Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

Ephesians 5:18

As we saw in yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, Ephesians 5:18 states clearly, “Do not get drunk on wine.” Of course this verse does not imply that it’s fine to get drunk on other alcoholic beverages. In the first century A.D., wine was the predominant alcoholic beverage. In today’s world, with all kinds of wineries plus breweries and distilleries, we rightly apply “Do not get drunk” to a wide range of beverages. (Many Christians also take this verse as forbidding the use of drugs that produce a state of intoxication.)

A little child eating an excess amount of sugarIf Scripture says, “Don’t do something,” that is reason enough not to do it, even if an explanation is not given. But, in the case of “Do not get drunk on wine” in Ephesians 5:18, we are given one clear reason. Drunkenness “leads to debauchery.”

“Debauchery” is one of those words that is familiar in a way but may be hard for us to define. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “debauchery” is “vicious indulgence in sensual pleasures.” The Greek word lying behind “debauchery” is asotia. If you look this word up in a lexicon, you will find it defined as “reckless abandon, debauchery, dissipation, profligacy.” A related adverb appears in the parable of the Prodigal Son, who, “set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living [asotos]” (Luke 15:13). In the New Testament, asotia implies a lack of thoughtfulness about one’s behavior. This is exactly what happens when someone has too much to drink. A drunk person easily chooses apparent pleasures that he or she would never choose when sober.

Sensual pleasure isn’t always wrong, of course. Scripture teaches that God created us with the capacity for pleasure—including eating delicious food and drink, listening to sweet music, or enjoying sexual intimacy in marriage. We are free to receive and delight in God’s gifts.

But such gifts can be misused. We can eat so much good food that we become sick or unhealthy. We can listen to music so loudly that we damage our hearing. We can experience sexual activity in contexts in which it is superficial, hurtful, or abusive. Inebriated people are more inclined to choose such behavior because excessive inebriation clouds our ability to make wise choices. It lowers our ethical standards. Sometimes it draws us into risky behavior that can have tragic consequences (as in the case of drunk driving).

What Ephesians 5:18 assumes but does not state is that we should live our lives thoughtfully, with our capacity to make wise choices unimpaired. Remember what we read a few verses ago: “Be very careful then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15). Such attention to living requires a sober mind.

Something to Think About:

Have you ever witnessed drunkenness leading to debauchery?

Why do you think human beings abuse alcohol?

How can we receive God’s gifts without misusing them?

Something to Do:

Talk with a trusted friend or with your small group about your experiences of alcohol use and abuse in light of Ephesians 5:18.

Prayer:

Gracious God, thank you for your good gifts, including the gift of physical pleasure. Thank you for creating us with the ability to delight in your gifts. Help us, though, to know when enough is enough. Help us to know the right contexts for enjoying your gifts. In particular, teach us to avoid the abuse of alcohol and the immoral behavior it can incite. May we live our whole lives for you, guided by your truth. Amen.

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online
commentary:
The Shrewd Manager and the Prodigal Son (Luke 16:1-13; 15:11-32)