Drinking—Do You Share the Bible’s View?
HE WAS a baptized Christian. Upon being questioned by the elders in his congregation, who were concerned about his drinking, he admitted he had had some beers and a few shots of whiskey. “But I was not drunk,” he said.
This young man felt that as long as you do not get drunk, it does not matter how much you drink. Do you agree? Sad to say, reports show that such thinking exists among some of God’s people. But is it Scriptural? Just what does the Bible say about drinking?
Alcoholic beverages are indeed among the many gifts we have received from our Creator, Jehovah God. Thus, the Bible tells us that God gives wine that “makes the heart of mortal man rejoice”; that wine “makes God and men rejoice”; that it puts the heart in “a merry mood.” (Psalm 104:15; Judges 9:13; Esther 1:10) A supply of wine, symbolized by the “vine,” is used in the Scriptures to denote prosperity and security.—Micah 4:4; Zechariah 3:10.
However, a gift can be used or misused. The Bible contains many warnings regarding the misuse of alcohol.
What about the view, ‘As long as you do not get drunk, it does not matter how much you drink’? Certainly the Bible does condemn drunkenness, telling us that drunkards will not “inherit God’s kingdom.” (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10) But is it only drunkenness that we are warned against? What about drinking heavily without actually getting intoxicated?
At 1 Timothy 3:2, 3, we read that an overseer not only should avoid ‘drunken brawling’ but should also be “moderate in habits.” That means in all habits. Yet the Greek word translated “moderate in habits” (ne.phaʹli.on) literally means “sober, temperate; abstaining from wine, either entirely or at least from its immoderate use.” (Italics ours.)—Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.
In enumerating the qualifications of ministerial servants, or deacons, Paul further says that they should “not [be] giving themselves to a lot of wine [“not drink too much wine,” Today’s English Version; be “moderate in the amount of wine they drink,” The Jerusalem Bible].”—1 Timothy 3:8.
Yes, to be recommended or to continue serving as an overseer or a ministerial servant, a Christian must be an example of one who is habitually temperate in the use of alcoholic beverages. Several years ago, in a Latin-American country, a wedding reception lasted until the wee hours of the morning with drinking all night long. That resulted in the removal of the entire body of elders and the ministerial servants of one congregation!
But is moderation required only of overseers and ministerial servants? Not at all, for at Titus 2:2, aged men are counseled to be “moderate in habits.” Women in the congregation are given similar counsel to be “serious, not slanderous, moderate in habits.” (1 Timothy 3:11) And aged women are told to “be reverent in behavior, not slanderous, neither enslaved to a lot of wine.”—Titus 2:3.
Clearly, then, Christians should be careful to avoid not only drunkenness—the end result of overconsumption—but also any immoderate use of alcohol.
What Constitutes Moderate Use?
A set limit cannot be recommended for all people because individual factors, such as general health and body weight, can determine the effect of alcohol on your system. Nevertheless, there are several things you should keep in mind in determining what constitutes moderation.
The first one is—beware of making excuses! It is so easy to conclude that unwelcome counsel applies to others and not to us. But if everyone thought that way the counsel would apply to nobody!
Next, consider how much alcohol your body can safely handle. An average adult (154 lb/70 kg) can metabolize about 13 ml of alcohol per hour (about 30 ml [1 oz] of 80-proof spirits or 100 ml [3.5 oz] of table wine). When this amount is exceeded, the level of alcohol in your blood increases. It usually takes just two ordinary-sized drinks* within a few minutes for the average adult to reach a blood alcohol level of 0.05 percent, which produces driving impairment in most people.
A third factor to consider is the viewpoint of fellow Christians. At Romans 14:21 we read: “It is well not to eat flesh or to drink wine or do anything over which your brother stumbles.” So in determining whether your drinking is moderate or not, ask yourself: Do I generally drink more than others do? Have others—family members or Christian brothers or sisters—become concerned about the amount I drink? Do I have the reputation of being able to “hold my liquor,” implying that I drink a lot? Even if you may say, ‘But I have a higher tolerance than others,’ do not Paul’s words show that we should be concerned about the viewpoint of our brothers? Remember Jesus’ words at Luke 17:1, namely: “It is unavoidable that causes for stumbling should come. Nevertheless, woe to the one through whom they come!”
Of course, it should be noted that none of us has the right to impose his conscience on others. We should be careful to avoid becoming unduly critical of the amount others drink. As the apostle Paul said: “You have no right to criticize your brother or look down on him. Remember, each of us will stand personally before the Judgment Seat of God.”—Romans 14:10, The Living Bible.
Another factor to weigh is this: Why do I drink? Is it simply to relax, to quench thirst or to enhance the taste of a meal? Or is it to blot out worry, anxiety, frustration, to give me courage or to help me escape from reality? Regarding the latter, psychotherapist Dr. Stanley Gitlow states: “We live in a society where, when things get tough, you take a drink; if you’re uncomfortable, turn to some chemical magic. No one says, ‘Hey, tolerate the stress and learn to cope.’” What should help a Christian to cope with the anxieties of life? “Some chemical magic” or his relationship with God?—Psalm 4:8.
Abstinence at Times?
Yes! For the alcoholic, it is important that he abstain altogether lest the urge toward excesses overpowers him. This calls to mind Jesus’ words at Mark 9:43: “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 [signifying destruction].” So, if drinking has caused you problems, why not “cut it off”? After all, “it is finer for you to enter into life”! As one Christian elder, a project director in an alcoholism rehabilitation program, put it: “Total abstinence is not too high a price to pay for life in God’s New Order.”
Yet abstinence is not just for alcoholics; there are times when all of us do well to abstain. In ancient Israel priests and Levites on duty at the tabernacle or temple were forbidden to drink alcohol in any form, under the penalty of death. (Leviticus 10:8, 9; Ezekiel 44:21) Kings, too, were advised not to drink wine or intoxicating liquor when officiating. Why not? “That one may not drink and forget what is decreed and pervert the cause of any of the sons of affliction.”—Proverbs 31:4, 5.
What about today? Well, would you be at ease knowing that the pilot of the plane on which you were traveling had been drinking? Of course not! Lives are involved. Hence, a Christian should be careful about drinking before driving an automobile. But it would be all the more inappropriate for a Christian to indulge in alcoholic beverages just before or while engaging in the holy activities of the field ministry, attending meetings and giving Bible counsel and direction to others. Why inappropriate? Here, eternal life is involved!
So do you share the Bible’s view of drinking? Either you do or you do not. Your life is at stake, as well as that of others who might be stumbled by thoughtless drinking habits. More than that, we want our lives to be pleasing to our God, Jehovah. Yes, alcoholic beverages are a gift from God—when used moderately! But if you personally are better off abstaining, then by all means do so. Remember, “it is finer for you to enter into life”!
However, what can congregation elders do to help their fellow Christians who are overreached in the use of alcohol? And what about the alcoholic—what can be done to help him or her? These and other questions will be considered in our next issue.
One drink is about 1 1⁄2 ounces of 80-proof spirits, 4 ounces of table wine or 12 ounces of beer.
[Picture on page 27]
All three contain the same amount of alcohol