If you were to look out your window and see your neighbor run full speed and smash his head against a tree, you probably would be shocked. If he knocked himself unconscious against the tree periodically, your shock would probably escalate to questioning the neighbor’s sanity. What is wrong with this guy? Why does he harm himself repeatedly? He is acting like a fool! This is the same reaction that God has when commenting on those who get drunk. “They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not hurt; They have beaten me, and I felt it not: When shall I awake? I will seek it yet again” (Proverbs 23:35). From the more serious spiritual viewpoint, God also reveals that becoming drunk will cause one to forfeit his or her inheritance in the Kingdom of God (Galatians 5:21).
The Greek noun, methe, is akin to methu- wine, and is translated “drunkenness” in the list of the works of the flesh. The Greek word ties together strong drink and its effect of intoxication. The noun, methe, occurs two other times in our New Testament, besides Galatians 5:21.
In Luke 21, excessiveness is associated with drunkenness (methe). Jesus warned the Jews to take heed “lest haply your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you as a snare” (Luke 21:34). “Surfeiting” denotes the loathsome feeling from being overfilled either with meat or strong drink. Here, Jesus connects the effects of excessive drink with drunkenness. Such imbibing would dull the people’s alertness, and hamper their escape from the approaching destruction of Jerusalem. Due to the relatively low alcohol content of wines in the first century (at most, approximately 12%) compared to the fortified wines and distilled liquors of today, drunkenness would take place when one “tarried long at the wine” (Proverbs 23:29-30). It was often connected with gluttony. “Be not among the winebibbers, among the gluttonous eaters of flesh: For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty and drowsiness will clothe a man with rags” (Proverbs 23:20-21).
In Romans 13, Paul exhorts Christians to “walk becomingly, as in the day; not in revelling and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy” (Romans 13:13). Like today, festive feasts were common in the first century. Due to the effects of strong drink, merrymakers often abandoned restraints and festivals would degenerate into loud, boisterous, revellings in the streets. Revellings and drunkenness (methe) are companions in destroying the soul, and either one will keep us from inheriting Heaven (Galatians 5:21).
Alcohol affects the brain soon after it enters the blood stream. Within minutes, it numbs the nerve cells, slowing their messages to the body. The muscles of the heart strain to cope with alcohol’s depressive action, and the pulse quickens. If drinking persists, the nerve centers in the brain governing speech, vision, balance and judgment are derailed. The brain’s frontal lobe, which controls our judgment and inhibitions, is adversely affected. If ingesting the alcohol continues, the drinker may lose consciousness, and be in danger of dying from respiratory failure.
Alcohol’s ill affect upon a person’s brain, thus affecting his behavior, is clearly presented in Scripture. The combination of the warming sensation and the loss of inhibition through drinking wine caused Noah to allow himself to be found naked and uncovered (Genesis 9:21). David “made him (Uriah - jf) drunk” after Uriah had manifested principled behavior (2 Samuel 11:13). No doubt, David thought that making Uriah drunk might weaken his inhibitions. In order for Kings to not “forget the law”, the wise prohibition for Kings to abstain from drinking “wine” or the fermented juice of other fruits called “strong drink” is enjoined (Proverbs 31:4-5).
Alcohol’s ill effects on one’s judgment that needs “to make a distinction between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean” is behind the prohibition of Priests not drinking wine or strong drink when serving as teachers of the law in the tent of meeting (Leviticus 10:9-11). Tarrying long at wine hampers vision and speech: “Thine eyes shall behold strange things, and thy heart shall utter perverse things” (Proverbs 23:34). The sad picture of drunkenness is seen among the prophet and priest of Isaiah’s day. They “...reel with strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they stagger with strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean” (Isaiah 28:7-8). Being a brawler (paraoinos), arising from losing one’s inhibitions through drinking wine, must not characterize an elder overseeing a local church (Titus 1:7, 1 Timothy 3:3). “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler; and whosoever erreth thereby is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1).
One of the clearest manifestations of unwise conduct in our society today is “binge drinking” among young people. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “many high school and college students drink with one goal - to get drunk” (“Things You Should Know About Children and Alcohol, Washington D.C., 1998). About 10.4 million adolescents, ages 12-20, drink alcoholic beverages. Of this number, 5.1 million are “binge drinkers”, and 2.3 million are “heavy drinkers”. Binge drinkers are boys who consume five or more drinks in a row, and girls who drink at least four in a row. Those who “binge” at least five times a month are considered “heavy drinkers”. According to the 1997 national study by the Harvard School of Public Health, nearly half of all college students surveyed drank four or five drinks in one sitting two weeks prior to the survey (Journal of American College Health, Vol. 47, 1998). In a 1995 study, 39 percent of college women and 50 percent of college men were binge drinkers (Katherine Lyall, Binge Drinking in College: A Definitive Study, in Binge Drinking on American College Campuses: A New Look at a Old Problem, August 1995). While the decade of the 90’s has seen a decrease from the 80’s in alcohol use among adolescents, the age of those who begin to use alcohol continues to go younger and younger. The age of those beginning to use alcohol recreationally has lowered from 13 to 12 in recent years. And, the percentage of “binge drinkers” among college students increased almost 15 percent between 1993 and 1999.
Such games as “21 for 21” and “Hour Power” are played among some recreational binge drinkers. Drinking 21 shots of alcohol to celebrate your twenty-first birthday, or taking a shot of beer every minute for an hour are deadly games played by some young people seeking thrills. Researchers find that 41 percent of binge drinkers engage in unplanned sexual activities and 12.7 percent report getting into trouble with the police. Again, judgment and inhibitions are adversely affected by the drinking of alcoholic beverages. The young, despite their invincible attitude, are not immune to the devastating effects of alcohol. Intoxication has led to fornication, drunk driving and premature death causing many young people and their families to suffer needlessly.
Others, believing drunkenness is unacceptable, drink alcoholic beverages for other reasons. Some drink a beer to relax after a hard day’s work. Some drink wine to heighten their pleasure at meals. Some sip a little beer, wine, or whisky with their business associates and peers in order to be sociable. They drink, but they don’t drink to get drunk. They focus upon avoiding drunkenness by being a “responsible” drinker. But when is one irresponsible? A 140-pound man will be over the legal blood alcohol content level for driving with four drinks. A 220-pound man will not reach that level until he has six drinks. Because a woman has less body water, and processes alcohol differently than a man, a 140 pound woman will have .03 percent higher blood alcohol content in her body than her male counterpart after four drinks. Is the 220-pound man a responsible drinker when he has had five drinks, but the 140-pound man is not? Is the 160-pound man not drunk when he has had three drinks (.06 BAC) while the 120-pound woman is (.11 BAC)? State laws vary in determining a drunken driver, and body weight, food consumption and sex of the drinker affects how much one can drink before legally being drunk.
Do you think Norvel Young, a preacher of the Gospel, started out to get drunk that day a few years ago when he rear ended a car stopped at a light causing a fiery explosion and death? He condemned drunkenness, and practiced “moderate” drinking. His moderation apparently did not keep him from having enough drinks to raise his blood alcohol content to well over .20 %. This sad example reminds us how foolish the alcohol industry is in encouraging people to drink their product, but drink reasonably. The alcohol one is drinking begins immediately to affect one’s reasoning powers with the first drink. The National Clearing House for Alcohol and Drug Information states, “IMPAIRMENT BEGINS WITH YOUR FIRST DRINK - FOR SAFETY’S SAKE, NEVER DRIVE AFTER DRINKING!” Notice our government’s advice: Even if you have one drink, don’t drive. But do the laws and advice from secular government determine what God considers Drunkenness?
We may not know the precise point when God considers a specific individual drunk, but we do have God’s wisdom for avoiding drunkenness. Paul admonishes Christians to “Be not drunken (methusko) with wine...” (Ephesians 5:18). This verb is used in the New Testament emphasizing the process of becoming drunk. Vine thus defines it as an “inceptive verb”. Jesus condemns the servant who “shall begin to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken” (methusko) (Luke 12:45). Paul reminds us that those of the darkness “are drunken” in the night (1 Thessalonians 5:7a). Christians are of the day, so they should never start down the road towards drunkenness. We should be filled with the Spirit’s teachings instead of filling our bodies with intoxicating wine (Ephesians 5:18, Colossians 3:16). God’s commands us to not engage in the process of becoming drunk. The best way to do that is not take the first drink.
Look what occurs if we become drunk: “...wherein is riot” (Ephesians 5:18) Riotous living is wasteful living. The profligate son illustrates this in Luke 15:13: “...he wasted his substance with riotous living.” People practicing drunkenness have lost fortunes, husbands and wives, respect in a community and respect for self. The unrestrained life style that drunkenness manifests may be glorified in the media and admired among the ignorant, but in the end when health is lost in the form of liver, heart and/or pancreas disease; When various cancers have formed in the esophagus, mouth, throat and voice box due to long term heavy drinking; When the hand reaches out for comfort from children only to see their hands recoil in disgust for the times when drunken rage allowed the now inviting hand to physically abuse them; When one is on the verge of entering eternity with no hope of Heaven; Then, surely we can say, “what a waste!” A waste of life’s energies here, and the precious time we all have to prepare for eternity.
The atmosphere of drunkenness is to be avoided by the Christian by not participating in various stages leading to and accompanying drunkenness. Not only is “drunkenness”, or “winebibbings” (oinophlugia - bubbling over of wine) condemned, but “drinking parties”, “banquetings” or “carousings” (potos - a drinking) are also forbidden in 1 Peter 4:3. Avoiding “the drinking” is just as strongly enjoined upon the Christian as avoiding “drunkenness.” A Christian is not to be caught up in the revellings that drunken and half-drunken minds embrace. Notice, God does not tell the Christian to know his limit, and stop short of his fourth drink, or her third drink. The Lord commands His followers to avoid participating in drinking parties and drunkenness. What does the Godly person do? The godly person gladly obeys. Such a person will avoid drunkenness and half-drunken revellings because he or she is avoiding the drinking.
God demands that His people live with “sober” minds. The grace of God teaches us that “...denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present world” (Titus 2:11-12). To live soberly means we live with the “right mind.” We are to maintain a “sound mind” in our daily activities. In order to resist the temptations orchestrated by the Devil, we must “be sober, be watchful: your adversary the Devil, as a roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Knowing the Devil is always lurking to destroy us, why would the Christian ever think a few drinks are okay, when in fact each drink is progressively clouding his judgment and weakening his resistance against evil? Impairment begins with the first drink. The sober minded Christian certainly will not engage in drinking causing “less sound judgment” and “less inhibitions”.
Living soberly and righteously and godly demands that we be protective of our example so that our actions do not cause another to stumble (Romans 14:21). Knowing that the first drink is the first step to the soul damaging sin of drunkenness, how could mature Christians invite others to take that first step with them in their home or at a restaurant? I don’t believe that “social drinkers” weigh their guests and then tell them how many drinks they can have before they are committing the sin of drunkenness. How many would come to your party if they knew they were to be weighed? Just because you might not get tipsy, does not mean that your other guests will remain sober. Your invitation to drink a little wine today may be the first step that leads another Norvel Young to drunkenness tomorrow.
The Bible tells us of the sad effects of drunkenness and how to avoid it. Don’t even start down the road to drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). Abstain from drinking parties, for they lead to, and accompany drunkenness (1 Peter 4:3); Maintain a sober vigilant mind so the Devil cannot devour you when your resistance is low (1 Peter 5:8); And be protective of your example so that no action of yours leads another to sin (Romans 14:23). By not drinking alcoholic beverages, you will take the wise step in meeting these demands of God. Taking the first drink in private or public puts you on the road to violating all four commands. Wisdom in overcoming the sin of drunkenness is not found in focusing on “how much can I drink”, but is found in focusing on “living soberly and righteously and godly in this present word” (Titus 2:12).