Wine and Self Control
The fruit of the Spirit is temperance (Gal.5:22-23). Strong defines this term as “self-control, the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, especially his sensual appetites.” The believer is commanded to keep SELF under the direct control of the Spirit of God. The believer is to be under the influence of God’s Holy Spirit at all times (Eph.5:18). If the believer is NOT under the influence of the Holy Spirit, then there is only one alternative: he is under the influence of his sinful fleshly nature (Gal.5:17). This is an either/or situation. There is no such thing as being ¾ controlled by the Spirit… or 50/50. There is no middle ground. At any given moment, either the Spirit controls the believer or the flesh does (Gal. 5:16). As Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote, “The divine method of dealing with the sin nature in the believer is by direct and unceasing control over that nature by the indwelling Spirit.”[i]
When Paul compares wine and Spirit filling in Ephesians 5:18, the subject is one of influence and control. The believer is COMMANDED to be (continually) filled with Christlike character by means of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s control will affect our walk (vs.8) and our talk (vs.19a). The same is true of wine. It too affects our walk (Isa.28:7) and our talk (Prov.23:33). Paul’s point is that the believer is NOT to be drunk with wine or under its influence. The Christian is to be continually under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and the EVIDENCE of this is complete control of one’s faculties. The fruit of Spirit’s filling is temperance (Gal. 5:23). The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament defines temperance as, “dominion over the self or something, with the nuances of steadfastness and self-control.”[ii] The eyes, tongue, hands, ears, heart, mind, and body of a believer are to be continually at the disposal of and under the influence of God and His indwelling Spirit. When that is not the case, sinful flesh is reigning (Rom. 6:16-20). The whole issue of walking with the Lord is ultimately a matter of control. The members of our body are either at the disposal of our sinful nature OR of God (Rom.6:9-14). God DEMANDS complete control of His children at all times.
The tongue is a good illustration of the need for the believer to have “control” over the members of his body. The tongue no man can tame (James 3:8), apart from the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16-17). Yet, we are accountable for every idle word spoken. The Bible warns the young man that wine will cause him to “utter perverse things” (Prov. 23:33). Wine causes a man to lose control of his tongue – which is why there are so many barroom brawls. When the Holy Spirit is in control, there is temperance and even the untamable tongue is brought into submission. So why would a Christian want to drink that which he knows undermines self-control and causes him to utter perverse things?
In Ephesians 5:18, Paul alludes to the well-known fact that alcohol brings a person under its influence and takes control over his faculties. Alcohol (the liquid spirit) usurps control away from the Holy Spirit. This is exactly why David gave alcohol to Uriah – that the wine might take over his faculties and influence him to do that which he had resolved NOT to do. This is why Lot’s daughters gave Lot wine – so that he would no longer have control over his faculties.
Alcohol UNDERMINES self-control. Even in small amounts, alcohol exerts its influence. The amount needed to influence a person varies from individual to individual, but its influence on faculties begins sooner than most drinkers would like to admit. Its danger lies in the fact that its effects occur gradually and imperceptibly. Because it diminishes sound judgment (Isa.28:7), folks who are in the process of getting drunk often don’t believe that they are. They think they are in control of their faculties (and think they are able to drive, etc.), but they are not. Because of this, each year, nearly 20,000 people lose their lives in auto accidents where alcohol was involved – more than the number of our soldiers lost in the entire Vietnam War! Alcohol deceives (Prov.20:1).
The Bible does not outright FORBID wine altogether (with good reasons mentioned earlier), but the Bible does COMMAND sobriety. Of course it is sin to be sloppy drunk (Eph. 5:18), but it is also sin not to have complete control of one’s faculties. Consider the following passages in which sobriety is commanded:
Elders are to be sober (I Tim.3:2; Titus 1:8). Deacons’ wives are to be sober (I Tim.3:11). Older men are to be sober. (Titus 2:2) Older women are not to be given wine, but are to teach the younger women to be sober (Titus 2:3-4). Younger women are to be sober (Titus 2:4). Young men are to be sober (Titus 2:6). In fact, all believers (male or female, young or old) are to be sober minded (I Pet.1:13; 4:7; 5:8). In I Thess. 5:6, Paul writes that believers are to “watch and be sober.” D. Edmond Hiebert defines sober as “rational and self-possessed, in perfect control of all his senses.”[iii] Of course Paul is using the term “sober” in a figurative sense in that the Christian is to be watchful in ALL areas of his Christian life, including the sense of being free from intoxicants. The REASON Paul gives for sobriety is based upon who we are – our position in Christ as those who are “of the day” (vs.8). Those who are children of light are to walk as children of light (Eph.5:8) and are expected to maintain complete self-control at all times (Eph.5:18).
As believers, we are to be sober minded and to have complete control of our faculties because our adversary is just waiting for the right opportunity to strike (I Pet.5:8). He seeks to find us with our guards down, in a time when we are spiritually careless. He seeks to pounce upon us in a moment when our moral resolve is loosened and we have less than complete control of our faculties. In other words, after a few glasses of alcohol is a perfect time to strike! No wonder Peter warns, BE SOBER – because our adversary is seeking to find those who are inattentive spiritually, that he may devour them. In other words, we are to be aware, alert, watching, and in complete control of all of our faculties at ALL times. Anything that takes away from that alertness makes us susceptible to temptation and attack by our enemy. Even secular writers acknowledge that “alcohol lowers a person’s inhibitions – controls over thoughts, feeling, and behavior. This is why alcohol so often makes people act in uncharacteristic ways.”[iv] [Italics added]
It is no secret that alcohol makes a person LESS alert, CLOSER to temptation, and thus MORE likely to behave in a sinful or “uncharacteristic way.” The Christian should never seek that which would lead him INTO temptation but should do whatever it takes to stay AWAY from temptation! We know how temptation works (James 1:13-15). For a believer to choose that which he knows will stir up the lust of the flesh makes him doubly accountable (Rom.13:14; Matt 6:13) for the results. KNOWING that it stirs up impurity, the Christian who drinks alcohol for its ambiance is not unlike the man who reads Playboy for its artistic value, and thinks to himself, “I won’t be affected by it.” Who are we kidding?
The Bible COMMANDS us to be sober and FORBIDS us from getting drunk. What would ever motivate a believer to consume a beverage that he knows will take him away from being perfectly sober and gradually bring him closer and closer to a sinful condition? It is not as if we NEED wine today as was the case in ancient days. It is also quite unlikely that a believer today would mix his wine with from 3-10 parts water either. Why would a believer want to drink a strong drink that would cause him to inch closer to a condition which is clearly sinful? Isn’t safety the best policy? Isn’t it much more in harmony with Scripture to stay as far away from sin as we can?
Another issue to consider is: how drunk is drunk? Many claim that is acceptable to drink strong drink, as long we avoid getting drunk. But at what point does drinking become sin? The initial warm feeling? A little buzz? Slurred speech? One glass? Three glasses? Nine? Where does one draw the line? How does the drinker know when he is near the line? And when he starts feeling good and is getting dangerously near the line, is he then able to recognize the line and stop? Isn’t that a bit like skating on thin ice and HOPING one doesn’t fall in?
“All things are lawful, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (I Cor. 6:12b). Without question, alcohol can (and often does) become addictive. We have literally millions of alcoholics in America today. That was NOT the case in Bible times. Alcoholism was not nearly the problem in ancient times as it is today. Alcohol deceives multitudes in our day and age and brings them under its power (Prov.20:1). Not one drunkard on Skid Row envisioned himself ending up there when he had his first drink. Every drunk begins drinking assuming that he can handle it. This too is deception. The Bible WARNS us not to think that we can handle things that are spiritually dangerous (I Cor. 10:12). “Take heed lest ye fall” is God’s cry to His children. Thinking that we can “beat the odds” is not wisdom. It demonstrates a lack of understanding concerning just how vile and deceitful our fallen hearts really are (Jer. 17:9). It is a form of pride. To such men we might use the words of Obadiah to warn: The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee (vs.3).
Statistics state that one in ten drinkers become alcoholics. Norman Geisler[v] quoted one writer who asked the following question to Christiandrinkers: “How many people would fly if they knew that there was a chance of one in ten that the plane would crash?” The answer is obvious: nobody! And yet the chances of becoming an alcoholic are no better. We normally take good care of our bodies (Eph.5:29), and with good reason. No one wants their body to be destroyed in a plane crash. Would to God that believers had the same concern for their spiritual well being!
The Christian who is deceived by strong drink has ignored the warnings of Lady Wisdom crying out in the streets: “How long ye simples ones will ye love simplicity? And the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge (Prov. 1:22)? Lady wisdom is crying out to believers in our land today AGAINST social drinking, but is being ignored in many evangelical circles. Those who reject God’s wisdom, and continue thinking that they will not end up being STUNG by alcohol (Prov.23:32) are deceived (Prov.20:1), and those poor souls may soon discover that alcohol has ruined their lives and they are now UNABLE to reverse its effects, because many of the awful consequences of alcohol are irreversible. To those poor fools Lady wisdom (in tears) may have to lament:
“But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices” (Prov. 1:25-31).
We would urge in the strongest means possible for Christian people to AVOID alcohol entirely. Listen to Lady Wisdom. She warns of alcohol’s BITE. She warns us that it DECEIVES and MOCKS. She warns us to stay away from winebibbers. She cries out for abstinence (Prov.20:1; 23:20-21; 23:29-35; 31:4-5). Don’t let her cries fall on deaf ears.
Peter also commands us to give all diligence to add to our faith… temperance – self control (II Pet.1:5-6). The only guarantee we have that we will not become an alcoholic is to never take that first drink.
[i] L.S. Chafer, He That Is Spiritual , Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1967, p.128.
[ii] Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
The Paternoster Press
[iii] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Thessalonian Epistles, Moody Press, Chicago, 1971, p.219.
[iv] Theresa Anne Booley, Alcohol and Your Liver, The Incredibly Disgusting Story, The Rosen Publishing Group, New York, 2000, p.11.
[v] Norman Geisler, A Christian Perspective on Wine Drinking, Bibliotecha Sacra, Vol. 139, #533 – Jan.1982. p.54.