A Balanced View of Alcohol (Part 4)

by May 21, 2010

According to Paul, we have a duty to defer to the weak. Why? They’re right, even though they’re wrong!

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. (v. 13-14)

He’s saying that Jesus has made all things clean and good, but until he brings a new Christian to that realization, there are things like alcohol that will still be unclean to them because of the association these things still have in their minds to their formerly sinful lifestyles.

In that case, our love will outweigh our liberty. Good liberty can become bad when it’s flaunted and hurts the weak. That’s why Paul says this:

If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. (v. 15)

It is possible to destroy a new believer through the unloving liberty we unthinkingly pursue. That’s Paul’s theme for the next few verses:

  • The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (v. 17)
  • Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (v. 19)
  • Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. (v. 20)
  • It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. (v. 21)

He’s simply asking us to keep things in perspective! The kingdom of God is infinitely more important than food and drink. In eternal terms, how important is it that you drink a glass of wine just because you can? How much more important is fostering righteousness, peace, and joy?

When Paul talks about the “work of God” in verse 20, he’s probably referring to the church. Are you really ready to destroy the precious fellowship of the family of God… just for a beer? No? Then Paul has a very practical suggestion:

The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. (v. 22)

He’s saying that there’s a difference between private and public behavior. If you don’t want to be judged for what you approve by others who don’t, then don’t go around church loudly proclaiming your love for PF Chang’s Peach Mojitos. Don’t bring a case of Heineken to the church potluck.

But say you’ve taken pains to avoid drinking in front of others (or advertising your views to others) who might be hurt by it. A Christian who doesn’t drink hears that you do. He confronts you on it, saying that no Christian should drink alcohol. Then, Paul says that everything changes:

Do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. (v. 16)

D.A. Carson echoes this thought in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World:

If I’m called to preach the gospel among a lot of people who are cultural teetotallers, I’ll give up alcohol for the sake of the gospel. But if they start saying, “You cannot be a Christian and drink alcohol,” I’ll reply, “Pass the port” or “I’ll think I’ll have a glass of Beaujolais with my meal.” (via)

Paul’s overall point? Your conscience is a sacred thing, given to you by God. God is conforming each one of us to the image of Christ, and we are all at different points in a process that looks radically different for different people. As Paul says, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (v. 5).

But our own convictions on things that are not explicitly condemned in the Bible can never be imposed on others. Out of love, “let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (v. 19).