Text:Ephesians 5:15-21 — Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Opening: This is our sixth message in the preaching series, “Hot Topics.” In case you’re interested, you can listen to any of the previous five at our website … www.riverridgewi.com. Today I want to talk to you about the Christian, Alcohol and Other Legalized Drugs. I want you to know that I have made the personal choice to stay away from alcohol for a couple of reasons. I grew up with two alcoholic grandparents, one who lived with me and one beside me. I loved them both, but saw how their mutual addiction led them to occasionally foolish(like when my grandfather ran himself over with his own truck) and often hurtfulchoices that damaged relationships with family and friends. As a result, I thought it best to stay away from alcoholic beverages. There’s another reason why I don’t drink. In my role as a pastor, I want to be very careful not to do anything that might cause another believer to stumble into sin. Though alcohol has never been an issue for me, it has been for many, including some here at River Ridge Church. The last thing I want to do is exercise my freedom to consume a beer, glass of wine or other alcoholic beverage to the detriment of someone else who has no self-control when he drinks, but might think it’s safe to join me. Now, I recognize, of course, that others (including many good Christian friends) have not chosen to abstain. By the way, the Bible does not require abstinence from those who follow Jesus as Savior and Lord. So, if you happen to enjoy a little alcohol every now and then, relax. This is not going to be one of those sermons where I portray every person who enjoys a beer or a glass of wine as someone who is out of fellowship with God. On the other hand, I do think it’s important for us to review what the Bible has to say about alcohol and other legalized drugs – specifically opioids and marijuana. Before we go there, however, let me share with you a few of the painful statistics regarding alcohol abuse in America.
The Problem of Alcohol Abuse.
- According to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 88,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths each year in the United States.
- Alcohol-impaired driving accounts for more than 30 percent of all driving fatalities each year.
- More than 15 million people struggle with an alcohol use disorder in the United States, but less than eight percent of those receive treatment.
- More than 65 million Americans report binge drinking in the past month.
- Teen alcohol use kills 4,700 people each year. That’s more than all illegal drugs combined.
- Drunk driving costs the United States more than $199 billion every year.
- High-risk drinking, defined as more than three drinks in a day or seven in a week for women, is on the rise among women by about 58% (according to a 2017 study comparing habits from 2001-2002 and 2012-2013).
- Approximately 8.4 percent of all men met the criteria for alcohol dependence in the last year. THERE ARE MANY MORE STATS BUT YOU GET THE IDEA – ALCOHOL ABUSE IS A VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM IN OUR COUNTRY.
The Bible and Alcohol. You may be surprised at what the Bible says about it.
- The Bible does not prohibit the consumption of alcohol. In fact, The Bible includes some passages that view alcoholic beverages positively. Here are some verses that see alcoholic beverages as part of God’s good creation for which people should give thanks (Psalm 104:14-15 —You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man; Proverbs 3:9-10 — Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine). We should also not forget that Jesus’ first miracle as evidence that He was the Messiah of God was to turn water to wine at the celebration of a wedding in Cana. In fact, it was so good that the guests accused the bridegroom of holding back the really good stuff until the end (John 2). In 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul told Timothy to no longer drink water, but use a little wine for the sake of his stomach and other ailments. Today, we know that wine in moderation has some positive benefits to the body. Here’s a good principle from 1 Timothy 4:4for viewing everything God gives us: For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.
- The Bible does, however, clearly forbid drunkenness. Whatever fills a person impacts his relationship with others, God and God-appointed authorities. That’s what Paul is saying in Ephesians 5:18-20, the text I read at the beginning of this message. When we’re filled with the Holy Spirit we relate to all three in ways that please the Lord. But when we’re filled with wine, we do things that are unholy and abuse the same three relationships. That’s why we should never allow ourselves to be drunk. Illustration: I remember when two of my friends in college went out drinking in celebration of our graduation which was only a couple days away. When the returned to our dorm, the threw a brick through my winder and smashed by stereo. They weren’t made at me, they just thought it would be funny. I didn’t really think so.
- The Bible also warns against causing a less mature believer to stumble by our choices(1 Corinthians 8:9-12 — Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So, this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ). The idea is that we are all free in Christ to drink alcohol, but if in the exercise of our freedom, we lead a weaker brother or sister into sin by causing them to drink to excess, we have to look at our own sin and the role we played in bringing that temptation before them. One comment here: When Paul uses the term “stumbling block,” he is not referring merely to the disapproval of otherswhen a believer chooses to consume, in this case, food sacrificed to idols, or in our case, alcohol. Rather he is referring to one’s influence over believers who have a weakness with either so that they participate in eating or drinking when it would not be good for them to do so.
- The Bible contains strong warnings to those who abuse alcohol, especially the book of Proverbs where its deceptive nature is revealed. Proverbs 20:1 — “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise; Proverbs 21:17 – “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich”; Proverbs 23:29-32 – “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper”). Notice that according to these last verses the fruit of alcohol abuse is woe, sorrow, strife, complaints, needless bruises and bloodshot eyes. It is not the only cause of these things, but it certainly delivers its fair share.
The Believer and Alcohol. I want to attempt to answer two questions that flow out of any discussion among Christians about the use of alcohol.
- Should we, as some argue, practice total abstinence from alcohol? Obviously, this is a personal question, and the answer will vary from believer to believer. The answer depends on how well we know ourselves, our family histories and our cultural context. The Bible does not require that all Christians abstain.
- What is the best witness to unbelievers when it comes to alcohol? Some Christians firmly believe that any Christ-follower should give up alcohol for the sake of his or her testimony. I don’t see it that way. When it comes to any moral issue, whenever we attempt to set a higher standard than the Lord, we are not taking a more holy position. We are moving toward legalism and reducing the Christian life to a set of rules and regulations to adhere to. Think about it. What we’re saying is that if God were a little wiser, He would have set the bar higher for all of us. Isn’t that what Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for doing? God commanded them to have a Sabbath’s rest. They took it to the point that if one’s sheep fell in a hole, they had to wait until the next day to remove it. Jesus didn’t applaud them for raising the standard, but rebuked them for it (See Matthew 12:11-12). I know I never want to imply that the Lord didn’t set the bar of holiness high enough for us, and I doubt you do either. The best witness we can have to any unchurched person is to follow what the Bible teaches about the use of alcohol. Don’t be drunk and don’t cause anyone else to stumble into sin.
Dealing with objections to the use of alcohol. Here are two I’ve heard that don’t hold up under close scrutiny.
- Alcoholic beverages in biblical times were watered down. This is simply untrue. How could Noah, Lot and Nabal have become drunk if the wine was watered down? This kind of wine was evidence of the corruption and decay of the nation of Israel – Isaiah 1:22 – You silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water). There is no evidence to the claim that the wine mentioned in the Bible was purposefully watered down.
- Drinking even one glass of wine kills millions of brain cells.Roberta Pentney, a former research professor at the State University of New York at Buffalofound that while consumption of alcohol disrupts brain function, it does not kill entire brain cells. In fact, drinking small amounts of wine has been tied to a decreased likelihood of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
The Use of legalized drugs(specifically marijuana and opioids). I specify legalized drugs because illegal drugs should never be taken by a Christian as we are called to obey the law (Romans 13:1 – Let every person be subject to the governing authorities) and to avoid giving control over ourselves to anything. Remember self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:23). Now, let’s talk about these to legalized drugs for a bit.
- Marijuana refers to the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis Sativa or Cannabis Indica plant. The plant contains the mind-altering chemicalTHC and other similar compounds. Today, thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have now approved the use of medical marijuana for the most part to alleviate pain. In addition, ten of these states and the District of Columbia have also approved the recreational use of marijuana(California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Michigan, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and Alaska).
- Opioids are a class of drugs that include pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.
- A word of caution regarding the use of both: While Christians should be thankful to God for the availability of strong painkillers developed through modern research, there is a fine line between the wise use of these legalized drugs and their abuse. The Bible reminds us that though something might be lawful, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always profitable and, certainly, we should not be mastered (enslaved) by anything (See 1 Corinthians 6:12) As a warning from one friend to another, listen to this: several studies indicate that the frequent use of marijuana (which isat least 10 times more potent today than in the 1960s), can lead to psychosis(the medical term for a break from reality) and violence. And when it comes to opioids, as you already know, they are very addictiveand when abused…destructive. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services opioids were the cause of almost 50,000 deaths in our country in 2017. Addiction to them is also very costly, not only taking a personal toll on those who abuse them but exacting a high price from all American citizens. This past year the federal government added one billion dollars to our nation’s budget to fight the opioid crisis in our country. That is why I advise that anyone using these medicines should do so only under a doctor’s close supervision and purchase them only from reputable pharmacies. As for the recreational use of marijuana, the same Bible verses I mentioned in the use of alcohol apply here. We are to avoid anything that causes us to lose self-control (Proverbs 25:28 — Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control; 2 Timothy 3:1-3 — …in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good).
Conclusion: I’ve tried to be fair and balanced in this message because I believe that’s how God wants us to treat this subject. But at the risk of revealing some of my bias, I want to close with this story from Christian author and speaker Max Lucado about the potential for abusing legalized drugs, in his case, alcohol. Lucado shares, “I come from a family of alcoholism. If there’s anything about this DNA stuff, I’ve got it.” For more than 20 years, drinking wasn’t a major issue for Lucado. But at the turn of the new millennium, it nearly became one. Lucado recalled, “I lowered my guard a bit. One beer with a barbecue won’t hurt. Then another time with Mexican food. Then a time or two with no food at all.” One afternoon on his way to speak at a men’s retreat he began to plot:“Where could I buy a beer and not be seen by anyone I know?” He drove to an out-of-the-way convenience store, parked, and waited till all the patrons left. He entered, bought a beer, held it close to his side, and hurried to his car. “I felt a sense of conviction,” Lucado remembers, “because the night before I’d had a long talk with my oldest daughter about not covering things up.” Lucado didn’t drink that beer. Instead he rolled down the window, threw it in a trash bin, and asked God for forgiveness. He also decided to come clean with the elders of his church about what happened: “When I shared it with the elders, they just looked at me across the table and said, ‘Satan is determined to get you for this right now. We’re going to cover this with prayer, but you’ve got to get the alcohol out of your life.’ And I really took that as from God.” Listen…you may be one of those people who can consume alcohol and never abuse it. If so, God bless you. Keep on exercising self-control. But if you can’t. If you’re prone to addictions in general or to alcoholism specifically, give it up. Don’t go near it. Heed the warning that Dr. Howard Henricks gave to the staff of CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ) when talking about addictions of any kind. He said, “If you have something in your life that you cannot give up, you do not own it, it owns you.” As Christians, we have only one Lord and Master and that is Jesus Christ!