Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Guest Writer Glenn Colley: Moderate Drinking and Romans 14

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The Passage

Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written:

“As I live, says the LORD,  every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”

So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way, (Romans 14:1-13 NKJV).

The word doubtful is an adjective describing things which give pause. It comes from a Greek word meaning “to deliberate”. There’s nothing wrong with God’s people carefully thinking through matters of their faith and scruples, but Paul has a particular kind of subject in mind.  He gives two illustrations. The first is eating only vegetables versus (presumably) eating meats.  Perhaps this has to do with meats formally sacrificed to idols as in 1 Corinthians 8. The second example Paul gives to help us understand his point is respecting one day over another, presumably relative to Jewish traditions and holy days that were no longer bound on God’s people.  Note that both of these are limited to viewpoints and practices that are not sinful.  This passage does not teach that any sinful practice is somehow not sinful in some cases.  

Is the use of beverage alcohol sinful? Some today argue that drinking intoxicating beverages, when they do not get drunk, cannot be called sinful, and thus the practice fits nicely in the context of Romans 14.  Where this argument breaks down, however, is that it ignores the truth that a practice can be sinful even when it is not explicitly prohibited in Scripture.  Some sins are presented implicitly. A clear example is from Paul’s writing in Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Seven Important Concepts 

First, focus on the words, “…and the like” from Galatians 5.  The Holy Spirit requires us to think about things which are similar to this list and avoid those like things, as well.  In fact, a careful reading of this passage shows that these “and the like” sins will keep one out of heaven, as is true of the explicitly stated ones.  Read the list again and pause with each sin to consider the things that are not stated but are like them. “And the like” sins are ones which are implied by the Holy Spirit, are dangerous and require thinking and discernment.

Secondly, while we all recognize what it means to be “drunk”, i.e. impaired in speech, gait, and emotions, it is nonetheless true that defining the beginning state of being “drunk” is difficult, and would naturally vary from one person to the next. Think about those roadside signs which say, “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.” Those billboards result from the obvious truth that there are various degrees of drunkenness. A person who weighs 250 pounds and has a history of drinking will be affected differently from one who weighs 125 and is just beginning his drinking practice. Whether the person who is drinking has a full or empty stomach will naturally have a bearing on the effect of the drink.  Do you see the risk? Where is the line for drunkenness in God’s eyes?  

Thirdly, every person who decides to drink “moderately” has made “provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13:14); that is, he has created a way to furnish—to pave— the path to sin in the future.  If a Christian lives on, there will inevitably be hard days in his future; days of stress, heartbreak, and pressure. The alcohol will be waiting in his house or at the store whenever he feels overwhelmed and craves escape—and he will have given himself permission to use it.

Fourthly,  a Christian’s influence is involved.  Even if one could justly argue that the sort of moderate drinking he does never truly approaches any drunkenness, will the same be true about the people whom he may influence to drink? When I was in high school, if a teen bought a six-pack of beer, he would predictably drink six beers. What is the Christian drinker’s influence on him? Is it probable that the vast majority of Christians today who drink run the real risk of others learning about it and being influenced to also drink—perhaps at different levels and with much more serious consequences?  What of the person who insists that no one will ever even know of his drinking in the privacy of his own home? Will someone see the purchasing, the disposal and recycling of the container? Will the person who delivers it know? I’d say it is pretty hard to imagine going through life as a moderate drinker and having no one know of or be influenced by the practice. In fact, I know a man who died as an alcoholic because he began drinking wine that he made in his own kitchen after his fellow church members (“moderate” drinkers) taught him how to do it. (Besides all of this, many of those who advocate “private moderate drinking” are, ironically, advocating it very loudly and in extremely public forums.)

Fifthly, when serious-minded elders admit the massive numbers of people—sometimes innocent people—whose lives are seriously harmed by drinking (parenting problems, marital problems, employment problems, death/injury due to a driver whose mind is to some degree affected by the drink, etc.), they will naturally see this as a spiritual danger, step up, and make it clear to the Christians among them that they recognize drinking as a spiritual threat to the believers in their charge, and make their will known.  Their authority extends to matters such as this one, and their word is binding. “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you,”  (Hebrews 13:17).

In the sixth place, there are many in the body, in our alcohol saturated society, who are vulnerable ones. In a sense, they are truly “weaker brethren”. They have battled alcoholism in their former lives and they have overcome. But the struggle is real every day of their lives. Falling back is always one weak moment away. How must those brethren feel when they see those who purport that they can handle moderate drinking, when they see members advocating moderate (even private) moderate drinking. Again, it is ironic that a number of those who advocate that drinking is approved if done privately, are doing so in the most public of forums; in books and and on instagram and facebook, on their blogs and podcasts. The inconsistency is glaring. 

In the seventh place, it is a frequent occurrence that those who drink moderately have, by their own admission, at times, crossed over the line at which alcohol has affected their ability to think clearly, to judge righteously, to fully control their bodies. In these cases, they are drunken. It’s rare to find a moderate drinker who can, with integrity, say that he has never crossed that line. He has made a provision in his life—invited an opportunity for blatant sin. When we resist the devil (temptation), that’s when the devil flees from us (James 4:7). The word “resist” there means to set one’s self against. It cannot be that I am setting myself against the devil when I place myself in a situation that, with few exceptions, leads to sinful drunkenness, in order to please my own desires. 

Another Way to Forbid

While it is wrong for men to bind where God has not bound, it is also wrong to pretend that only things which are explicitly forbidden in Scripture are sin. Pornography use is wrong because it violates Scriptural principle (i.e. Matt. 5:28).   Meth manufacturing, use and marketing, and gambling would all be approved if only those actions explicitly declared in Scripture to be sinful, are sinful.  Advocates of moderate alcohol usage would be hard-pressed to teach their children not to moderately use marijuana, particularly in states where use is legal. But the truth is, sometimes, actions are implicitly forbidden, and the use of intoxicating beverages, except for medicinal purposes (1 Tim. 5:23), is forbidden in this way. 

The Romans 14 Context

Now, back to Romans 14. Verse 21 merits discussion, for it has become the hallmark verse for those in the body who want to partake in moderate drinking. Women in some churches meet together at a restaurant weekly to have a glass of wine (or more) or to have a beer together. Men have come to often include alcoholic beverages in their retreats and/or men’s nights out. Others partake, but claim they can do so privately without influencing the “weaker “ brother (defined by the moderate drinker as the one with the propensity for alcoholism or the one who believes any alcoholic drink is sinful). Verse 21 is often used to justify moderate drinking in the last of these scenarios. Near the conclusion of a discussion that is obviously about issues in which sin is not involved, the advocates of moderate drinking would have us believe that the inclusion of the word “wine”  (oinos-GK) in verse 21 leaves the door open for Christians to drink intoxicating wine with the approval of heaven. (It should be noted here that the word wine does not always, in Scripture, refer to intoxicating wine See Isaiah 65:8; Isaiah 16:10; Lamentations 2:11. It should also be pointed out that wine in New Testament times was far less intoxicating, even if fermented, than the alcoholic wines of America today.) It’s most important, though, to remember that verse 21 is in the context of activities that are not sinful (eating meats and observing Jewish holidays). I would urge those who are studying the use of alcoholic beverages in moderation to study this excellent article from Apologetics Press: 

It is difficult to see how one can lift the word wine in verses 21and 22 from a context of matters of non-sinful judgment and from a contextual  admonition that we be certain that we do not tempt another to violate his conscience. It seems we offer that very temptation to vulnerable people, even in the declaration that we have liberty to do that very thing. And in the partaking of alcohol, we also put our own souls at significant risk. Anyone who looks around at the effects that American forms of strong drink are having in our culture and continues to say “I can drink alcoholic beverages without causing harm in my family or my congregation or to my influence”  is not resistant to the temptations of the devil. 

The 1 Corinthians 8 Connection

It’s interesting to see the conclusion of a similar discussion of matters of judgment in 1 Corinthians 8, as Paul writes when discussing the eating of meats that have been offered to idols. In that chapter, Paul gives permission to eat those meats, remembering from whence they have come. But he adds this strong word of caution in the final verse: 

Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. 

It is difficult to see how one can partake in moderate drinking today without causing a brother to stumble. If Paul made this strong personal prohibition when the matter was a liberty he had just permitted through inspiration of the Spirit, how much more should we resist this temptation to fulfill our fleshly desires when the Scriptures are replete with warnings about the effects of alcohol? 

The Prequel to the Romans 14 Discussion

The last two verses of the preceding chapter of Romans should serve as a prequel to this discussion of matters of judgment:

Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. 

Making no provision for the flesh is a strong clause. It literally means we are prohibited from preparing or supplying a path to sin. Besides all the above concerns, I surely cannot think of a way we could better give sin a door in our lives than the purposeful use of alcoholic beverages. In using, we consume that which, with each drink, makes us less and less able to discern the difference between right and wrong. We open the door with our heart’s welcome to the temptation that has turned roughly a quarter of our American adult population into binge drinkers and has already given over 1 in every ten adolescents an alcohol consumption disorder. 

The Tragic Irony 

But the very fact that brethren are using social media platforms to encourage the use of alcoholic beverages in moderation before a vulnerable and often underaged audience—an audience that statistically will find within it great numbers of problem/binge/addicted/ young alcohol abusers, takes my breath away. While saying this is drinking that will not influence vulnerable people, advocates of moderate drinking are shouting to our children that there is an open, guiltless doorway to the use of the very drug that will spiritually impair and ultimately kill many of them. This is the tragic irony of this argument. And they are doing it in the name of Romans 14, a passage that is clearly a prohibition of doing that which might place a temptation in the path of a vulnerable one. 

I pray that no one who is respected by any of my five grandchildren will make such a boastful claim of liberty and license to any of  them in their tender futures. But, the fact is, someone that was respected by my (at the time) seven-year-old grandson has already engaged him about this. This young and moldable boy told me that this professing Christian man explained to him how that it was not good to get drunk, “…but I enjoy drinking alcoholic beverages, from time to time… I just don’t get drunk.” In 2019, 1.1 million children between the ages of 12 and 17 sought treatment or alcohol abuse. Those are just the ones who admitted a problem and sought a solution. The numbers are staggering. So much risk is unnecessarily placed on young shoulders when we, as people who should be thinking soberly, begin to search for ways to make provision for our own flesh. 

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1).

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