Drink no longer water, but use a little wine
for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.
I Timothy 5:23
In our last article, we saw that God permits the use of alcoholic beverages. But what constitutes the proper use of alcohol?
This is an important question. He who is concerned to ask it, and answers it rightly, guards against sin in his use of alcohol. You and I ought to be concerned with knowing what the proper use of alcohol is.
In this article we begin answering the question by examining the proper occasions for using alcohol, and the proper purposes for using it.
Scripture allows for the use of alcohol in certain instances.
One is on occasion of sickness; we may use alcohol for medicinal reasons, for the purpose of improving our health.
The pastor Timothy had stomach problems, which were caused by, or at least aggravated by, his drinking water exclusively. To address his stomach ailments, Paul tells him to drink a little wine. Paul was not prescribing one dose of wine; but Timothy was to use a little wine, regularly. Literally, Paul told him, “continually use a little wine.”
Another is on occasion of joy; we may use alcohol to contribute to a joyful outlook on life, especially when we have reasons for true joy. “A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry,” we read in Ecclesiastes 10:19. Is Solomon merely stating that this is why wicked men have feasts with wine? No; even in Israel, God ordained certain feasts, at which wine was permitted. And remember that God gives “wine which maketh glad the heart” (Psalm 104:15). The purpose here is to promote joy.
The Lord’s Supper is a particular instance of such an occasion. Commemorating the death of Christ and its benefits for us, the believer partakes with true joy in his heart. To give us a picture of that joy, and to strengthen our faith that God does give us true joy (for we might not always feel truly joyful), Christ commanded us to drink wine. At that sacramental feast, wine is drunk to point us to the true joy that we have in Christ. The purpose of using wine in this instance is to point us to Christ, to enjoy the true joy we have in him.
But any feast, even if not that of the Lord’s Supper, is a time of joy; and wine or strong drink is not forbidden at such.
If wine contributes to joy, may we drink it when we are discouraged? The wise Christian may. It takes wisdom to know how much – but we read in Proverbs 31:6: “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.” Some think that Lemuel’s mother is being sarcastic here; but not so. In the first part of the verse she certainly is not sarcastic; strong drink serves a medicinal purpose for one ready to die (it relieves their pain) and a calming purpose (it relaxes them and calms their fears). If she is not sarcastic in the first part of the verse, she cannot suddenly be so in the second part. Because wine, properly used, cheers one up, the child of God may drink wine when discouraged. A little wine! Then one’s purpose is that one be put in a better frame of mind to serve God with joy.
While these instances are specifically mentioned in Scripture, the Christian is free to use alcohol properly in any instance in which Scripture does not forbid him to do so.
So when may the Christian not drink alcohol?
FIRST, in certain company we may not drink alcohol.
We may not drink it in company of drunkards. “Be not among winebibbers,” Proverbs 23:20 tells us; we must avoid wine whenever we are around those who cannot use it within the proper limit—for two reasons. First, if they cannot drink within the proper limit, they will encourage us also to drink past our limit. Second, we are to manifest the antithesis by not keeping company with the wicked; and drunkards are those who will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 5:11, I Cor. 6:10).
We may not drink it in company of fellow Christians who fight against the sin of drunkenness. Romans 14:21says, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” We do not want to be an occasion for our brother to drink to his condemnation.
We ought not drink it in company of fellow Christians who exercise their liberty by avoiding alcohol, and particularly those whose conscience would accuse them of sin if they did drink it. For one to do what he thinks is sin, is sin—he is not then living to God’s glory. Romans 14:21 applies to this too. So we should not drink in such instances.
SECOND, in situations when we need to be able to make good judgments and wise choices we ought not drink alcohol. Kings and princes should not drink, because it might lead them to forget the law and pervert judgment (Proverbs 31:4-5). We should not drink when we are about to drive, to go to work, or busy doing the work of the Lord. One drinks alcohol for relaxation at the end of the day, not for nourishment at the beginning. Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 make a similar point.
THIRD, the Christian may not drink alcohol in any situation in which the civil government forbids it.
That we are free to use alcohol properly does not mean that the government may not place restrictions on our use of alcohol. It may. And when it does, we are required to obey it. Remember that the fifth commandment requires us to honor our father and mother, which, our Heidelberg Catechism says, includes “all in authority over me.” And remember that God created civil government to serve him (Romans 13:1ff).
Therefore alcohol may not properly be used in any way which violates the laws of the state.
This means, of course, that alcohol may not properly be used by anyone under the legal drinking age, which in most if not all states is 21. An exception to this is the use of the wine in the Lord’s Supper. I quote from Chapter 125.07 (1) (a) of the Wisconsin Statutes:
- No person may procure for, sell, dispense, or give away any alcohol beverages to any underage person not accompanied by his or her parent, guardian or spouse who has attained the legal drinking age.
- No adult may knowingly permit or fail to take action to prevent the illegal consumption of alcohol beverages by an underage person on premises owned by the adult or under the adult’s control. This subdivision does not apply to alcohol beverages used exclusively as part of a religious service.1
Chapter 125.02 (8m) of the same statutes defines the legal drinking age: “21 years of age.”
These are the statutes of the state of Wisconsin. You should find out the statutes in your own state, and can easily do that online. But what this quote clearly did is 1) show that, at least in the state of Wisconsin, young adults under 21 may not possess alcoholic beverages if not accompanied by a parent over the legal age; and that the wine of the Lord’s Supper is a legal, state approved exception to this rule. The church is not in violation of the law for serving wine to those under legal drinking age.
The great purpose for drinking wine, which purpose covers every situation, is stated in I Corinthians 10:31: “do all to the glory of God.” All—even drinking.
To drink to God’s glory is to remember that God gave wine and strong drink to be used in his service. To drink for my health, so that I can serve me, is sin; to drink for my health, so that I can better serve God, is proper. To drink so that I can feel good and forget all my sorrows, thereby not dealing with my problems in a godly way, is sin; to drink so that I, being cheered up, can better serve God, is proper. To drink so that I can relax at the end of the day, and prepare my body for rest, so that awaking I can serve God again, is proper.
When do you choose to drink? And why?
God will give wisdom to his children to know how to use alcohol to his glory!
1 Found online by browsing the statutes located at http://nxt.legis.state.wi.us/nxt/gateway.dll/?f=templates$fn=default.htm.