Monday, June 29, 2015

Alcohol 7 - Context, Context, Context

          We have come now in this series on alcohol to the heart of the matter. For the next three weeks I am going to lay out for you an absolutely foundational concept, namely this – the word 'wine' in the Bible does not always mean alcoholic wine.
    This is critically important for it cuts to the heart of the justifications used by our Christian friends who believe drinking is acceptable. If they are right – that wine in the Bible is always alcoholic (and I have had them tell me that repeatedly) – then drinking wine is sometimes acceptable according to the Word of God and sometimes not acceptable. Such a position then leaves it up to me to determine those times. On the other hand if I am right – that wine in the Bible is sometimes alcoholic and sometimes is not – then my position, which is complete abstention, is much more likely to be the correct one. To that end we are going to spend the next three posts looking at this matter, to wit, are there different kinds of wine mentioned in the Bible?
          The first guide to answer that question and the one I will cover in today's post is the guide of context. Six statements…
          First, it is clearly possible to misinterpret and thus misuse God's Word. Peter soundly establishes this. As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (I Peter 3.16) To wrest means to twist or pervert.
          Second, to guard against this we must study and we must compare God's Word to itself. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (II Timothy 2.15) Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (I Corinthians 2.13) For instance, when the devil tempted Jesus the devil cited scripture. The devil wrested it, so to speak. Jesus' response was also to cite scripture. Thus, in comparing scripture with scripture the wrong understanding of scripture was refuted and the proper one was established.
          Third, we must begin by interpreting Scripture at the word level. That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandments of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour. (II Peter 3.2) Scripture uses some form of the word 'word' almost thirteen hundred times. Hundreds of these occasions reference the Word of God. I believe in plenary inspiration which means I believe all of the Bible is the Word of God. But I also believe in verbal inspiration which means I believe each word in the Bible is the Word of God. If you believe like I do, and it is likely that you do, we must then believe in verbal interpretation.
          Fourth, to correctly interpret each word we must begin by properly defining it.
As I see it there are three primary tools at our disposal to help us with this. The first of these tools is the dictionary, just a common, ordinary, everyday English dictionary. Often in my experience what I think a word means is not actually what it means or at least not all that it means. It is no exaggeration to say that I end up using a dictionary dozens of times a week as I study the Word of God.
The second tool I use to define the words I study in the Bible is the original languages. Before some of you growl at me let me state for the record that I do not believe one must understand the original languages in order to understand the Bible. God never said we did and I dare not say it either. But that does not mean I should not study the original languages nor does it mean that there is not profit to be found in so doing. I use original language research for the same reason I use dictionaries – not to correct the Word of God but to understand it more fully. It helps me to understand which English dictionary definition applies in this case. It helps me to expand on the thought behind the word I am studying. For instance, gay clothing in James 2.3 can have several different meanings. When I examine the original language it tells me which English dictionary definition James was intending to convey.
The third tool at my disposal and perhaps the most essential one is the Word of God itself. Oftentimes the best way to define a scriptural word is to see how the scripture itself defines it. For instance, one the of most enlightening studies I have ever done was to examine all the usages in the Bible of the phrase God is. The word that followed 'is' often gave me an insight into God's character, Who God is. In this case the Bible was itself defining Who God is.
Most of the time, however, scripture does not define a word with a flat 'this is such-and-such.' Most of the time scripture instead defines a word by revealing what it means in the context surrounding the usage. It is for this reason that the single most important rule of scriptural hermeneutics is context. Ask anyone who buys and sells real estate and they will tell you there is really only one rule – location, location, location. So it is with the Word of God. There is really only one rule – context, context, context.
This is absolutely critical for a number of reasons but one is surely because the words the Bible uses often have more than one meaning or definition in scripture. Take for example the well-known phrase meat offering. When we come across that phrase in the Old Testament we automatically assume it is speaking of a bull or a goat or at least a dove. But when we examine the word meat a little more closely in the Bible we discover something fascinating: meat does not always mean animal flesh. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. (Genesis 1.29) You read that correctly. The first use of the word 'meat' in the Bible was not actually talking about meat. It was talking about fruits and vegetables. Now plug that into the phrase meat offering and you discover the meat offering did not have any actual animal flesh in it at all. And when any will offer a meat offering unto the Lord, his offering shall be of fine flour; and he shall pour oil upon it, and put frankincense thereon. (Leviticus 2.1) Of the 113 times scripture uses the phrase meat offering 36 of them specifically mean just flour and oil. Further, in the New Testament, 'meat' can mean either animal flesh, food, or spiritual understanding.
But how do we establish that one word or phrase in the Bible does not necessarily mean what we automatically assume that it means? By examining the dictionary, the original language, and the context of how it used. We absolutely must begin by properly interpreting the word. In situations where the word may well have more than one meaning we are well advised to use all three of these tools.
Fifth, in cases in which a word may mean something different in one place of the Bible than it does in another we must let the Bible define it for us.
This is precisely the case with 'wine.' Sometimes wine means the fruit of the vine. Sometimes wine means fermented, intoxicating alcohol. Sometimes wine means medicine. Sometimes wine is used symbolically for blessing. Sometimes wine refers to the opposite, God's wrath. Wine must have more than one meaning otherwise we have obvious contradictions in the Bible. For example, pastors are forbidden to drink wine in I Timothy 3.3 (this is a generally accepted interpretation) – yet two chapters later Paul instructs Timothy Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities. (I Timothy 5.23) Such an apparent contradiction is nothing of the sort. The context of the second usage plainly reveals Paul is referring to wine as medicine. The Good Samaritan likewise used the word 'wine' in the same context. And went unto him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine. (Luke 10.34) Just as there are many different types of 'oil' so there are many different types of 'wine.'
Alcoholic wine does not happen naturally or quickly. (I will speak to this in more detail next week.) And as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly. (II Chronicles 31.5) People have used this verse to support moderate drinking saying that God blessed His people with alcohol and then they actually tithed that alcohol back to Him. Last week we saw that the original language word used here for wine means juice. But we do not even need the original language. The context alone tells us this. Notice the word firstfruits. There has been no time for the fermenting process. What the field workers harvested included wheat, grapes, and olives, which were used to produce corn, grape juice, and olive oil.
Solomon gives us a similar example in Proverbs 3. Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine. To say that wine in the Bible always means alcoholic wine is to say that God blesses you when you tithe alcohol. Notice the phrase thy presses shall burst. Only unfermented juice can burst from a grape press. Alcohol simply cannot come out of a freshly squeezed newly plucked grape.
Isaiah 65.8 furnishes us with yet another example. Thus saith the Lord, As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it. Is alcoholic wine here being pronounced as having a blessing in it? The original language tells us not but so does the context. Notice the phrase in the cluster. Obviously, the juice in the grapes hanging in the cluster on the vine cannot possibly be alcoholic in nature.
Judges 9.13 furnishes another example of context revealing non-alcoholic wine. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? Would a grapevine carry alcoholic wine within its grapes or unfermented juice? Answer that and you have answered what kind of 'wine' brings cheer to God. Would it be the kind that brings intoxication to His children or the kind that simply quenches their thirst? Taken in context this wine must be non-fermented for no vine naturally carries anything fermented.
Sixth, in cases where the Bible uses 'wine' with no particular immediate context to define it I let the context of the entire Bible define it. In other words, if it is being used as a blessing it must be non-alcoholic wine – juice. If it is being used as a curse it must be alcoholic wine. How did I arrive at this conclusion? Largely because I have let the scriptures be my guide. I have let them interpret and apply themselves to me rather than my own preconceived 21st century mental image of 'wine.'

As I said – context, context, context. It is absolutely everything.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Announcing My Next Book - Schizophrenic

          Schizophrenia is defined as a state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements. Its presence brings pain not only to the afflicted person but to those who love that person. At times the person they love is reasonable and delightful. At other times the person they love is malicious and delusional. It is almost like two radically different persons are to be found inhabiting the same body. No one knows which one will take precedence at any given moment – Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.
          For over forty years I have been an independent Baptist. I have attended independent Baptist schools and colleges. I have read independent Baptist periodicals. I have held membership in independent Baptist churches. I have read independent Baptist books. I have attended independent Baptist conferences. I was raised in an independent Baptist home. My father is an independent Baptist pastor. For almost twenty years I have pastored independent Baptist churches.  Increasingly over the last ten years I have felt like the family member of a schizophrenic individual.
          I love the independent Baptist movement. It has a rich history, a wide impact, and tremendous strengths. Where it came from, where it is at, and where it is going are dear to me. At the same time I am driven to confess that there are aspects of the independent Baptist world that I loathe. It has a checkered past, a splintered present, and deep flaws. It is characterized by the coexistence of contradictory and incompatible elements. In short, it is schizophrenic.
          I have been driven to write this book out of that love and loathing. On the one hand, I see much of what is right and good being abandoned in a pell mell rush out of the ditch on one side of the road into the ditch on the other. Many of my peers in ministry and in the generation behind mine see the same errors I see but have entirely overreacted to them. In so doing they have discarded much that is wise and good and right. This borderline hysterical stampede to the left will result in even deeper flaws in the succeeding generations if their course is not corrected. At the same time many of my peers and those largely in the generations preceding mine have dug in their heels. They refuse to openly acknowledge few if any flaws. They cling with tenacity to questionable and unscriptural practices. With borderline bitterness they view the alarm of others as treasonous, disrespectful, and dangerous. This dogged insistence on an unquestioning followship has fractured our movement and if it is continued it will result in the complete frittering away of what I genuinely believe is the world’s last best hope for a real, warm, orthodox, committed, holy Christianity.
          Please do not misunderstand me. I do not believe my book will fix everything. I do not even believe my book will be right about everything. As God knows my heart I have worked diligently to ensure that I am correct in both position and spirit but I labor under no illusions. I am exceedingly human. God did not give me all the light. I still see through a glass darkly. Consequently, I am wrong about something. But though the words you are about to read of mine are not infallible I still offer them to you. I am driven to do so out of a belief that they are right, that they are necessary, and that they are helpful.
          I fear that some may see this book as an attempt by me to set myself up as the judge of fundamentalism. I have no such desire. Each Baptist who reads this book will answer to God alone. I have been called to pastor one church and it is not your church. I deeply believe in individual soul liberty and I do not think any Baptist wants me as pope. At the same time, though I will not answer for any other independent Baptist, I love each and every one. With this book I am simply the concerned family member who sees a dangerous schizophrenia developing and wants to do his best to help to cure the afflictions that beset us.
          There may be some as well who will simply take my words as the ranting of an ignorant critic. I have sought to balance this by including equal parts encouragement and admonishment. I am for just as much if not more in the independent Baptist movement as I am against. I truly hope this book reflects that. I realize in so doing I run the risk of being the soldier during the American Civil War who wore gray pants and a blue shirt. He did not bring unity; he was simply shot at by both sides. But from whichever side you hail, from whatever perspective, if you are my brother in Christ I love you and I want what is best for you, for me, for the next generation, for the lost world, and for the Lord. If you choose to shoot at me for something I have said here or for the very fact of daring to write this book I hope I can receive it with a peaceful spirit. After all, you may be right and the Lord may use you to teach me something I need to learn. You may be the instrument of my growth in grace. I hope in some small measure to be yours.
          I have divided this book into three sections. The first will discuss what I believe are the strengths of the independent Baptist movement historically and currently. The second will cover the opposite. I will delve into the weaknesses, where they come from and where they will take us if they are not corrected. The third section is my humble opinion as to the cures for what ails us. 
          I hope you will read this book with an open mind. I hope you will consider the experience, perspective, and spirit with which I write. I hope you will look past the personalities and look at the actual issues. I hope you will be encouraged to hold fast to that which is good. At the same time I hope you will examine your positions. I hope you will hold them up to the light of Scripture. I hope you will consider again their impact on both the present and the future. There will continue to be disagreement and division until we stand together before Him at His return but I hope this book will in some small way strengthen that which remains.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Alcohol 6 - The Blessing of Wine

          We have spent the last five blog posts examining by my count fifty seven different Scripture verses about alcohol. This large group clearly puts the subject in a negative light. Alcohol produces woe, sorrow, contentions, babbling, wounds without cause, and redness of eyes. Alcohol causes you to lose control of yourself. Alcohol is addicting. Alcohol's very nature is intoxicating. Alcohol prevents us from yielding to the Holy Spirit. People who drink are spiritually deluded. Alcohol and rebellion are found together in Scripture. Depression increases when it is treated with alcohol. Drinking produces serious health problems. Alcohol negatively affects your sense of modesty and propriety. People who act erratically are assumed to be under the influence. The greater your responsibility the greater the potential disaster you will cause by drinking. Whether you intend it or not alcohol will negatively affect you. As I said -  a negative light. That is where the weight lies.

          At the same time, it is also true that Scripture also speaks often in glowing terms about wine. For instance, consider these:

-Isaac asked God to bless Jacob with wine
Genesis 27:28 Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, And the fatness of the earth, And plenty of corn and wine:

-Isaac informs Esau he has asked God to bless Jacob with wine
Genesis 27:37 And Isaac answered and said unto Esau, Behold, I have made him thy lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; and with corn and wine have I sustained him: and what shall I do now unto thee, my son?

-God tells Aaron that wine is a gift from Him
Numbers 18:12 All the best of the oil, and all the best of the wine, and of the wheat, the firstfruits of them which they shall offer unto the LORD, them have I given thee.

-Moses tells Israel that obedience will bring God's blessing on their lives including wine
Deuteronomy 7:13 And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee.

-God says He will bless His people with rain so that they may have wine
Deuteronomy 11:14 That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil.

-Moses tells Israel to rejoice in the Lord while drinking their wine tithe
Deuteronomy 12:17 Thou mayest not eat within thy gates the tithe of thy corn, or of thy wine, or of thy oil, or the firstlings of thy herds or of thy flock, nor any of thy vows which thou vowest, nor thy freewill offerings, or heave offering of thine hand:
18 But thou must eat them before the LORD thy God in the place which the LORD thy God shall choose, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates: and thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God in all that thou puttest thine hands unto.
(see also Deuteronomy 14.23)

-Moses instructs Israel to support priests by giving them wine
Deuteronomy 18:3 And this shall be the priest’s due from the people, from them that offer a sacrifice, whether it be ox or sheep; and they shall give unto the priest the shoulder, and the two cheeks, and the maw.
4 The firstfruit also of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep, shalt thou give him.

-with his last words, Moses prophesies a loving God's rich blessings poured out on a happy Israel; that blessing included wine
Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternal God is thy refuge, And underneath are the everlasting arms: And he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; And shall say, Destroy them.
28 Israel then shall dwell in safety alone: The fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine; Also his heavens shall drop down dew.
29 Happy art thou, O Israel: Who is like unto thee, O people saved by the LORD, The shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! And thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; And thou shalt tread upon their high places.

-Abimelech tells a parable in which he explicitly says that wine makes God happy
Judges 9:13 And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?

-Hezekiah led God's people in a revival that included obeying the old customs of tithing wine
2 Chronicles 31:5 And as soon as the commandment came abroad, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of corn, wine, and oil, and honey, and of all the increase of the field; and the tithe of all things brought they in abundantly.

-Hezekiah was so blessed by God that he had to construct bigger storage facilities for his wine
2 Chronicles 32:27 And Hezekiah had exceeding much riches and honour: and he made himself treasuries for silver, and for gold, and for precious stones, and for spices, and for shields, and for all manner of pleasant jewels;
28 Storehouses also for the increase of corn, and wine, and oil; and stalls for all manner of beasts, and cotes for flocks.
29 Moreover he provided him cities, and possessions of flocks and herds in abundance: for God had given him substance very much.

-Nehemiah tells the usurious moneylenders to give God's people back their wine
Nehemiah 5:11 Restore, I pray you, to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their oliveyards, and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money, and of the corn, the wine, and the oil, that ye exact of them.

-Nehemiah, like Hezekiah, led the people in obedience to the old customs of tithing, including wine
Nehemiah 10:37 And that we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage.
(see also similar passages in Nehemiah 10.39, 13.5, and 13.12)

-the psalmist said that God blessed him with joy and peace and likened it to a good harvest that produced wine
Psalm 4:6 There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, Lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.
7 Thou hast put gladness in my heart, More than in the time that their corn and their wine increased.
8 I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: For thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.

-Solomon informs us that honoring the Lord via tithing results in His bountiful provision to us, including wine
Proverbs 3:9 Honour the LORD with thy substance, And with the firstfruits of all thine increase:
10 So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, And thy presses shall burst out with new wine.

-Isaiah tells us that God will richly bless His people, and this blessing will include protecting their wine from their enemies
Isaiah 62:8 The LORD hath sworn by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength, Surely I will no more give thy corn to be meat for thine enemies; And the sons of the stranger shall not drink thy wine, for the which thou hast laboured:

-Isaiah explicitly says that wine is a blessing
Isaiah 65:8 Thus saith the LORD, As the new wine is found in the cluster, And one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: So will I do for my servants’ sakes, That I may not destroy them all.

-Jeremiah agrees with Isaiah, and specifically says wine is a blessing that flows to His people from the goodness of God
Jeremiah 31:12 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.

-Hosea mentions wine in a negative context but the usage is positive; God is here explicitly saying wine is a gift from Him
Hosea 2:8 For she did not know that I gave her corn, and wine, and oil, And multiplied her silver and gold, Which they prepared for Baal.
9 Therefore will I return, and take away my corn in the time thereof, And my wine in the season thereof, And will recover my wool and my flax given to cover her nakedness.

-later in the same conversation Hosea says that God's mercy on His people includes the blessing of wine
Hosea 2:21 And it shall come to pass in that day, I will hear, saith the LORD, I will hear the heavens, And they shall hear the earth;
22 And the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil; And they shall hear Jezreel.
23 And I will sow her unto me in the earth; And I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; And I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; And they shall say, Thou art my God.

-Joel tells us that God blesses His people with wine specifically in order to satisfy them
Joel 2:19 Yea, the LORD will answer and say unto his people, Behold, I will send you corn, and wine, and oil, And ye shall be satisfied therewith: And I will no more make you a reproach among the heathen:
(see also Joel 2.24-25)

-Zechariah says wine is a great goodness from the Lord
Zechariah 9:17 For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty! Corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids.

          Well, there you have it. Wine is a wonderful blessing from God. It makes Him happy. It ought to make us happy. Drink up.

          …hold up for just one moment, though, before you rush out to the nearest package store. Anyone want to take a guess what every single verse in the above list has in common? All twenty six of these passages that speak of wine in an extremely positive sense in the King James Version all come from the same root word in the original language Hebrew – תִּירוֹשׁ  which transliterated into English is tiros. Anyone care to see how tiros is defined? You're ahead of me, aren't you? Some of you are growling right at the moment and some of you are grinning ear to ear. Yep,  תִּירוֹשׁ  means fresh squeezed grape juice. That definition is supported by A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible, The Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, A Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition, and Logos Bible Software. I know. I have them all and I just looked.

          So knock yourself out with both my blessing and His. Rush right down to the grocery store, pick up a bottle of Welch's grape juice, and drink up. It is a wonderful gift from God. 

Monday, June 8, 2015

Alcohol 5 - Not for Kings

          The more responsibility you carry the more caution you should exercise about alcohol. If I give a dog a bowl of beer and he gets drunk he staggers around and amuses everyone. If I give a father several cans of beer he will eventually stagger around. If he does it often enough he will deprive his children and his wife of all that they need him to be. When you study drinking in the Bible this concept – that there is greater danger in it for those with greater responsibility – comes up again and again. Solomon said it well in Proverbs 31.4-5. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted.

          The Old Testament contains four separate examples of the folly of kings and princes when it comes to alcohol. I Kings 16 tells us that King Elah of Israel was murdered while drinking himself drunk. This palace coup resulted in Elah's chariot captain, Zimri, becoming the next king. I wonder if Elah would have been able to defend himself if he hadn't been drinking.
Two chapters later we find the story of the Syrian king, Ben-Hadad. His army greatly outnumbered the Israelite army. Ben-Hadad marched to Samaria and demanded the right to search the Jewish kings house and take whatever he wanted. The king of Israel refused. Ben-Hadad, under the influence of alcohol, declared war. And it came to pass, when Benhadad heard this message, as he was drinking, he and the kings in his pavilion, that he said to his servants, Set yourselves in array. …And they went out at noon. But Benhadad was drinking himself drunk in the pavilions, he and the kings, the thirty and two kings that helped him. In this case a war entered into and fought by men well soused resulted in a stunning defeat for Syria. And the king of Israel went out, and smote the horses and chariots, and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter. I wonder how much different that battle would have turned out if the Syrian leadership wouldn't have been drinking.
King Ahasuerus of Persia made a snap decision to set aside one queen and find another. He made that decision under the influence of alcohol. The heart of the king was merry with wine. (Esther 1.10) In so doing he set on course a series of events that nearly resulted in the destruction of the Jews and did result in the death of his good friend, Haman. I wonder if he would have made the same decision to get rid of Vashti if he had not been drinking.
Amnon, a son of King David and thus a prince in Israel, raped his half-sister Tamar. When Amnon's brother, Absalom found out Absalom arranged Amnon's murder. Now Absalom had commanded his servants, saying, Mark ye now when Amnon's heart is merry with wine, and when I say unto you, Smite Amnon; then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you? be courageous, and be valiant. (II Samuel 13.28) I wonder if Amnon would have lived longer and if Absalom would have been prevented from becoming a murderer if Amnon had chosen not to drink that night. I wonder how the course of Israel's history might have been changed if it were not for that one night of drinking.
These admonitions are not found alone in the Old Testament. In the New Testament the great John the Baptist was forbidden alcohol in an angelic message brought to his father Zechariah. Pastors likewise are explicitly warned. For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry; not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre. (Titus 1.7)   

Do you have a place of responsibility? Do others look to you as parent, teacher, boss, or leader? Does someone follow you? Do your decisions carry ramifications? Do you lead an important life? I say again what I have said before: When you combine a high level of responsibility with a beverage so notoriously deceptive perhaps the real question you need to ask yourself is not can you drink – it is should you drink.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Alcohol 4 - Under the Influence

          There are three basic positions when it comes to drinking alcohol. Teetotalers refrain from all alcoholic beverages. This is usually a Christian position. The opposite extreme views drinking to be perfectly wholesome in all situations. This is usually the perspective of the unsaved man. In between both of those, however, is a substantial number of Christians who are against drunkenness but in favor of moderate alcoholic consumption. They maintain that God created wine to be a blessing as long as it is consumed in moderation. They believe Jesus drank wine. They believe the historic Christian position is that alcoholic beverages are allowed via Christian liberty.
        I have a number of Christian friends who hold this latter position and they do so for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that they maintain that drinking alcohol does not affect them. In other words, they believe that the line between allowance and sin is getting drunk. At that point, the alcohol has negatively affected you and so you have crossed the line into sin. But since they do not allow the alcohol to affect them they don't believe they have crossed the line into sin.
          One of the great problems with this reasoning is that it is dangerous. It is playing with fire and hoping not to be burned. The fact is alcohol does influence you, pushing you toward a set of wrong behaviors and actions whether you intend to be pushed there or not.
          To illustrate, notice drinking affects your natural sense of propriety.
          The sex drive is one of the most powerful human appetites. God tempered
this somewhat by putting within us a natural modesty in relation to our bodies. He created us with a natural sense of propriety in relation to sexual activities. This is seen in the fact that people instinctively cover up their bodies and their intimate activity is done in private. Of course I full well realize our culture has undermined this natural sense of modesty but it still comes built in to every human being born since the Garden of Eden. Infants and toddlers have no shame about nakedness. Children though do and that is a good thing. It is a God-given thing.
          One of the marks of a culture that is moving away from God is an increased acceptance of public nakedness. This is a bit of a gross exaggeration but the less of God there is the less of clothes there usually are as well. But each individual is still born with a natural sense of modesty and propriety. The devil knows this and so he sets up a system that tries to gradually beat that out of people via music, television, leisure activities, fashion, peer pressure, etc.
          Similar to this gradual coarsening or hardening of the natural sense of modesty by our culture so the same thing can be developed within hours by ingesting alcohol. Many a woman has found herself on top of a bar swinging some article of clothing over her head after a few drinks. Sober and in her right mind she would be too embarrassed or ashamed for such a public display. Drinking obviously affects the natural sense of modesty and propriety which God put inside of every person.
          This is seen in the very first mention of wine in the Bible.

Genesis 9:20  And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:
21  And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
22  And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
23  And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.

          I doubt Noah intentionally set out to get drunk, take off his clothes, and invite judgment upon his family. Intent is not the issue however. The issue is the result and the result was that Noah's natural sense of modesty was affected.
          We see this again in one of the most difficult stories to read in the entire Bible. A mature Lot, disconsolate over losing his home and life in Sodom, commits incest with his own daughters under the influence of alcohol.

Gen 19:30 And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.
31  And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:
32  Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
33  And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
34  And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
35  And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
36  Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.
          Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that my Christian friends who believe in a moderate consumption of alcohol are committing incest with their children. I am saying that alcohol moves you in the direction of some awful behaviors, activities that would never be contemplated by those of sober mind. I do not believe for one moment that Lot intended to do as he did. But he did drink alcoholic wine and he could not control the affect it had on him. It loosened his sense of propriety and decency to put it mildly.

          The adverse effect of alcohol is so well known that people who act erratically are automatically assumed to be under the influence. I Samuel 1 tells us that Hannah prayed so intensely, albeit silently, that Eli thought she was drunk. Obviously she had not been drinking but Eli assumed she had because her behavior appeared out of control. Acts 2 shows us the same common perception. The Apostles were speaking in tongues and the crowd around them could only explain it in terms of drunkenness.
          Under the influence – why is that phrase understood by one and all to mean that a person has been drinking? Because we know that drinking affects people, whether they intend for it to affect them or not. Alcohol is a narcotic. Inherent in its chemical structure is a sure and certain effect on human reason, speech, motor control, and propriety. Alcohol loosens the governors God placed on us.

          Don't tell me that drinking alcohol doesn't affect you. It may affect you to varying degrees at varying times but it absolutely affects you. The only way to avoid being affected by it is to avoid ingesting it entirely. Go ahead. Take a drink. You will be under the influence whether you are willing to admit it or not.