God’s Guidelines for the “Gray Areas” of Life: Wise Decision-Making in a Wicked World, Part 8

THE USE OF BEVERAGE ALCOHOL AS A TEST CASE: PART B

Ethical and moral decision-making presents a great challenge for devoted followers of Jesus in the 21st century context. In 1 Corinthians Paul provides helpful guidelines for navigating what could be called “the gray areas” of the Christian life.

These biblical principles are true anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances. They are extremely helpful in leading us to be wise decision-makers as we live out a gospel-centered ethic.

3). Will this action encourage my brother or sister in Christ? (1 Corinthians 8:13; 10:24, 32)
A prospective student once told me that he went to the bars and drank with his friends to prove you could be a Christian and be cool. I responded by saying if you have to go to the bars and drink to prove you are cool, then you are not cool. Further, I shared with him that the example he was setting for others could some day come back to haunt him. I was speaking of his children.

We are all an example to someone. To our children we are probably heroes. Perhaps you believe you are capable of drinking in moderation a glass of wine to the glory of God. Your children: can you be confident that they will be able to do the same? Is it worth the risk? One thing is certain. If you share the wisdom of avoiding the appearance and place of temptation, you will never have to worry about them walking the tragic road of alcoholism because they saw you do it, thought it must be ok, but unfortunately lacked self-control.

I have tried hard to see how supporting the alcohol industry and socially drinking helps anyone. To be completely honest, I just don’t see it.

4). Will this help or hinder my gospel witness? (1 Corinthians 9:12, 19-13; 10:32-33)
I can conceive of a scenario where sharing the gospel over a beer or glass of wine might not be a problem, at least in certain context. On the other hand I do not see how it helps or enhances one’s witness, and it may actually be a stumblingblock. Wisdom again says why run the risk? You have no reason to think it will hinder your witness if you abstain. There is a risk, however, if you don’t.

5). Is this action consistent with my life in Christ? (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 19)
This principle settles the issue of drunkenness, intoxication and impairment. My joy and fulfillment in now totally and completely in Christ through the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). I do not need an intoxicating, mind altering substance of any sort as a new creation in Christ. If I need a high I will find it in Jesus.

6). Will this action violate my conscience? (I Corinthians 10:25-29)
For some the answer is yes. For others the answer is no. This principle will assist us in addressing this issue, but in and of itself it is not decisive.

7). Will this action follow the pattern of the life of Jesus? (1 Corinthians 11:1)
This is the place where those advocating moderation seek to make their strongest case. Jesus drank wine and so we can drink wine. Jesus drank wine and if you advocate abstinence you are saying Jesus was wrong. This is a compelling argument, at least on the surface. However, if one digs a little deeper I believe you will discover a flaw in the argument. You see there is no one-to-one correspondence between the time of Jesus and our own.

As I noted in the previous article it is true Jesus drank wine, and I am sure I would have had I lived in the first century. However, there is no evidence at all that he ever partook of “strong drink.” In other words Jesus, like others deeply devoted to God, would have drank wine with a very low alcohol content. It would more than likely have required an extremely large amount to become intoxicated. As Bob Stein has carefully documented, and I have yet to read a refutation of his argument, “The term “wine” or oinos in the ancient world, then, did not mean wine as we understand it today but wine mixed with water…. To consume the amount of alcohol that is in two martinis by drinking wine containing three parts water to one part wine [a fairly common ancient ratio], one would have to drink over twenty-two glasses. In other words, it is possible to become intoxicated from wine mixed with three parts water, but one’s drinking would probably affect the bladder long before it affected the mind” (Bob Stein, “Wine Drinking in New Testament Times,” Christianity Today 19, June 20, 1975, 10-11.). It should also be noted that children would have drank this diluted mixture of water and wine, and it is impossible to imagine godly parents giving their children a drink that could get them drunk. And, given their smaller body size, they would have become intoxicated on less wine than their adult parents. It again seems clear that there is no one-to-one correspondence with first century wine and twenty first century distilled intoxication liquor. Concerning the latter I believe the Lord Jesus would have no part.

8). Will this action show love to others? (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)
The loving thing is always to esteem others better than yourself, it is to look out for their interest, not just your own. “Liberty in Christ regulated by love” for Him and others is the ethic that guides the man or woman in Christ. Is it more loving to insist on my freedom or to sacrifice for another? Because I love you and would never want to lead you astray by my example, I will chose to say no to that which can enslave, intoxicate and addict. It’s just the loving thing to do.

9). Will this action honor my body which belongs to God? (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
This is actually a debatable principle with wine or a beer. There is no debate with respect to hard liquor. However, I know of no benefit allegedly gained from a beer or glass of wine that cannot be obtained by some other non-intoxicating means. Why not just drink a glass of grape juice and avoid any risk of addiction?

10). Will this action glorify God? (1 Corinthians 10:31)
This principle is the most important in my judgment, but it is not conclusive. I have met some Christians who with sincerity and conviction say I can drink a glass of wine, a good gift from God, for His glory. I, on the other hand, cannot. However, keep in mind that glorifying also entails our previous nine guidelines. That truth will certainly influence our grasp and understanding of all that is involved in glorifying God.

I should note that some who advocate moderation draw an analogy to eating and sex. They correctly point out that gluttony and sexual immorality are sin, but not the act of eating or sexual intercourse. I would want to make several observations in this context. First, gluttony and overeating is sinful and dishonors the temple of the Holy Spirit. This is something I was guilty of, God convicted me, and I lost 30 pounds. I stay in constant battle in this area. Second, many who would line up with me on alcohol run (but not very fast due to their weight!) from addressing gluttony. Third, some have alleged that Southern Baptist are hypocritical in passing resolutions on alcohol but not gluttony. I agree. So next year in Louisville someone needs to submit such a resolution. It will have my full support. Fourth, we have to eat to live and we have to engage in sex to propagate the race. Drinking alcohol is not necessary for either life or good living. The fact is it may hamper or end both. Fifth, I know of no one who’s been arrested for DWF (Driving While Fat). The supposed analogy breaks down at a significant point: the point of potential intoxication.

In conclusion, I agree with John MacArthur. Can I say it is always a sin to take a drink? No. Can I say it is almost always unwise? Yes. One of America’s leading pastors is Andy Stanley. He wrote a book entitled The Best Question Ever. That question is this, “What is the wise thing for me to do?” In my judgment, abstaining from beverage alcohol is the wise thing to do. This is not legalism but love. This is not being anti-biblical but pro-brother and sister. This is not working for evil but for good. Given the world in which we live, I believe such a lifestyle honors the Lord Jesus. I believe it pleases Him. It is simply the wise thing to do.

God’s Guidelines for the “Gray Areas” of Life: Wise Decision-Making in a Wicked World, Part 7

THE USE OF BEVERAGE ALCOHOL AS A TEST CASE: PART A

Ethical and moral decision-making presents a great challenge for devoted followers of Jesus in the 21st century context. In 1 Corinthians Paul provides helpful guidelines for navigating what could be called “the gray areas” of the Christian life.

These biblical principles are true anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances. They are extremely helpful in leading us to be wise decision-makers as we live out a gospel-centered ethic.

In recent years debate has arisen among Bible-believing evangelicals concerning the use of beverage alcohol. Feelings and emotions run high on this issue. Most have strong convictions. I am no exception. Much of this debate has a generational bent to it, with younger believers arguing for the acceptability of drinking a beer or glass of wine and frequenting the bars, while older believers (I am 51 to locate myself chronologically) more likely frown on any use of alcohol other than medicinally and the idea of going to the bars for a drink is unthinkable. I am also aware that some see the debate as geographical (believers in the North favor moderation vs those in the South who champion abstinence) and others denominational (Baptist types vs. Presbyterian/Episcopal types for example). I don’t think you will struggle concerning who believes what! Before I apply our “Guidelines” let me make some general observations on which I believe most can agree.

  1. Drunkenness is always sinful and wrong. No question. No debate.
  2. To take a pledge or sign a covenant to abstain from the use of alcohol and then use alcohol is sin. In fact it is a very serious sin because this is not a matter of judgment but integrity. A number of Bible college and seminary students have sinned at this point and need to repent.
  3. The Bible speaks both positively and negatively to the drinking of wine. However, there is no one-to-one correspondence to the liquor, wine and beer industries of our day, and this should not be papered over.
  4. Jesus made and drank wine.
  5. The Corinthians used intoxicating wine when observing the Lord’s Supper, got drunk, and got judged big time!
  6. It is not biblically defensible with chapter and verse to say it is always sin to drink a beverage that contains alcohol.
  7. Bible-believing Christians who are neither antinomians or legalist disagree on this issue. It would be helpful if we represent each other fairly and treat each other with grace and respect.

Now, having made these comments let’s apply God’s Guidelines for the Gray Areas of Life and see where it takes us.

1). Will this action be helpful to me? (1 Corinthians 6:12; 10:23)
It is difficult to see how beverage alcohol makes us better or builds us up. It is not difficult to see how it can harm or tear us down. Now to be fair, if it is done in moderation it is probably something of a neutral act with no personal consequences. However, alcohol is a mind-altering drug and it can easily become addictive. It does not help one in doing the will of God does it? If so how? My friend John Piper is helpful here and his words should be carefully weighed. He asks, “Does alcohol make me a better person? Does it draw me closer to God? Does it help me run the race more faithfully to the end?” These are good questions to consider.

2). Will this action potentially enslave me? (1 Corinthians 6:12)
This is the one question that a number of my brothers who advocate “drinking in moderation” tend to overlook or ignore. And yet, it may be the most crucial question in this whole debate. Can alcohol enslave you? The unequivocal answer is yes. Is it potentially addictive? Absolutely. In fact that is the goal of the multi-billion dollar alcohol industry! Get you when you are young and keep you until you die. Anyone who doubts this should look at how the alcohol advertising industry does its thing. After all, slogans through the years do not hide their intentions: “This Bud’s for you!” “Get that rocky mountain high!” “You only go around once in life, so grab all the gusto you can!” Now the response again of some is just drink in moderation. Don’t get drunk. Don’t get intoxicated. Don’t become physically or mentally impaired. But, and here is another crucial question: where is that line? One beer will have an effect. The same is true with a glass of wine with any significant alcohol content. How can you/would you know if you have crossed that line? Further, the millions who have crossed that line and been plunged into despair, destruction and even death is too numerous to count. Once more listen to the wisdom of John Piper, “is it really so prudish, or narrow to renounce a highway killer, a home destroyer, and a business wrecker?” No, I am in total agreement with my spiritual hero Adrian Rogers who said, “Moderation is not the cure for the liquor problem. Moderation is the cause of the liquor problem. Becoming an alcoholic does not begin with the last drink, it always begins with the first. Just leave it alone.” My friend James Merritt wisely says, “It is impossible to be bitten by a snake that you never play with.” Alcoholism cannot strike unless it is given the opportunity. That potential becomes real with the first drink that one takes.

Now, let me close this first installment of our test case with a personal word. I readily confess a bias when it comes to the issue of alcohol. My wife Charlotte grew up in the Georgia Baptist Children’s Home because her parents were alcoholics. She seldom if ever saw her parents during those years. Her father died a lost alcoholic never telling her he loved her and not attending our wedding. Her mother would slap Charlotte around when she was a little girl before she went into the Children’s Home. But, and by God’s grace, she was saved on her death bed. Her body had been ravaged by the twin killers of alcohol and tobacco. Today her sister and brother are lost alcoholics as is most of the rest of her family. I could spend hours detailing broken promises, verbal and physical abuse, heartache and tragedy, including murder, that occurred in her family. My sister Joy and her husband Kevin King adopted a daughter born with fetal alcohol syndrome. She began life with two strikes against her through no fault of her own. Today there are more than 40 million problem drinkers in America. Alcohol is the number one drug problem among teenagers. One in three American families suspects that one or more family members have a drinking problem. Misuse of alcohol costs our nation $100 billion a year in quantifiable cost. When we look at this issue, these realities cannot be ignored or minimized. To do so is simply irresponsible. The 21st century context is significantly different than that of the 1st century. Because of these experiences and many more, I have often said that even if I were not a Christian I would have nothing to do with alcohol. There is simply too much sorrow and heartache connected to it. Avoiding this potentially addictive, enslaving and devastating drug is simply the wise thing to do.

(To be continued)

God’s Guidelines for the “Gray Areas” of Life: Wise Decision-Making in a Wicked World, Part 6

Ethical and moral decision-making presents a great challenge for devoted followers of Jesus in the 21st century context. In 1 Corinthians Paul provides helpful guidelines for navigating what could be called “the gray areas” of the Christian life.

These biblical principles are true anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances. They are extremely helpful in leading us to be wise decision-makers as we live out a gospel-centered ethic.

9). Will this action honor my body which belongs to God?
Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body. – 1 Cor. 6:19-20

We touched on this principle in an earlier post, but let’s look at it again from a slightly different angle. In these verses Paul declares that we are not our own and have been bought with a price. Therefore, we should honor God in all we do with our bodies. Chuck Swindoll says our bodies are: 1) a physical extension of Christ, 2) a moral illustration of the Lord, and 3) a spiritual habitation of God. John Piper says 6 things are true because Jesus bought your body:

1) God is for the body not against it. 2) The body is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. 3) The body will be resurrected from the dead. 4) The body is not to be mastered by anything but Christ. 5) The body is not to be used for any immorality. 6) The body is to be used for the glory of God. What is the result? “Use your body in ways that will show that God is more satisfying, more precious, more to be desired, more glorious than anything the body craves” (John Piper, “You Were Bought with a Price”). I don’t know about you, but I like this. Use my body to show how satisfying God is? Now that’s a life in the body worth living!

10). Will this action glorify God?
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory. – 1 Cor. 10:31

This climatic and over-arching principle has been called “the joyful duty of man.” It is right in its God-focus for He is the most beautiful and valuable person in the entire universe. It is right in its human perspective for it makes clear why we are here: to live for God’s glory. John Piper is right: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him!” (John Piper, Desiring God, 9). No part of life is exempt from this principle. It is comprehensive and it is satisfying! So, seek His glory, and do it with passion!

Putting Our Ten Principles into Practice
When making ethical choices, world Christians will not wed their cultural and personal preferences to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They will vigorously keep them separate and distinct. They will not insist on their rights or their special interest that could cloud the beauty and purity of the gospel. How can a devoted Christ follower stand beneath the cross of their Savior and insist on their rights? To give up our rights for the spiritual and eternal blessing of others will be a joy and not a burden. It is our calling in Christ (Mark 10:35-45).

How will this influence the way we live as Christians? I believe the following theological paradigm applied to the Corinthian correspondence can give us some additional guidelines to consider. Several years ago, when I served at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, my good friend Al Mohler and I often discussed how the church should worship. He developed the following model that also provides insight for how the church should live out the gospel in today’s cultural context.

A Theological Paradigm for Being the Body of Christ

Bad Church (Christian)

+ Good Way

+ Good Church (Christian)

+ Good Way

Bad Church (Christian)

Bad Way

+ Good Church (Christian)

– Bad Way

Obviously, we want to be in the top box on the right. We want to be a good Christian in a good way. It is not difficult to discern a good Christian, because we have a perfect manual called the Bible to instruct and guide us. We can go to the counsel of the Old and New Testaments and discover God’s ideas for gospel ethics. Some things are non-negotiables. Some things are transparent. However, being a good Christian in a good way is not always as easy to discover. The good way is more subjective in nature. Cultural context plays a significant role at this point. There are many gray areas in life that are not always clear. How can we discover the good way? I believe the ten principles found in the Corinthian correspondence, provide tremendous help. Complementing them with six affirmations or axioms that take into consideration our 4-fold paradigm, I believe we can gain some insight into how we can find the “good way.”

Six Guiding Axioms for Finding the “Good Way”

  1. Love will regulate liberty.
  2. Love will rein in legalism.
  3. That which detracts from the gospel will be avoided.
  4. That which distracts from the gospel will be avoided.
  5. Follow the witness principle.
  6. Follow the wisdom principle.

In my last article in this series I will present a test case in which we can apply these principles. I suspect it will get your attention: the issue of alcohol.