by Ben Jones
Let me begin by saying that I am not sure at all that I consider the act of drinking in moderation (otherwise known as social drinking) to be a sin in and of itself; I would never condemn or sit in judgment of those who participate in such social activity. Having said that, I want to share the reasons why I personally have decided not to make, drinking, or even social drinking, any part of my lifestyle. I believe my decision not to drink at all is a personal conviction that each individual has to make as they are so led by the Holy Spirit. It is also important to mention that I do not isolate, and would never isolate myself from those that drink. I feel I can support my conviction in this area both in conjunction with and separate from my Christian perspective. First, I’ll mention the primary reasons why I do not drink, which have little to do with my faith and beliefs. In the second part, I’ll talk briefly about the Scripture that deals with alcohol and “strong drink” and implications therein.
I simply do not like the taste of alcohol. Granted, the very brief sips that I have accepted from my friends does not give me a strong opinion on the taste of all types of alcohol. But those few sips tasted quite terrible to me, and was enough for me to have no desire to try it again.
Drinking is expensive. Alcoholic beverages are almost always more expensive than their non-alcoholic versions. I have been amazed at the amount of money that my friends and acquaintances have spent on alcohol. On a larger scale, alcoholism is cited as one of the biggest reasons for homelessness. When there are bills to be paid, many times the needed money goes to the local bartender.
I don’t like the smell. Why would I want to drink something that I don’t even like to be around because of the scent? Though wine has little scent, the smell of strong liquor, and especially beer, have a terrible smell to me.
I have no desire to experience the after-effects of drinking. I have seen the way a night of drinking has ended for so many of my drinking friends. The vomiting and the morning hang-overs I have witnessed certainly does not make me want to participate in what caused all this discomfort and pain, even in moderation.
I don’t like the way drinking affects the body physiologically. Whenever any person consumes alcohol, it ALWAYS affects them to some extent. Actually, the way alcohol distributes itself throughout your entire body is unlike any other food or beverage, and quite frankly, creeps me out. An excerpt from the encyclopedia might explain more easily: “Alcohol is not digested like other foods. Instead of being converted and transported to cells and tissues, it avoids the normal digestive process and goes directly to the blood stream. About 20 percent of the alcohol is absorbed directly into the blood through the stomach walls and 80 percent is absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine. Because it is distributed so quickly and thoroughly, the alcohol affects the central nervous system even in small concentrations. The brain, liver, heart, pancreas, lungs, kidneys, and every other organ and tissue system are infiltrated by alcohol within minutes after it passes into the blood stream. ”
Effects of alcohol on a few body systems:
Liver– Imbalances can be created which can lead to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hyperuricemia (as in arthritis or gout), fatty liver (which may lead to hepatitis or cirrhosis), and hyperlipemia (build-up of fats sent to the bloodstream which leads to heart problems).
Central Nervous System- When alcohol acts on the CNS, intoxication occurs, affecting emotional and sensory function, judgment, memory and learning ability. Smell and taste are dulled. The brain is the organ that is most affected by alcohol, and proves that it is being damaged through the drinker’s behavior changes and emotional distress. Three noticeable effects of alcohol injury to the brain: memory loss, confusion, and augmentation. (Augmentation is a physiological response to alcohol which results in hyper-alertness to normal situations, perceiving light as brighter or sounds as louder than usual, or the drinker’s becoming extremely sad or angry for no apparent reason.) Blackouts, or loss of memory for a period during drinking, are a physical effect of alcohol on the brain. They occur as alcohol cuts off the supply of oxygen to the brain. Lack of oxygen supply to the brain can kill tens of thousands of brain cells every time a person becomes intoxicated.
Blood- One effect of drinking alcohol is “blood-sludging” where the red blood cells clump together causing the small blood vessels to plug up, starve the tissues of oxygen, and cause cell death. With this increased pressure, capillaries break, creating red eyes in the morning. Other effects of alcohol on the blood include: anemia; sedation of the bone marrow (which reduces the red and white blood count, and weakens the bone structure); lowered resistance to infection; and a decrease in the ability to fight off infections.
The Gastrointestinal Tract- Alcohol increases acid in the stomach. That can result in gastritis or stomach or intestinal ulcers. Drinking causes a steep rise in the blood sugar; the pancreas responds by producing insulin which causes a fast drop in blood sugar and the symptom of low blood sugar or hypoglycemia.
Symptoms can include dizziness, headaches, lack of ability to concentrate, depression, anxiety, light- headedness, tremors, cold sweats, heart palpitations, loss of coordination, and upset stomach. In time, the drinker’s overworked pancreas may stop producing insulin and diabetes can result.
The Muscles– Alcohol reduces blood flow to the muscles, including the heart, causing muscle weakness and deterioration. One outcome is cardiomyopathy (sluggish heart). Another outcome, arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
The Endocrine System- This system controls the body’s hormones and includes the pineal, pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands, and the ovaries or testes. Alcohol sedates these glands, resulting in under- production of hormones; effects include increased susceptibility to allergies. In higher doses, it can decrease sexual functioning: in men, by decreasing the frequency of erections, decreasing the maintenance of erections, decreasing penile size during erection, and increasing the amount of time between erections, in women by interfering with normal processes of sexual stimulation, and blocking orgasmic response.
Prolonged use of alcohol can cause infertility in both men and women.
Alcohol affects practically everything in your entire body! Probably the most disturbing effect to me is the change in synaptic response within the brain which occurs with the consumption of any alcohol whatsoever. This results in at least SOME level of impaired judgment, lack of alertness, slower response time, impaired motor skills, and the list goes on. I hope we all would want to be in control of our actions. The consequences of not being in control, even only once, could prove to be life-changing – for us as well as others. I don’t want a foreign substance in my system to be making decisions for me. I want to be completely in control of myself at all times, and I think it irresponsible to have it otherwise. Also, I always think of a situation where I am with a female and someone attacks her. Any alcohol in my system would affect my ability to defend or protect her, as is the nature and instinct of most men. It also has been proven that an affinity for alcoholism is passed down in your genes.
Most of the worst situations, problems, and tragedies in our society are directly linked to alcohol. There is no denying the damage and social ills that alcohol has had on our generation. Alcohol is the PRIMARY catalyst in child abuse, spouse abuse, and car accidents. 6000 babies are born deformed every year because of alcohol. A pregnant mother who drinks 2 ounces of wine a day has a 74% higher chance of having a
deformed baby. This is not to mention the part it has played in prostitution, marriage problems, divorce, medical conditions, anger problems, poor job performance, and suicide, which are just a few more on a long list of problems that can be directly or indirectly attributed to the part alcohol has played in our society. I recognize that most would say that these things come about from the misuse of alcohol, but why would I want to have anything to do with something that leads to so much pain and suffering in so many lives? Is something that has caused so much death and sorrow really a part of the Christian life? I have never spoken to a social drinker that intended on becoming an alcoholic, but every alcoholic I have known first drank socially. Do I believe that a person can be a social drinker all their life and it never lead to anything more than that?
Yes, I do. But what about their children? That leads me to my next point:
I don’t want to be responsible for increasing the chance of my children developing a drinking problem. What I might be able to handle in moderation, my children may handle in excess; if it’s in my home, it’s available. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism gave a revealing statistic. Statistically, 1 in 3 people that drink any alcohol at all will become hooked to some degree and be considered as having a drinking problem. People who have a family history of alcoholism have 3x the risk of becoming alcoholics. In a home where where mom or dad drink at all, the chances of their child developing a drinking problem is quite high. Is it worth the risk? Let me use my extended family as an example for why I will have an alcohol-free household. There are eight specific cases in my extended family where the parents drank socially and only in moderation, but their children developed a major drinking problem. In three of these cases, it led to the child committing suicide under the influence of alcohol. The lives of the other five children consist of failed marriages, jail time, rehab, wife and child abuse, drug use, and children out of wedlock. Does having an alcohol-free home guarantee my children will never develop a drinking problem? No, but it certainly decreases the chances, and that’s enough for me. I would never want to contribute to the possibility of bringing such a destructive habit into the lives of the ones I love the most. At the very least, if they do choose to drink, and later develop a problem, I know that they did not get it out of my refrigerator. They didn’t see drinking modeled in front of them at home.
I also don’t drink because of personal experience with drunk drivers. When I was seven years old, my dad and I were blind-sided by a drunk driver. I temporarily lost my eyesight and both of us could have died. This is not to mention many other cases where personal friends have lost babies, wives, and loved ones to a reckless drunk driver. My dad works with college students as a campus minister, and has had to sit at numerous bedsides where parents have lost their children to accidents due to drunk driving. Alcohol is to blame for so much heartache.
My dad’s story is eye-opening to me. Finding nothing in the Bible clearly stating that drinking in moderation was wrong, he continued to drink after his salvation experience. After going away to college, and desperately trying to win his drinking track buddies to the Lord with no success at all, he decided to do something different. He felt the Lord leading him to give up drinking beer for a while. Dad LOVED the taste of beer, so this was not an easy commitment to make. Nevertheless, he was willing to go the extra mile and at least try and see what would happen. Before that semester was over, two of his track buddies made professions of faith in Dad’s dorm room. Dad decided then and
there: If Christ would lay down His life for him, then he could lay down his beer for Him. He’s never had a drink since. My parents decided to raise me and my sister in an alcohol- free household and we both have chosen to do the same when we have families. Both of us have friends that drink A LOT, but we love them all the same. It is a personal conviction and decision of mine. With the exception of a few of my experiences within a Christian fraternity, I should add that I have never been put down, made fun of, or excluded from anything because I don’t drink. The only other person that I would want to hold a similar personal conviction is my future wife. I don’t think that God would place that strong of conviction on one life partner without it being the conviction of the other.
So though it’s quite rare to find these days, even in the church community, I trust that God will send me a mate that shares this conviction, or eventually decides to.
All of these factors are reason enough for me to choose to abstain from drinking, even without consideration of religious conviction. But what about the Christian for whom none of the above reasons are a factor? Let’s say they love the smell and taste of alcohol; they can afford it, and they aren’t concerned with the small physiological effects or morning hangovers since they don’t plan on getting really drunk in the first place. For them, the role alcohol has played in society is simply gross abuse of an otherwise good thing, and they have every intention of teaching their children proper limits of alcohol consumption when they are of age. Is there any other reason for them to reconsider the issue of drinking? At this point, its worth turning to Scripture to see what it has to say.
Most Christians would agree that the Bible is quite clear on the fact that becoming drunk is a sin. Here are a few examples:
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Holy Spirit” -Eph. 5:18
“Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness…”
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise” -Prov. 20:1
“Drunkards… shall [not] inherit the kingdom of God” -1 Cor. 6:10
“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long over wine. Those who go to taste mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper, Your eyes will see strange things and your mind will utter perverse things. And you will be like one who lies down in the middle of the sea, or like one who lies down on the top of mast. They struck me, but I did not become ill; They beat me, but I did not know it, When shall I awake? I will seek another drink” Prov. 23:29-35
I feel like I know lots of people like the person described in Proverbs. There are 627 scripture verses referencing drinking wine or strong drink. All but a few are warnings about the dangers of alcohol. In fact, there is more said about alcohol consumption than adultery, lying, cheating, idolatry, or blaspheming. There’s also plenty of verses about the sinfulness of any kind of addiction. Christians are commanded to not allow their bodies to be “mastered” by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Peter 2:19). Drinking alcohol in excess is undeniably addictive. So again, yes, drunkenness is a sin and addiction is a sin, but what about drinking in moderation?
Alcoholism in our country is a serious problem, a growing epidemic worsening every year. I am regularly told that it’s all about responsibility and moderation, but where do we draw the line on moderation? Is it when we feel light-headed? Is it after just one beer, or maybe one beer and one glass of wine? Should we not stay as far from the line as possible? This principle indeed applies to other issues in the Christian life, beyond that of alcohol, some of which may be an even greater personal struggle for me, but for now, the topic is alcohol. At what point should you be considered drunk? This is only to say that ‘social drinking’ or ‘drinking in moderation’ seems to be a very subjective matter.
I am often quoted the Scripture verses in which Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana. As His first miracle, this is frequently used as justification for social drinking. The story can be found in John 2:1-11. Jesus attended a large wedding in which the wine had run out. Jesus ordered six waterpots containing 20 or 30 gallons each to be filled with water. When the headwaiter tasted the water turned wine he stated, “Every man serves the good wine first and when men have become drunk, then that which is poorer; you have kept the good wine until now.” Think of the contradictory implications that seem to rise if this was indeed alcoholic wine. First, the headwaiter’s statement implies that most of the people were already drunk, and now Jesus was going to provide 120 to 180 more gallons of wine to allow them to become even more drunk (which we’ve already seen to be a sin)? Second, pregnant women would certainly have been present at the wedding and should not drink alcohol due to the increased chance of child deformities. Third, any kind of priest (Leviticus 10:9) or king (Prov. 31:4) was not supposed to partake in wine at all. Would Jesus have held himself to a lower standard than these? Fourth, you will see there is strong evidence that the finest wine in the land was not alcoholic- it was the purest, freshest form of “the fruit of the vine” or grape juice. Remember that there was no refrigeration in these times, so grape juice standing in the heat of the Middle East would ferment very quickly. The finest wine was wine so new and fresh that it had not begun to ferment. Samuel Lee from Cambridge University wrote, “The root of the Greek word in Hebrew is ‘yow-when’. The word does not only refer to intoxicating drink made by fermentation, but more so to a thick unintoxicating syrup or jam produced by boiling to make it suitable. They stored it in skin bottles, this grape syrup was stored in new wine skins to prevent fermentation. It was referred to as ‘the best wine’ and as ‘new wine.’” Classical writer, Horace, in 65BC, wrote of “unintoxicating wine being the best wine.” Aristotle wrote that “at the time of Christ, during Roman times, of sweet wine, called glucus, it would not intoxicate, and that the wine of Arcadia was so thick that it was necessary to serve it from the skin bottle, in which it was absorbed, or stored, and dissolved in scrapings which would water it down and serve it and it would be a delicious grape drink.” These are just a few pieces of evidence that show that the best wine may not have been intoxicating.
But just for argument’s sake, let’s say that the wine was fermented and alcoholic to some extent. We know that in New Testament times, the water was not very clean.
Without modern sanitation efforts, the water was often filled with bacteria, viruses, and all kinds of contaminants. The same is true in many third-world countries today. As a result, people often drank wine (or grape juice) because it was far less likely to be contaminated. In that day, wine was fermented (containing alcohol), but not to the degree it is today. It is incorrect to say that it was simply always grape juice, but it is also incorrect to say that it was the same as the wine commonly used today. In fact, most wine in those times was 8 parts water and 1 part wine; wine was basically used to disinfect the water. This meant that it took a great deal of wine to become drunk. Some people cite 1 Timothy 5:23 as justification for drinking. Here, Paul was instructing Timothy to stop drinking the water (which was probably causing his stomach problems) and instead drink wine. We’ve already seen the reason for this, and to use this logically, you would also have to stop drinking water, which is nonsense. If one studies the scriptures closely and takes the time to research the context, time period, situation, alcohol content, and the lack of alternatives, these scripture references fail as a convincing argument for drinking.
Scripture also forbids a Christian from doing anything that might offend other Christians or might encourage them to sin against their conscience (1 Corinthians 8:9- 13). Here we see verses about not causing another brother to stumble. A perfect example of this lies in the situation with one of my closest friends. He was dealing with depression and also attending a discipleship group for support and encouragement. But the group would regularly get together and go to a bar to drink. They may have been able to drink ‘in moderation,’ but in my friend’s state of mind, he was very susceptible to the effects of the alcohol. He had never drunk alcohol before, but due to the influence of his Christian discipleship group, he has turned to alcohol to deal with his issues and currently has a serious drinking problem. Let’s say you are a baseball coach, or youth pastor, or history teacher and you are out with the boys having a drink. If you happen to run into one of your students or players, how can they know how much you’ve had to drink? How do they know it’s your first and only beer? By your example, they may formulate in their minds that ‘if it’s ok for him and he turned out pretty good, then it must be ok for me.’ But what if they can’t handle it the way you can? Is it worth that kind of risk? I would hope the answer to that is an easy ‘no.’ Some may argue, “If I stop everything that might cause a weaker brother to stumble, then I guess I can’t dance at clubs, wear make-up, pierce my belly button, get a tattoo, etc.” My response would be that none of these carry the consequences and have the potential of destroying a life like alcohol addiction.
So with the extra cost and all the alternatives, why do people drink in the first place? For the vast majority of them, it is because they like the “feeling” alcohol gives them. It livens up their life for a short time. It soothes their mind; it helps them relax and forget their troubles if only for a short time. Even for those who say they just like the taste, it is a fact that the most conservative of social drinkers will more than likely turn to it when they are in trouble, depressed, in pain, broken hearted, stressed, over-whelmed, angry, treated unfairly, in a crisis, or just have that overall feeling of hopelessness. In other words, in many cases, they are looking for something else to fill the void that only Jesus can fill. The relief that alcohol can provide is only temporary; the problem is still there in the morning. What Jesus has to offer will get us through the next day, and the next day, and the next. God made us with a hole in our soul that only He can fill. Until we truly find Jesus, that hole produces emptiness – something alcohol can only fill for a short time. Alcohol does not heal the heart; it only makes it numb. It doesn’t bring joy, fulfillment, or peace – all of which every individual hungers for in one way or another.
These are all things Jesus can and wants to give us if we give Him the opportunity. What an awesome way to be a witness about what God can do in a person’s life!
In summary, I would say that the Bible does not explicitly forbid the consumption of alcohol altogether. Alcohol, consumed in small quantities can be neither harmful or addictive. However, though it is a personal decision, due to the biblical concerns regarding alcohol and its effects, due to the easy temptation to over-consume alcohol, and due to the possibility of causing offense and/or stumbling of others, it is my opinion that it is usually best for a Christian to abstain entirely from drinking alcohol. Sometimes the question is not “Is it right or wrong?” but the question is “Is it wise?” Sometimes it is hard for me to see how the Christian life of seeking a growing relationship with God mixes with drinking alcohol. I think it would be extremely difficult for any Christian to say he is drinking alcohol to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). I freely admit that I don’t live up to this standard in some other areas of my life. Some would say I’m very ‘conservative’ in this area, and less so in others, which may be true. The point still stands on its own however. Today the topic of social drinking is very controversial among Christians, so much so that I felt led to write about my own conviction in this area and why. I hope it gives the reader better insight into the perspective of those who choose not to drink. The more you pray and earnestly seek after Him, the more He will reveal His will for you, not only in this area, but in every area of your life.