There are some subjects we rarely hear discussed openly in church, not because they are bad, but because they are easier to ignore. It is even easier to overstate a case in hopes that people will not press the point. Many of our laws were designed so that a person would stay far away from the possibility of breaking one God’s commandments. A “Christian” rule, which has been passed down through the ages, is that a believer cannot drink alcohol. While this may protect us from many other problems, it is not specifically prescribed in the New Testament.
Donald Miller writes openly and candidly about issues concerning alcohol in this session 1 excerpt from his video Bible study Exploring Blue Like Jazz, a study aimed for Christian young people in that phase after high school called “emerging adulthood.” Besides a hard and fast rule, are there guidelines a believer can use to treat alcohol in a Biblical manner? We hope you enjoy today’s thought-provoking study. ~ Fred Bittner, FaithGateway Bible Studies
Watch the Video
Have you ever seen those bumpers they put up on the lanes in the bowling alley? The bumpers help kids learn to bowl by giving their ball some boundaries to bounce off of while it travels down the lane toward the pins. The bumpers don’t control the path of the ball; they just keep it out of the gutter. Below are four guidelines meant to serve as bumpers on the bowling alley of your choices with alcohol. They are not here to control you; rather they represent the collection of accumulated wisdom that will help you be part of the solution with your drinking, and not part of the problem.
1. If You’re Underage, Don’t Drink.
This may go without saying, but if you are not of legal age, please do not drink alcohol. Your right to have a glass of wine before you are twenty-one is not a justice issue. While there are indeed places Christians are called to break the law for the sake of the gospel, this is not one of them. If you’re not yet of age, just hang back and don’t drink.
Self-control is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. You can handle this.
2. Don’t Get Drunk.
If no one has ever said this to you, then let me be the first. Don’t get drunk. It is simply not good for our bodies and doesn’t tend to bring about goodness in either the life of the drinker or those around them. This is not a Christian-fascist attempt to control your life but a sober (pardon the pun) admission that, as the statistics imply, bad things can happen when people drink too much. Choosing moderation keeps you and everyone around you safe while you’re drinking. Drinking alcohol is fine, but doing it to get drunk is not.
Strategically, this just means knowing both your limits and your family history. If you have no idea where to start, try this: Most men are recommended to have no more than two drinks a day and fourteen per week. For women (and men over the age of sixty-five) it drops to one drink a day and seven per week. Shoot for these boundaries and see how you fare. Figuring out your limits is the first step toward healthy alcohol use.
However, your limits should be influenced by your family’s history with alcohol. While there are no definitive studies that prove alcoholism is passed down from parent to child, children of alcoholic parents can be at a greater risk of alcohol dependency than others. This may be genetic or simply come from a distorted perspective of alcohol use. Either way, if you have alcoholism in your family, seek the counsel of a therapist or mentor before you begin drinking. This will minimize your risk and help you develop healthy limits.
3. Drink with People You Know in Familiar Places
Alcohol lowers inhibitions and can make you prone to poor decisions. So, even if he’s really cute and very charming at the party or she’s really sweet and funny at the bar, going to an unfamiliar place with an unfamiliar person after you’ve been drinking is a bad idea. It can put both of you at risk, especially if one of you has had too much to drink. If you want to go somewhere private with that person, consider not drinking beforehand.
It’s easy to have fun without alcohol and if the person you’re hanging out with can’t respect your choice not to drink, they may not be worth hanging around with after all.
Similar to knowing who you are drinking with, you should also know where you are drinking. Drinking in an unfamiliar place can be super risky when it comes time to leave. What parameters would you need to have in place if you want to drink in a place that is unfamiliar? Make a plan ahead of time and you’ll have no problem making healthy decisions that keep you, and others, out of harm’s way.
4. Get Relational about Your Drinking
I was talking to a friend about drinking recently, and he admitted to me that when he drinks too much it’s because he wants the alcohol to help him get closer to people. He told me, “When I wanted to feel close to the people I was around, I drank with them. The more I drank, the closer I felt to those around me. As it turns out, just the opposite was true. The more I drank, the more my behavior damaged the relationships I was trying to build.
What my friend was picking up on is that drinking right, like most of the choices Christians make in life, involves more than just following rules. Good choices can best be made when they are evaluated through the lens of how they affect our relationships. This is what I mean…
In the beginning when God creates the heavens and the earth, all of the relationships in the creation are whole, healthy, and integrated. The two human beings are naked and feel no shame (their relationship to self is intact), they compliment and need each other (their relationship to others is whole), they live in the garden (their relationship to the creation is undamaged), and they both work with God to cultivate it (their relationship with God is unbroken).
But you know what happens next.
The human beings rebel, sin and death enter the creation, and everything that God made right-side up is turned upside down. Their relationship with God is broken (when God shows up, they hide). The relationship they have to themselves is broken (they are ashamed of their nakedness). Their relationship to one another is broken (when God asks what happened, they blame each other). And finally, their relationship to the creation itself is broken (they have to leave the garden). However, God doesn’t give up. He mounts a rescue mission to put everything that was broken back together, to heal the fractured creation and make things as they were meant to be. Jesus accomplishes this act in His death and resurrection, and people like you and I are left to implement it. We do this good work anytime we bring to restoration one or more of the four broken relationships.
Are you still with me?
All of this gives us a framework to help us evaluate our moral choices, beyond just rules. Paying attention to these four vital relationships can help us make healthy and responsible choices regarding alcohol. Jesus’ gospel is not about the imposition of new rules for His followers anyway. It is about a life of freedom and hope that embodies the fact that God is actually putting everything back together.
So, when you approach alcohol, begin by asking, “Are my choices moving toward some kind of healing and wholeness in each of these four relationships or not? Am I moving toward restoration with this choice or back toward brokenness?” Then think about who you can ask to help you figure out if you are doing it right. Evaluating our choices in this way makes space for us to enjoy one of God’s good gifts: alcohol.
This is My Blood…
For thousands of years, many Christians have celebrated the Lord’s Supper with alcohol. It’s one of the central symbols in the rite. The cup of wine in the Christian Eucharist actually comes from the three of four cups of wine consumed during the Jewish Passover meal. Each of those cups of wine has a special, symbolic significance relating to God’s promises of freedom to His people. The one that Jesus made “His blood” that night is called the cup of Redemption; it is preceded by the cup of Sanctification and Deliverance and then followed by the cup of Praise.
Sanctification, redemption, deliverance, and praise are all remembered and enacted by the drinking of a cup of wine.
Christians take up the symbolism of the four cups in their Eucharistic celebrations. But what if that’s not the only place we are meant to take them up? What if every time we drink alcohol, it is an opportunity to remember and enact the promises of the four cups?
What if God’s promises of freedom could be on display every time Christians drank alcohol? What if that’s how it’s supposed to be?
Would that give us new eyes to see how, when, where, and why we are drinking? Would it help us see how God might be inviting us to join His healing of the world? And might it also challenge us to drink alcohol in a way that looks forward to that great moment when we drink the last cup with Jesus in the Messianic kingdom?
When Jesus offered the cup of Redemption to His disciples, He gave them a cup of alcohol. His first followers shared that cup remembering His words to them, “This cup is the new covenant, executed in My blood. Keep doing this, and whenever you drink it, you and all who come after will have a vivid reminder of Me.”
May you seek redemption in everything you do with alcohol. May the Holy Spirit empower you to make healthy and safe choices in the way you drink, and may He grant you the strength to abstain from alcohol if you choose to do so. If and when you choose to drink, be sure to do it for the remembrance of Him.
The Way In
Watch a TV commercial for alcohol online as well as Don’s DVD clip on alcohol.
- How is the company selling their product? Are they selling alcohol as the best way to achieve a cool image?
- How do you see alcohol consumed around you?
- When you hear the word moderation, what do you think of?
How is alcohol use generally portrayed on TV and in the movies? Where have you seen accurate portrayals of it, and where have you seen it portrayed inaccurately?
- Do you drink alcohol? Why or why not?
- Have you ever been tempted to drink too much? What were the circumstances?
- Do you believe the author’s four-relationship ethic is a helpful one for making choices about drinking?
- What other circumstances could the four-relationship ethic be applied to?
- Is there ever a time Christians should not drink? If so, when?
- Is there ever a time Christians should drink? If so, when?
Crafting Your Rule
- Make a drinking journal. List Monday through Sunday and mark every day you’ve had a drink, what you drank, and what time of day it was.
- How often do you drink alcohol? Where are you when you drink?
- If you gave up drinking for a month (say you gave it up for Lent), would that be hard or easy? Why?
- What will be the most difficult thing about making a plan for how you use alcohol?
- Who would join you in creating a drinking journal, or in drinking more responsibly?
- What are you most afraid of as you move forward?
- What is your strategy for dealing with that fear in a healthy way? Who will you talk about it with? What will your life look like without that fear?
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