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.


Proverb 20: 1     NIV

Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

Now is a fine time to tell you this after you have had a big Thanksgiving feast complete with holiday toasts. The point is, though, that this is not a law. Notice this verse comes out of one of the wisdom books. It is not out of the law. That should affect the way we perceive what is being taught us. 

Solomon was blessed with wisdom. He shares his God given insights in the book of Proverbs. The purpose of providing these proverbs is to help all who follow to go in the way that will benefit them. In other words, this is not a book of rules. This is a book of advice from the guy who got it directly from God. Everything in this book is intended to make your life better. I will tell you, though, that Solomon does not explain himself. He doesn’t tell us why we should do one thing or another. He simply points in the right direction. Therefore, you do not have to fight with the book of Proverbs. Its passages are only there for your edification. Of course, wisdom might drive us to give attention to these sage passages.

Some researchers tell us that a little red wine is good for us. Hey, even a little dark chocolate can be good for you. The problem is that Americans (by which I refer to residents of the USA) do not seem able to enjoy things in moderation. Where one glass of wine tasted good we choose another. One beer leads to two, three, etc. Now this isn’t a lecture. The point is that in our excesses we are killing ourselves. And even worse than that, we are causing ourselves sickness. At least when you die you are free of the pain. Having to live with illness can be terrible. Alcohol kills brain cells. Now you may have brain cells to spare but I do not so I do not want to do those things which will cause a rapid degeneration of my thought process. Our diets are also contributing to brain dysfunction. You see, most of the problems we blame on old age really are not that at all. They are problems that we have brought on ourselves by our abuse of our bodies.

Secondly, how many people do you know who are improved by alcoholic drink? I cannot think of one. Most of the people I know are less fun to be around when they have been drinking. I assume I am not improved either. We really do damage our lives by our gross consumption of alcohol. How many families have been torn apart because of alcohol? How many people are killed on America’s highways because of drunk driving? Well, you have heard all of this before but every once in a while it pays to take stock of our lives and make sure we have not lost the balance. I am not telling you that you have to be a tea totaller. That is not my business. It is a call that only you can make but I do want you to evaluate the balances in your life. I want you to look at your family and ask if alcohol consumption is adding value to their lives. Especially look at your children, even your adult children. You don’t want to cause them pain for the sake of a beer.

We are entering the season where we attend more parties than any other time of year. I simply want to get your attention before the parties start so as to alert you to the pitfalls that sometimes await us amidst the holiday reverie. Don’t let wine make a fool out of you. And certainly don’t let beer make you a brawler. Please have a care this season that you are not led astray by alcohol. Let the Spirit of the Lord fill you. I promise you that it is much more gratifying. I want the best for you. I want you healthy, wealthy and wise. That is why I started writing this devotional eight years ago. That is why Solomon wrote the Proverbs, to minister life to all he could. Enjoy your glass of wine with dinner if you want. Just don’t be a prisoner to over-indulgence or abstinence. Let the Lord speak to you and lead you. Ask the Lord for more of the Holy Spirit this season. You can never have too much of him.