:33 records for us the history of Lot who committed great sins while drunken. A drunkard is also one who uses foul language. The drunkard utters “perverse things” in his heart, and no doubt speaks them with his mouth (Prov. 23:33). He violates the third commandment with rash swearing and cursing. He speaks proudly and lies.

Further, a drunken person may willfully expose himself to danger in violation of the sixth commandment. In doing so, he may also endanger those around him. Perhaps he is drunken while he drives a car. Quite often, drunkenness is related to other reckless and perverse behavior. We are admonished in Romans 13:13 to “walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.”

We must also remember that a drunkard is forsaking his responsibilities. Any time we are doing that which we are not called to do, it means that we are forsaking that which we are called to do. A drunkard is not living soberly as he is called. Whether it is occasional drunkenness or frequent drunkenness, the fact remains that the child of God is called to continually live soberly.

This brings us to the spiritual aspect of drunkenness. It is possible to live in a state of spiritual drunkenness while being physically sober. This is possible because of the intoxicating effect the allurements of this world can have upon us. Just as a drunkard continually pursues after wine, so can we be constantly in pursuit of carnal pleasures. And, young people, the world has a thousand pleasures to pursue. Sports. Clothing. Cars. Music. Amusement. All of these shout for our time, money, and energy. And when we continually seek them, and indulge ourselves in them, we neglect what we are called to do.

Just as physical drunkenness has stupefying effects, so does spiritual drunkenness. Because our thoughts are consumed with our earthly pleasures and pursuits, our spiritual judgment is clouded. Our spiritual senses become dull. We become unaware of the spiritual reality of sin surrounding us. False doctrine no longer strikes us as dangerous. Our spiritual walk becomes stumbling and wandering. Spiritually, we become more and more dead. The old man gets the upper hand.

The calling to physical and spiritual sobriety is indeed serious. We are called to live out of the new man. Out of that new man we live in sobriety. As we read in I Thessalonians. 5:7, 8a, “For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober.” John Calvin, in his commentary on these verses says, “For this is spiritual sobriety, when we use this world so sparingly and temperately that we are not entangled with its allurements.”

Living in spiritual sobriety also means that we continue to sharpen our spiritual senses, continually honing them by the reading and study of God’s Word. This means that we grow in our knowledge of the Reformed faith and of the doctrinal distinctives which we hold dear. We are attentive to the preaching and catechism instruction. Living soberly means that we grow in a sanctified walk, putting down the old man of sin. We separate from our own sins and from those who live impenitently in sin. It means that we are aware of the signs around us of the coming of the day of the Lord. We must watch and prepare.

When we are living in spiritual sobriety, putting off the sin of drunkenness, we will find that we have true joy. The way of joy and contentment is not through drunkenness and pleasure madness as the world holds before us, but true and lasting joy is found only in the Spirit. We find this distinction in Ephesians 5:18, 19: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” When we are living in the joy of the Holy Ghost we have true peace and contentment; and it is impossible to drink excessively of this joy.