Christians and Wine
(Ken Symington is president of Christian Restoration in Ireland)
TO DRINK, OR NOT TO DRINK?
Christians are often divided over the issue of alcohol.
Total abstinence has been linked to Godliness, and those Christians who feel at liberty in Christ to enjoy wine are often made to feel 'ungodly'.
But what does God's word say about wine?
'Go eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do' Ecl. 9 7
‘..your kisses are like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth' Song of S. 7 9
‘Thou doest cause the grass to grow for the cattle....and wine to gladden the heart of man..' Psalm 104 14
Most of Jesus' parables were about vineyards. He used wine and wineskins, and vines, and winepresses to illustrate spiritual points.
His first miracle was turning water into wine. Gallons and gallons of the best wine for a party.
John the Baptist did not drink wine (Luke 1:15 & 7:33) but Jesus did drink wine, and was even accused of being a drunkard. (Luke 7:34)
Paul advised Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach.(1
Jesus gave wine the highest honour of representing His precious blood during the last supper, and asks His followers to use wine in remembrance of His death until He comes. (Luke 22: 18-20)
In Deuteronomy 14 God tells the Israelites to bring their tithes in to the place of His choosing once a year to rejoice before Him. In His clear instructions He gives them the freedom of choice to spend the money on whatever they want in the way of food and drink. Not only is wine given Yahweh's clearance, but so is 'strong drink'!
“Go to the place which the Lord your God chooses, and spend the money for whatever you desire. Oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves, and you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice.”
Note that is was alright to drink or not to drink wine or strong drink. It was the individual's choice made before God.
Tony Campolo humorously suggests that we should get T-shirts made declaring 'My God is a party Deity'
(At this point every religious spirit within us will be rapidly rising to the surface!)
Jesus likened the Kingdom of God to a wedding feast or celebration or a wedding party, and He was likening it to a Jewish wedding!. Our solemn piety might leave us feeling a little bit out of place at such a celebration before the Lord.
Wisdom is said to have mixed her wine in furnishing her table (Prov. 9:2). Wine might be drunk with milk (Song 5:1). Melchizedek brought wine and bread to Abraham when Abraham returned from battle (Gen. 14:18). Wine was offered by the old man of Gibeah to the traveling Levite (Judg. 19:19). Jesse sent David with bread, a skin of wine, and a young goat as a present when Saul was fighting the Philistines (1 Sam. 16:20). Abigail brought David two skins of wine (1 Sam. 25:18). Strongholds were supplied with "wine" in case of siege (2 Chron. 11:11)
The tribes of Issachar, Zebulun, and Naphtali brought wine to David (1 Chr.12-40) when David was made king. Ziba brought David wine as he fled from Abasalom (2 Sam. 16:1–2). Job’s children were drinking wine at their brother’s house when disaster struck (Job 1:13, 18). Wine was on the list of supplies that the Persians furnished the captive Jewish people when they returned to Jerusalem (Ezra 6:9; 7:22). "And whatever they need . . . wheat, salt, wine, and oil according to the request of the priests who are in Jerusalem . . ." (6:9).
Wine was also used as medicine. It was said to revive the faint (2 Sam.
16:2) and was suitable as a sedative for people in distress (Prov. 31:6).
Mixed with a drug, it was used to ease suffering (Matt. 27:34; Mark
15:23). The Samaritan poured oil and wine on the wounds of the injured traveler
So quite clearly, unmistakably, scripturally, wine is a good gift from God.
And if the devil can't counterfeit God's gift, he will encourage its abuse and so bring discredit upon it.
This applies to spiritual gifts as much as to wine.
Paul warns us of deceitful spirits who will.. ‘forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer, 1 Tim. 4 1-5
However like all of God's blessings, such as wine, and sexuality, we can, through the lusts of the flesh, and the prompting of our adversary, so easily allow the blessing to become a curse.
And so God's word is firm on such abuses.
‘And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery' Eph. 5 18
‘..not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard or robber.' 1 Cor. 5 11
We can eat too much, or debase our God given sexuality and the Bible has many examples and warnings against such behaviour. Never do we contemplate forbidding Godly eating, or Godly lovemaking. Rather we preach wisely against gluttony and we preach forcefully against the wrongful use of our sexuality.
The same principle must be applied to wine. Exactly as God applies it.
As children of God we have inherited a hard won freedom in Christ. Not outside of Christ.
There lies bondage, but IN Christ, lies our freedom. Paul tells us..
‘All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful - I will not be enslaved by anything' 1 Cor. 6 12
‘Deacons must be serious, not double tongued, not addicted to much wine..' 1 Tim. 3 8
Any good thing God gives us can be easily abused and turned into a curse.
Amongst the first things Noah did when he emerged safe and sound out of the ark was to
plant a vineyard.
However, he abused the gift of wine, fell down on top of his bed, drunk and naked. One of his sons, Ham, saw him in this state and told his brothers, presumably having a laugh at his father's dishonourable state.
Noah awoke, presumably still under the influence of the wine, and instead of apologising for his foolishness , he placed a curse on Ham, the son who had not correctly honoured him, and out of this unfortunate son, came Canaan, and through Canaan came so much of the troubles that God's chosen people had to contend with in the promised land in years to come. Noah blessed the other sons Shem and Japeth, and out of Shem came Abraham, and the Jewish nation, the children God chose for Himself to reveal His glory through.
Wine resulted in a family split, and a family line at war with each other. A warring family line that is still outworking that original curse in the cauldron of the middle east at this very moment in time.
A family split eventually became nations split.
All over a righteous man's abuse of one of God's gifts to him.
For our doctrine to be God's doctrine it must be able to
accommodate everything God has to say about it. We cannot hold on to the
negative scriptures alone and build a man made doctrine which of necessity
must then turn a blind eye to the positive scriptures.
Here in Northern Ireland we've often been so against alcohol in any shape or form that there are ministers who confidently teach that when Jesus turned the water into wine He turned it into non-alcoholic wine. Wine alright, but new wine as yet unfermented (and therefore non - alcoholic)
Two points make this teaching unscriptural.
First, wine was a long standing part of the nation's stable diet and Jesus stated as a fact that Jewish people knew that old wine was much better than new wine. Luke 5:39) The wedding guests immediately recognised this wine that He supplied for the party as being 'the best wine' which meant that it was recognised as aged, full bodied and well refined wine.
God's idea of the best wine is stated clearly for us in Isaiah 25:6
And in this mountain
The Lord of hosts will make for all people
A feast of choice pieces,
A feast of wines on the lees,
Of fat things full of marrow,
Of well-refined wines on the lees
Secondly, and more basically, 'wine' is fermented grape juice. The natural sugar ferments and turns to alcohol. Sometimes the juice was preserved in its unfermented state and drunk as 'must' but not as 'wine' If wine was to be kept for some time, a certain amount of 'lees' was added to give it body. The wine was consequently required to be "refined" or strained previous to being brought to the table.
Indeed, after reviewing Hebrew words used for wine, Smith's Bible dictionary comments.. "It has been disputed whether the Hebrew wine was fermented; but the impression produced on the mind by a general review of the above notices is that the Hebrew words indicating wine refer to fermented, intoxicating wine"
There are preachers who tell us that the wine in the last supper was non alcoholic.
There is no scriptural or historical mandate for such a conclusion.
The wine used in the New Testament church was alcoholic wine, because Paul gave off to them about over eating over drinking and getting drunk at church.
‘When you meet together it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating each one goes ahead with his own meal, and one is hungry and another is drunk. What, do you not have houses to eat and drink in?”
Tony Campolo is Baptist, and Baptists use wine in communion where many other denominations use blackcurrant juice, or wine with the alcohol removed by modern technology. He is fond of saying "That's ok. You do it your way. We'll do it His way" Humorous but pointed!
When folks want to try and make scripture say something that is clearly does not then it produces all sorts of theories. There is talk that the Hebrews always watered the wine down with water. Picture the Lord's supper. Jesus holds the red wine that symbolises His precious Blood that will seal the New Covenant. Then one of the disciples tells Him to remember to water it down. Enough said.
People are free to not drink wine, to drink wine, or to water down their wine. Whatever, as long as everything is done as 'on to the Lord' When we do it as on to the Lord then we do it with a right heart and with wisdom, because we will not want to bring discredit to the Lord.
There is the theory that wine was only used to purify the water. Jesus drank wine, John the Baptist did not. The water did John no harm. No where in scripture does it say that God gave us wine to purify water. Scripture says that wine is to 'gladden the heart' (Psalm 104:14)
This is not to send people out to buy wine, it is simply to bring God's word in to
play in place of traditions made of men. This is not to say that these traditions are bad
traditions, but that is what they are, and must be declared so.
But God has powerful restrictions to place on the use of wine.
Aaron, set apart by God to minister to God's people was told that if he went into the sanctuary with drink he would be killed.
“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 forever throughout your generations.” Lev. 10 9
Coming to minister as God's servant with drink taken is as we see, a definite ‘no no' throughout all generations.
And for some people, God has specific personal demands regarding abstinence , and He will let these people know of His will on this matter.
Our bodies are God's temple that He chooses to dwell in. When we can enjoy all God's blessing without being captured and controlled by them, we will know that Godly liberty that God allows us under the Lordship of Christ.
But mature Christians are asked not to let their liberty become a stumbling block for less mature, or weaker Christians, and so we are to be wise in our freedom.
‘Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow becomes a stumbling block to the weak.' 1 Cor. 8 9
‘For you were called to freedom brethren, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh..' Eph. 5 13
We are free to enjoy God's blessing of wine, but not free to abuse the blessing, and not free to let the blessing be a stumbling block to a brother who has had, or may still be wrestling with a drink problem.
And if someone would be upset by our drinking we must respect their sensitivities and not wave our freedom under their noses. In many homes it is justifiably a sensitive issue. There has been a painful history of alcohol abuse.
Remove any stumbling blocks that would hinder anyone from coming to Christ, or drawing closer to Christ.
But also beware of the Pharisees. Jesus was labeled a drunkard and a glutton, presumably because He was to be seen in the close company of 'sinners' who were drunkards and gluttons. He was a friend of sinners. However the continual fruit of His non condemning friendship and the demonstration of His perfect liberty in the midst of their bondage bore testimony to His wisdom.
"The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they
say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and
sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children." Matthew 11:19
And herein lies a similar problem for us.
Even the most mature of us in Christ need enormous wisdom in exercising our liberty in Christ otherwise we can give the appearance of evil. (1st Thessalonians 5:22)
In mixing with people who as yet do not know Jesus and do not attend church, we could stand with one or two glasses of wine or beer all night, while all around us people are drinking heavily.
The casual onlooker may not know that we are in Godly control, since
every time they look we are holding a drink in our hand, and they cannot know that it is the same
drink they saw half an hour ago, therefore in outward appearance we too
could be wrongly accused of being drunkards and gluttons no different from
those all around us.
If they accused Jesus of being a drunkard, then in similar circumstances we can expect the same slur on our Christian character.
Personally - and it is personal between the Lord and myself - I enjoy wine, or an occasional beer, when I'm in the company of people who know me, and know where I stand with the Lord. There I can enjoy my freedom in Christ.
But at general open gatherings where drink abuse is likely, I choose to mix freely but drinking orange simply to ensure that as an ambassador for Christ, no slur is thrown on me the following day, when the drunken antics of the evening are being recounted.
But it was not the public revelers that accused Jesus. They undoubtedly would have known He enjoyed the wine, not visa versa. He was only enjoying what He created after all, though they wouldn't have known that!
It was the religious people who pointed the finger and threw the slurs upon Him.
But He cared not about their religious arrogant piety.
He had peace about His actions with God His Father.
He was where He could do most good. In their midst.
Going to them, not waiting for them to come to Him.
But some distance away the religious pious were busy placing a great divide between themselves and those who most needed the good news about the Kingdom of God. They stood looking down their spiritual noses at the great physician amongst the spiritually sick.
A place we often carefully avoid for fear of undeserved rebuke from
within the church. Or fear of temptation.
So there's a careful balance.
Freedom with wisdom, and humility before God.
If, under the Lordship of Christ, loving God and your fellow man, you choose to drink wine, God will honour your decision. You will have that 'peace'.
If, similarly, you choose not to drink wine for personal reasons, God will honour your decision. You will have that 'peace'.
If, similarly, you choose not to enjoy a little wine, as a sacrifice to God, or to make sure you never would fall foul of temptation, or put a stumbling block in anyone's pathway to God, or offend anyone's sensitivities, He will honour that decision too. You will have that 'peace'.
If, however, under a spirit of religion, you choose to abstain from wine as an outward show of personal piety, or to score spiritual one up-manship points, and look down your long spiritual nose at those who do not abstain, but respect God's gift, then you're in good company. The Pharisees.
The earth is the Lords, and everything in it, and all
things were made for His glory. Everything God made He declared as
'good'. It is the abuse of the good gift that makes the event
bad. When we let the abuse cause us to declare the actual gift as bad
then we make a serious statement. Sexual intercourse is a powerful
gift from God, but carries God's parameters. If you are reading this then
you are the result of sexual intercourse. It is the abuse (i.e. the ungodly
use) of this powerful gift that brings untold misery to millions of
individuals and families every year. Such misery from the abuse can so
easily lead people to believe that God does not approve of sexual
intercourse itself. Go forth and multiply means go forth and have sexual
intercourse. We must learn to separate the abuse from the gift and not
let Satan's religious spirits cause us to state or even imply that God's
gifts are in themselves 'bad'.
We'll let Jesus have the final words on the fruit of the vine. At the last supper He told His disciples
that from now on, - meaning of course that He had enjoyed sharing the fruit of the vine with them previously, right up until this awesome moment in history, when He designated wine as the sacramental symbol of the precious Blood that He would soon be shedding to cut the New Covenant between God and man.
“From now on, I shall not drink of the fruit of
the vine until the Kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22 18)
or as Mark records His words.. “Truly I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God.” (Mark 14 25)
Jesus was going back to the Father as their mediator, as our mediator. To intercede for
us, to pray for us, to mediate like a barrister on our behalf until that day of the great
party - The wedding feast of the Lamb.
The bridegroom will have His spotless wife. Like Jacob finally getting Rachael, the bride he wanted, and worked for, Jesus will be inviting us to the wedding feast where the banner over us will be love, and then and only then, will He be free to drink the wine again with all His disciples.
Revelation 19 verse 9..'And the angel said to me, “Write this - Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
That table is being prepared for us right now, in the presence of our enemies - those terrible powers of darkness in heavenly places who continue to bring such pain to God's creation.
The fruit of the vine is God's gift to us to gladden our hearts, and as with all good gifts from above, it is to be used with wisdom in order that it should be a blessing in our lives and not a gift that has been hijacked by the devil and transformed by his evil touch into a curse.
And the fruit of the vine is divinely symbolic when blessed and set apart to remind us of what Jesus did for us on Calvary, nearly 2,000 years ago, and to remind us that one day we will be sharing the fruit of the vine anew with Him at the marriage feast.
We have all been invited.
When we witness for Him, we are merely handing out His invitations to drink wine new with Him in heaven.
He does so pray that you will decide to come to Him, and so to His party.
Thank you Lord for the gift of wine to gladden the heart.
The gift of wine to remember your blood shed for us
- as we look back to what you have done.
The gift of wine to remember the great marriage feast
- as we look forward to what you will do.
And thank you for the warnings and responsibilities
that come with each good gift from above.
Give us wisdom Lord in the midst of our liberty.
In Jesus' name, we ask.
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