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A Disciple's Approach to Drinking

While we are free to enjoy God's blessings, including drink, this requires great responsibility—especially for leaders.

From the editor:

Few topics are more controversial than alcohol. Should a follower of Christ imbibe or abstain? In this sermon from regular contributor and PreachingToday.com editorial advisor Jeffrey Arthurs, assorted texts are used to pull together a disciple's approach to drinking (with a special note to those who serve in church leadership positions). One thing that might be interesting to note is that when Arthurs preached this sermon, he used PowerPoint to project the verses. At the top of each of the four main points, he used a traffic sign to symbolize the idea: A 75 mph speed limit sign to indicate freedom; a stop sign to indicate God's prohibition; a yield sign to indicate how leaders should, perhaps, give up their rights; and a "children crossing" sign to indicate how those who drink should not tempt weaker brothers and sisters. A great use of everyday, common images to strengthen a sermon's main points!


According to a November 26, 2007, article in Time magazine, 67 percent of men and 55 percent of women in America drink regularly. Americans spend $155 billion a year on alcohol. That is enough for each person to down 7 bottles of hard liquor, 12 bottles of wine, and 230 cans of beer. New Hampshire drinks the most hard liquor (about 18 bottles a year), Washington D.C. drinks the most wine (32 bottles a year), and North Dakota chugs the most beer (345 cans).

In a world swimming in alcohol, what is a disciple's approach to drinking? How can we be in the world, but not of the world with our use of alcohol? There are several biblical references to guide us:

  • The word "wine" (the Hebrew word yayin) is used 141 times in the Old Testament. The New Test equivalent—the Greek word oinos—is used dozens of times.
  • The Old Testament also speaks of "new wine" (tirosh)—a less fermented wine—and "strong drink" (shakar), which is any kind of intoxicating drink that comes from a fruit or grain.
  • Another term used in the Bible is "spiced wine." This was wine mixed with herbs. It was much more intoxicating than regular wine and was popular at banquets and festivals. It is mentioned in Proverbs 9, verses 2 and 5, and there are injunctions against it in Proverbs 23:29-30. When mixed with myrrh, spiced wine was a drug with a stupefying effect. It was offered to Jesus while he was on the cross (Matthew 27:34).

So again, there is plenty of biblical material to guide us as we consider God's thoughts on a disciple's approach to drinking. In fact, in this message I'll explore less than half of the biblical references to this issue! My goal for today is to categorize and read these select passages, giving brief comments to build a biblical theology of drinking.

God gives alcoholic beverages for sustenance, pleasure, medicine, and worship.

Drinking alcohol, wine in particular, was an integral part of ancient culture. It was used primarily for sustenance as a normal beverage, but it was also used for pleasure and medicine. It was also a critical part of everyday life and even worship rituals.

In 1 Samuel 25:36-37, Abigail gave David wine and other provisions as sustenance for his band of warriors while they were on a military mission.

Consider Psalm 104:14-15:

He makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for man to cultivate—
bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine,
and bread that sustains his heart.

In John 2, we read about the famous miracle at the marriage feast of Cana—evidence that God gives alcoholic beverages for pleasure. In the story Jesus makes 150 gallons of wine! Those who believe disciples should never drink will have to wrestle with this story. Our Lord entered the celebration, even contributing to it a lot of wine.

Proverbs 31:6-7 speaks of alcohol also being used not just for sustenance and pleasure, but to alleviate pain:

Give beer to those who are perishing,
wine to those who are in anguish;
let them drink and forget their poverty
and remember their misery no more.

Paul's words in 1 Timothy 5:23 also speak to the medicinal use of wine: "Use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments."

The use of alcohol in worship rituals is spoken of in many Old Testament passages. In an agricultural society like Israel, wine was a regular component of offerings. For example, we learn in Leviticus 23:13 that a quarter of a hin of wine was offered up as a "pleasing" drink offering to God. Numbers 15:5 says that with each lamb for the burnt offering, the Israelites were to prepare a quarter of a hin of wine as a drink offering.

The use of wine in worship is actually a metaphor for eschatological redemption and blessing. That is, because wine is a blessing, it is used to symbolize a prosperous future for Israel. Consider Amos 9:13-15:

New wine will drip from the mountains
and flow from all the hills.
I will bring back my exiled people Israel;
they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine;
they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant Israel in their own land,
never again to be uprooted
from the land I have given them,
says the Lord your God.

From Genesis 49:10-11:

The scepter will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler's staff from between his feet,
until he comes to whom it belongs
and the obedience of the nations is his.
He will tether his donkey to a vine,
his colt to the choicest branch;
he will wash his garments in wine,
his robes in the blood of grapes.

Drunkenness is a sin, associated with foolishness, selfishness, manipulation, and God's judgment.

As we read these initial passages, we see that according to the Bible, alcohol—wine in particular—is a blessing from God. And disciples are free to enjoy God's gifts. However, there is another side to the issue. The Bible also presents the darker side of drinking, and disciples need to hear about this sobering reality, too. Scripture tells us that drunkenness is a sin, associated with foolishness, selfishness, manipulation, and God's judgment—and it "shows" us this teaching more than it "tells" us. That is, it depicts the evils of drunkenness in narrative and poetry, more than it states God's will with didactic directness:

  • In Genesis 9:20-27, Noah becomes drunk and lies naked in his tent. This begins a chain of events that culminates in a curse on Ham's line.
  • Deuteronomy 21:18-21 says that one of the characteristics of a "stubborn and rebellious son" is to be a "glutton and a drunkard."
  • In 2 Samuel 11:13, David makes Uriah drunk in an effort to get him to sleep with Bathsheba. David does this to cover his own sinful relationship with Bathsheba. Ironically, Uriah maintains a clear head and untarnished honor, while David's sins are compounded.

When we read wisdom literature of the Bible, the narrative case studies on drunkenness shrink to a more portable size. Proverbs 23:29-35:

Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaints?
Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?
Those who linger over wine,
who go to sample bowls of mixed wine.
Do not gaze at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup,
when it goes down smoothly!
In the end it bites like a snake
and poisons like a viper.
Your eyes will see strange sights
and your mind imagine confusing things.
You will be like one sleeping on the high seas,
lying on top of the rigging.
"They hit me," you will say, "but I'm not hurt!
They beat me, but I don't feel it!
When will I wake up
so I can find another drink?"

Consider also Proverbs 20:1: "Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler, whoever is led astray by them is not wise."

Overall in Scripture, drunkenness is a metaphor for being consumed or controlled by something:

While the Old Testament tends to show the evils of drunkenness, the New Testament is more direct:

  • Luke 21:34: "Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap."
  • Romans 13:13: "Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy."
  • First Corinthians 5:11: "Do not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is … a drunkard."
  • Galatians 5:21: "The acts of the sinful nature are … drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
  • Ephesians 5:18: "Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit."
  • First Thessalonians 5:7-8: "Those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled."

The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible states: "There are many evidences in Scripture that alcoholic intoxication was one of the major social evils of ancient times. This was true of all nations, including Israel, in the Near East and the Mediterranean world." Drunkenness obviously continues to be a major social evil in our time. Each year, 70,000 college students are victims of alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape. In the year 2002, 2.1 million students drove under the influence of alcohol. In our times, as in Bible times, alcohol abuse is a great evil. Many of you know that from personal experience. The Bible is very clear that disciples are not to fall prey to drunkenness.

Both Testaments seem to have a special message for priests/ministers/teachers/leaders.

I assume the first two points of my sermon have held no surprises for you. We all know that the Bible presents the use of alcohol in both positive and negative light. But as I was studying this subject, I was surprised to learn the next aspect of God's teaching—that both Testaments seem to have a special message for priests/ministers/teachers/leaders.

Consider Leviticus 10:8-11:

Then the Lord said to Aaron, "You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses."

Proverbs 31:4-5:

It is not for kings, O Lemuel—
not for kings to drink wine,
not for rulers to crave beer,
lest they drink and forget what the law decrees,
and deprive all the oppressed of their rights.

In 1 Timothy 3:3, Paul writes that "an overseer must not be given to much wine." In Timothy 3:8, he adds, "Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine." In Titus 2:3, Paul writes, "Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good."

Again, both Testaments seem to have a special message for priests/ministers/teachers/leaders concerning alcohol consumption.

Do not cause a weaker brother/sister to stumble by your drinking.

As we seek to develop a theology of drinking, let me offer one final observation: Scripture is clear that we should not cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble by our drinking.

Romans 14:20-21:

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. ?Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

Do not cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble. Don't influence them to drink if drinking for them is a sin. Don't say things like this to a brother or sister whose conscience does not permit drinking: "Aw, come on. You can have just one. Don't be such a prude. Don't you know you're free from the law?" If you influence a weaker Christian to sin, you share in that sin.

First Corinthians 10:31: "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews or Greeks, or the church of God."

Yes, disciples have the right to drink. But disciples do not insist on their rights. When it is a loving thing to do so, they lay aside their rights just as Jesus did when he came to earth. He did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, but he laid aside that right out of love. He set the pattern for us. And when we lay aside our rights—when we lose our lives for Jesus' sake—we find our lives, don't we? The economy of the kingdom is topsy-turvy. To live we must die. To be of service to people, to build God's kingdom, to honor God, to love your neighbor—you might have to pull back from your rights.


Let me see if I can summarize the biblical teaching on a disciple's approach to drinking: You are free to enjoy God's blessings, including drink, but you must not engage in drunkenness. You must approach alcohol with sober wisdom, remembering that it tends to lead to addiction and control (when we should only be controlled by the Holy Spirit). Alcohol walks hand in hand with much evil, including violence, sexual immorality, exploitation, and foolishness. Some people do not have freedom to drink, and we must not tempt them to sin. And finally, leaders seem to have a special responsibility in this matter.

So, are you drinking like a disciple? If not, what do you need to change?

To see an outline of Arthurs' sermon, click here.

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ___________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? _______________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? ______________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ___________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see Plagiarism, Schmagiarism and Stolen Goods: Tempted to Plagiarize.

Jeffrey Arthur is professor of preaching and communication at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

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Sermon Outline:


My goal for today is to categorize and read these select passages, giving brief comments to build a biblical theology of drinking.

I. God gives alcoholic beverages for sustenance, pleasure, medicine, and worship.

II. Drunkenness is a sin, associated with foolishness, selfishness, manipulation, and God's judgment.

III. Both Testaments seem to have a special message for priests/ministers/teachers/leaders.

IV. Do not cause a weaker brother/sister to stumble by your drinking.


Are you drinking like a disciple? If not, what do you need to change?