Booze and Ciggies

A recent discussion amongst some Christian friends was about eating, drinking, smoking and drug use. The meeting was split into two parts: the first session was about alcohol, the second about other drugs, and we also touched on gluttony.

We were able to agree that the Bible was clear that drunkenness was sinful. (Luke 21:34) “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.” There are dozens of similar verses throughout the Bible.

However, it wasn’t as easy to define drunkenness. People react differently to alcohol, so trying to define drunkenness as having more than ‘X’ pints or bottles is useless. Interestingly, though, even the world says that we are not allowed to use machinery if we’re slightly ‘under the influence’. An example was given of a professional racing driver whose performance was measured before and after just one glass of wine, and his ability was found to have been significantly impaired.

If we could determine whether Jesus drank wine, or condoned it, that would at least tell us that his followers should not be rebuked for doing the same, with the same moderation. So did Jesus drink wine? It’s very possible. He is compared to John, who didn’t eat fine food or drink wine (according to his Nazirite vows). The ‘vicars’ of the day called John a loon because of this. Now Jesus did—it’s implied anyway—the things John didn’t, and they called him a glutton and drunkard! (Matthew 11:19).

A similar comparison is found in the book of Daniel. There, the brave lad decided that he wouldn’t eat the king’s food, or drink his wine, for three weeks. (This suggests he did afterwards.) What was he refraining from? It was the consumption of plenty of good quality food and drink. Like Jesus’ culture, eating nice food and drinking wine was normal practice. Abstaining from this habit was symbolic, and is a kind of fasting.

The wedding at Cana is important to look at, since it says that Jesus turned water into wine. It was suggested to the group that this was not an alcoholic drink, but just grape juice. However, the Greek word used here—‘oinos’—is elsewhere used when excessive drinking is warned against. For example, the wine Timothy was encouraged to use for medicinal purposes was ‘oinos’, as was the wine mentioned in Ephesians 5:18: ‘And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit’. If you can get drunk with ‘oinos’, then it must have contained alcohol. Anyone know of exceptions to this?

Of course, Old Testament priests were forbidden from drinking wine or strong drink. One thing noticed from this is that wine wasn’t regarded as a particularly strong drink. The wine used today is probably more like the OT strong drink. Reconstructions of Bible methods of wine-making have produced wine which has only a fraction of the amount of alcohol that we see today.

So are church pastors the equivalent of OT priests, making them subject to similar restrictions? It’s difficult to prove this. Firstly, the entire church is now called a kingdom of ‘priests’, and an ‘holy priesthood’, and we’re not subject to OT priesthood laws; but if wine does affect people, even if only a little, is it wise for a pastor or an evangelist to be found under that influence? Drink dulls the senses and suppresses the conscience. Surely, it’s better that the one called of God in this way be always sober, ready to do his work.

Should the Christian be found in pubs? Matthew 24 contains a parable in which the main character sinfully fails to watch for his master’s coming, and eats and drinks with the drunken. Does this mean just being in the presence of someone under the influence of booze is always wrong? Well the real point can be seen by comparing the parallel passage in Luke, where it says he was getting drunk himself. So ‘eating and drinking with the drunken’ means he was joining in!

There can be no doubt that Jesus took part in celebrations where drinking was taking place; but we know his heart wouldn’t have been with them in indulgence. So the Christian should take the same care, and be careful about where he is found, always remembering he is a stranger among the people of this world.

One of the brothers suggested that there was a world of difference between a Christian having a small drink at the end of the day in his own home, and a Christian who goes to town ‘clubbing it’; and this was generally agreed on. It was regarded with sadness that some young believers are seen on Facebook in nightclubs, holding beer, looking drunk and even making vulgar gestures. What can we say about their standing? We might not know how far the Lord will let his people fall into those things they desire, but we can at least warn these people that the Bible is clear: drunkards shall not enter the kingdom of God.

A fairly conclusive verse is found in Deuteronomy (ch. 14, verse 26): ‘And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household’.

So the general consensus about drinking was that, it be done in moderation, if at all, and preferably not in public. We shouldn’t judge others for this careful use of drink, though drinking in the company of clearly drunken people is to be avoided if possible. And pastors and officers should take special care to remain sober, as the Bible tells them.

Gluttony and drug taking

The discussion about gluttony was a lot briefer. It was agreed that very few sermons or messages are heard warning against gluttony. Could this be because many of the pastors are guilty of it themselves? The other side of the coin shows a similar picture, with pastors never encouraging the people to fast, usually because they don’t!

Maybe it’s because we haven’t heard much about gluttony that we can’t take it as seriously. We think pastors who say, ‘It’s my wife’s fault I’m this big!’ are funny, and we laugh as much as they do; but how can it be funny, when the Bible calls it sinful? One of the reasons rebellious young people were threatened with being stoned to death in the OT was because of gluttony. And Proverbs 23:21 says, ‘For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty…’

Maybe we don’t take it seriously because eating greedily doesn’t have the effect that drugs like alcohol have. Some believers can get away with being gluttons because they don’t get fat, so it’s a secret sin, but it’s still wrong. One brother suggested eating as little as we can get away with. Not bad advice at all, but not easy to do either.

The issue of smoking was interesting, as the Bible doesn’t specifically forbid it. Of course, we can argue indirectly against it, by saying we should look after ourselves. But surely we should give these things the same emphasis as the Bible does. An example was given where a Christian was ostracised by some members of his church because he was a smoker. Now in their dreadful lack of love, they have committed the real sin, one which is mentioned in the Bible. So we need to be careful not to turn our traditions into scriptural principles.

One brother confessed to using tobacco, but very little of it. It was said that it’s unwise to have a habit that’s known to cause cancer; but that could be said about Christians who eat too much red meat, or don’t exercise enough. So, again, double standards are the rule in our churches.

One argument used for not smoking, etc. is that we’re the temple of God. We are indeed, but what enters in doesn’t defile us, so using this verse is poor exegesis.

Regarding drugs, we discussed whether Christians would use drugs like cannabis and heroin if they were legal. A couple of the brethren, who have experience of using different drugs, said that it was difficult to use them in moderation—and it would be pointless, since the reason for taking drugs was to alter your consciousness. We agreed, then, that these things were completely unsuitable for anyone, especially the believer. Of course, caffeine is a drug. To take too much of that is also unwise.

Are drugs mentioned in the Bible? Galatians 5:20 uses the word ‘witchcraft’ which, in the Greek, is pharmakeia, where we get our word ‘pharmacy’ from. Thayer, in his Greek lexicon, says this word means ‘the use or administration of drugs’, to alter a person’s consciousness.

Who says the Bible’s out of date?!!

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~ by Animus on February 5, 2011.

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