What does the Scripture say about drinking wine, beer, or “hard liquor”?
Numerous passages speak about wine and strong drink. Timothy was to take wine for medicinal purposes (1Ti 5:23) and the Samaritan applied wine externally for the same purpose (Luke 10:34). Strong drink can be beneficial to revive a person who is dying; wine can be beneficial to revive a person who is emotionally distressed (Pro 31:6).
The greater part of what the Scriptures say warns about the dangers of alcoholic beverages. Paul states simply, “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess” (Eph 5:18). “Excess” carries the thought of a life of indulgence or profligacy (Thayer), thus extravagance and overindulgence that is immoral or harmful. The first mention of drunkenness illustrates this (Gen 9:21), as does the behavior of Lot’s daughters (19:31-38). Solomon associates wine and strong drink with violence (Pro 4:17; 20:1), abusiveness (20:1a), woe, sorrow, strife, complaining, self-inflicted harm (23:32), a liability to immorality, argumentative and obstinate words (v 33), insensitivity (v 34), and addiction (v 35).
How does God view Christians drinking these beverages?
Substance abuse disqualifies men from both being overseers (1Ti 3:3; Titus 1:7) or deacons (1Ti 3:8), who serve publicly in the assembly. It is also inconsistent with reverent behavior in older sisters (Titus 2:3). In fact, Peter speaks the very words of God by inspiration and says, “The time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in . . . excess of wine . . .” (1Pe 4:3). It is enough that a believer came under the influence of wine in unconverted days. That is the mark of a former life and not of Christian living.
A Christian’s coming under the influence of alcohol is evidently a serious matter to God. In the extreme case of repeated excesses, drunkenness necessitates removal from God’s assembly (1Co 5:11).
Is it dangerous because it can be abused?
The previous answer focuses on abuse, but this question completes the picture. Even drinks with a low alcohol content pose a danger. Peter indicates that “new wine” can cause drunkenness (Acts 2:13). Further, two Old Testament passages give us a relevant principle. At the beginning of priestly ministry, fire from God consumed Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons (Lev 10:1-2). God spoke to Aaron on that occasion forbidding him or his sons to drink wine or strong drink when they served in the tabernacle (v 8). The connection of these two indicates that Nadab and Abihu’s “strange fire” resulted from losing self-control through the influence of alcohol. The same injunction applies to priests in a future age (Eze 44:21). God’s injunction forbade not only drunkenness, but the very drinking of alcohol. The same is true of a wise mother’s inspired counsel to her son: “It is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink” (Pro 31:4). Those who stand before God on behalf of mankind (priests) and those who stand before mankind on behalf of God (kings) are not to even risk the loss of self-control through the influence of alcohol. Any imbibing of alcoholic beverages risks some degree of loss of self-control. God ruled out the first drink.
Social drinking, from the first drinks, raises the audible level of the conversation and loosens tongues. Do people indulge in social drinking and never feel “the buzz”? Has anyone imbibed alcoholic beverages and never sensed afterwards that he may have gone too far? Solomon indicates the deceptive character of such drinks in leading a person astray: “Whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Pro 20:1). For those whose privileges before God and on behalf of God far exceed those of Old Testament priests and kings, the slightest possibility of losing self-control (even if they may think they can “hold their drink”) should rule out the first drink.
Does drinking have a bearing on how we represent Christ?
Our testimony is another matter of concern on this subject. In different parts of the world, drinking alcoholic beverages may be regarded as normal behavior. In North America (and this is subjective) drinking alcohol is not viewed as normal Christian behavior. If a Christian wants to “fit in” at social events, he can do so by drinking with the others. If, while doing so, he testifies to one of his companions about the joys of salvation and what a difference Christ has made in his life, inevitably someone at some point will raise his eyebrows to question his drinking or express surprise that “born-again Christians” drink.
But the Scripture speaks directly to Christ-like behavior on this subject. “It is good . . . [not] to drink wine . . . whereby thy brother stumbleth” (Rom 14:21). Paul makes it clear that the thinking behind this decision is like Christ’s: “Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not Himself” (15:2, 3). Is it possible that by taking the liberty to drink alcohol a Christian could cause another believer to stumble into substance abuse? Rather than building up the believer spiritually, the “strong brother” who “knows where to draw the line” (?) could destroy another believer’s testimony.
But consider one further Biblical principle. “He that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him” (Pro 26:27). How often have individuals started to “roll a stone” that rolls much farther than they expected and it comes back to haunt them? Is this not a danger for even a young person who justifies “social drinking” and thinks he has avoided a loss of testimony while doing this? If this behavior continues, will his children one day follow his example? The “stone” will roll further than he intended and those children will be ruined by their ventures into alcoholic beverages – or even other substances. A younger generation faces strong peer pressure to experiment with various substances. The substances are available, are painted as attractive, and are appealing to a young person’s adventurous bent. It could seem reasonable to ask, “If drinking wine is all right for Mom, what’s the problem with marijuana?” And the stone keeps on rolling.