12 January 2014

Let's Rethink the Drink Some More

Over the past couple of days, I've gotten significant feedback on my last post, "Time to Rethink the Drink."  Some has been from the Amen corner; some has been quite critical, although overwhelmingly respectful.  Some has been public comment, some private.  Some have been encouraged; some have been offended.  I still think its a good conversation to be having.  Determining how to faithfully engage the culture around you as a follower of Christ is quite challenging.  None of us, I hope, want to fall into the ditch of legalism and self-righteousness on one side of the road or into the ditch of compromise and worldliness on the other side.  Staying on the biblical path that honors God and helps us fulfill our purpose should be our goal.  We need to be about living for God and sharing the gospel with all.  Along the way, however, there are issues that we must thoughtfully navigate with the Word of God.  It seems we don't get to determine what these issues may be, but we must pursue a biblically faithful response. 

I don't want to rehash what I've said before, but I do want to look at another passage of Scripture that echoes 1 Corinthians 8, and I believe supports my application in regards to Christians and the consumption of alcohol.

Romans 14 is a treatise in itself about the conscience and culture.  As Paul is closing this letter to believers, he encourages them to honor each other by being sensitive to cultural hot-button issues.  He mentions those who won't eat meat and those who do, those who drink wine and those who don't. 

My hope is that you'll read Romans 14 for yourself if you're not familiar with it's content.  Don't just take my word for it.  Nevertheless, here is an overview of it.

Romans 14:1-12 speaks to the freedom that we have in Christ.  It speaks to our liberty and our personal conscience before God.  We are told not to judge each other over such differences (customs and traditions).  We live and die for God and Christ is our Lord.  Each one of us will give an account for our motivations in this life only to God.  No person has the right ultimately to judge another person.  If we do this, then we are treading on God's turf.  This we do not want to do!

This would be difficult and maybe in conflict with the content of 1 Corinthians 8, if Romans 14 ended at verse 12.  But it doesn't.  What follows in the remaining of the chapter does not contradict, but rather complements.  It is true that we should not judge or "regard with contempt" a brother or a sister who may have a different view on some things.  But it is also true that we are to go out of our way to avoid being a "stumbling block" (scandal) to that same brother or sister.

Romans 14:13, "Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this - not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way."

In the remainder of the chapter Paul goes on to explain that it is our responsibility to love our brother more than our liberty. Even if the thing itself (meat or wine) is "clean" it becomes evil when you willfully offend with it (14:20).  Then Paul states, "It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles" (14:21). 

Two things are key here, as well in 1 Corinthians 8.  First, we must know our context and what offends.  Second, we must see clearly that the Bible calls us to sacrifice that item that gives offense for the sake of others.  This is not prompted by legalism, but by love.

For me in my context, to drink alcohol runs the great risk of offending.  Therefore, I'm compelled, by what I believe is the clear teaching of Scripture, not to drink.  Maybe you can argue that your context doesn't warrant abstinence because a Christian drinking socially in moderation doesn't offend.  That's between you and Lord to discern.  However, my main concern is for people who are Christian who are clearly in a context in which the culture perceives that it's a sin to drink.  I see too many who simply do not have ears to hear what God clearly says about their drinking.

I don't drink.  I have many reasons for not drinking alcohol.  But in my context, the greatest reason not to drink is because God has clearly steered me away from it so I can have a good reputation as I strive to live for Him.  I don't condemn the social drinking Christian.  That's not my place.  That, as Paul said, is ultimately between him and God.  However, as a Christian pastor it is my God-called place to point out to my flock that in their context when people see them drink they damage their reputation as a Christians, hurt the reputation of the church they are a part of, offend others, and become the "scandal" Scripture tells them not to become. 

Funny, I've never seen that be the case by not drinking. 

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