New Wine

1 Timothy 5: 23

No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.

Paul in writing to Timothy included this statement at the end of his discourse about elders. It is actually awkwardly placed between two statements that are about the sins of others. So, maybe Paul was attempting to communicate to Timothy that a little wine, even among the elders is not sinful.

I have always held that being Christian must not necessarily be synonymous with being a tea-totaller, or completely abstaining from alcoholic drinks. People will remind us that Jesus’ first miracle was turning water to wine. I still hold this position. One need not completely abstain, but then again . . ..

The culture in the United States has quickly changed from the occasional social cocktail to a beer culture. In just a few years we have seen the complexion of restaurants change dramatically. There are fewer and fewer eateries which do not serve alcohol and more and more pub like establishments. In fact, even the movie theaters now serve alcoholic beverages. You can’t have a party without serving alcohol. People used to be concerned about offending someone by serving alcohol. Now you are more likely to offend someone if you don’t. It is a change, no doubt. I think a discussion is needed without putting a judgment on it. We don’t have to say this is good or that is bad to consider how those things affect us and how we want to think about them.

Christians have gotten swept up in this change too. Being a Christian doesn’t seem to affect everyone’s drinking habits or the way people think about alcoholic consumption among Christians. In fact, you might be surprised how often people give me gifts of alcohol even knowing I am a minister and pastor. I am not offended but I am always surprised.

It is funny how we label ourselves sometimes and what we think those labels mean. For some, the definition of a Christian includes being a non-drinker. There doesn’t seem to be a label distinguishing drinkers and non-drinkers. What label do you wear that says, “Yeah, I am open for getting together drinking?”

So here is what I have observed. A lot of us call ourselves Christians but there is wide disparity among us on almost every level. I think, though, that our Christian name tag should separate us. It seems to me that my life in Christ ought to be a major facet of my life, not just another jewel in my charm bracelet. It  ought to be bigger and should identify me as if to say, “This is my self-identity. I am in Christ and he colors my world.” Instead, I see groups of people getting together, all of whom call themselves Christians but they get together over a beer or bottle of wine rather than the Word. Again, let me be clear, I am not criticizing anyone having the occasional drink but my observation is that we have departed from that paradigm. Now, the drink is the central figure and we park Jesus at the curb. I recently saw a Christian post this question, “If you were an alcoholic drink, what would you be?” This isn’t a criticism of that person but rather an observation that this is where we are as Christians. I think episodes like this should stimulate a conversation as to whether this is where we want to be. If the answer is, “Yes,” then so be it but I think many Christians might want to consider if we have gone too far.

Personally, I think we have. When I see Christians getting together to drink but never to fellowship over the Word then I wonder if we still have the right to label ourselves Christians. It seems the drink has become more important than the Son and that we should wear a different name tag which more accurately describes us.

I am not saying that I never have a drink. I just recently visited Ireland and we were treated to some of Ireland’s finest. However, I am home now. It was lovely sampling Irish culture but that was for then. It is not part of my culture or routine. I tell you this to prove to you that I am not advocating that every Christian must become a strict non-drinker. That is a decision we each must make with God but if alcohol is more important or plays a more significant role in our lives than Jesus, then there is certainly something to be concerned with. I don’t think food, or drink, or sport, or work, or anything should occupy a bigger part than Jesus. And I certainly think as Christians we are supposed to look and act differently from the world. I also think we are supposed to want to.

I wonder if we haven’t taken grace a bit too far when it comes to alcohol. I can only tell you what I have observed and that is that many Christians seem more interested in their drink than in their Lord. There is nothing wrong with watching football with your friends and having a beer or the occasional drink but when the party is more important or more prominent in our lifestyle than seeking Jesus, the Christ then I don’t know how worthy we are to be called his disciples. It’s also okay to go to the football party and not drink alcohol and it needs to be okay for each of us.

I don’t write this today as condemnation of anyone. I also do not intend that any of us have a license to judge others. I write this today to get you, all of you collectively, to ask if this is who we are and who we want to be? Have we gone too far with being relatable that there is no meaningful distinction between us and those who do not profess Jesus as Lord? I intend to stimulate some thought and hopefully a dialogue. What are the hallmarks of Christians? I want us to think about who we are as a people and what we stand for. I want us to consider where Jesus stands in our lives compared to all the worldly pleasures that are available. Are there boundaries and who should set them for us? The Christian culture has changed as much as the social culture and we should ask ourselves if we like the direction.