I used to be afraid of alcohol. In high school, I went on a mission trip to Belize and during some off-time, some of the adult leaders got some beers. It shocked me. When I went up to them and asked why they were drinking, they replied that it wasn’t wrong to drink. But that wasn’t my question. I didn’t ask why they didn’t AVOID drinking. I wanted to know WHY- in the name of all things good- they would ever want to touch alcohol. I was astounded that anyone who sought after holiness (like they did) could actually WANT such an evil thing.
And that was my story for a bit. I thought alcohol was a black void that just sucked people in, and bopped people into ugly addictions. I grew up seeing a lot of addiction, and I had a broken heart over alcohol. I would cry over what it took from my family, and sometimes, I still do actually. I say this because I want for you to understand I do not see alcohol abuse as light or dismissible. It is serious.
But if I were to see high-school, Belize-visiting Janie right now, I would tell her something, and this is what I am writing about today.--------
Alcohol is not bad. Yes, drunkenness is a sin. Yes, addiction to alcohol is bad. But alcohol is not. How do I know? I know by the same rule I know anything— because I trust Jesus to tell the truth.
In the Bible, we see Jesus turn water into wine. We see Jesus having wine with the disciples. Do we see them getting drunk? No! But do they drink? Yes!
I would tell high school Janie that it didn’t need to be all-or-nothing just because that’s her experience. In the Bible, we see that alcohol is not inherently evil…just as sex or food isn’t evil. HOW WE USE these things can be pure or impure. Because I came from a background like mine, I couldn’t separate alcohol from abuse… but doing this is the equivalent of declaring all sex (even between a married couple) as impure just because prostitution exists.
If Jesus did it, it’s not a sin. Simple as that.
But even so- I've realized something... especially now that I live in the south. I feel like many of us act as if drinking is a sin, even if we don't consciously believe it is.
We say we are following a higher call of leadership to avoid alcohol completely, or we don’t drink in front of people, or we don’t post about it. We believe that if we are pastors or if we are leaders, we shouldn’t be seen drinking. Before- as lay people- it was ok… but now, in being set apart as higher in some way, its not.
Is this not saying that subconsciously we believe drinking is wrong? Why would it not be ok for leaders if there wasn't something in us that said it was bad. What example did Jesus set? He was completely set apart, and the one who leads us most, and yet He drank- in public.
I feel like there is something deep in us that says any drinking is bad… and I don’t understand it. I don’t understand why we have created rules that Jesus didn’t.
Again, I believe getting drunk is a sin. God did create that rule. I also 100% believe he could call some people to refrain from drinking altogether, and maybe for them, drinking would be disobedient. I know some feel strongly that God has advised them against it, and I love their obedience in this.
But to avoid drinking so we can be more holy seems odd to me considering Jesus drank. Finally, I asked some people about why they believed leaders shouldn’t drink and I heard a lot of references to Romans 14. Here’s a bit of it:
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.[c]
I’ve studied Romans 14 a lot actually for a bit of a funny reason-- because I'm vegetarian. The chapter starts with “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. ” People used to reference this chapter to call me weak, which was quite annoying, but their comments became a blessing in disguise because I am now so happy I studied it!
One key piece of information in this passage is that the meat they were referring to was previously dedicated to other gods. God said they could still eat the meat, because God made it all pure. Still, some people couldn’t believe that it was ok, even after God said it. They were weak in faith. Even so, God mentions in this chapter, that if someone doesn’t have faith that the meat is made holy, and then eats it anyways, it goes against their conscience… and that is bad. Because of this, Christians shouldn’t eat the meat around these people because it might tempt them… even though eating this particular meat was not sinful in itself.
In the same way, this chapter talks about alcohol. Alcohol in itself isn’t bad, but if you are in the company of someone who is tempted by it, and cannot believe it is ok,,,then your love for them trumps your liberty to drink, and you refrain.
I can imagine how this played out back in that day. Maybe a Christian would be at someone’s house for dinner. The host would say they believed wine was not okay. Then, the Christian wouldn't drink. To love the other.
But what does this look like today? Sure- If I am at dinner with someone who is tempted by alcohol, I won’t drink in front of them. This wouldn’t be kind. But what about in public, or on social media? Nowadays, we are in public so often. Does this mean we ought to avoid drinking at all because someone somewhere MIGHT be tempted around us? How much responsibility do we take into discerning if someone there might be tempted?
Some people decide to avoid drinking in public altogether because they just can’t know if someone might be tempted.
But for this, I think it’s great to look at the rest of the Bible. I mentioned the wedding before, where Jesus turned water to wine. I imagine there must have been someone there who had temptations with wine. It was a party! In public! And yet Jesus not only allowed drinking, but He provided the alcohol. I’ve been pondering this for a few months now, and I’ve realized something important in the Romans 14 chapter that I mentioned before. It says to refrain from drinking when it tempts another. It does not say to always avoid all drinking in case it might tempt another. Do we see how easily Paul could have written to avoid the meat and the wine altogether? But he didn’t. He said to avoid it when it tempts someone we aim to love. And while this could tempt us to avoid it altogether in public because there may be some who struggle around us, we see Jesus making wine at the party- in public.
Jesus also must have been going against lots of religious anger about turning water to wine at that party. Jesus had a habit of doing things that others thought were sinful. People thought healing on the sabbath was bad, yet He did it anyways. He never let people’s religious expectations shape His behavior. In fact, he often defied rules to show that God never meant for the rule to be interpreted in that way. He always acted in holiness, but he didn't always act in the ways the Pharisees thought were holy. In this same way, we aren't to make rules of holiness that Jesus never made. If we feel convicted not to drink, then we can avoid it... but let's not make avoiding alcohol out to be a measure of holiness. God never said this (outside of telling us to avoid drunkenness, which is different).
Of course I know people research this and come up with all kinds of conclusions, and I don’t mean to say that I’m right. I believe I'm writing this in the middle of God teaching me about alcohol. And I hope I keep learning more and more about all sides of this, because I know people genuinely want God’s way.
But I will say that I am very glad my leaders drank when I was in Belize. It offended my fear and my religious spirit, but it taught me that alcohol didn’t have to be all- (drunkenness) -or-nothing.
Since high school, I praise God for showing me what a healthy relationship with alcohol looks like. I believe it was really by His grace! I’ve cried over a few oops moments that I’ve had with drinking- whether because drinks had more alcohol than I realized or because they hit later. But generally, I feel He has led me in understanding alcohol further. And even in these accidents, God has healed me from my fear of the substance, all while still giving me determination to be wise and careful going forward- putting new standards in place so no ‘oops’s happened again. He has healed me from believing alcohol was evil in itself, and yet he has given me a passion against abusing it. He has been teaching me that there is a place in the middle of the all-or-nothing that is just as holy as the ‘nothing’. He has shown me that leaders (including Jesus) also drink, and that alcohol isn’t only reserved for not-as-holy people. Mostly, He has shown me that freedom from religious fear and self-discipline can coexist, and that I can push forward towards both of those things without straying away from the other.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this too! My email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you have anything to add from your life .
Most of all, even in difference of opinion, I love you, my friends.