“Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler,” the sage observes; “whoever is led astray by them is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). Here we are warned against recourse to strong drink. It is personified as those who would demean our efforts and foster conflict. Thus alerted, we turn to some related considerations.
(1) Scripture obviously prohibits the excessive use of strong drink, as cited above. In this regard, “Now the overseer must be above reproach, not given to drunkenness” (1 Tim. 3:3). Deacons, likewise, are not to indulge “in much wine” (v. 8). Thus setting a precedent for others to emulate.
(2) Even so, Paul admonishes Timothy: “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Tim. 5:23). Which recalls that wine has a long history of use for medical purposes. As such, it may have beneficial effects for the cardiovascular system, as an antioxidant, and to reduce stress.
(3) The expression only water may be a subtle reference to the common practice of diluting the use of strong drink. One part wine to two or three parts water was a common ratio, and six to one appears frequently in rabbinic tradition. At least one source equates undiluted strong drink with drunkenness.
(4) Abstinence was required in select instances. Such as when officiating in a judicial capacity. Likewise, “If a man or woman wants to make a special vow, a vow of separation to the Lord as a Nazirite, he must abstain from wine and other fermented drink” (Num. 6:2-3). So not to be distracted from a life devoted to service.
(5) It would appear that the occasions for abstinence would greatly increase with the complex industrial society. As with traffic control, while engaged in an assembly line, and driving under the influence. Where even a modest amount of strong drink may impair one’s performance, and in some instances with disastrous results.
(6) Jesus’ initial miracle consisted of turning water into wine (cf. John 3:1-11). This was in keeping with the festive occasion, but otherwise details are lacking.
(7) Jesus also observed: “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘He is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Matt. 11:18-19). While perhaps meant to be taken literally, it serves as a metaphor. Accordingly, it indicated that he was more disposed to associate with those who were religiously non-observant.
(8) Unfermented grape juice seems a legitimate alternative in the Communion Service if the congregation is so inclined. Since the critical issue concerns what the bread and wine represent, concerning the vicarious sacrifice of Christ (cf. Luke 22:19-20).
(9) While the immediate effect of strong drink is stimulating, its long term use results in depression. This, in turn, encourages greater reliance—so that one is prone to addiction. Which recalls the Jewish tradition, where it is said that one should build fences—lest they be unduly tempted by the circumstances.
(10) The reliance on strong drink contributes to a wide range of related problems. For instance, one study indicated that over half of the couples experiencing difficulty in their marriage relationship identified imbibing as a contributing factor.
(11) “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor. 8:9). Better to refrain than offend those who for whatever reason are reluctant to partake. As a matter of priority, considering others in preference to self.
(12) Not to be overlooked, the issue is treated in context of wisdom literature. When distinct from knowledge, wisdom pertains to its practical application. Where the appeal of strong drink can readily lead us astray. Accordingly, we are admonished: “Wisdom is supreme, therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Prov. 4:7).
(13) This requires that we put our priorities in order. Consequently, we should bear in mind that it is more often the lesser good than the blatant evil that diverts us from the greater good. That is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-38). Let these be our pressing concerns, and deal with other issues in this context.
In conclusion, these seem to be some of the concerns that should be addressed with regard to the question whether to partake of strong drink. It remains for the person to prayerfully weigh these and other related issues when considering the options and circumstances. It appears a difficult call for some, and an easy call for others. As for myself, I choose to refrain.
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