Maintain a Balanced View of the Use of Alcohol
“Wine is a ridiculer, intoxicating liquor is boisterous, and everyone going astray by it is not wise.”—PROVERBS 20:1.
“EVERY good gift and every perfect present is from above, for it comes down from the Father of the celestial lights,” wrote the disciple James. (James 1:17) Moved with gratitude for God’s numerous good gifts, the psalmist sang: “He is making green grass sprout for the beasts, and vegetation for the service of mankind, to cause food to go forth from the earth, and wine that makes the heart of mortal man rejoice, to make the face shine with oil, and bread that sustains the very heart of mortal man.” (Psalm 104:14, 15) Wine and other alcoholic beverages, like vegetation, bread, and oil, are fine provisions from God. How should we use them?
2 An enjoyable gift is good only when used properly. For example, honey “is good,” but “the eating of too much honey is not good.” (Proverbs 24:13; 25:27) While drinking “a little wine” may be agreeable, the abuse of alcohol is a serious problem. (1 Timothy 5:23) “Wine is a ridiculer,” warns the Bible, “intoxicating liquor is boisterous, and everyone going astray by it is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1) What, though, constitutes going astray by alcohol?* How much is too much? What is a balanced view in this regard?
“Going Astray” by Alcohol—How?
3 In ancient Israel, a son who was an unrepentant glutton and a drunkard was to be stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) The apostle Paul admonished Christians: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.” Clearly, drinking to the point of drunkenness is condemned in the Scriptures.—1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:9, 10.
4 Describing the symptoms of drunkenness, the Bible states: “Do not look at wine when it exhibits a red color, when it gives off its sparkle in the cup, when it goes with a slickness. At its end it bites just like a serpent, and it secretes poison just like a viper. Your own eyes will see strange things, and your own heart will speak perverse things.” (Proverbs 23:31-33) Excessive drinking bites like a poisonous serpent, causing sickness, mental confusion, even unconsciousness. A drunkard may see “strange things” in that he may hallucinate or fantasize. He may also be less inhibited in expressing perverse thoughts and desires that are normally suppressed.
5 What if one uses alcohol but is careful not to drink to the point of being visibly drunk? Some individuals show very little sign of drunkenness even after consuming a number of drinks. However, to think that such a practice is harmless is to engage in a form of self-deception. (Jeremiah 17:9) Gradually, progressively, one may develop a dependency on alcohol and become “enslaved to a lot of wine.” (Titus 2:3) Concerning the process of becoming an alcoholic, author Caroline Knapp says: “It’s a slow, gradual, insidious, elusive becoming.” What a deadly trap overindulgence in alcohol is!
6 Consider also Jesus’ warning: “Pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day be instantly upon you as a snare. For it will come in upon all those dwelling upon the face of all the earth.” (Luke 21:34, 35) Drinking does not have to reach the level of drunkenness before it makes a person drowsy and lazy—physically as well as spiritually. What if Jehovah’s day catches him in such a condition?
What Alcohol Abuse Can Lead To
7 Immoderate use of alcohol exposes one to many dangers—both physical and spiritual. Among the diseases caused by alcohol abuse are cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and such neural disorders as delirium tremens. Prolonged misuse of alcohol can also lead to cancer, diabetes, and some diseases of the heart and the stomach. The misuse of alcohol is obviously not compatible with the Scriptural directive: “Let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.”—2 Corinthians 7:1.
8 Alcohol abuse can also mean wasted income, even loss of employment. King Solomon of ancient Israel warned: “Do not come to be among heavy drinkers of wine, among those who are gluttonous eaters of flesh.” Why? He explained: “For a drunkard and a glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe one with mere rags.”—Proverbs 23:20, 21.
9 Pointing to yet another danger, The Encyclopedia of Alcoholism says: “Studies have shown that alcohol causes degeneration of driving skills, including reaction time, coordination, attention, visual awareness and judgment.” The consequences of mixing driving with drinking are disastrous. In the United States alone, tens of thousands die and hundreds of thousands are injured every year in alcohol-related traffic accidents. Particularly vulnerable to this danger are youths, who are less experienced in driving as well as in drinking. Can anyone drive after consuming several alcoholic drinks and at the same time claim to respect life as a gift from Jehovah God? (Psalm 36:9) In view of the sanctity of life, it is best for a person not to drink alcoholic beverages at all when he or she has to drive.
10 Immoderate drinking hurts people not only physically but also spiritually. “Wine and sweet wine are what take away good motive,” states the Bible. (Hosea 4:11) Alcohol affects the mind. “When someone has a drink,” explains a publication by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, “the alcohol is absorbed through the digestive system into the bloodstream and reaches the brain quickly. It begins to slow down the parts of the brain that control thinking and emotion. The person feels less inhibited, freer.” In such a state, we are more likely to ‘go astray,’ to take liberties, and to be exposed to many temptations.—Proverbs 20:1.
11 Moreover, the Bible commands: “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Does consuming large amounts of alcohol ever bring glory to God? A Christian would certainly want to avoid having a reputation as a heavy drinker. Such a reputation would bring reproach on, not glory to, Jehovah’s name.
12 What if one Christian’s lack of moderation in drinking stumbled a fellow believer, perhaps a new disciple? (Romans 14:21) “Whoever stumbles one of these little ones who put faith in me,” warned Jesus, “it is more beneficial for him to have hung around his neck a millstone such as is turned by an ass and to be sunk in the wide, open sea.” (Matthew 18:6) Overdrinking can also result in loss of privileges in the congregation. (1 Timothy 3:1-3, 8) Not to be overlooked is the conflict that alcohol abuse can cause within the family.
Avoid the Dangers—How?
13 A key to avoiding the dangers of alcohol abuse is knowing where to draw the line, not between overindulgence and drunkenness, but between moderation and overindulgence. Who can determine where this line is for you? Since many factors come into play, there can be no strict rule about how many drinks are too many. Each one must personally know his limit and stay within that limit. What will help you to decide how much is too much for you? Is there a principle that can serve as a guide?
14 The Bible states: “Safeguard practical wisdom and thinking ability, and they will prove to be life to your soul and charm to your throat.” (Proverbs 3:21, 22) The guiding principle to follow, then, is this: Any amount of alcohol that unduly impairs your judgment and dulls your thinking ability is too much for you personally. But you must be honest with yourself in recognizing what that personal limit is!
15 In some situations, even one drink may be one too many. In view of the danger to the fetus, a pregnant woman may choose not to drink at all. And would it not be kind to refrain from drinking in the presence of someone who has had a problem with alcoholism or whose conscience disapproves of drinking? Jehovah commanded those performing priestly duties at the tabernacle: “Do not drink wine or intoxicating liquor . . . when you come into the tent of meeting, that you may not die.” (Leviticus 10:8, 9) Therefore, avoid drinking alcoholic beverages just before attending Christian meetings, when sharing in the ministry, and when caring for other spiritual responsibilities. Moreover, in countries where alcohol consumption is prohibited or is permitted only for those over a certain age, due regard should be given to the laws of the land.—Romans 13:1.
16 When an alcoholic beverage is offered or is set before you, the first question to ask is: ‘Should I drink at all?’ If you decide to drink, have clearly in mind your personal limit, and do not exceed that limit. Do not allow a generous host to sway you. And beware of open bars serving unlimited drinks at such events as wedding receptions. In many places, children are legally permitted to have access to alcohol. It is the parents’ responsibility to instruct their children regarding the use of alcohol and to monitor their actions in this regard.—Proverbs 22:6.
You Can Deal With the Problem
17 Is misuse of wine and intoxicating liquor a problem for you? Make no mistake about it, if alcohol abuse is becoming a secret sin, sooner or later it will catch up with you. So take a long, honest look at yourself. Ask such self-searching questions as: ‘Do I drink more often than I used to? Have my drinks become stronger? Do I use alcohol to escape worries, stress, or problems? Has a family member or a friend expressed concern about my drinking? Has my drinking caused problems within my family? Do I find it hard to do without alcohol for a week, a month, or several months? Do I hide from others the amount of wine or liquor I consume?’ What if the answer to some of these questions is yes? Do not be like a man who ‘looks at his natural face in a mirror and immediately forgets what sort of man he is.’ (James 1:22-24) Take steps to correct the problem. What can you do?
18 The apostle Paul admonished Christians: “Do not be getting drunk with wine, in which there is debauchery, but keep getting filled with spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) Decide what is an immoderate amount of alcohol for you, and set appropriate limits. Resolve not to exceed them; exercise self-control. (Galatians 5:22, 23) Do you have associates who pressure you to overindulge? Be on guard. “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise,” states the Bible, “but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.”—Proverbs 13:20.
19 If you are using alcohol to escape some problem, face the problem squarely. Problems can be dealt with by applying the counsel from God’s Word. (Psalm 119:105) Do not hesitate to seek the help of a trusted Christian elder. Make good use of Jehovah’s provisions to build up your spirituality. Strengthen your relationship with God. Pray to him regularly—especially about your weaknesses. Petition God to ‘refine your kidneys and your heart.’ (Psalm 26:2) As discussed in the preceding article, do your utmost to walk in the way of integrity.
20 What if the problem of overindulgence continues despite your efforts? You must then follow Jesus’ advice: “If ever your hand makes you stumble, cut it off; it is finer for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go off into Gehenna.” (Mark 9:43) The answer is: Do not drink at all. That is what a woman whom we will call Irene resolved to do. “After almost two and a half years of sobriety,” she says, “I began to think that just one drink might be all right, just to see how I would handle it. But the minute I feel that way, I immediately take the matter to Jehovah in prayer. I am determined not to have another alcoholic drink until the new system—if even then.” Total abstinence would not be too high a price to pay for life in God’s righteous new world.—2 Peter 3:13.
“Run in Such a Way That You May Attain It”
21 Likening a Christian’s life course to a race, or a contest, the apostle Paul said: “Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may attain it. Moreover, every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control in all things. Now they, of course, do it that they may get a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. Therefore, the way I am running is not uncertainly; the way I am directing my blows is so as not to be striking the air; but I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.”—1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
22 The prize can go only to those who finish the race successfully. In the race for life, the abuse of alcohol can prevent us from reaching the finish line. We must exercise self-control. Running with certainty requires that we do not indulge in “excesses with wine.” (1 Peter 4:3) On the contrary, we need to exercise self-control in all things. When it comes to drinking alcoholic beverages, we are wise to “repudiate ungodliness and worldly desires and to live with soundness of mind and righteousness and godly devotion.”—Titus 2:12.
As used in this article, “alcohol” applies to beer, wine, and other spirits.
Do You Recall?
• What constitutes alcohol abuse?
• What harm results from the misuse of alcohol?
• How can you avoid the dangers of alcohol abuse?
• How can one deal with the problem of alcohol abuse?
1. How did the psalmist express his appreciation for some of the good gifts from Jehovah?
2. What questions will we consider about the use of alcohol?
3, 4. (a) What shows that drinking to the point of drunkenness is condemned in the Bible? (b) What are some of the symptoms of drunkenness?
5. In what way is overindulgence in alcohol harmful?
6. Why should one avoid overindulgence in alcohol as well as food?
7. Why is alcohol abuse incompatible with the directive stated at 2 Corinthians 7:1?
8. According to Proverbs 23:20, 21, what can result from alcohol abuse?
9. Why is it wise for a person to refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages if he will be driving a vehicle?
10. How can alcohol affect our mind, and why is that dangerous?
11, 12. What spiritual harm can come from immoderate use of alcohol?
13. What is crucial in avoiding alcohol abuse?
14. What guiding principle will help you draw the line between moderation and overindulgence?
15. When might even one drink be one too many?
16. How should you decide what to do when an alcoholic beverage is set before you?
17. What can help you to discern whether you have a problem with alcohol abuse?
18, 19. How can you stop immoderate use of alcohol?
20. What measures may you have to take in order to deal with an ongoing problem of overindulgence?
21, 22. What obstacle can prevent us from reaching the finish line in the race for life, and how can we avoid it?
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Wine “makes the heart of mortal man rejoice”
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We must know our personal limit and stay within it
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Decide in advance where to draw the line
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Pray to Jehovah regularly about your weaknesses
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Parents have the responsibility to instruct their children regarding the use of alcohol