Do You Have a Godly View of Alcoholic Beverages?
ABOUT 20 years ago, archaeologists excavated an old mud-brick building near the town of Urmia, Iran. They found in it a ceramic jar that, according to scientists, is thousands of years old, dating back to when some very early human settlements were established. Recently, the latest technology was used in analyzing the jar. Scientists were surprised to find inside it the oldest chemical evidence of wine making.
The Bible too establishes clearly that from ancient times wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages have been consumed. (Genesis 27:25; Ecclesiastes 9:7; Nahum 1:10) As with other foods, Jehovah gives us as individuals a choice—to drink alcoholic beverages or not. Jesus often drank wine with his meals. John the Baptizer abstained from alcohol.—Matthew 11:18, 19.
The Bible forbids overindulgence in drinking. Drunkenness is a sin against God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) In harmony with this, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not permit any who become unrepentant drunkards to remain in the Christian congregation. Those in the congregation who choose to drink alcoholic beverages must do so in moderation.—Titus 2:2, 3.
An Ungodly View
Many people today do not have a godly view of alcoholic beverages. It is easy to see that Satan is promoting the misuse of this ancient product. For example, in some islands of the South Pacific, it is customary for men to gather to drink large amounts of a homemade fermented beverage. These sessions may last several hours and are held frequently—many men indulge in the practice daily. Some consider it simply part of the culture. At times beer and spirits are consumed instead of—or in addition to—the local homemade beverage. Drunkenness often results.
In another Pacific land, the moderate consumption of alcohol by men is almost unheard of. As a general rule, when they drink they drink to get drunk. Typically, on payday a group of men will get together and purchase several cartons of beer, each containing 24 bottles. They stop drinking only when the beer runs out. As a result, public drunkenness is very common.
Fermented beverages, such as palm wine and other local brews, are traditionally used in African countries. Tradition in some communities dictates that alcohol must be offered when guests are entertained. The hospitable host customarily provides more than his visitor can consume. In one area the custom is to set 12 bottles of beer in front of each visitor.
Many Japanese companies organize bus trips for their employees. Large amounts of alcoholic beverages are brought along, and drunkenness is condoned. Some of these company outings last two or three days. According to the magazine Asiaweek, in Japan, “from rice farmers to rich politicians, the measure of a man has traditionally been the volume of liquor he can down.” Similar trends are being observed in other Asian countries. Asiaweek states that “South Koreans now swallow more spirits per person than do drinkers anywhere else in the world.”
Binge drinking has become a widespread practice on college campuses in the United States. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, “most binge drinkers do not consider themselves to be problem drinkers.”a This should not be surprising because in many countries the media promote drinking as an adventurous, fashionable, and sophisticated activity. Often this propaganda specifically targets the young.
In Britain, beer intake has doubled during a 20-year period, and the consumption of strong liquor has tripled. Drinkers are starting younger, and more women are drinking. Similar trends are observed in Eastern European and Latin-American countries. This is highlighted by correspondingly rising rates of alcoholism and alcohol-related traffic fatalities. Clearly, there is an unmistakable increase in alcohol abuse worldwide.
How Much Is Too Much?
The Bible’s view of alcoholic beverages is balanced. On the one hand, the Scriptures say that wine is a gift from Jehovah God “that makes the heart of mortal man rejoice.” (Psalm 104:1, 15) On the other hand, in condemning overindulgence the Bible uses the expressions “heavy drinking,” “excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches,” ‘given to a lot of wine,’ and being “enslaved to a lot of wine.” (Luke 21:34; 1 Peter 4:3; 1 Timothy 3:8; Titus 2:3) But how much is “a lot of wine”? How can a Christian determine what constitutes a godly view of alcoholic beverages?
It is not difficult to recognize drunkenness. Its consequences are described in the Bible with the words: “Who has woe? Who has uneasiness? Who has contentions? Who has concern? Who has wounds for no reason? Who has dullness of eyes? Those staying a long time with the wine, those coming in to search out mixed wine. . . . Your own eyes will see strange things, and your own heart will speak perverse things.”—Proverbs 23:29-33.
Too much alcohol can cause confusion, hallucinations, unconsciousness, and other disorders of the mind and body. Under the influence of alcohol, a person may lose control of his behavior, causing harm to himself or others. Drunkards are known to engage in ridiculous, offensive, or immoral conduct.
Drinking to the point of drunkenness, with its above-mentioned consequences, is definitely too much drinking. However, a person can manifest a lack of moderation without displaying all the typical signs of drunkenness. Hence, the question of whether someone has drunk too much is often open to dispute. Where is the line between moderation and overindulgence?
Safeguard Your Thinking Abilities
The Bible does not set limits by providing percentages of blood-alcohol concentrations or some other measure. Alcohol tolerance varies from one person to another. Yet, Bible principles apply to all Christians and can help us to develop a godly view of alcoholic beverages.
The first commandment, Jesus said, is to “love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.” (Matthew 22:37, 38) Alcohol has a direct effect on the mind, and overindulgence will interfere with your obedience to this greatest of all commandments. It can seriously interfere with good judgment, the ability to solve problems, the exercise of self-restraint, and other important functions of the mind. The Scriptures admonish us: “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 apostle Paul entreats Christians: “Present your bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason.” (Romans 12:1) Would a Christian be “acceptable to God” if he drinks alcohol to the point of relinquishing his “power of reason”? Usually, an immoderate drinker gradually builds up a tolerance to alcohol. He may feel that his heavy drinking is—for him—below the threshold of drunkenness. Yet, he may well be developing an unhealthy dependency on alcohol. Could such a person present his body as “a sacrifice living, holy”?
Any amount of alcohol that impairs your “practical wisdom and thinking ability” as a Christian is too much alcohol for you.
What Shapes Your View of Alcohol?
A Christian ought to assess whether his attitude toward drinking is being carried along by current trends or traditions. When it comes to alcoholic beverages, you would certainly not want to make your choices based on cultural trends or media propaganda. In assessing your own attitude, ask yourself, ‘Is it influenced by what is acceptable in the community? Or is my drinking governed by Bible principles?’
Although Jehovah’s Witnesses are not anticulture, they realize that Jehovah hates many practices that are widely accepted today. Some communities condone abortion, blood transfusions, homosexuality, or polygamy. Christians, however, act in accord with God’s view of these things. Yes, a godly view will motivate a Christian to hate such practices regardless of whether they are culturally acceptable or not.—Psalm 97:10.
The Bible speaks of “the will of the nations,” which includes “excesses with wine” and “drinking matches.” The term “drinking matches” conveys the idea of gatherings that were arranged with the express purpose of consuming large quantities of alcohol. It seems that in Bible times some who were proud of their supposed ability to hold their liquor tried to outdrink others, or they tried to see who could drink the most. The apostle Peter refers to this kind of conduct as a “low sink of debauchery” in which repentant Christians no longer share.—1 Peter 4:3, 4.
Would it be reasonable for a Christian to adopt the view that as long as he did not get drunk, it really would not matter where, when, or how much he drank? We can ask, Is that a godly view? The Bible says: “Whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) A group of men gathering to drink large amounts of alcohol in public might not all get drunk, but would their conduct bring glory to Jehovah? The Bible admonishes: “Quit being fashioned after this system of things, but be transformed by making your mind over, that you may prove to yourselves the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”—Romans 12:2.
Avoid Stumbling Others
Interestingly, often the very cultures that tolerate overindulgence frown upon it when a heavy drinker claims to be a man of God. In one small community in the South Pacific, an observer said: “I admire you people. You preach the truth. But the problem we see is that your men drink too much grog.” Reportedly, the individuals did not get drunk, yet that detail was not so obvious to many in the community. Observers could easily conclude that like most other men who engage in drinking sessions, the Witnesses get drunk too. Could a Christian minister who engages in long drinking sessions maintain a good reputation and accomplish his public ministry with freeness of speech?—Acts 28:31.
A report from one European country indicates that at times some brothers and sisters arrive at the Kingdom Hall with a strong smell of alcohol on their breath. This has disturbed the consciences of others. The Bible admonishes: “It is well not to eat flesh or to drink wine or do anything over which your brother stumbles.” (Romans 14:21) A godly view of alcoholic beverages will impel a mature Christian to be sensitive to the conscience of others, even if it means abstaining from alcohol under some circumstances.
Christians Are Unmistakably Different
Regrettably, this world has done much to offend Jehovah by misusing the good things he has given mankind, including alcoholic beverages. Each dedicated Christian should strive to avoid the prevalent ungodly views. Thus people will be able to “see the distinction between a righteous one and a wicked one, between one serving God and one who has not served him.”—Malachi 3:18.
When it comes to alcoholic beverages, the “distinction” between Jehovah’s Witnesses and the world ought to be unmistakable. Drinking alcoholic beverages is not central in the lives of genuine Christians. They do not experiment with the limits of their alcohol tolerance, coming dangerously close to drunkenness; nor do they allow alcoholic beverages to impair or in any way interfere with their serving God with their whole soul and with a clear mind.
As a group, Jehovah’s Witnesses have a godly view of alcoholic beverages. What about you? Each of us can count on Jehovah’s blessings as we follow the Bible’s instruction “to repudiate ungodliness and worldly desires and to live with soundness of mind and righteousness and godly devotion amid this present system of things.”—Titus 2:12.
a “Binge drinking was defined as the consumption of five or more drinks in a row for men and four or more drinks in a row for women.”—The Journal of the American Medical Association.
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Listen to Your Loved Ones
An immoderate drinker is often the last one to realize that he has a problem. Relatives, friends, and Christian elders should not hesitate to offer help to loved ones who lack moderation. On the other hand, if loved ones express discomfort over your alcohol-drinking habits, they likely have good reason for it. Consider what they are saying.—Proverbs 19:20; 27:6.