Wednesday, April 10, 2013

God’s Word about Alcohol – 1 Tim 5:23

 No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities.
Alcohol Permitted
1 Tim 5:23 is the one verse in the Bible that every alcoholic knows. Try to tell an alcoholic that he drinks too much and if he knows you are a Christian, he will most likely say the Bible doesn’t prohibit drinking then quote this verse to you. He is right, the Bible doesn’t prohibit alcoholic drink and in some cases it recommends it.
The first is medicinal use as Paul recommended. I’m not sure how much good a little and the emphasis is on little and not much, medical help there is in wine. So who would you look to for good medical advice? I looked it up on the internet and found an article from the Mayo clinic. The explained that the biggest evidence of health is the antioxidants that are found in red wine that comes from the grape skin. These help in cholesterol balance and reducing the formation of blood clots. However, they also pointed out that you can antioxidants from a variety of other foods and other alcoholic drinks such as beer. They cautioned that over use of any alcoholic beverage has more dangers and listed them. Only two 5-ounce drinks of wine a day for a man and one for a woman was the maximum recommendation. They stated that neither the American Heart Association nor the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend it.[1] In our age, we have better foods, diets, and medications to take care of our stomach and frequent infirmities than was available to Timothy.
What are the other uses for wine in the Bible?
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth;  And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart. (Ps 104:14-15 KJV)
God has provided everything we need. If it were not for His hand in keeping the universe going, we wouldn’t have feed for cattle and other animals or vegetables for ourselves. There wouldn’t be any more meat and potatoes. We would quickly die off. One process in nature is fermentation. Without that, we wouldn’t have wine and other alcoholic beverages. In this Psalm, God reminds us that He is the one that is in control of nature and therefore has provided wine and its purpose is to make the heart of man glad. He has provided it along with cosmetics and good food. We should be thankful for all that God has provided and only use it to glorify Him.
Another interesting aspect of God’s provision for alcoholic use was allowed when offering the tithe to the Lord. In Deut 14:22-27, the Lord commanded that everyone set aside a tenth of their crops to be brought to the tabernacle and offered once a year. If they lived a long way from the tabernacle, then they were to sell the tithe and bring the money instead. When they arrived, they were to buy food for the feast.
When you arrive, you may use the money to buy any kind of food you want—cattle, sheep, goats, wine, or other alcoholic drink. Then feast there in the presence of the Lord your God and celebrate with your household. (Deut 14:26 NLT)
Note that wine and other alcoholic drink are specified making it clear that wine is alcoholic and not grape juice as some contend. Other versions translate alcoholic drink as strong drink. There is no translation problem as this word is always translated the same (except in the NIV which sometimes uses beer) and is not the same word for wine. The conclusion is that God allows alcohol to be consumed and even in celebration before the Lord. When Jesus turned water into wine, He affirmed the celebratory use at weddings and was a manifestation of His glory (John 2:1-11).
Give strong drink[2] unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more. (Prov 31:6-7 KJV)
Here are two different uses of the two alcoholic beverages in the Old Testament. As indicated by the Hebrew language, strong drink was more than wine. Since it is recommend to someone who is perishing, it may have been used for someone with a terminal illness or injury to help deaden the pain. The weaker wine was to lift heavy hearts as described in Ps 104:15. However, it is evident in the proverb that if they drink enough, they well get bombed and forget their misery. We also need to be cautious about these verses, as the context (see warnings below) would indicate that this use is a contrast to a warning. It is a poor substitute for a close walk with the Lord regardless of your circumstances.
When you think about it and see what has happened in Russia with their chronic depressed economy, vodka is still free flowing. It isn’t necessarily so in all depressed cultures, but it seems that even when people are poor, they find ways of drowning their sorrows in booze.
And that brings us to the abuse of alcohol which is where the alcoholic needs to listen instead of quoting the permission given in the Bible.
Alcohol Warnings
It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. (Prov 31:4-5 KJV)
Rulers, government officials, judges, leaders of industry should all sit up and take notice of this proverb. The previous few verses in first Timothy were talking about honoring rulers and we looked at what a good ruler is. Now, we need to add that they don’t drink. This proverb implies that once they start, there will be consequences – forgetting the law and perverting their judgment. How much drinking does it take? It doesn’t take as much as we think. You can argue it all you want, but God has said that alcohol clouds your judgment. If you want to be in a leadership role, you should stay away from alcohol.
All we need to do to prove this proverb is look at DUI arrests. Certainly, they include more than just leaders, but it is amazing how many people in public office have had a DUI incident. Some have gone to great lengths to try to cover them up when they are in public office.
And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying, "Drink no wine nor strong drink, you nor your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die; it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean; and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by Moses." (Lev 10:8-11 RSV)
Even though the Lord allowed the use of alcohol when feasting before Him, when the priests were to draw close to Him they were prohibited from using any. There were two reasons. The first was that there had to be a distinction between common or unclean and holy or clean. God is perfectly holy. He doesn’t tolerate any impurity in His presence. In this case, it is ritual purity, not sinlessness because all priests were sinners. The implication is that when a person has partaken of alcohol there are some things he shouldn’t do. The second reason was to teach the people the statutes. If the priests were to enter God’s presence after drinking alcohol, they would have broken a statute of the Lord. By their example, it would then bring into question every statute. Don’t you wonder what else a leader is doing wrong when they’ve been caught in a moral charge, a DUI, misuse of campaign funds, or taking bribes? Do you trust people like that to judge fairly, make godly laws, or enforce laws with justice?
You may argue that Jesus drank wine and was sinless. That is true. I’ve heard teachers who have rationalized that it was OK for Jesus because the wine was always watered down or it was only grape juice. One believed Jesus never drank wine but grape juice because the pure, sinless Son of God would never let anything impure such as fermented grapes inside His body.
My own rationalization is that Jesus was a tradition breaker (Matt 15:2) but revealed the spirit of the law. In the case of murder, the spirit of thou shalt not murder included becoming angry with someone (Matt 5:21-22). Jesus admitted that He drank, implying wine, but denied being a drunkard (Matt 11:19). However, when He was ministering as priest to take away our sins, He refused the wine offered to Him on the cross (Mark 15:23). When He was finished, He took sour wine (which is vinegar after the alcohol has evaporated). Jesus demonstrated the proper use of alcohol and knew when it should be avoided.
Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, Or with gluttonous eaters of meat; For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags. (Prov 23:20-21 NASB)
Over indulgence is the key not only for drinking but also for eating. The warning is clear. It will eventually cause the drunkard (ESV) to end up in poverty. If you doubt this, visit your local Gospel Mission that works to rehabilitate people on alcohol and other drugs. Ask those who have been on the streets without family or friends how they got there. Ask the single mom whose husband was an alcoholic and brought home the beer instead of the bacon.
Avoid Alcohol
29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes?
30 Those who linger long at the wine, Those who go in search of mixed wine.
31 Do not look on the wine when it is red, When it sparkles in the cup, When it swirls around smoothly;
32 At the last it bites like a serpent, And stings like a viper.
33 Your eyes will see strange things, And your heart will utter perverse things.
34 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:
35 "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?"
(Prov 23:29-35 NKJV)
This proverb is a perfect summary of an alcoholic’s story. Each verse encapsulates what is going on. Verse 29 gives the reasons that an alcoholic becomes one. It isn’t because of his disposition or his disease; it is because he has problems. The verse doesn’t explain what he should do; it simply states that they always have reasons to drink. Alcoholics become alcoholics because they don’t seek to find their answers in God. It is all about them and their problems – selfishness. Their idol is self and when self doesn’t get what it wants, it finds excuses instead of turning to God. Idolatry is sin and sin keeps people out of the kingdom of God (Eph 5:5).
We aren’t talking about a person who has an occasional drink. Verse 30 is clear that they are taking the time to drink. They may deny it, especially when they are binge drinkers who only get wiped out one a month or are social drinkers who take drink more that Mayo recommends or even much more. They linger longer than they should. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if they lingered but in addition, they search for it. In other words, there is a purpose in their drinking which follows from the previous verse. The purpose is selfish; they are looking for something to satisfy them outside of God.
The deceptiveness of wine or other alcoholic drinks is evident in verses 31 and 32. I can see the person who wants to be sophisticated swirling the wine in his glass. He makes comments about the body and clarity or bouquet; he is the master of wine and highly respected – at least in his own eyes. It reminds me of Satan’s temptation of Eve in the Garden. She believed that the fruit was a delight to the eyes and would make her wise (Gen 3:6). The comparison to the fall continues as an alcoholic will eventually suffer the bite of the serpent. There are terrible social problems as a result of alcoholism that I doubt can be measured. However vehicle accidents are measured and the cost estimated.
Every day, almost 30 people in the United States die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This amounts to one death every 48 minutes. The annual cost of alcohol-related crashes totals more than $51 billion.
In 2010, 10,228 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (31%) of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.[3]
These statistics are only for deaths in car accidents. How else does the serpent bite? He also causes destruction in families, lost jobs, lost productivity, other accidents, homicides, lying, stealing, and more. If a person is drunk and an accident happens, it isn’t really an accident. That’s why drunk drivers who kill people go to prison. You can probably add to this list out of your personal experience.
Verses 33-35 sum up what happens to people while they are drunk. Many people have made light of the drunk staggering down the street and singing some silly song. However there is physical pain, there is abuse to both the drunk and the spouse and kids. What is the problem – your heart will utter perverse things. What did Jesus say about the heart? He said that evil thoughts, murder, sexual immorality, lying, slander and more come out of the heart (Matt 15:19). Alcohol has a way of letting these things come out much easier than without it.
The last of verse 35 is the ultimate curse of alcohol. The craving or perceived need for more is built into its poison. It is a downward spiral that can only be reversed by extremely strong will power when the alcoholic relies on himself to overcome. Few people have that will power and that’s why alcoholics need more, they need Jesus and the Holy Spirit to overcome. They need to see their sinful heart attitudes and idolatry (pleasures before God) and find their sufficiency in Christ. They have to repent.
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; (Eph 5:18 KJV)
Paul put it very simply. When I’ve been drinking, I’ve let a spirit into my body (that’s why they called alcohol spirits in the past). It isn’t a spirit in the sense of a demon, but it is a spirit in the sense of a desire. It is a real spirit in the sense of a chemical that messes with my brain functions as well as destroying other organs. Even a small amount can make a significant difference. It can make the difference between a careless comment and a careful comment. I know, I’ve been there. One beer, one careless comment that would have not been uttered without that tiny little relaxed feeling and one spouse’s feelings hurt. It is sin facilitated by the booze.
The answer is to be filled with the Spirit of God instead of the spirit that is in the world, whatever that spirit is. If it is alcohol or pot or other drugs, they don’t help the Christian live a life that is Spirit led.
So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh - for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Rom 8:12-14 RSV)
It is our choice. We can put to death the deeds of the body by being led by the Spirit or we can increase the deeds of the flesh (i.e. sin) by desiring and partaking of alcoholic beverages. Try it. See if your life is better or worse without alcohol for a month. What would you miss if you eliminated it from your home, from your social life, from your work? Or are you afraid of what people will say about you or think of you if you don’t drink with them? Do you want to be led by the Spirit of God or the spirit of men or by the spirit of alcohol?

[1] Staff, Mayo Clinic. "Red Wine and Resveratrol: Good for Your Heart?" Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 04 Mar. 2011. Web. 10 Apr. 2013.
[2] OT:7941 shekar — strong drink, intoxicating drink, fermented or intoxicating liquor. (from The Online Bible Thayer's Greek Lexicon and Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, Copyright © 1993, Woodside Bible Fellowship, Ontario, Canada. Licensed from the Institute for Creation Research.)[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 02 Oct. 2012. Web. 09 Apr. 2013.

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