To What End?

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Some years ago, as Tracy and I were about to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary, I asked Tracy what she wanted to do and she responded that she would like to go on a cruise. So, given that we were going to have to drive to Alabama so that our girls could spend a week at their grandparent’s house, we found a cruise ship sailing out of Mobile and spent the most of a week sailing to Mexico and back. It was a nice, relaxing break and I enjoyed it. That’s not to say that another cruise is now at the top of my “vacation I’d most like to take” list. But I’d probably go again, if for no other reason than the wealth of ideas for articles, illustrations and Wednesday night talks. For instance…

After we had been “at sea” for a few hours and had departed Mobile Bay, the cruise director came over the intercom and announced that we were now sailing in international waters and that the “duty-free” shops were officially open. There were watches and jewelry and gold and diamonds for sale, along with the typical “souvenir” type merchandise that you might expect from any vacation experience. But the product that seemed to get the most hype was alcohol. You name it, and you could buy it on the ship, tax free. In fact, there was an entire wing of the shopping area dedicated solely to liquor. This being my first experience with cruising, I suppose that I really hadn’t thought much about this, but I quickly realized that one of the consistent attractions of our five days at sea and in Mexico was the consumption of booze. There was a “tasting event” the first night where anyone of legal drinking age could sample everything from rum to vodka to scotch to cognac. In the casual restaurant, wine stewards were circulating through the room offering samples of wine to accompany the evening’s formal dinner. At every show, waiters and waitresses were constantly hawking something from the bar. One night there was a martini tasting event; another night featured “cigars and mojitos”. Free champagne at the art auction; free tequila samples in Progresso; a “drink of the day” and “wine of the day” listed in the daily calendar of events. And of course, don’t forget the beer. I didn’t count the number of bars on the ship, but needless to say they were plentiful.

I suppose that I shouldn’t have been surprised by the prevalence of alcohol on our cruise, given the prevalence of alcohol consumption in society generally. But somehow, in that environment, there was simply more emphasis upon the use of such. I guess that’s why Carnival calls their fleet “The Fun Ships.” And given the commonplace use of alcohol in our day, it is not surprising that the issue of social drinking among Christians is faced by each generation. I am hearing more and more about disciples of Jesus who regularly drink alcohol. And I must admit that such a practice raises some serious concerns.

I have heard and read all kinds of sermons and articles discussing the issue of Christianity and alcohol. Some of them are honest, forthright portrayals of biblical teaching. Others engage in convoluted semantic gymnastics in attempts to legislate where the Bible doesn’t. The simple reality is that the Word of God nowhere says that it is a sin to take a drink of alcohol. I’ll probably be castigated somewhat for such a statement, but it is nonetheless true. However, I don’t believe that the absence of such a statement means that Christians should use alcohol for other than medicinal purposes. It seems clear that Christians in the biblical record drank fermented beverages. And while they were not nearly so potent as most of the offerings of the present day, a person could become inebriated if he drank enough. Such drunkenness is clearly condemned (1 Pet.4.3f; 1 Cor.6.9-10; Gal.5.19-21). In fact, Peter’s admonition in 1 Pet.4.3 makes a pretty strong argument against the practice of social drinking, and the general thrust of God’s Word does not cast alcohol in a favorable light at all. Consider the warning of Prov.23.29f, the description of wine as “a mocker” (Prov.20.1), or the frequency of immorality, violence, injustice, and sin with which wine is associated throughout the bible. You would think that a wise person – one who really wants to serve the Lord and avoid anything that might impede his judgment – wouldn’t really need a command to tell us to avoid alcohol. But there are some who persist in the insistence that Christians can engage in the casual use of alcohol. May I suggest that we approach this question from another angle?

Why drink? To what end? What is the real purpose of using alcohol for those of us who are trying to serve God? Does it help me to become more godly? Is the use of such productive of some greater level of maturity? Is it an asset to my influence? Does it enhance my character? Or do Christians use alcohol because we are driven by social acceptability? Or have we used it enough that we need its effect (I believe that’s called addiction)? Do we like the sensation, the physical stimulation, the buzz, even the taste? And do any of these realities justify the use of such? Couldn’t we make the same arguments about other drugs? It’s very rare to hear anything good that comes from the use of alcohol, and very common to hear about difficulty, tragedy, heartache, and disappointment. How many physical injuries are alcohol related? How many sexual improprieties, from consensual intercourse to rape, result from drinking? How many deaths can be attributed to the impact of alcohol? Why, pray tell, would we want to involve ourselves with something that consistently produces problems? My strong suspicion is that those who advocate its use are more driven by worldly concerns than they are by godly concerns. Bottom line? We want to drink because we don’t want to be different. Or because we like it and don’t want to quit it.

Maybe, just maybe, we are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, “Can a Christian drink alcohol?”, perhaps we ought to ask, “Should a Christian drink alcohol?” Paul noted on more than one occasion that what is lawful is not necessarily helpful (1 Cor.6.12f; 10.23f). I know that’s not the principle that most folks want to consider, but it seems to me that it may be the wisest. It’s a real test of maturity when we start thinking more about what we ought to do than about what we have the right to do. “To what end?” is a sobering question. Or at least it ought to be.

–Russ Bowman