Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
My grandmother was a strong, influential woman. She was never shy about sharing her opinions. One of these I heard consistently throughout my boyhood. Drinking alcohol, my grandmother insisted, was unequivocally wrong. One of her favorite lines was, “Just one sip.” This meant, “Mark, if you take just one small sip of alcohol, you’ll slide down the slippery slope into alcoholism.” So, given my grandmother’s conviction and the fact that nobody in my family drank alcohol, I resolved to be a lifelong teetotaler.
Thus, when I was about ten years old, I was perplexed by the fact that my father was reading a book called The Taste of New Wine. My dad didn’t drink wine—or any other alcoholic beverages for that matter. Why was he reading this book?
When I asked him, I was relieved to hear it wasn’t about literal wine drinking. Rather, my dad explained, The Taste of New Wine was about having a deeper, truer, more genuine faith in Christ. It was written by Keith Miller, a man who was the director of Laity Lodge, a retreat center in Texas where God was doing amazing things. (In God’s ironic providence, I ended up working at Laity Lodge, doing the same job as Keith, some forty years later.)
One evening when I was in junior high school, I went out to dinner with my parents. I was looking forward to some tasty manicotti at Scarantino’s, my favorite Italian restaurant. When we finished ordering our food, I was shocked to hear my dad order a glass of wine for himself and another for my mom. When the waitress left, I proceeded to lecture my parents on the spiritual and physical dangers of alcohol: “Just one sip” and “You’re killing your brain cells” and the like. Not exactly happy dinner conversation.
At some point during our meal, my parents, who were patient with my tirade, explained that they believed it was not wrong for Christians to enjoy a glass of wine every now and then. The Bible does not forbid drinking, they said, only drunkenness. Wine is one of God’s gifts to us, something to be enjoyed in moderation.
When I got home, I got out my Bible to see what I could learn about drinking. This was the first time in my life I encountered the teaching of Ephesians 5:18: “Do not get drunk on wine.” I noted that it did not prohibit all drinking of wine and that it clearly forbade drunkenness.
That verse stuck with me during the next crucial decade of my life. It helped me avoid many of the mishaps that plagued my friends in high school and college. I saw that so much risky and even hurtful behavior happened among folks who had way too much to drink. Additionally, in times of deep personal distress in my own life, Ephesians 5:18 kept me from seeking to numb my pain by abusing alcohol. For these reasons, I am grateful for this verse. But Ephesians 5:18 also provides an unexpected rationale for avoiding drunkenness, something more than just “Don’t get drunk.” And, for the record, it’s not “Just one sip.” To this surprising rationale we’ll turn in tomorrow’s reflection.
Something to Think About:
What messages about drinking did you hear (or experience) as you were growing up?
What do you believe today about drinking alcoholic beverages?
Do you struggle in your own life with the negative influence of alcohol, either in your behavior or in that of colleagues, friends, or family members?
Does drinking alcohol play a role in your work life? If so, how do you understand it?
Something to Do:
Talk with a friend or with your small group about your understanding and practice when it comes to drinking wine and other “adult beverages.”
Gracious God, we can easily misuse your good gifts. Wine, which can represent the sacrifice of Jesus, can also be something that draws us away from you. Teach us, we pray, how to use wisely all that you give to us.
I pray today especially for those who struggle with the effects of alcohol in their own lives, in their families, and in their communities. May they find healing and hope, as well as freedom from that which binds them. Amen.