Scripture’s Teaching Regarding Alcohol (1) A Good Gift from God

“He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle,
and herb for the service of man:
that he may bring forth food out of the earth;
And wine that maketh glad the heart of man,
and oil to make his face to shine,
and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.”
Psalm 104:14-15

If Canaan was a land flowing with milk and honey, the village of Randolph, Wisconsin, can be described as flowing with beer and wine. Especially beer. Entering Randolph, one is informed that it is home to 1869 people. Driving through the three blocks which make up downtown, the visitor might be left with the impression that all 1869 inhabitants drink alcohol copiously—for one passes three bars, a family style restaurant, and a gift store with a small lunch menu and espresso counter. All serve alcohol. The three bars thrive on serving alcohol. Liquor is sold at two of the three gas stations in town, and at the local grocery store. Coming into town from the south, you might notice the billboard which advertises a 12 pack of Miller Light as being significantly cheaper than the equivalent volume of bottled water. The wallet speaks: water is out; beer is the drink of choice. Drink Miller Light, and you live the “high life.”

Randolph is a typical Wisconsin town. Wisconsin people like their beer. And Wisconsin, I think, is a typical state.

Everywhere we turn, society tells us that life without alcohol is simply unthinkable.

Is this to be the Christian’s view of alcohol? Is this what Scripture teaches?

A study of what Scripture teaches regarding alcohol will reveal that God’s view of alcohol and society’s differ sharply. The Christian young person must align his view with God’s. This is the first reason to know what Scripture teaches regarding alcohol.

A second reason, for the Christian young person particularly, has to do with the inherent dangers in alcohol itself. Drink too much and you get drunk. Get drunk and you feel miserable. Become a habitual drunkard and you lose family, friends, and possessions. While society tells us that life without alcohol is unthinkable, social organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Mothers Against Drunk Driving remind us that life with too much alcohol is unbearable.

Let the Christian take this to heart. If the world is forced to admit that living too much of the high life leads to traffic deaths, bar brawls, divorce and broken homes, should not the Christian especially avoid this sort of “high life”? Should not the Christian young person know that such “high life” is not life at all?

Third, the Christian—also the Christian young person—must know what the Scriptures teach about alcohol because our goal in life is to glorify God in all that we do. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God,” the Holy Spirit exhorted the saints of Corinth through the inspired apostle Paul (I Corinthians 10:31). The pressing question in the heart of any godly young person is: what attitude does God require me to have toward alcohol, and how am I to use it, to his glory?

The answer will be found only in the Scriptures.

Let us take the time, then, to set forth in several articles Scripture’s teaching—God’s teaching—regarding alcohol.

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By alcohol we refer to any drink able to cause intoxication. Wine, wine coolers, beer, whiskey and other hard liquors, are all alcoholic beverages.

Scripture refers to alcohol often. The word “wine” or a related word is used over 250 times in the Bible; 19 verses contain the phrase “strong drink.” Some of these uses are figurative, such as when we read in Revelation 14:10 of the wine of the wrath of God which he will cause the wicked to drink. But many times the reference is to literal wine or strong drink.

The difference between wine and strong drink, as Scripture speaks of it, is the difference between wine and beer, or wine and other liquors, as we speak of them today. Both kinds of drinks can cause intoxication. But wine is the produce of fruits, usually grapes. Strong drink is the product of grains, such as barley.

God’s Word, then, certainly addresses this issue. We are not setting out to find the teaching of Scripture on some subject which Scripture hardly ever addresses. The Scriptures tell us plenty about alcohol, and how we are to view and use it.

* * * * *

Do the Scriptures teach that no Christian may use alcohol? Are we to ban its use completely from all our homes? Ought we exclude from membership in our church those who use it?

Many Christians, particularly among some Baptist churches, would say “Yes” to all those questions.

Their argument has some weight to it. First, Scripture clearly condemns drunkenness, and a good way to prevent drunkenness is to ban alcohol completely. Second, Scripture calls God’s people to be distinct and separate from the world. If we publicly oppose all use of alcohol, how clearly we will show that distinction!

But Scripture does not forbid the Christian to use alcohol. God permits the Christian to do so. God considers alcoholic beverages good, when used properly. He created them to be used properly.

Scripture teaches this in several places.

Psalm 104:15, quoted above, is one. It teaches that God gives man food and drink. He causes grass to grow, and vines, and grapes. He created the natural process by which fruits and grains become fermented.

God’s purpose in this, according to Psalm 104:15, is not only to give man drink; water and milk serve that purpose too. But with wine, God’s purpose is to supply man with a drink which “maketh glad the heart of man.” Alcohol, used rightly and in moderation, helps a man relax and enjoy his life.

Another passage which, by implication, teaches that it is not wrong to drink alcohol is I Timothy 4:4-5: “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” Paul writes this because he knows that some will tell us we may not eat certain foods. They are wrong; God created every creature for us to use rightly, and every kind of food for us to eat. The same applies, then, to drinks.

Earlier I quoted I Corinthians 10:31: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” When the apostle says “drink,” he has in mind drinking any beverage, including wine—for he has spoken earlier in the chapter of the cup of blessing which is the communion of the blood of Christ.

Jesus drank wine, not only at the marriage feast of Cana ( John 2) and at the institution of the Lord’s Supper, but throughout his life, as his own words indicate: “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber” (Matthew 11:19). If Jesus drank it in his human nature, it cannot be wrong for us to do so in ours.

The apostle Paul commanded Timothy to drink some wine: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (I Timothy 5:23). Although this is personal advice, and does not mean we are all commanded to drink wine, this advice is found in Scripture by the inspiration of the Spirit. The apostle could not be commanding Timothy to sin. That Paul tells him to use a little wine indicates that wine is not wrong in itself.

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We have noted enough passages to see that Scripture does not condemn all drinking of alcohol.

What Scripture does forbid is the improper use of alcohol. So the question becomes this: what is improper use of alcohol? And how does the Christian use alcohol properly, and to God’s glory?

In the next two articles, God willing, we will answer this question.

But, young people, don’t expect to be able to apply the answers immediately. We will have to remember that one uses alcohol improperly, who uses it in violation of the laws of the state. Clearer yet: it is sin to drink alcohol when you are not of legal age.

I’ll explain this more next time.

But for now, pay attention to what is said so that, when you are of legal age, you know what it means to drink to God’s glory!