Christian Liberty and Alcohol Addiction
As Christians with liberty, we are free to drink alcohol under three conditions:
- Abstain from drunkenness
- Avoid alcohol addiction
- Do not harm a weaker brother
We’ve addressed Christian Liberty and Drunkenness here and now we will consider Christian Liberty and Alcohol Addiction.
What Does the Bible Say About Alcohol Addiction?
I Timothy 3:8 warns: “Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain.”
While this admonition is directed specifically to deacons, the “likewise” points also to overseers, who are instructed in I Timothy 3:3 to “not be addicted to wine” in general. This later passage leaves out the word “much,” as does Titus 1:7, which also instructs overseers to “not be addicted to wine.”
One greek word makes up the phrase “addicted to wine” in I Timothy 3:3 and Titus 1:7: πάροινος (paroinos). Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines it as “one who sits long over wine,” “drunken,” or “quarrelsome over wine.”
The implication clearly relates to drunkenness — a topic we have written about in a previous post. The same implication exists in I Timothy 3:8 when it refers to “much wine.” The phrase “addicted to much wine,” however, is built from three Greek words προσέχω (addicted) πολύς (to much) οἶνος (wine). Strong’s Concordance could translate the phrase “apply oneself to abundant wine.”
Here the deacons are to abstain from the action of “applying” themselves to much wine. And still these passages are interchangeable because Paul says “likewise” the deacons are not to be addicted (applying themselves) to much wine, just as the overseers are not to be addicted to wine (drunken).
What About Other Christians?
Do these passages, which add to the discussion of Christian liberty and alcohol addiction, relate only to deacons and overseers?
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible takes the position that these qualities are not just for deacons and elders, but “to believers in general, directing them to ‘look diligently, lest anyone should fail of the grace of God,’ Hebrews 12:15.”
And I Timothy 3:11 strengthens this position by adding that women “likewise” are to be “temperate.” According to Strong’s, temperate means “sober” — either literally or figuratively. And Thayer says it can mean abstaining from wine entirely, “or at least from its immoderate use.”
Titus 2:3 adds to the discussion by instructing older women to not be “addicted to much wine.” But this passage uses the Greek word δουλόω (douloō) for the word “addicted” — which has the implication of slavery. It could be said like this: Do not be enslaved to much wine.
The same conditions that apply to overseers and deacons, also apply to women. We’d be foolish to assume it doesn’t apply to the entire church at large. In fact, the very reason Paul spells out the qualifications for elders and deacons is to be sure they are “above reproach” as Christians. They must be following the commands of Christ to be eligible to lead the church.
More Than Drunkenness Involved
But the admonition for women to not be “enslaved” to much wine, shows there is more involved in this than just “drunkenness.” Slavery to wine (or much wine) is also an issue. Slavery or addiction is a nuanced version of drunkenness. A person might be drunk once in their life (a sin that must be confessed and repented of), but not enslaved to wine. Slavery or addiction is a pattern of behavior. Drunkenness controls the moment; slavery controls the life.
Do not think only women are warned against slavery to much wine. All the verses listed imply the same principle, which is why all are admonished against addiction to wine: men, women, overseers, and deacons.
We can draw some helpful applications by looking at the symptoms of addiction (or slavery) to alcohol (or wine) even by worldly standards (so long as we don’t forget that God’s Word is the final authority).
The National Institute of Health provides warning signs of “Alcohol Use Disorder.” Drinking too much alcohol and/or being enslaved to much wine is not a disorder; it is a sin and should be dealt with as such. A better name would be “The Sin of Alcohol Addiction.” But nonetheless, here are some questions the NIH suggests you ask to ascertain if you might be “addicted to much wine” (please view them through a Christian lens).
Questions To Ask Concerning Christian Liberty and Alcohol Addiction
- Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
- Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
- Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
- More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex [anything outside of God’s design])?
- Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, seriously consider your drinking habits in view of God’s admonition “to not be addicted to much wine.”
Once again we can look to Proverbs 23:29-35 for help. Verse 35 says,
“They struck me, but I did not become ill;
They beat me, but I did not know it.
When shall I awake?
I will seek another drink.”
For drinking alcohol, we have Christian liberty and alcohol addiction is a sin.
The final area we will explore concerning Christian Liberty and Alcohol, is love for your weaker brother. I will draw heavily from Doctor Kenneth Gentry’s book, God Gave Wine to help with that discussion.
Return to: Biblical Health Study
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