The Christian and Wine
Though wine is not absolutely forbidden, the Bible warns against the disastrous consequences of its abuse and drunkenness. Alcohol has been the cause of sickness, sorrow, shame and death for so many people. It is therefore not surprising that many Christians choose to abstain from drinking any wine or alcohol altogether. Other Christians drink a little, enjoying an occasional glass of wine with their meals. Every one must make responsible choices in the light of Scripture. Please consider the following biblical principles:
1. Wine is God's gift; 2. Drunkenness is condemned; 3. Abuse brings terrible consequences; 4. Alcohol is addictive; 5. Do not judge or offend others.
Wine is God's Gift
There are many casual references to wine in the Bible which suggest that making and drinking wine was a normal aspect of Hebrew culture. For example, Melchizedek brought bread and wine to Abraham and his men - an evidently good deed. Similarly, Jesus spoke of wine, old and new wineskins, vineyards and winepresses in his parables (Matthew 9:17; 21:33). Christ performed his first miracle by changing water into wine (Gk oinos) during the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:9).
Some people argue that the Hebrew and Greek words yayin and oinos (translated "wine") could refer to grape juice as well as fermented wine. However it is highly unlikely that "wine" is fermented whenever the word is used in a negative context and always unfermented grape juice when used in a positive context! "Yayin" and "oinos" simply mean wine - containing enough alcohol to cause drunkenness if taken in excess (e.g. "Noah awoke from his wine [yayin]" Genesis 9:24; "be not drunk with wine [oinos]" Ephesians 5:18).
There are alternative words in Hebrew and Greek meaning "new wine" (tiyrowsh, aciyc, gleukos) -- unfermented grape juice or low in alcohol content, or simply wine that is not fully aged. We should keep in mind that once the grapes are crushed, fermentation starts immediately and the juice quickly changes to wine. The alcohol content reaches its near maximum level within a couple of weeks. The Jews did not know of any process (pasteurization was discovered in the nineteenth century) that could prevent grape juice from fermentation.
There is historical evidence that wine was often drunk mixed with water. Some argue that the Jews drank diluted wine because their water supply was polluted (and since clean water is readily available today, they argue, we have no good reason to drink wine). However, that was certainly not the only reason for the Bible also says that God's people drank wine to make their heart glad and merry. The following scriptures teach that wine is a blessing, a gift of God for our enjoyment.
Wine is a gift of God. We should not call evil what God, in Scripture, has declared to be good.
Drunkenness is Condemned
However God's good gifts are often sinfully abused. Intoxication with wine, drunkenness, is sin. Heavy drinking is often associated with wild parties, immorality and strife that characterize the life of the ungodly. Drunkards will be eternally lost unless they repent. Their only hope of salvation is through regeneration by the Holy Spirit, cleansing and renewing of their lives. God commands believers not to have anything to do with their former ungodly way of life. Our minds should not be controlled by alcohol; rather we should be "filled with the Spirit."
We must distinguish between God's gift, wine, which is good in itself, and the abuse of it, drunkenness which is sin.
The consequences of misuse of wine are terrible. Alcohol intoxication leads to:
1. Sexual immorality: "Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor, pressing him to the bottle, even to make him drunk, that you may look on his nakedness" (Habakkuk 2;15). Noah got drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent (Genesis 9:21). Lot was intoxicated by his daughters and this led to incest (Genesis 19:32-36).
2. Errors of judgement: "They also have erred through wine, and through intoxicating drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through intoxicating drink. They are swallowed up by wine; they are out of the way through intoxicating drink. They err in vision, they stumble in judgement" (Isaiah 28:7, 8). Driving or working heavy machinery under the influence of alcohol have caused accidents, injury and death.
3. Violence: "Wine is a mocker, intoxicating drink arouses brawling: and whoever is led astray by it is not wise" (Proverbs 20:1). Domestic violence is often associated with drunkenness.
4. Misery and poverty: "A drunken man staggers in his vomit…all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that no place is clean (Isaiah 19:14; 28:8). "He who loves pleasure will be a poor man; He who loves wine and oil will not be rich" (Proverbs 21:17). Both wine and food are good gifts of God. We sin when we take them in excess and the result is drunkenness and gluttony. These two sins are placed side by side in the Bible: "For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty" (Proverbs 23:21).
Proverbs 23:29-35 gives us a graphic description of the degrading and dreadful condition of the drunkard:
"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, Those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly; At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things. Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, Or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying: They have struck me, but I was not hurt; They have beaten me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?"
Alcohol is Addictive
It is easy to become addicted to wine and alcoholic drink. Following the bitter experience described in Proverbs 23, we would expect that poor man to shun alcohol forever. On the contrary, he asks, "When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?" (Proverbs 23:35). What a pathetic condition! He is enslaved to the bottle and "overcome with wine" (Isaiah 28:1).
The apostle Paul gives us this principle: "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any" (1 Corinthians 6:12).
So, though it is lawful to drink some wine, there is always the danger of being brought under its addictive power. If you are habitually drinking alcohol in increasing large amounts (say more than one or two glasses a day), realize that you are becoming an addict. Repent and ask God to forgive you and renew your life. Pour every bottle of alcoholic drink in the house down the drain, and seek help from your family, pastor and Christian friends. I will not be brought under the power of wine!
Do Not Judge or Offend
The Bible gives us clear instructions about matters such as eating, drinking and feast days:
"Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things… Let each be fully convinced in his own mind…But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?.... So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way…Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit…It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin" (See Romans 14).
If you decide to drink a little wine, be careful not to offend those who do not. Do not let your good be spoken of as evil. If you invite a Christian for dinner and you know that he does not drink, do not offer him wine. He sins if he drinks wine against his conscience, for "whatever is not from faith is sin."
On the other hand, if you choose to abstain from wine and alcohol, you are free in the Lord to do so. However do not judge or look down on other Christians who drink. The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking. Let every person follow his conscience and give thanks to the Lord for everything. Let all Christians live at peace with one another despite our different opinions on such matters.
© Dr Joseph Mizzi