In honor of St. Patrick’s Day (a holiday second only to Mardi Gras when it comes to being associated with alcohol), I want to share why I choose not to drink alcohol. And it’s not because the Bible doesn’t say ‘don’t drink.’ Growing up in conservative traditional (i.e. teetotaler) Baptist churches, I always got the “the Bible says don’t drink” talk. Except the Bible never says that. As my religious teenage friends used to say to try and justify their drinking, “The Bible never says ‘Don’t drink.’ It only says ‘Don’t get drunk.'” Well, they’re right (Ephesians 5:18).
So why do I choose not to drink even though biblically I’m allowed? Two main reasons specifically, one experiential and one biblical.
The experiential reason comes from my family background. Both grandfathers struggled with alcohol addiction and it was destructive on my parent’s home lives so my parents never touched the stuff as adults. I saw too many friends, watched too many relatives see their lives ruined by an addiction that they thought they could control. It just never held that much appeal to me when I saw the consequences of what happened when it got out of control. As a pastor, I work with a local rehab facility and a dozen ladies at a time walking through the consequences of their alcohol addiction. Let’s just say their lives are a mess. Lost jobs, lost spouses, lost kids, lost years. Every week I come face-to-face with a dozen ladies who have wrecked their life because of a drug or alcohol addiction. To put it another way, when you see people that suffer from first and second degree burns all over their body, playing with matches loses its appeal.
The second (and stronger) reason for me is biblical, but it’s not the Bible verse most people think of. In 1 Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul talks to a first century church about the controversial topic of eating food sacrificed to idols. Not a big deal today, but back then it was a divisive issue in the church. When meat was sold in the first century markets, they were always sacrificed or dedicated to a god first to ‘bless’ it. For some Christians, this was problematic because they felt that by eating meat sacrificed to idols, they were participating in worship to those gods, something that obviously violated their consciouses. Other Christians had no problem with it, arguing that those gods weren’t real anyways. In the middle of that debate, Paul shared some great wisdom and a personal principle that I try and live out today.
Paul argued that people had the right to eat whatever meat they wanted, including meat sacrificed to idols (much like we have the right to consume alcohol as adults if we so choose). But for Paul a greater principle was at play: the effect that his actions would have on those that looked up to him. Paul showed incredible maturity when he said that even though he had no problem eating meat sacrificed to idols, he would willingly give it up if it caused someone else to fall into sin.
That’s the principle that has driven me as a Christian adult to stay away from alcohol. It obviously makes sense since I’m a pastor and people look up to me. I have a reputation to keep up, and if anyone saw a single glass of wine in my hands they wouldn’t know if that was my first or my tenth of the day. But I don’t even need to use that role as a pastor as motivation because I’m a father. I have four young children in my house. Those four kids, for better or for worse, want to be just like their dad. If I have alcohol in my house (which is my right), and if I choose to drink beer or wine at the end of the day (which is my right), I will normalize the consumption of alcohol in my household. And let’s just say I can control it, that it never becomes an addiction for me. How can I ever be sure that none of my kids will ever struggle with alcohol? What if I can handle my alcohol, but two of my kids can’t? What if when they become adults they drink because they saw dad drink, and they think they can handle it because they saw dad handle it, but they can’t? What if two of my children wreck their lives, their marriages, and their children because alcohol destroyed them? Remember, I work with addicts every week and see the havoc that alcohol addiction can wreak. What if it that destruction happened to my kids, and it all started because they saw me drinking a beer at the end of the day? I don’t think I could live with myself. As enjoyable as beer might be (I honestly wouldn’t know), it’s not worthy my kids’ future.
That’s why I choose not to drink alcohol. It’s not because the Bible says I can’t, but because alcohol is too damaging to too many people, and I dare not contribute to that destruction in any way. So, to paraphrase 1 Corinthians 8:13, Therefore, if what I drink causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never drink alcohol again, so that I will not cause them to fall. That’s why I choose not to drink alcohol.