Thousands of years have passed since that fateful day in the Garden of Eden, and as Bono puts it, “We still haven’t found what we’re looking for.” We are still struggling with the same temptation to eat (or drink) of the forbidden fruit. When both of my little boys grew close to a year old, about the only thing we forbid was touching the dishwasher when it was open. Of course, what was the one thing they always wanted to do in the kitchen? And no matter how many times we said, “No,” or spanked their little hand, it always seemed they couldn’t resist.
If you are like me, you are a child of a generation of church-goers who made alcohol the “forbidden fruit of the vine.” Being a good Christian was determined by whether you “drink, smoke, or chew, or go with girls who do.” However, most of us–who have remained in the church–have done some of our own Bible study as we have grown older, and we have found that any clear prohibition of alcohol consumption is difficult to find in Scripture. Once we realized that putting the bottle to our lips would not jeopardize our salvation, it opened up a whole new exciting world of ports, lagers, and cocktails.
As I listened to the lectures given at BJU a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but agree with a lot of what was being said, but I felt that their line of argument was misguided. You see, as Christians, something does not have to be forbidden for us to decide that we should not do it. Proverbs 23:29-35 is a passage often used as evidence that the Bible forbids alcohol consumption. However, the context is that of a concerned father and mother who do not wish to see their son fall in among sinners whose “god is their belly” (Phil 3:19) and who end up enslaved to food and beverage (a sad life, indeed). The parents in Proverbs 23 are imparting wisdom to their son because, “he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him” (Prov. 23:24). The purpose of this passage is not to forbid their son, but to warn him to be wise as he enters the world.
Wisdom is a forgotten virtue. Wisdom is gained with age, maturity, and experience. Wisdom moves beyond “do this, don’t do that” to a place where we examine our hearts, motives, and the possible consequences of our actions. The wise act not out of heartless obligation, but out of love–love for God and love for brother. It is not enough for us to discard as legalistic the prohibition of bygone generations if we wish merely to embrace alcohol consumption mindlessly. Where is the wisdom of that?
A heart of love does not seek what is permitted, but seeks what is best. Our churches languish in stale tidal pools of mediocre orthodoxy because we are content with settling for what is “just fine” in the Christian life. Is that what we want? Why then do we apply this thinking to alcohol? Are we experiencing the same knee jerk reaction to a modern day forbidden fruit? Should we reach out to grab it simply because it was forbidden?
Perhaps you began reading this article in hopes that I would give my definite yea or nay to drinking. No such luck. Here is what I will say: “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Paul tells us that all foods are clean; however, we would never desire to destroy our brother or our church–which are both the work of God–for the sake of food (Romans 14:20). Christian wisdom is required in order to figure out how this applies in every circumstance, every walk of life, every church environment. What if you did have to give up drinking alcohol for the sake of the Kingdom? Would that be such a great sacrifice? Besides, what is eighty or ninety years of abstention in view of an eternity of drinking the fruit of the vine with Jesus in our Father’s Kingdom (Matthew 26:29)?