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The series That Makes Good Sense teaches from the book of Proverbs on the essential nature of godly wisdom to live life well. The series reminds believers that wisdom is about choosing to live rightly, righteously, and timely so that God is honored in all areas of life.
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Proverbs 20:1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” Proverbs 23:19, “Hear, my son, and be wise, and guide your heart in the way. Do not mix with winebibbers. That verse simply is stating, do not keep company with people who drink excessively. Do not be in places where people get intoxicated. The word of God is warning through this father to this son, to each of us not to mix with winebibbers “or with gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty and drowsiness will clothe the man with rags.”
Look at verse 29. “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly. At the last, it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart will utter perverse things. Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, or like one who lies at the top of the mast saying: They have struck me, but I was not hurt; they have beaten me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?”
Well, we trust God will use his word in each of our lives to guide us to live wisely and correctly for his glory. Sometime ago a friend of mine sent a humorous email about a man who went into a pub in Belfast, Ireland and he did this on a regular basis on a Friday night, and he established a pattern of going to the bartender and ordering three Guinnesses, although he was by himself. He would then carry the three Guinnesses down to the table where he was sitting and he would begin to drink and he would take a drink out of one of the glasses and another drink out of another glass and then onto the third glass.
When he come up for a second run, the bartender told him, “You know what this is draft beer. I just wanted to tell you it’s better drunk fresh from the draft and therefore you’d be better not letting the beer settle. I’d encourage you to drink one at a time.” The man said, “Oh, you don’t understand. He says, this is a custom I have committed myself to.” He said, “In fact, I’ve got two brothers who used to live here in Belfast, but one of them immigrated to Canada and another to America, and we made a promise that every Friday night we would get together and drink to each other’s health and happiness. They do it there, I do it here.” The bar attender said, “Okay, I understand now. Just disregard my comments.” This went on for a number of weeks. In fact, the rest of the bar came to understand why this man was sitting with three drinks, although he was sitting by himself.
On one particular Friday night, he came in and he ordered only two and he sat down and drank as he had done before he drank one. Then he drank another and he did this until the glasses were empty and as he come up for a second round, the bartender kind of swallowing hard because the bar itself had kind of descended in the silence thinking the worst. The bartender said, “You know what?” He says, “I can’t but help notice you’re only drinking two glasses of beer tonight. You wouldn’t mind if I intruded upon your grief and passed on the condolences of all the clients of the bar here at your great loss. We assume that you’ve lost one of your brothers.” The man smiled and he said, “Oh, you’ve misunderstood.” He says, “Just this past week,” he says, “I joined the local Baptist church and quit drinking.”
You were wondering where that story was going, right? Well, here’s a guy who hasn’t made up his mind as to whether he shouldn’t drink or whether he should drink, and if you were with us last week, we tackled the rather controversial issue. Can a Christian drink or should a Christian not drink? That’s a very serious question and we sought to address that biblically. We did come to understand by way of introduction that when it comes to drinking alcohol and the abuse of alcohol, all Christians are in agreement. Drunkenness is a sin. In fact, the Bible cast alcoholism not as a disease to be treated but as a sinful lifestyle to be repented off. According to Galatians 5:19-21, it is a sin of the flesh. Trauma and heredity set aside. The sons and daughters of Adam have all got a propensity to be addicts.
Our enslavement to sin makes us all vulnerable to addiction, including drugs and alcohol. Therefore, as far as the Bible is concerned, addiction to alcohol, a state of drunkenness is not a sickness. It is a moral malady that is the fruit of a life that is still out of relationship with God. It is a substituting of things for God. In fact, we saw last week by way of introduction that under the old covenant, a drunken lifestyle ended in capital punishment. We saw under the new covenant that if a believer fell into a habit of getting drunk, they were to be disfellowshipped from the church in the hope that they would repent. Should they not repent and live in that lifestyle, in habitual sin, they may just evidence the fact that they were among us, but they were not of us. Because 1 Corinthians 6:9 tells us that the drunkard will not inherit the kingdom of God.
This is a sin. It is not a sickness. If it were a sickness, it’s the only sickness in the Bible that God judges. If it’s an illness, it’s the only illness in the Bible, the Bible calls for repentance towards. This is not a sickness, this is not a disease. A lifestyle of drunkenness is a moral violation and contradiction of the law and character of God and it must be repented of or face the judgment of God. We saw that all Christians agree that drunkenness, drinking to excess, drinking to a point of intoxication is a sin and a violation of God’s law, but where Christians do not agree is whether they can drink in moderation or not. Now, I told you last week that I have taken a position I call voluntary abstinence and I’m going to defend it this morning. I’m going to present it to your conscience.
It’s not a command, it’s not a mandate, but it’s something I feel is underwritten by wisdom and practical reality and I’ll get to that in a moment, but I did state that I do take a position of voluntary abstinence which is predicated upon two basic ideas. One, nowhere does the Bible outrightly condemn the drinking of wine or alcoholic beverages. The Christian is not commanded to not drink, but while the Bible does not prohibit a Christian from drinking wine or other intoxicating beverages, all things considered, I believe that the dangers of using alcohol far outweigh the benefits and therefore I would commend to you, voluntary abstinence. And I want to come back this morning and move on. If you weren’t here last week, I encourage you to get the message because we concentrated on what I called the delight surrounding wine. We saw that wine in the Bible is not grape juice, generally speaking, predominantly it was fermented wine.
It had an alcoholic content to it. We saw that the Bible saw it as a gift from God. We saw that Jesus changed water into fermented wine. We saw that Jesus himself drank. We saw that it was part and parcel of the Jewish and Christian culture of that day, and therefore we reminded ourselves that the Bible does not mandate total abstinence. We reminded ourselves that this must never become a test of fellowship among us and we reminded ourselves that the position of moderation has probably been the most predominant position in the church across church history. But I want to move on to balance that with what I call the danger surrounding wine. I’m going to move through this as quickly as I can. It really deserves a message in itself, but I do want to give you four reasons why I would commend to you, voluntary abstinence.
But before we get there and it will lead us up to my own conviction, which I commend to you, we not only have the delight surrounding wine, we have the danger surrounding wine. Now I give you an example of delight. Let’s just mark it for your own benefit. Back in Proverbs 3:9 we read, “Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.” There is an example in the book of Proverbs of wine being presented as a blessing, a delight, a gift from God, but the Book of Proverbs balances that and we must balance our thinking about wine.
It’s not only a blessing, but like all of God’s good gifts along with others, this has sadly been put to bad uses. This gift has been prostituted, this gift has been abused and therefore while wine in its proper place is a gift to be enjoyed. Not in its proper place, not taken in proper proportion, it presents the human soul with great danger. A danger that you and I need to take seriously. A danger that might lead some of us to a position of voluntary abstinence but a danger nonetheless.
While the Bible is unembarrassed to see and show wine as a blessing from God, it is also quick to point out its danger. We saw that in Proverbs 20:1. We read it just a few moments ago by way of introduction, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” And then in Proverbs 23 following, we have one of the most graphic grizzly depictions of the possible destructive power of alcohol in the life of one who abuses it. Wine is not only an elixir of life, I’ve said that, it is an accelerator of death and therefore we must approach its use with great caution because it can be so easily abused given our fallenness, and that’s what the book of Proverbs wants to warn us about.
In Proverbs 20:1, we are encouraged to think about the fact that wine and strong drink can turn a on into a fool and a fighter. Here, alcohol is being personified. It’s like a brawler, it’s like a mocker. By the way, the reference here to strong drink probably refers to a kind of beer. Back in biblical times, the wine was made from crushed grapes that’s then fermented and became alcoholic in its content, but the strong drink was probably an alcohol close to a beer made from barley or pomegranates, beets, apples or honey. And if it was abused just like wine, it could make a full out of a man and turn his heart and his home into a battlefield. The point is here as one of the commentator puts it, the excessive use of intoxicants excites the drinker to be boisterous, aggressive and belligerent.
Certainly not behavior that a believer would want to be marked by on any occasion. So here the book of Proverbs is warning us. We’ve got another warning here about the danger surrounding wine. In Proverbs 23:19-21, we have a father who is concerned about a culture that’s awash with alcohol and so he shares his concern with his son. He encourages him not to go to places or keep company with those who are winebibbers. The term winebibber is not someone who takes alcohol and moderation a wine. Bibber is someone who drinks alcohol to excess, who lingers long in places where alcohol is sold and pedaled. The kind of person who in later on in this chapter who will linger long at the wine, go in search of mixed wine, look upon the wine glass when it is red and seductive and the father is saying to his son, “You got to watch your appetite and you got to watch your associations.”
By the way, I have to say this, I say it with grace, but I think if you’re a fastidious fundamentalist who takes a very hard line on alcohol and you tell your son not to drink, I hope you’re balanced because while this father says to his son, “Do not mix with winebibbers. He also says, “Do not sit with gluttonous eaters of meat.” And it seems to me that many Christian parents are frightened to death at the possibility that their son or their daughter could begin to drink alcohol, but they have no concern that they’re getting fat and overweight and unhealthy. And that’s just as much a concern for this father as the whole issue of alcohol, which is interesting. It’s balanced. We tend to be imbalanced. We tend to have our cultural taboos when the word of God addresses the whole issue of appetite and association, not only as it relates to what we drink but what we eat. But nevertheless, this father sits his son down and warns him and then he goes on to give his son a three-dimensional technical picture of the deadly results of alcohol, of its abuse.
Derek Kidner in his commentary on Proverbs tells us that what we have here in Proverbs 29 following is an unforgettable study of the drunkard as he has seen and as he sees. What we see when we look at him, what he sees when he looks at us. We’ll unpack this for five minutes or so here just in a moment, but here you have the most compelling and comprehensive description of the adverse effects of alcohol abuse in the entire Bible, and if you are willing to enjoy the liberty of drinking wine or alcoholic beverages, you and your family need to sit and take a look at this passage and understand the risks you run. Because while wine is a gift and a blessing, it is also a curse because of fallen nature and it brings such destruction and heartache to the homes of man. In fact, here’s what I said in my own notes about this.
What we have here in Proverbs is the real picture of many people’s experience when it comes to liquor, not the slick, not the sexy, not the slanted pictures of the beer commercial. In reality, this father is taking his son to Skid Row, taking his son to the morgue, taking his son to the house down the street where the wife is frightened and the children co and fear because their father is an abusive alcoholic and the home is falling apart. There’s not much food in the cupboards, there’s not much clothes in the wardrobe, there’s not much love in the home. Dad’s got an addiction. Dad’s in the bondage of alcohol and the heartache and the horror and the hurt. Solomon wants his son to see, and you and I need to spend a little moment thinking about the deadly deadening effects of alcohol abuse and if we are going to drink in moderation, we’ve got to guard our heart very closely.
If we choose to be voluntary in our abstinence, which is my position, then in many ways this is a problem we don’t have to worry about and we can concentrate on other issues of the heart because as one man has said, I think it was Warren Wiersbe in his commentary on Proverbs, in this case the man of Proverbs 23 took a drink, the drink took a drink and then the drink took the man. And that’s often a commentary, a man takes a drink, the drink takes a drink and then the drink takes the man. And so we need to think for a few moments about the danger surrounding wine. I spent the whole sermon on the delight surrounding it. Now what about the danger? Couple of things quickly. One, according to this passage, drink can wound a man’s body. Drink can wound a man’s body.
It’s interesting to me that Solomon uses the image of a serpent when speaking of alcohol and its consequences. It’s as if by metaphor he’s saying, “If you’re not careful because of your fallenness, you abuse this gift, you violate God’s law and in that case, the alcohol has become a poison. It’s a venom and it will destroy your body and it will rack your marriage and it will undo your home. It will rob you of employment. It will give the police too much work to do. It will bring the tone of a neighborhood down. Drink can wound man’s body.” Look at verse 29, “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints?” Now what’s the last two? These are physical effects. “Who has wounds without cause and redness of eyes?” Solomon depicts the drunkard with bloodshot eyes and a bleeding body and here we’re reminded that the body of a person is in view here that has deteriorating health directly due to alcoholic induced illness or indirectly due to his or others’ violent behavior.
We read later on that the drunkard gets a beating. He wakes up in the morning, his arm is in a cast, his eye is closed over and he can’t even remember who it was that gave him the beating, such is the effect of alcohol. It deadens a man’s senses where he becomes a punching bag for others and doesn’t even realize it. Or he wakes up with glass shards in his hand because he doesn’t remember that the night before in the fit of anger, he put his fist through the window of the home and frightened the life out of his wife and scared his children to death. This is the drunkard whose body is wounded and we need to understand this morning that physically speaking, alcohol exacts a tremendous price. The consumption of alcohol, according to the statistics that I have read, has created the largest health problem in the United States when measured in terms of morbidity.
It is the fourth-largest cause of death after heart disease, cancer and stroke. Alcohol is responsible for 108,000 deaths a year. 62 people are killed every day in an alcohol related automobile accident. Think about this. Value Jet had one accident and we shut them down. Yet the alcohol industry takes 62 lives a day and we say nothing. One half of all homicides, one third of all suicides, one half of all fires and one half of all drownings are directly due to alcohol. Drink can wound a man’s body. Secondly, drink can twist a man’s tongue. Did you notice verse 33, “Now we’re seeing what he sees. Your eyes will see strong things,” then we read, “And your heart will utter perverse things.” Under the influence of alcohol, a man will lose control of his senses and speech and will begin to utter perverse things. It’s a fact.
Don’t you know it? If you haven’t experienced it firsthand, maybe you’ve seen it as a third party. Drunkenness is often marked by vulgarity and blasphemy. I saw it many years as a police officer in Northern Ireland. In fact, my experience as a policeman is that the people we arrested were arrested less for what they put in their mouth but more for what came out of their mouth because of what they put in it. Drink can wound a man’s body. Drink can twist a man’s tongue. Drink can rape a man’s mind. Look at 33 again, “your eyes will see strange things.”
Actually in Proverbs 22:14, that same Hebrew term is used of strange women and most commentators agree that’s probably the meaning. Your eyes will see strange women. The man captured by alcohol has his judgment impaired. Not only does he lose control of his physical faculties, he loses moral restraint and he begins to act like a dog who seeks to satisfy his desires without shame or restraint. That’s what happens in most places where alcohol is sold and peddled on a Friday night. If you sit there long enough or you peep through the window, you’re going to see eventually lewdness and unrestrained sexual and moral behavior because alcohol has that effect. In fact, it’s interesting that alcohol is described itself here as a seductress. Look at verse 31, “Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup.” The Hebrew, there literally, is when it winks, when it gives you the eye.
Isn’t that funny? Alcohol here is described as a seductress who gives you the eye and robs you and undresses you of moral restraint and sobriety until you end up seeing strange women and are found in their company. Let us be honest, this drug throughout history has sponsored prostitution, accelerated divorce through adultery and it’s been a partner in the crime of rape. And many girls have had their drinks spiked and then raped, only to wake up the next morning with the physical results of that rape without the mental memory, but certainly with all the psychological baggage that comes from that violation. Drink can wound a man’s body, drink can twist a man’s tongue, drink can rape a man’s mind, drink can plunder a man’s home. The effects of drink are not limited, as you can imagine to the abuser. Tied to the chords of matrimony on paternity, others are dragged on with the drunkard.
When he becomes a mocker, when he becomes a brawler, according to chapter 20:1, he brings poverty to his home. Look at verse 21 of chapter 23, “For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty.” Look at verse 29, “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions?” Fights, division, acrimony. Drinking produces angry men and aggressive women. Drinking causes a man to fall down on his duties and the home begins to drift. Money that should have gone to the family goes to feed the habit. The alcoholic doesn’t think of anybody but himself. And then you have chaos and catastrophe in the home. And if you’ve witnessed it firsthand, it’s a tragic thing. If you’ve had to sit and counsel women or children, it’s a horrible thing to see the effects of alcohol abuse. In fact, according to George Gallup, nearly one fourth of all Americans cited alcohol or drug abuse is one of three factors most responsible for the high rate of divorce in our country.
Brings me to the last thought here. Moving very fast. Drink can kill a man’s future. The final snapshot of the alcoholic is a tragic, pathetic, sorry sight. Look at this man. Verse 34 and 35, “Yes, you’ll be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, or like one who lies at the top of the mast.” It’s a kind of interesting picture. Can you imagine someone lying on the top of a mast of a sailing ship? It’s a ridiculous picture. It’s the picture of a guy who’s totally oblivious to his surrounding and his danger, but that’s exactly the picture. When a man loses his sense of sobriety and self-control under the influence of alcohol, he becomes absolutely oblivious to the needs of others, to the harm he’s doing, and the danger he’s in. He’s like a man lying on the top of a mast, on a sailing ship.
You can strike him and he won’t feel it. You can beat him and he won’t know it and he’ll just get up again and go back to the bottle. That’s the sorry sight we have here. The picture is of a helpless and hopeless addict. I’m not much of a boxing fan. I don’t watch that many fights. I grew up during the days of Kenneth, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali and it’s never been as good since those days as far as I’m concerned. But an odd time I watch a boxing match and if you get a bad one, you’ve got this mismatch and this poor guy’s getting pummeled and you’ll see them there lying on the mat and the blood’s flying and the flesh is opening and you’d think if he had any sense he would just lie there, [inaudible 00:27:27] or say, you know what? Hit me in the jaw and put me out the next week.
But the poor guy just gets up, they get beaten down and you kind of start to feel sorry for the guy, don’t you? And you want the referee to call it a quits and that’s the picture here of the drunkard. He just keeps getting up to get a beating. It’s to see him sorry sight every Friday night, a disheveled man smelling of vomit, going to a home where he has fallen down on his responsibilities, where his wife is caught between a rock and a hard place. His children are more frightened of their father than anything. And sometimes when an alcoholic is caught in a moment of guilt, he’ll repent and maybe they’ll go out to dinner and he’ll lavish his kids with some gifts and they’ll go, “Daddy’s changing.” And they get their hopes up only to find the next week he’s back at the drink.
Just like Proverbs tells us here, “When I awake, I seek another drink.” And this man and this home and these people have no future because the drunk is condemned simply to repeat the past. That kind of picture takes the shine off a sparkling cup of wine, doesn’t it? It did for me. This is a gift from God. The fruit of the vine is a wholesome thing and God has given us all things to enjoy yet we’re not living in the garden, we’re outside the garden. We’ve got a corrupt nature.
Whose desires can be hijacked, where love can become lust, where appetite can become gluttony, where self-restraint can become lewdness. And Proverbs says, here’s a wise thing. Look at the drunkard and look at what he sees and bear in mind, the danger surrounding wine. Which brings me to the decision surrounding wine. Wine is a blessing, but wine is a curse. Rightly used it’s an lecture of life. Wrongly used it’s an accelerator of death. It is a biblical liberty to enjoy, but conversely, it is a liberty that if you’re not careful can become a bondage. And so I tell you right out the gate, there is no easier universal answer to the question, can the Christian drink or should the Christian drink?
He can and he doesn’t need to. So what should his decision be? We know that different Christians have taken different positions. In fact, we saw that last week. I won’t turn to it, in Luke 7:33-34, we read John the Baptist came not drinking and not eating and you called him a demon. Jesus said, I came drinking on eating and you called me gluttonous. There we have a case where it seems that John the Baptist abstained from drinking fermented wine and Jesus did drink fermented wine. The two positions side by side. The Bible seems to hold out this balance of it’s a gift that can be abused. It’s a blessing that can become a curse. Therefore, on my part, I’ll tell you my rationale for taking a position I call voluntary abstinence.
As I said earlier, while the Bible does not condemn or see as evil, the moderate drinking of alcohol, all things considered concerning me, concerning it and considering the times that I’m in, I believe that the dangers of using alcohol far outweigh the delights and the most sane and safe path for me and I trust for my children will be to be a voluntary abstainer. That’s not based on commands or mandates in the Bible. I think it’s based on principles. It’s a wisdom issue. Remember what we said at the very beginning of this series? Wisdom literature is quite distinct in the Bible, you have the law and the commandments and the stipulations, you have prophecy and then you have wisdom which are truisms. They’re not promises, they’re principles, they’re observable realities that have been tested by time and have proven to be wise in terms of a course of action to follow.
And I’ve said it and I need to repeat it again, abstinence is not mandated and it’s not commanded, but it seems to me abstinence falls into what you might call wisdom, that there are observable, workable, applicable realities that would argue for voluntary abstinence. That’s my position. I’m not abstaining because I believe it makes me holier. I’m not abstaining because I believe that will prove to you I’m a more mature Christian. I know many mature holy Christians that do drink in moderation, but I think there are good reasons and I have certain ends in view that I think make voluntary abstinence a good option for you and your family.
Number one, the argument of comparison. I could have made this statement along the way, but I didn’t because I didn’t need to make the argument that wine in the Bible was fermented and it had the potential of making you drunk. But what I withheld, and this is an important fact that I want you to think about what I call the argument of comparison. What I withheld is this, that there is a very relative difference between the strength of biblical wine compared to today’s alcoholic beverages.
In fact, I think it would be true to say that the alcoholic content of wine today on spirits and beer today would come closer to the strong drink of the Old Testament. And if you read the Old Testament, there were greater warnings about strong drink than there were concerning wine. In fact, I never find strong drink commanded in the Old Testament. I do find wine commanded but strong drink, no except as a sedative for the dying according to Proverbs 31. It seems to me that the Bible makes a necessary distinction between wine and strong drink you’ll often find that. Proverbs 20:1, Leviticus 10:8-9 and so on. You’ll find that these two things are made distinct and different and it seems too, that the stronger the drink, the greater the Bible’s admonition. Now follow me on this. This is the argument of comparison.
Here’s what my research has taught me, and I’m not going to give you it all, but here’s what I’ll pass on. The wine imbibed in Solomon’s day and particularly Jesus’ day was generally not unmixed and was highly diluted by water, on average up to three or four parts water. Even the fermented unmixed wine where the fermentation was completed as the grape juice was stored in earth and pots or leather skins, even when it was fully fermented, it probably had alcoholic content of no more than seven to 10%, certainly enough to get you drunk. And that’s why we have the warnings in the Bible about getting drunk with wine in biblical times. But here’s the point, it is much less than today’s liquor. Remember distillation and the fortifying of wines and beers and spirits is something that was brought about much later in history.
And in general, I think it would be true to say that fortified wines and distilled spirits today have an alcoholic content of anywhere between 20 and 40% proof, some way beyond that. And the point I simply want to make is that while I have as an expositor brought out from the text of God’s word, the fact that in the Bible times, Old and New, they drank fermented alcoholic wine. As an expositor, I’ve got to be careful because I’ve got to bring their world into our world and we’ve got to be careful about taking our world back into their world. And the point I’m simply making is I don’t think I am justified to fully without reservations say that since the Bible commands the drinking of wine, it therefore would endorse the drinking of fortified wine and heavy spirits in our culture.
And therefore me, as I look at that argument of comparison, I realize that the alcohol available to me as a Christian to drink is much more dangerous than the alcohol which was available to those in biblical times. And if it was dangerous to them, how much more dangerous is it to me? Therefore, the argument of comparison has brought me to take a position of voluntary abstinence. There’s so much danger involved with the effects of distillation in today’s alcohol that I am not comparing apples with apples if I think that the biblical wine is the same as the wine that I drink at a restaurant should that have been the case.
In fact, interestingly, although we’re outside the Bible here, Second Maccabees, which is a book belonging to the apocrypha, but it belongs within kind of Jewish traditions, Second Maccabee’s 15:39 tells us this, “It is harmful to drink wine alone or again to drink water alone,” which is a reference to the fact that often in that society and on many occasions when we read about wine in the New Testament, they were drinking wine that had been diluted. Here’s the second argument, what I call the argument of choice. Christians are free to drink a modicum of wine. I can’t argue against that biblically speaking and perhaps other beverages, but just as they are free to drink, we must [inaudible 00:38:35] to say they’re also free not to drink.
In fact, some in the Bible even exercised that liberty. There were those who voluntarily took the Nazarite vow in Numbers 6:2-7. John the Baptist certainly took that vow. Where they took a vow that they would not touch wine or strong drink. The fact that Paul had to tell Timothy to take wine might infer that Timothy had decided not to take alcoholic beverages and Paul told him to break that prohibition for the sake of his stomach. But here’s the point. The drinking of wine and other beverages is a choice, but like all choices, we’ve got to weigh them up.
I could drink, but am I going to drink? I could drink, but I don’t think I will drink. Whatever your position is or not, you’ve got to ask yourself on either side of that fence, what’s making me make this choice and what are the consequences of that choice? Because Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23, “While all things are lawful for me, not all things are expedient.” There are many things I could do, but I won’t do them because they take me away from things far more important or they may have a hidden danger involved in them. And that seems to me to be why it’s counsel to me. Prudence argues to me that if there is a risk in drinking alcohol and considering the comparative difference between alcohol then and alcohol now, prudence seems to argue to me, why mess with it?
It’s lawful but it’s not expedient, it’s not helpful. In fact, a number of things to say about that, I’ll just underline one of them. See to me as I think about it, when I consider all the things and factor them all in, alcohol has no real value whatsoever compared to the evil it could cause me or the damage it could do to my family. So why mess with it prudence seems to say to me. If you think about it, if alcohol was dangerous in biblical times, more dangerous today. If you think about it, given the wide choice of non-alcoholic beverages and many of them taste mighty fine, why would you flirt with the danger of drinking wine and saying, “Well pastor, I like to taste.” Well, I understand that. [inaudible 00:41:21] We’re not aesthetics. God has given us things to taste and enjoy, but seems to me you know what? There are so many non-alcoholic beverages that I can taste and get excited about without running the risk.
And then finally, if you think about it, it is a danger to expose you and your family to drinking. Of course it’s a liberty and of course many people have shown exemplary restraint, but the statistics tell us that for everyone that ticks that first drink, one out of 10 will become an alcoholic. Let me give you an analogy, thought about it one day as a young man, I thought about it also as a father. You go up to Detroit, you’re booked on the Northwest flight, you could down the gang way, you’re about to get on the plane. The air hostess says, “By the way, you need to know that when we’re at cruising altitude, one at every 10 seats on this aircraft are going to fall out the bottom of the fuselage.”
You go, “Where are they? I don’t want to sit on them.” And the air hostess says, “I can’t tell you where that is. We really don’t know. But one out of every 10 seats are going to fall out the bottom of the plane.” Where’s Southwest or where’s American Airways, right? But that’s the analogy. The statistics tell us and research tells us one out of 10, and we don’t know which one out of the 10. We’ll deal with gambling next week, but I don’t like the odds on that one. I don’t like the odds on that one. Prudence, if I’m fierce with the choice of an airline where no seats fall out or an airline where one in 10 fall out, it’s a no-brainer to me, especially if the other plan is serving beverages that are still as tasty but not as damaging or deadly. Here’s the third argument, the argument of crisis.
This is an interesting one. Alcohol is a scourge, isn’t it? Let’s admit that, even if you enjoy alcohol and God has blessed your self-control and I salute it, not one of us who’s not being honest would say that alcohol hasn’t wreaked a tremendous price upon our culture. It’s a scourge really. When you consider everything, the downside far out wears the upside. Absenteeism at work, automobile accidents, health problems, violence, divorce, domestic and sexual abuse. Alcohol has drowned more people than the sea and therefore it seems to me as salt and light in the world, I believe that a good path for the Christian is abstinence. Because in abstinence we can lead the way. We can show through our happy abstinence and I mean that, happy abstinence. I want you to know that my abstinence is not driven because I am a scrupulous Pharisee and I don’t like life and I don’t enjoy restaurants and I don’t enjoy the company of other people who may drink.
I do. That’s not what drives me, but I think if I live voluntary abstinence before a culture that’s drowning in alcohol, I can lead the way happily and joyfully to show my neighbors that there is living water in a relationship with Jesus Christ that will make you never thirst again. And given the crisis, I want them to see that they don’t have to depend upon alcohol to escape life’s problems, to drown their sorrows in. God is a refuge and a very present help in times of trouble. I don’t know if time to turn, but would you mark it down and read it this afternoon, the 1 Corinthians 7:26. It’s interesting me where Paul advocates singleness because of what he calls listen, “A present crisis.” And what we can tell reading the commentators is Paul anticipated that another [inaudible 00:45:50] persecution was coming and so he thought about this.
He said, “You know what? While you can marry and you could Murray, I would just give you this piece of advice, maybe stay single.” Because he says, “Persecution is difficult enough to handle in a state of singleness. Imagine the multiplied pen if you watch your wife and your children go through the persecution.”
So he advocates because of a present crisis that they abstain from a liberty that is rightly theirs. I hope I’m not making too much of that tax, but I think that is something that drove me to abstinence. I have liberty to drink and by the help of the Holy Spirit, I think I could live a life where I never abuse the gift of alcohol, but given the fact of my fallenness, but more importantly the fallenness of our culture without Christ and the havoc that’s being wreaked by alcohol, I am going to withdraw that liberty. I’m not going to mess with that issue so that I can say to our culture that’s in crisis regarding alcohol, “You don’t need it.”
In fact, I’m not going to get to the fourth point. This is the last point because time’s gone. I was interested to learn, I quoted Spurgeon last week, if you remember, kind of supporting my position of voluntary abstinence, here’s his quote, “I abstain myself from alcoholic drink in every form and I think others would be wise to do the same, but of this, each one must be a guide unto himself.” That’s exactly a position of voluntary abstinence. Spurgeon is saying, “I’ve decided not to drink. I can’t make you take that position because the Bible doesn’t allow me to do that. But you be guided by your convictions and your conscience. Mine has brought me to a place of abstinence.” But here’s what I learned this week in further study. That wasn’t always Spurgeon’s position. Did you know that? Spurgeon once drank even as a Christian?
I came up with another quote. That’s one of the dangers of having your sermons recorded because you can ultimately forget what you said five years earlier and you may even contradict yourself or in Spurgeon’s case, we find a change. Here’s what he said some years earlier, “But though I am not a total abstainer, I hate drunkenness as much as any man breathing and have been the means of bringing many poor creatures to relinquish this beastly indulgence.”
I am not an abstainer. I am an abstainer. I was talking to my friend Phil Johnson this week who’s the director of Grace to You in California. He’s an expert on Spurgeon. He’s actually got a website dedicated to Spurgeon’s ministry in sermons. I said to Phil, “Can you explain to me how Spurgeon was an abstainer and then beforehand, he wasn’t an abstainer?” He said, “Yeah.” He said, “For many years, Spurgeon drank and had no problem with it. But then as the Temperance movement in Victorian, England took root and Spurgeon saw the damage that alcohol was doing to the homes and hearts of the Victorian English, he decided to voluntarily abstain in the midst of that social crisis, to send a message through its culture.” Seems to me that’s a good argument.
You could argue perhaps with pastor, would it not be a good example for me to drink and show self-control, but you have got the Holy Spirit. You’ve got the Holy Spirit. Your unseeing friend doesn’t. And there’s one other charge I’ve got to answer because I actually was charged with it in talking to a pastor friend of mine recently who was sitting in my company drinking a beer, and we talked about this issue and he said, “But your concern about the culture, should that not lead you not to have sex?” Follow me for one moment, then we’re done. Because that’s a good question because his argument would be this, if you’re going to look at the culture and all that’s happening and the sin, and then you’re going to kind of send a message about culture by restraining your liberty. Well, what about sexual immorality? What about pornography?
What about prostitution? Are you going to send a message to the culture then? You know what, then you can do without sex and I’ll do without sex. That’s a good question. Why should we restrain our liberty on this issue? Scratch on the head for a few moments and said, okay, what’s my answer to that? It wasn’t a very good one at the moment but about a day later I got it. I said, “Here’s my argument with that. Sexuality is part and parcel of my nature and my humanity. It is fundamental to who I am. It will express my [inaudible 00:50:44] as I love my wife. It will further the propagation of the human race. These are all important issues. Drinking alcohol in no ways plays into my nature as fundamental to my lifestyle. I can give that up and I think in many ways we should give it up as a liberty to send a message to the culture, but sexuality is another issue.
Here’s what I want to say in closing, and I’m just going to pray. A couple of things I want to remind you of. Good people have differed on this, and I’m sure among us there are differences. I trust that you will be fair to the text of scripture and see that wine was fermented and alcoholic, even though diluted it still had the potential of making one drunk in the Old and the New Testament. And therefore it is not a true statement to say that the Bible condemns drinking alcohol.
But I trust too, that as you think through the possibility of enjoying that liberty, that you’ll think about the argument of comparison and you’ll think about the argument of choice and you’ll think about the argument of crisis. And what I commend to you, I ask that God will either persuade you and your conscience of or should you take the alternative position, that God will give you grace to show self-restraint and continue to be a witness for him in your way. And I pray that God will guard us from ever making this a test of fellowship among each other. It ought not to be.
And also, should you be here this morning and you fit the M.O. of the man of Proverbs 23, my heart goes out to you. This great danger has wreaked a tremendous price on your body, on your marriage, and if unrepented of, it will wreak a tremendous price upon your soul. And I would invite you in the love of Jesus Christ to meet me at the front after I’ve prayed, we’d love to point you to the one who can set prisoners free, the one who not only can turn water into wine, but turn sinners into saints. I want you to know this morning, whatever you’ve been, you are not condemned to repeat it. If the par of Jesus Christ can come into your life and break that bondage and break that addiction for if any man be in Christ, he’s a new creature, and all things pass away and all things become you. Amen. Oh friend, come and talk to us. We’d love to bring you the hope of the gospel and the thirst quenching message of Jesus Christ.