Brought up by parents at opposite poles of the spectrum (my mother a temperance union officer and my father an amateur connoisseur) I’ve wrestled with conflicting ideas about alcohol’s place in the Christian lifestyle. With no definitive bible verse stating whether the consumption of alcohol is right or wrong, we find ourselves sipping from different theological cups. I’ve seen believers turn defensive and hypercritical toward each other at the mere mention of alcohol, breaking into spats that rival the ugliest barroom brawls. But I’ve discovered that instead of outlining a code of judgment, God’s word uses the subject of alcohol to pop the cork on a discussion of how to live a Spirit-filled life.
Throughout scripture wine is used as offering to God, medicine, and a celebratory symbol of blessings. In all of these circumstances the wine is carefully measured. Excessive drinking, and what it leads to, is what the Lord takes issue with. Romans 13:13-14 encourages us to “behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (NIV).
Generously, the Lord gives us an alternative to intoxication. Ephesians 5:18-20 says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Instead of getting drunk, we’re invited to be filled with the Holy Spirit and act as powerful agents of good in the world. Both alcohol and the Spirit can influence our language and conduct. We decide what overpowers us.
Whether we choose to entirely abstain or enjoy alcohol responsibly in moderation, we are invited to be filled with the Holy Spirit. In Him we are united as a family of believers charged with holding each other accountable, not judging one another based on variances of opinion. Instead of dividing into opponents, we can treat our differences as opportunities to practice love. Romans 14:13 instructs, “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” This means not insisting our viewpoints on fellow believers whose stances are just as legitimate as ours, but being considerate and mindful of what may lead them to sin. Remember, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).