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.


Galatians 3:28

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Boy, do we need to get a revelation of this! This is what I call tough love, which usually amounts to being told what we do not want to hear.

Most of us do not want to hear what we need to hear. We will even shy away from the people who are best able to guide us. It is hard to face ourselves at times. Better to hide from the truth than face those uncomfortable revelations. Well, this verse is one of those revelatory mirrors which reflects a face most of us would rather avoid. Discrimination within our ranks.

The early church leaders had a job on their hands reconciling the Jewish believers and the gentiles who were flocking to the message and person of Jesus. The Jews had lots of rules they wanted the new converts to adhere to. They definitely thought of themselves as superior to the gentiles. After all, they were the children of Abraham and those gentiles had probably never even heard of Abraham.

In this new covenant, this new dispensation, all kinds of people are treated as the beloved of God. Each person is recognized as an heir to the promises. See that this includes women. It also includes slaves and Greeks. Frankly, it includes everyone. God is not one to show partiality (Deuteronomy 10: 17, Acts 10: 34). It is easy to read this passage as told to someone else. We can sit quietly by and watch them be rebuffed. However, let’s apply this to our world. What does it mean to us today?

We are all one in Christ. That means that Episcopalians and Methodists are meant to be brothers. Lutherans and Baptists are all one in Christ. And even Catholics. Yep. It is time we got off of our high horse and begin to love one another. Whose theology is perfect? Yours? Then why are we all called to continue learning and growing? The key words here are “in Christ.” That is where we are supposed to be. It is not a goal to be attained to be a good Baptist or a good Catholic. The goal is to be “in Christ” and to help others to be in Christ too. We are supposed to lead people into a relationship with Jesus. This is not a private club, as the Jews found out. And while we are about it. God still loves the Jews. Don’t think He doesn’t. He wants them to hear and embrace the good news about Jesus, who himself was a Jew.

God does not see all of these labels that we use to categorize people. He sees hearts. He doesn’t care what you call yourself or what others call you. He is attracted to all those who love Him with an honest, sincere heart. And just in case you wondered, I don’t care either. If you love Jesus, you are alright by me. That is this ministry’s official position, that we do not love according to labels. Your denominational affiliation is between you and God. I just want you in a church that teaches you the Word and supports you. I hope you are in a church which understands today’s scripture and is doing all it can to eradicate denominational prejudice. And for that matter, that includes every other type of discrimination. All people are welcome in the house of God and in this ministry. Come all who are weary and heavy laden. Jesus wants to wrap himself around you and give you his rest. Enter into his rest. Enter into his love, regardless of your label. Check your label at the door and just be free in Christ. God loves you! Those are the important words.