Often, in studying a biblical issue that is puzzling, I will ask myself this question: "Where does the weight lie?" In other words, if one were to pile up all the mentions or allusions to the topic in the Word of God which pile is the biggest? Admittedly, this is not the only or only necessary or even the first means of biblical interpretation but I find it helpful. The whole point of studying the Word of God is to discover what God said and thinks. Sometimes, He seems to say several different things about the same concept. So I pile them up. I place them on an imaginary scale in my mind to see where the weight is. What does God seem to say most often about this subject? Where is His emphasis?
For instance God does instruct us once to hate our families (Luke 14.26) but repeatedly He tells us to love them. In this case the weight plainly comes down on the side of loving them. Understanding that informs how I view the passage instructing me to hate them as well as how I view family as a whole.
When I first began study what the Bible says about alcohol I used this method. I gathered all the mentions of it and began to sort them into piles. Many of those mentions have no specific contextual basis of good or bad. I set those aside into their own pile. Some of the remaining mentions have a contextual basis of good. A large number of those with a contextual basis of good are prefaced with the word 'new' as in new wine. Setting those aside into yet a different pile (I will deal with them later) there are still a handful that mention wine, without the adjective 'new', as being a good thing. For example, Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, And shall flow together to the goodness of the LORD, For wheat, and for wine, and for oil, And for the young of the flock and of the herd: And their soul shall be as a watered garden; And they shall not sorrow any more at all. (Jeremiah 31.12) In this passage God is clearly blessing Israel and He explicitly includes wine.
On the opposite side of the coin there are some passages with a contextual basis that is bad. A large number of those with a contextual basis that is bad define the beverage under questions as 'strong drink.' Setting those likewise aside for the moment (I will deal with these later) there are a still some that mention wine, without the explanatory phrase 'strong drink', as being a bad thing.
So which is it? Is wine good or bad?
My first attempt to answer that question came by trying to determine on which side the weight came down. In other words, with the remaining mentions in Scripture - setting aside those without a larger explanatory context and setting aside those with a direct explanatory adjective, good or bad - when I put them on the scale, did the scale tilt negative or positive?
The answer is clearly negative. The narrowed passages without underlying adjectives but with a contextual basis easy to understand overwhelmingly pile up on the bad side of the ledger. That is not only fact but the entire contention of my post today is that it is weighty fact. Indeed, some of the harshest language in the entire Bible is reserved for wine.
Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? who hath babbling? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes? (Proverbs 23.29) In this one verse we see six explicitly and highly negative things associated with wine.
Woe is a passionate cry of grief or despair. The dictionary defines it as trouble and anguish. The basic idea is that something really bad is headed your way. It is a word pregnant with warning as horrendously illustrated in Revelation 8-11.
Sorrow is pain caused by want. Alcohol causes children to want food, clothing, shelter, and parental affection. It causes wives to want security and a husband's affection. It causes husbands to want a chaste wife and an involved mother for their children. It causes society to want peace, quiet, a lessening of crime, and good health. When you drink alcohol it produces great want somewhere and always in those you love the most.
This stands in stark contrast to the image portrayed on television by beer commercials. This biblically defined sorrow also stands in contrast to the experience of many a young person who sees an alcohol soaked party as the penultimate example of a good time. But it is wholly false to judge a person's sorrow by how they appear to feel while drinking. The sorrow comes, in Solomon's eloquent turn of phrase, but afterwards. (Proverbs 20.17)
Contentions are strife caused by brawling. This is actually why some people ingest alcohol. They want to buck their courage up for a confrontation. Such people know that drinking leads to a feeling of invulnerability thus feeding arguments and fights. How many fist fights broke out in churches this past weekend? How many broke out in bars?
Some of the most foolish things ever uttered by a tongue have come while men are in their cups. Drinking loosens normal restraints including those over the tongue. It produces vulgar speech, argumentative speech, abusive speech – especially toward loves ones - and nonsensical speech. Men under the influence of alcohol reveal all sorts of secrets. In short, they babble.
Alcohol produces wounds without cause. Such wounds are self-inflicted out of sheer stupidity. Brain cells die. People fall into the paths of oncoming vehicles. They lie outside in the cold and freeze to death. They wound thousands of people a year when they get behind the wheel of a car. Drinking causes you to lose control not just of your thought patterns and your speech but of your physical body as well. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. (Psalm 107.27)
Additionally, your physical appearance takes a beating. There is redness of eyes. Your clothes, carriage, and especially your face over time reflect the alcohol you have ingested.
Who experiences these six negative things? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. (Proverbs 23.30) I can hear some of you now. "Yeah, but you have to tarry long with wine to experience these six things." In response I would say it is the nature of alcohol to produce these results. If you tarry long at milk you might get indigestion but you will not have these six things happen to you. The only drink we ingest that produces intoxication and its side effects is alcohol. It is wine itself that has this nature. Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. (Proverbs 20.1)
Solomon went on to say in Proverbs 23.31, Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. The devil is a master at making what is dangerously wrong look incredibly attractive. Wine is oft served from beautiful bottles via sophisticated waiters. It is poured into ornate glasses. The color and fragrance of good wine is in and of itself highly appealing. The whole experience is packaged exquisitely. It should not surprise us that it deceives so many.
A wise man does not even spare a glance for the pleasures implicit in such a situation. Why? At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. (Proverbs 23.32) One of the best tests you will ever place your decisions to is the test of later. If I have sex with this woman I will enjoy it now – but later? If I steal this money I will enjoy it now – but later? If I lash out in wrath I will enjoy it now – but later? Later alcohol bites and stings. This is true physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. (Proverbs 23.33) Alcohol consumption clearly incites immorality and indecency.
Where do men and women go to hook up? The library? I don't think so. They go to a bar. There is a country song that says, 'I'm in love with you baby and I don't even know your name.' In the dim light of that bar an alcohol soaked brain looks out of its eyes and says, 'Hey, that one looks pretty good to me.'
Not only does alcohol make people seem more attractive than they actually are it also clearly lowers inhibitions. It lessens the natural restraint and control that God so graciously gifted to every person. Men utter perverse propositions under the influence of alcohol they would never say if they were sober. Women take off clothes in public under the influence of alcohol in ways they blush to think of the following day. Sexual sin and alcohol go hand in hand. Then said the Lord unto me, Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adultress, according to the love of the Lord toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods, and love flagons of wine. (Hosea 3.1)
Alcohol causes everything to move, swirl, and spin around you. Your sense of balance and discernment abandon you. Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. (Proverbs 23.34) Jimmy Stewart tries to hand a drunk man his hat in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life". The man staggers around and asks which hat. Jimmy calmly replies, "The middle one."
They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again. (Proverbs 23.35) It is no secret that people who hurt themselves while drinking actually do not feel it at the time. More, though, this verse stresses the addicting power of alcohol. I can buy alcohol legally within two hundred steps of my church building but just because it is legal does not mean I should. Many of the brethren believe Christian liberty allows me that same freedom in a spiritual sense but even if they are right just because I can does not mean I should. All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient; all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. (I Corinthians 6.12)
There is something intrinsic in the substance that is alcohol which turns many a functioning member of society into a junkie. A wise man stays far away from such a risk. After all, if anything has control over me then I have lost the ability to yield myself to the Lord. Alcohol controls you. We have just examined a bunch of ways in which it causes you to lose control over yourself. But alcohol not only controls you when you drink it; it also often controls you when you do not drink it. It reels you in with hooks embedded deep into the flesh of your mouth. As a Christian we are supposed to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. We are to be yielded to God for His use. This cannot happen when alcohol enters the picture. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5.18)
Are there scattered references in Scripture that mention wine as a blessing, as a joy sent from God? Yes. But there are also scattered Scriptures that mention wine as a disaster. But beyond that dichotomy there is this one enormous passage in Proverbs 23 that to say the least weighs in on the negative side of the scale.
So which is it? Is wine good or bad? Should I imbibe alcoholic beverages or not? Ask yourself this question: where does the weight lie?