Wisdom & Wine

The following is the manuscript from a message titled “Wisdom & Wine(preached August 28, 2011 at Northshore Baptist Church)

This summer throughout our Proverbia series, we’ve been talking about relevant, practical topics for our lives and our relationships. We’ve talked about things like pride and humility, marriage and parenting, friendships, work ethics, and money. Last week, we even talked about sex. And this week promises to be another practical topic: “Wisdom & Wine.” Today, we’re going to talk about a biblical and practical perspective on alcohol.

I believe today’s message is actually more difficult than last week’s. When we talk about sex, the Bible is absolutely clear on God’s expectations: don’t have sex outside of marriage. But with our topic today, “Wisdom & Wine,” the use of alcohol by followers of Jesus is a disputable and sometimes even contentious topic.

Our background and personal experience impact how we interpret the Bible in this area. It impacts how we develop a personal perspective on the use or non-use of alcohol. Some of us come from legalistic church backgrounds that taught and even demanded complete abstinence of alcohol. So some have wholeheartedly adopted that stance. And some have rejected that position in pursuit of Christian liberty and freedom. And then some unfortunately take Christian liberty and freedom to an extreme, and it becomes a license to do whatever they want because, after all, “we’re under grace not law.” Some of us come from families where alcoholism was involved, and we’ve experienced firsthand the devastation of alcohol addiction. Our environment has a profound impact upon our interpretation and practice.

Today as we discuss “Wisdom & Wine,” we’re going to look at three things: (1) The Proverbs & Alcohol, (2) The Bible & Alcohol, and (3) The Believer & Alcohol. And as we discuss these three themes, here’s the big idea, the conclusion that I hold biblically, personally, and pastorally: Drinking alcohol is not a sin, but drunkenness is.

#1 The Proverbs & Alcohol

When we read the Proverbs that relate to alcohol, we discover that they condemn drunkenness and describe the degenerative and destructive effects, physically and mentally, of the person who drinks too much.

Proverbs 20:1. Here’s what this verse says: When people are drunk, they’re belligerent and boisterous. The key to interpreting the verse is the second half… “whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” When a person drinks too much alcohol, their filter disappears. They begin to lose respect for others in their speech, attitudes, and actions. They become belligerent. They become boisterous. Apparently when people get intoxicated, their hearing stops working, and they just get stupid and loud.

Proverbs 23:19-21. Here’s what this proverb teaches us: When people overindulge, they go from revelry to rags. Notice that this proverb speaks to overindulgence in drinking and eating. The proverb writer calls us to the path of wisdom and cautions against any kind of overindulgence. And he explains why. When we overindulge in drinking or eating, it begins to consume our heart (it becomes an idol and addiction), our money, and it can impact our work ethic and ability to be good employees who provide for our ourselves and our families. Overindulgence can have serious consequences.

Proverbs 23:29-35. Note what this proverb teaches us: When people are drunk, they don’t see clearly, they don’t think clearly, and they don’t act rightly. In v. 30, the one who “lingers over wine” and is constantly “in search of a drink,” their vision, their motor skills, their brain, and their conscience become distorted. Think about a party where a lot of alcohol is consumed. Perhaps it’s at a college party or a neighborhood block party or an annual party for work. When people get drunk, they just act stupid. They’re staggering around hugging everyone or getting mad at everyone, they’re saying ridiculous things, or they’re stripping down to their underwear riding a skateboard off a second story roof into a swimming pool (I’ve never seen this… I’ve only heard about this). And then some of them get behind the wheel of a car and kill somebody. Drunk people just get stupid. They don’t see clearly, they don’t think clearly, and they don’t act rightly. So the proverbs condemn drunkenness and describe the degenerative and destructive effects, physically and mentally, of the person who drinks too much. Be warned!

#2 The Bible & Alcohol

The Bible has a lot to say about drinking and consuming alcohol. Here’s the first thing we see about the Bible and alcohol.

The Bible speaks positively of alcohol in celebration.

Psalm 104:14-15. Notice what God gives… grass for cattle, vegetation for man’s labor, “wine which makes man’s heart glad.” As we see throughout the Bible, wine, the fruit of the vine, is a gift from God and can be enjoyed as such and is often used in celebratory occasions.

Deuteronomy 14:26. We see that God’s Law in the Old Testament permitted the consumption of wine and “strong drink” (fermented drinks of honey, wheat, grain, etc.), and in the specific context of the verse, as the worshipper celebrated God’s goodness, alcohol could be a part of feasting and celebrating with God and with each other.

John 2:7-11. One of the first places we go to for a New Testament perspective on alcohol is John 2 when Jesus turns water into wine. Here’s the backstory. Jesus, His mom, and His disciples are invited to a wedding party in a town called Cana. During the party, an embarrassing social faux pas happens… they run out of wine. So let’s pick it up in v. 7. Now please hear me on this… the main point of this passage is not a theology of wine and alcohol. The main point of the story is that Jesus supernaturally and miraculously changes the molecular composition of water and turns it into wine. Please don’t lose the proverbial forest for the trees. But nonetheless, there is something instructive about the reality that Jesus turned water into at least 120 gallons of wine. And He turned it into good wine… so good that the headwaiter goes up to the groom and asks him why he was saving the best wine for last.

Matthew 11:19. Here’s another verse, this time from the lips of Jesus as He explains what people were saying about Him. Let me read between the lines for a moment. All of the uber-religious people are calling Jesus a glutton and a drunkard because He’s going to these parties where people are eating and drinking too much. And here’s my assumption in this verse. Jesus is likely eating the same food as everyone else, but He’s not becoming a glutton. Jesus is likely drinking the same beverages as everyone else, but He’s not getting drunk.

Excursion on Wine in the Ancient World. When we read these passages about Jesus turning water into wine or being at the parties eating and drinking, some theologians and pastors teach that it wasn’t really wine as we know it today. It was really grape juice, unfermented wine. I’ve read the articles. I’ve heard the arguments, and here’s the deal. Wine means wine. Wine doesn’t mean grape juice. The Greek word oinos means fermented grape juice that is alcoholic in content. And historians tell us that the alcohol content was likely similar to our wine today. If it were only grape juice with no alcohol content or a dramatically reduced alcohol content, why would the Bible condemn getting drunk off of wine? In a moment, we’ll look one of the prohibitions against drunkenness in Ephesians 5:18, “Don’t be drunk with wine (oinos).” I’ve never gotten drunk off of grape juice. Please hear me on this. If you come to the biblical, prayerful, and personal conviction that you should abstain from alcohol, awesome! That’s the way the Lord is personally leading you. But please be biblically, historically, and intellectually faithful and accurate to the text.

The Bible speaks negatively of alcohol in drunkenness.

Ephesians 5:18. Don’t get drunk with wine (and by implication any other mind-altering substance). If you choose to drink alcohol, stop before you feel any physical or mental affects. Don’t let alcohol take control of you. Let the Spirit of God take control of your life, your attitudes, and your actions.

Galatians 5:21. In this passage, Paul tells us what it looks like to live life in our own power vs. living life in the power of the Holy Spirit. And drunkenness is an indicator and warning sign that we are living life on our own terms in disregard to the design and desire of God.

1 Timothy 3:3. Paul tells us what church leaders’ lives should look like, and then by implication, because church leaders are to model the heart and behavior of Jesus, he tells us what all of our lives should look like.

#3 The Believer & Alcohol

Here are some practical applications for us in regards to our perspective and practice concerning alcohol:

1. Don’t get drunk. I can’t get any clearer than that. We’ve seen that the Bible clearly speaks against drunkenness because of the degenerative physical and mental effects, as well as how drunkenness distorts our actions and judgment. And on a side note, if you’re under age 21, obey the law. Don’t drink at all. And if you’re over 21, if you do choose to drink, don’t get drunk!

2. Don’t be a legalist. If you come to the personal, prayerful, biblical conclusion that you should abstain from alcohol, don’t use that as a tool for self-righteousness, and don’t force your personal conclusion on others. Don’t try to be holier than Jesus. In the early church, different groups were using different things to demonstrate that they were more holy than other people in the church. Some people thought that worshiping one day of the week was more holy than the others. Some thought that if you ate certain foods, you weren’t a true follower of Jesus. So here’s what Paul has to say about that (and it’s a long passage): Romans 14:10-23. If you come to a personal conclusion about something where the Bible hasn’t clearly spoken, don’t become a legalist and make it a mark of holiness.

3. Be sensitive about your surroundings. This is the other side of the coin of the legalism argument, also addressed in Romans 14. If you choose to use drink alcohol, be sensitive about who you’re around. For example, if you invite someone over to your house for dinner, and they’ve come to the personal conclusion to abstain from alcohol, don’t become a reverse legalist and look down upon them because they choose not to. And if you pressure them to take a drink, and they violate their personal conscience to please you, you’ve caused them to sin and therefore you’ve sinned. Also, if you’re around someone who struggles with alcohol, don’t drink around them and definitely don’t ask them if they’d like a drink. This is what it means to cause someone to stumble. Be sensitive about your surroundings. Don’t use your Christian liberty and freedom as a license to cause others to sin.

4. If you have a problem, get help. If you are struggling with any kind of substance abuse (alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal drugs), get help. And here’s what I mean by struggling. If you think you don’t have a problem and you can quit anytime, but you keep going back to it, you have a problem. If you’re drunk or high and your problems seem to disappear, you have a problem. And you know this… when you come back down and sober up, you realize that your problems didn’t disappear. In fact, now they’re even worse because now you have new problems… relationships are strained, work suffers, and finances are consumed by the costs of alcohol or drugs. As we discussed last week, we have an amazing ministry at Northshore called LIGHT. We have individual counseling, recovery groups, and people who can walk alongside you one-on-one to be a support. If you have a problem, get help.


So as we’ve discussed “Wisdom & Wine,” we’ve talked about the Proverbs and Alcohol, the Bible and Alcohol, as well as some practical applications for the Believer and Alcohol. I want you to think biblically about this subject. I highly encourage you to prayerfully develop a personal position on alcohol. If you’re a parent, take the initiative to talk with your kids about alcohol, especially if they’re in junior high or older… because it’s in their world (and if you think it’s not, you’re being naïve).

At the end of the day, we all need Jesus’ help. Only Jesus and the Holy Spirit can give us the wisdom and grace we need to develop a personal position on alcohol. Only Jesus and the Holy Spirit can give us the grace we need to extend to other people who come to a different conclusion. Only Jesus and the Holy Spirit can give us the self-control we need so that we don’t walk in sin and drunkenness. And that much needed self-control extends to every area of our lives where temptation abounds… our finances, our work ethic, our relationships, and our sexual integrity. Only Jesus and the Holy Spirit can give us the healing and hope we need when we’ve blown it or when we’re struggling with a dependence upon alcohol or something else.

Come to Jesus and ask Him for wisdom and grace… for self-control… for healing and hope. Jesus is fully God, and He came down here to die on the cross so that any sin, shame, guilt, and condemnation that you’re experienced might be removed. And He was raised from the dead to give us this new life… this new way of living life… this new power for living life. So come to Jesus, so that you might have His wisdom about how to live at the intersection of life and wisdom.


Here are some additional resources for further exploration on the Christian’s use of alcohol:

“The Bible & Alcohol” by Dr. Daniel Wallace
“Wine in the Ancient World” by Dr. R.A. Baker
“Is it Okay to Drink Alcohol?” Interview with Dr. John Piper
“Total Abstinence and Church Membership” A message by Dr. John Piper to his congregation on his personal and pastoral stance on alcohol



The Danger of Greed

A crucial facet of living in Proverbia is the realization that “Money Matters.” It matters how you view it. It matters how it serves you or how you end up serving it. It matters how you use it or how it ends up using you. In his excellent book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller writes

According to the Bible, idolaters do three things with their idols. They love them, trust them and obey them. “Lovers of money” are those who find themselves daydreaming and fantasizing about new ways to make money, new possessions to buy, and looking with jealousy on those who have more than they do. “Trusters of money” feel they have control of their lives and are safe and secure because of their wealth…Idolatry also makes us “servants of money.” Just as we serve earthly kings and magistrates, so we “sell our souls” to our idols. Because we look to them for our significance (love) and security (trust) we have to have them, and therefore we are driven to serve and, essentially, obey them. When Jesus says that we “serve” money, he uses a word that means the solemn, covenantal service rendered to a king. If you live for money you are a slave. (pp. 56-57, emphasis added)

And in our attitude on money, we ultimately have two options: Greed & Idolatry or Generosity & Impact.

Which will you choose?

Roles of Parenting

This past Sunday as we continued in our Proverbia series, I talked about “The Home Front” (you can listen to the audio here). We looked at the Proverbs’ wisdom for marriage and parenting. As a practical application for parents, I shared the “Roles of Parenting.” As our children grow toward adulthood, our roles as parents change. I am indebted to my friend Joe McGinnis, Pastor of Community & Family Formation at a church in Cleveland, who shared this model with me.

Our goal (represented by the top line) is to grow and then launch (not physically) kids who love Jesus. So what roles do we play in the different seasons of our kids’ lives (represented by the bottom line)?

Early childhood = PROTECT. Our role as parents of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers is to protect our children from harm and danger.

Elementary = TEACH. When our kids enter elementary school, they always want to know “why” they have to do something. Our role is to teach them. And sometimes, we’re to teach them, “Because I said so!” And it’s critical to teach them the heart of the gospel. Our kids don’t need more law, they need to be dazzled by Jesus’ love and grace.

Middle School/Junior High = MODEL. We should always model God’s heart and love. But at this point in our kids’ lives, if we don’t walk the talk, our kids see it, and we’ll be ineffective as parents.

High School = COACH. Here’s the reality. We can call the play, but once the ball is hiked, your kid is the quarterback. They’re going to do whatever they’re going to do. If they fail, as the parent coach, your job is to help pick them up, dust them off, talk through what happened and how they can run the right play and make a better choice next time.

College & Young Adult = MENTOR. At this point in our kids’ lives, we’re mentors. And to be a mentor, we have to be invited into that role.

You’ll notice that conflict tends to happen between parent and child when the parent is often (but not always) holding on to the former role and hasn’t transitioned into the new role.

Which role has been the greatest challenge for you? Have you struggled with moving to the next role as your kids have grown and matured?


The Profiles of the Fool & the Humble

As we continue in our summer series Proverbia: Where Life & Wisdom Intersection, it’s crucial to discern and distinguish between pride and humility, folly and wisdom. Pride leads to folly, but humility leads to wisdom. How do we know what pride and humility looks like in our lives? Here’s what the proverbs tell us:

The antidote to pride is humility. And the best way to “weaken pride and cultivate humility” (to borrow a phrase from C.J. Mahaney’s Humility) is to:

Reflect in wonder at Jesus & the Cross

“There is only one thing I know that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and this is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner, that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I’m humbled to the dust. Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility.” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones).

How are you weakening pride and cultivating humility?


Guarding Your Heart

“Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.” ~ Proverbs 4:23

If we are going to live at the intersection of life and wisdom, then we need to understand the heart because it’s the core of who we really are. In the Bible, the heart is used as a metaphor to describe our emotions, our intellect, our will, our desires, and even our brokenness. And so we diligently guard and watch over our heart because it determines the character, direction, and trajectory of our lives.

Peter Marshall, the U.S. Senate Chaplain from 1946-48, told a story about a man called the Keeper of the Spring.

The Keeper of the Spring was a quiet hermit who lived in the forest high above a mountain village. The old man had been hired many years ago by the town council to clean away the debris from the springs of water up in the mountains that fed the town below. He faithfully patrolled the hills, removed the leaves and branches, and wiped away the silt that would contaminate the fresh flow of water. In the town below, swans floated on crystal clear water. Farm lands were naturally irrigated. The clear spring water was an attraction for tourists.

Years passed, and one evening at their annual budget meeting the town council looked at the salary for the keeper of the spring. The keeper of the purse said, “Who is this old man? Why do we keep him on year after year? This is a tight year, financially. He isn’t necessary during times like this.” So by a unanimous vote they dispensed with the services of the Keeper of the Spring.

For several weeks nothing changed and nobody noticed the difference. By early autumn when the trees began to shed their leaves and the twigs came down in abundance, the pools became cluttered and clogged. The water in the village began to have a yellowish-brown tint. A slimy film covered sections of the water along the banks. A foul odor developed. The swans left, and so did the tourists.

So the town council called a special meeting. With embarrassment they realized their mistake. Someone needed to keep things cleaned out so the water could be pure and clean. They hired back the man they thought they didn’t need and soon the waters cleaned up, the wheels of the mills were running again, and the swans returned.

If the heart truly is the wellspring and source of life, how to do we guard it? Here are 3 Keys to Guarding Your Heart:

1. Watch the input. When I was a kid, my mom used to say, “Trash in, trash out.” There’s a truth to this. We never want to be legalists or moralists, but we do want to be realists. And the reality is that the things we watch and listen to affect us. As a father, I’m sensitive to the things Jacob is exposed to. But I often don’t have the same sensitivity for my own heart. I’m won’t give you a list of do’s and don’ts. This is where you need to use wisdom, judgment and discernment. And we don’t judge people in places God hasn’t clearly spoken. Your list might be different from other peoples’ list. But watch the input as you guard your heart.

2. Monitor the outflow. Last summer, I started having some chest pains. Obviously I was a little worried. So I went to the doctor. They plugged me into all kinds of machines to make sure that I didn’t have anything going on with my heart. We discovered that the main culprit was intense acid reflux (apparently I shouldn’t “input” so much habanero salsa!). Because I was monitoring the outflow of my physical heart, I noticed something was wrong. We need to do the same thing with our spiritual heart. What’s coming out of your heart? If you’re struggling with anger, you need to hit the pause button and take the time to figure out why. Anger is always a “secondary” emotion. If you’re struggling with contentment, you need to create some space and process and pray through this. We need to trace it back to the source… back to the spring. If your struggling with anxiety, take the time to figure out what’s going on in your life that’s causing the response of anxiety. Go to the source. Monitor the outflow of your heart.

3. Keep short accounts. When something is wrong with the outflow, we need to quickly go after it. We need to keep short accounts with God and with each other. It’s a sign that we’re growing in wisdom when the time between blowing it and confession and repentance moves from days to hours. Confession is saying you’re sorry to God and to others if you’ve sinned against them. And repentance is making the necessary changes to not do it again.

Watch the input. Monitor the outflow. And then keep short accounts.

Summer Series: PROVERBIA

We live in a confusing and complex world. A world filled with vastly different visions for living life well. A world filled with many false gods. A world filled with many deceptive gospels. And in this confusing and complex world, we are daily presented with choice after choice on how to make the most out of life and satiate the hunger in our hearts.

There have always been choices and decisions to make, relationships to build, work to do, money to earn and spend. So the key question is: “How do we live life well?” This is what wisdom is all about… living life skillfully. PROVERBIA is about discovering where life and wisdom intersect. This summer, we’ll explore some of the most important themes in life from the ancient book of Proverbs. In all of these themes, we want to learn how to live out the gospel with skill… knowing that as we live the way Jesus calls and invites us to, we will live life to the full. Here’s the line-up:

June 19 – The Heart of Wisdom

June 26 – Folly & Pride

July 3 – The Power of Your Words

July 10 – The Wise Worker

July 17 – Choose Friends Wisely

July 24 – The Younger Generation

July 31 – The Home Front

August 7 – Money Matters

August 14 – Summer Sunday at the Farm (One service)

August 21 – Sexual Integrity (Warning: PG-13)

August 28 – Wisdom & Wine

September 4 – Coveting & Contentment

Join us this summer for Proverbia: Where Life & Wisdom Intersect. This will be a great series to invite family & friends.