Drink Up! Whiskey and Wine and Enjoying God

Alcohol has been used for medicinal purposes for millennia, even finding it’s way into the Bible when an older Christian advised a young friend:

 Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. (1 Timothy 5:23.)

I don’t think Paul knew of Quinine Whiskey, though, or his letter to Timothy might have read like this:

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and [quinine whiskey for] your frequent illnesses [like grippe, colds and malaria]. (1 Timothy 5:23, my revised version.)

Of course, there is such a thing as having too much to drink, as I’ve learned first-hand. The Bible says that’s bad. (E.g., Ecclesiastes 10:17.) But it also says drinking watered-down cheap stuff isn’t so good either.

Your silver has become dross,
    your choice wine is diluted with water.
(Isaiah 1:22.)

What’s the lesson there? Don’t dilute the good stuff.

Diluted Faith

A few years before I became a Christian I had a chance to sit in on a class at a Bible college. (It’s a long story, but the thing to keep in mind is that I was not a believer in Jesus.)

The class was on hermeneutics, a subject I not only didn’t know about but one I’d never even heard of before. It turned out to be a class where students learn how to study the Bible. The lecture that day focused on John 2, where Jesus turned water into wine when the wedding he was attending in Cana had run out of drink for the guests.

 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” (John 2:7-10.)

After reading the passage, the professor asked the students, “When you see the word ‘wine’ in that passage, what do you think it means?”

The students – most of whom I gathered were from strict conservative backgrounds when it came to their understanding of all things Christian – gave a couple different answers, ranging from “Back then they drank really strong grape juice and called it wine” to “It was wine but a lot more watered down than what people drink today.”

It looks like quite a party: Marriage at Cana by Marten de Vos (Wikimedia)

It looks like quite a party: Marriage at Cana by Marten de Vos

The professor surprised them when he said, “Actually, it was wine. It was real wine, it was really good wine, and Jesus made it for everyone to drink.”

I think most of those college kids had never heard someone teach that Jesus actually drank alcohol, let alone that he made a boatload of the good stuff for everyone to drink up at a party.

The students looked at that passage through their own cultural lens, one developed over the years by people who continuously told them that alcohol is evil and if they drink they are in danger of being in league with the devil. It’s the mindset behind phrases like

“Lips that touch wine will never touch mine”

or as one of my old pastors put it when describing the mindset

“Don’t drink, don’t chew, don’t go with girls who do.”

The problem with this way of thinking about wine or other alcoholic drinks is that the rules people put on them are legalistic tools that take the place of Spirit-led decision-making.

The rules also end up preventing Christians like the students at that Bible college from being able to see the real purpose of the passages they read; as soon as they see the word “wine” they read the passage based on their assumption that it is evil.

They dilute Scripture’s text and in turn dilute their own faith.

Wine for God’s Glory

Running out of wine at that wedding would have been embarrassing, but it turns out Jesus did not create more wine from plain water just to save the host from humiliation in front of his friends. There was a much higher purpose in view, revealing the glory of Jesus the Messiah:

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:11.)

The wine led people not to the devils’ doorstep but to the throne of God.

People do trade their silver for dross – the waste left over when refining precious metal like silver and gold. They are offered a relationship with God, but choose something weak and watered down instead. That is the point of Isaiah 1:22.

Your silver has become dross,
    your choice wine is diluted with water.

Isaiah wrote that prophecy about trading a relationship with God for lesser things hundreds of years before Jesus turned the water into wine, but when Jesus  created that wine and everyone tasted how good it was I wonder if some guests might have remembered Isaiah’s words about not diluting the choice wine. Did they remember that this was not really about wine, but about God?

Because when it comes to God and all he offers his people, let’s not water down the good stuff.


[The Kingston Trio knows a thing or two about fine liquor as a metaphor for the good stuff in life.]

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22 Responses to Drink Up! Whiskey and Wine and Enjoying God

  1. kenzyretro says:

    Interesting Story! really enjoyed it. Yes I also heard that wine is very beneficial for health. I am a wine lover.

  2. Erica M. says:

    I grew up hearing that it wasn’t “really wine”, which my parents luckily did not enforce. I can certainly understand the roots of this belief, as I’m pretty sure it came from the abstinence (of alcohol) culture during the 1800s. Men would waste their paychecks on alcohol instead of taking care of their families. But, like any good idea, it was taken too far.

    (Also, mom used to mix up whiskey, honey, lemon and hot water for colds when I was a kid. It *will* clear out your sinuses, if nothing else.)

  3. Jeannie says:

    I grew up in a totally alcohol-abstinent home; as a kid I believed alcohol consumption was wrong and evil, period. I certainly never heard any discussion of how Spirit-filled Christians might have some choice and discernment in this matter. My thoughts on this changed over time, though. I was a teen when I heard a radio preacher say categorically that the Bible’s symbolism about yeast was all negative; so from this he deduced that alcohol was evil. But I KNEW Jesus had said that the kingdom of heaven was like yeast that a woman mixed through dough (Matt 13:33), so there was at least one example of yeast being a positive symbol. so I just couldn’t believe this preacher, who finished his sermon by smarmily saying “Don’t blame me, I’m just God’s errand boy.” This was my first step in becoming the skeptical devil’s advocate you know today. Seriously, though, Tim, thanks for writing on this topic and again reminding us of our freedom in Christ.

    • Tim says:

      That preacher’s tag line comes up a lot when it’s a subject where Christians differ on doctrine. I never hear it used in areas where there’s no differing doctrines. For example I never hear someone resort to it by saying, “According to 1 John 4:8 ‘God is love’. Don’t blame me, I’m just God’s errand boy.”

  4. Pastor Bob says:

    I grew up with a mixed message on alcohol – times yes and times no. After conversion i was in a no alcohol church which upset my family, “judging by not drinking (!)” Later that moderated as I really came to understand Jesus, the word and an important word (implied but not mentioned directly here) MODERATION. Also I came to understand what even one serving could do for my witness (1 drink rule for the past many years).

    The application of an interesting and challenging social topic is very well done. The kingdom is in need of and has creative ways to share the message.


    • Tim says:

      I agree, PB. There is a great need to share the message of what the Bible really says about our conduct, whether with alcohol or anything else. On alcohol, I find a lot of Bible passages about not getting drunk but the only ones on not drinking at all have to do with taking certain types of vows.

  5. Tuija says:

    I love your point about Spirit-led decision making, and I fully agree with you about being able to enjoy wine etc. (in moderation).

    The Holy Spirit may also lead people not to drink alcoholic beverages at all. 🙂 For example, if they are recovering from alcohol addiction, or there is addiction in the family – some people are genetically more prone to become addicted.
    In Scandinavia, traditionally, moderate alcohol use has been very rare. (Possibly because of the ‘addiction genes’?) A hundred years ago, ordinary people in Finland did not drink wine with meals. Alcohol = strong liquor = something people drank because they wanted to get drunk. Or perhaps, sometimes, for medicinal purposes. (Well, there was beer, too. Hardly any alcohol in it, when brewed for drinking with meals. Very potent, when brewed for celebrations…) Where there is no model for moderation, the person who wants to avoid excessive drinking may find it easier to abstain altogether.

    So I can sort of see where the abstinence standpoint comes from, in Finland at least: a natural reaction against the destructive effects of drunkenness and alcoholism. I don’t agree with making abstinence a legalistic requirement, though.

    These days, from what I have seen, the culture is changing in Finland. Excessive use and alcoholism have not disappeared, unfortunately, but moderation is more mainstream than ever. And among Christians, moderate use of alcohol is an “issue of conscience” – you are probably not going to be judged for it, even if the other Christian chooses to abstain. I guess nowadays it’s easier for people to understand that moderation is possible. 🙂 (The attitudes might depend on the church and the area, though.)

    (Sorry for writing so much.)

    • Tim says:

      “(Sorry for writing so much.)” – I’m glad you wrote every word, Tuija.

      I don’t drink, and haven’t for almost a decade and a half, but it’s not Christian conviction nor an addiction/alcoholism issue that prompted me. Which just goes to show that there are as many reasons to choose to drink or not drink as there are people, probably.

      • Pastor Bob says:

        Liked it all I did!
        Especially, ” “(Sorry for writing so much.)” – I’m glad you wrote every word, Tuija.” “

  6. Aimee Byrd says:

    I’ve always said a shot of whiskey cures what ails ya. If only we could get medical coverage…
    And yes, don’t water down the message!

  7. Laura Droege says:

    I don’t drink. I grew up in a non-drinking home, and I never saw the appeal of alcohol. So when my psychiatrist asks, “how much alcohol do you consume?” I can honestly say none. (He always asks, as if I might’ve taken up bar-hopping in the past six weeks since my last visit! I’m not supposed to drink with one of my meds, so I guess he’s checking for compliance.)

    What’s interesting is hearing how other cultures respond to alcohol. For example, Muslims don’t drink alcohol. So if I were a drinker, and I wanted to build relationships with Muslims and welcome them into my home, I would certainly set aside my freedom to drink in favor of the greater good and a greater freedom: loving another person and introducing him/her to the freedom that comes from Jesus. To place my freedom over love for another person is wrong; it’s like offering leftovers to God and telling him, “I love my freedom more than I love you and others.”

    • Tim says:

      That’s a great take on our freedom in Christ, Laura. Whether it’s alcohol or movies or going to casinos, we need to be aware of what our own convictions might mean to another person.

  8. Ruth says:

    My best memory of alcohol…son, at 18th bday at restaurant with mates and us, asked could he try a drink(18 is legal age here ). 20 guys went through a series of expressions, all priceless, but said nothing, some of them got slightly drunk, but father stepped in…they were coming to stay with us and we were bringing them home so he took the extra plonk off the eldest guest (27) and told him he could have it back in the morning. We bought son a light beer..he hated it and won’t drink any alcohol as he hated the feeling of even a small amount, so, I had it and son downs v and coffee instead.
    Mates impressed and pleased with being treated well and dad making sensible decisions and enforcing the rule, drink at our place if you want, but, we don’t let you get drunk, and you sleep over in case you might be abit over the limit (.05). I just ask for their car keys, this has been our routine for every get together in some years now, I look after anyone who arrives drunk and feed and water them and make sure a bucket or two is to hand, then we settle them to sleep here…garage, hallway, bedrooms etc…and don’t let them go until later in the day…often they don’t want to go. Rule applies to all, son tells them all treat mum well or you nave to leave, and he really tells them!
    Get a shocked and thankful attitude from the ones having trouble with drink. They don’t understand why we look after them, clean up their sick, get them spare clothes, or just watch them closely see what they need, and don’t turn them away or scorn and lecture them when thet are sober. So many thankyous and warm responses. The one we picked with my son from a party was sick all the way home on the back of a motorbike..dad riding and holding pillion…what can you say, another experience! That young man was recently baptized. Love my mad life 🙂

    • Tim says:

      The way your family serves those boys is powerful, Ruth. You show them what real love looks like in action.

      • Ruth says:

        We love our ‘boys’ Tim, from little boys at primary school through to men in their 20s now, brought home often by my sons from school, friends places, in a response to a bad time, homeless, unemployed, suicidal, or happily, in good times, to catch up with us. Many girls have been through our home too, breakups, home threats, boyfriend problems, needing a set of sort of parents, again, never criticism, just help and love.
        By default, we recieve more than we could ever give..every smile, shy chat, attempts to move forward warms every minute part of us with joy. We realise that sometimes we can only be a passing moment in their lives, but they always know we are here waiting for them in what ever moment of their lives they are…amazing how many govt depts we’ve worked through with kids who don’t know how, but can learn…so soul satisfying for all 🙂

  9. dpersson7 says:

    I really like your balanced approach to this subject. When I read this I started thinking about how easy it is to reduce the Christian faith to a bunch of rules and regulations because it seems easier than to be led by the Holy Spirit and more importantly, trust in God’s faithfulness and his mercy. I have been in a variety of Bible studies and conversations that involve the grey areas of Christianity. When advice is offered, God’s grace is always clarified at the end with a but… (fill in the blank, consequence) instead of trusting that God is quite capable of leading that person into the truth.
    I understand the motivation, but I am beginning to think that the attempt to clarify has a tendency to take away the “amazingness” of God’s grace and ability to lead a person. If I truly trust that God is faithful, I will share what I think and then allow God to do his work in the other person’s life. Sorry, I am not sure if this makes sense, I have had a vague sense that there is something missing in my thinking, because I understand that God is holy, but clarifications of God’s grace and mercy seem to be more rooted in Christians not wanting to be responsible for another person’s sins than seeing God glorified.

    • Tim says:

      I see what you mean about the desire to speak of God’s grace and yet come up with ways to act that are rule-based instead of grace-based. Your plan to share what you know of God’s grace sounds like the right way to go for me. I find it easier to give examples of God’s grace than to somehow clarify what it is.

  10. As a part-time weekend DUI instructor for over 10 years, I see so many problems with alcoholism and the effects of driving after drinking and/or drugging. We were hit by a DUI driver also. However,
    I wanted to have one strong drink in my life. I did last week on a cruise and of course did not drive the next day.

    My three travel companions were amazed at what I ordered at lunch–a Beverly Hills Iced Tea with maybe 4 oz of hard liquor –vodka, gin, run, tequila and sparkling wine! I was not overly impressed and went to my cabin for a nap.

    Do like wine at times if I am not going to drive. However, when I went to a winery with friends recently, I volunteered to be the driver and enjoyed the band and non-AL ice tea instead.

  11. As far as I can tell, there are 2 rules for alcohol for a believer: (1) Do not get drunk. (2) Do not use your freedom (in this case, to drink some alcohol) if it would cause another to stumble (in this case, get drunk). For some people, rule (1) means not taking a drop, as they know/believe from previous experience that the drop will lead to more and they will get drunk. For some people, they choose to abstain and thereby ensure they follow both rules. I see it as a concern when someone claims that their way of being faithful to Scripture must be my way, that is legalism.

    I have another rule, whenever I drink, I do not drive before I wake up the next day. My wife and I act as designated drivers for the other.

    P.S. Fermentation is a natural process, even if you do not drink anything with alcohol, there is alcohol in your system; for some people it can even be a concern.

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