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ALCOHOL Blessing or Curse?
By Herbert W. Armstrong
Ethyl alcohol may be, to various people at various times,
a source of enjoyment,
Alcohol can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on how it is used. Most people who drink alcoholic beverages find them to be a blessing. On the other hand, sadly, there are a few who find through abuse of such beverages – that alcohol can be a curse. This group includes the approximately 10 percent of drinkers who develop the malady of alcoholism, which destroys them physically, mentally and spiritually.
It doesn’t matter whether the alcohol is consumed in beer, wine, whiskey, gin, vodka, vanilla extract or mouthwash – they all contain the same ethyl alcohol or ethanol (C2 H 50H), and people need to be aware of the proper – and improper – uses of this chemical.
The Bible reveals three basic proper uses for alcohol: religious, medicinal and for enjoyment.
Religious uses of alcohol
In the Old Testament alcoholic beverages were important in various aspects of religious observance.
God’s people, Israel, were commanded to include drink offerings they made to God (e.g. Num. 15: 5, 7, 10). Wine was among those blessings of which the Israelites payed tithes and gave offerings to their Creator (Neh. 10:39, 13:5).
Old Testament prophecies of the Millennium envision a world of material as well as spiritual blessings for everyone, and wine is used to symbolize those physical riches (Amos 9:13). Alcohol, used properly, will add another dimension of happiness to the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on earth.
Abstinence from alcohol was also religiously significant in special cases.
Those who took Nazarite vows were to abstain from "wine and strong drink" (Num. 6:1-3). The Israelite hero Samson was a Nazarite; part of his vow, as the angel told his parents, was that he drink no wine or strong drink (Judge. I3:7).
As an act of worship to God, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah refused to eat the king's food and drink his wine while they were in captivity In pagan Babylon, choosing instead to eat pulse and drink water (Dan. 1: 8), and they were blessed for doing so.
Wine is used to represent the sins of the great whore of Revelation, where
For the Church now, the Bible shows one specific religious use for alcohol – at the Passover. Jesus indicated that the small amount of wine Christians are commanded to take on the first of God's annual Holy Days represents His "blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28). This religious use of alcohol is, of course, the most significant in all history.
Alcohol as medicine
The medicinal value of alcohol is in its ability to act as an anesthetic (painkiller) and an antiseptic (prevents infection).
The good Samaritan poured oil and wine into the wounds of the man he befriended on the road to Jericho (Luke I 0:30-37); undoubtedly the purpose of the wine was to deaden some of the pain and to prevent infection. Today we have more advanced drugs for anesthesia, such as novocaine, which dentists use to deaden nerves when they pull teeth. Alcohol, though now generally mixed with other patent medicines, is still recognized and used as an antiseptic for minor scratches and cuts.
The apostle Paul suggested that Timothy use a little wine for his stomach's sake (I Tim. 5:23). The Bible does not indicate the nature of Timothy's stomach problem or what his "often infirmities" were, but per haps there was some difficulty with the drinking water or Timothy had a digestive impairment. However, whatever it was, note that Paul said to use a little, not copious amounts, of wine.
The book of Proverbs comments on the sedative effects of this drug in a warning to those in positions of authority: "It is not for kings, 0 Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted. Give strong drink to, him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his pover ty, and remember his misery no more" (Prov. 31:4-7).
Alcohol can cloud a person's thinking. It can tranquilize those suffering pain or having psychological problems such as poverty, but this use of alcohol is very limited and should be resorted to only with extreme caution.
The danger of using alcohol as a sedative is that a person can become dependent on or even addicted to the drug. All too often people have started out by using alcohol to help themselves sleep or to escape severe problems, only to end up addicted to the chemical and suffering from the destructive syndrome of alcoholism.
Thus alcohol, which can produce good, becomes destructive through abuse. It is far better to find some real solutions to your problems. If you are burdened with heavy difficulties in your life, remember the assistance God offers you through Jesus Christ: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. II: 28-30).
If poverty or financial problems are plaguing you, remember Christ 's admonition that a Christian is not to worry about food or clothing, but should rather seek the Kingdom of God first – then his needs will be supplied (Matt. 6:25-33). God knows every one of your needs and will provide them if you rely on Him – you should not allow these physical consideration's to so burden your mind that they cause you stress and tension that require relief from sedatives such as alcohol.
Drinking for pleasure
In addition to the religious and medicinal uses of alcohol, God also approves of drinking to add pleasure to social occasions such as weddings and parties. Wine and other alcoholic beverages can make people more cheerful and give greater enjoyment to already happy gatherings. They "gladden the heart of man" (Ps. 104:15, Revised Standard Version).
Christians should always exercise caution when using alcohol for pleasure, however, because of the ever-present danger of overuse, which will utterly destroy any enjoyment that could have been derived from a social occasion. Nobody likes a drunk, including the drunk himself.
Notice how Jesus Christ used wine at a wedding He attended in Cana.
The supply of wine had run out at this particular marriage celebration (John 2:3) , and Jesus took it upon Himself to resupply wine for the feast.
Because this passage shows no religious or medicinal use for the wine, we are left to conclude that it was to be used to cheer the hearts of the guests , including Jesus and His disciples. A wedding is an exciting, enjoyable occasion, and a little wine can make it more pleasurable, if used moderately.
Verse 6 indicates that Christ may have turned from I00 to 160 gallons of water into wine. This would seem like an enormous amount of wine for a wedding feast. However, during this particular period of history, Jewish wedding feasts lasted seven days, especially if the wedding involved a dignitary of the city.
This particular wedding was apparently a rather prestigious affair, because a "governor of the feast" was in charge. If this were a seven-day affair, and most of the village of Cana had been invited, then the stated quantity would not have been an excessive amount of wine at all.
This demonstration of supernatural power was the "beginning of miracles" by Jesus (verse 11). Why would the first of Christ's recorded miracles be that of turning water into wine at a social occasion? Perhaps it is because God was aware of the controversy that would develop among religious people over the use of alcoholic beverages.
The issue of drinking has been a raging battle among religions for centuries. One group of fanatics in the United States was so vocal that the government imposed a total pro hibition on all alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933.
And indeed, if a person were to view only the devastation caused by alcohol abuse and alcoholism, he would be forced to accept the conclusion that the use of alcohol is evil. However, the majority of those people who choose to drink alcoholic beverages do not have any problems because they do so. There is nothing wrong with the proper use of wine, "which cheereth God and man" (Judg. 9:13).
As we have shown, however, the misuse of alcohol is very dangerous. And alcohol abuse is not only harmful physically, but spiritually as well.
During Christ's ministry, the religious bigots of His day condemned the way He used wine, calling Him "a glutton and a drunkard” (Matt. 11:19, RSV).
These charges, of course, were utterly false accusations from ignorant
sources. You can be sure that while Jesus most likely used wine at meal
times and on some special occasions, He was never drunk. The Bible says that
though Christ was tempted in all points as we are, He never sinned ,
and drunkenness is a sin that will keep you out of the Kingdom of God (I
Cor. 6:9-1 0, Gal.
Christ Himself warned His followers not to be drunken (Luke 21:34). Paul told the Corinthian church to "put away from among yourselves" any member who was a drunkard – to have no fellowship with such a person (1 Cor. 5: 11-13). No person who is unable to use alcohol properly is fit to be a minister (1 Tim. 3:3, 8, Titus 1:7). Paul taught the Ephesians to "be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess," but rather to be filled with the Spirit of God (Eph. 5:18).
Have you ever been guilty of drunkenness? What about at an event like the Feast of Tabernacles?
Notice God's instruction about how to spend your second tithe, "and spend the money for whatever you desire, oxen, or sheep, or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves; and you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household" (Deut. 14:26). Alcoholic beverages are to be used, if you desire, to help you rejoice in the presence of God.
But this instruction should never be used as an excuse to get drunk at the Feast, which would bring shame on you, your family and friends and cast a dark shadow on the Church of God. You are to rejoice – not bring disgrace on Christ's Body, which can happen when moderation and common sense are not exercised.
The Bible nowhere commands Christians to drink alcohol, with the exception of about a tablespoonful during the Passover service. Alcohol should be seen as a blessing that God has given human beings to honor Him, to help heal our bodies, to cheer us up when needed and to add pleasure to meals and social occasions. As Christians, we should be aware of the benefits and dangers of alcohol and use it properly, so we can truly consider alcohol to be the blessing God meant it to be.
Originally published as Alcohol: Blessing or Curse? Good News, March 1980, pp. 15-16