How we use alcoholic beverages is a measure of our character! If we drink alcohol, God holds us responsible for the use and control of it. Members come into God's Church from diverse backgrounds. Some come from families where drinking was moderate. Some come from backgrounds where alcohol was abused. Some come from backgrounds where abstinence was practiced because of religious beliefs, health problems or discomforting physical responses to alcohol. Too many come from backgrounds that encouraged drinking for show — to prove some quality about the drinker. In God's Church you don't need to drink to prove masculinity, sociability or maturity.
When you came into God's Church, you learned that the Bible does not prohibit all use of alcohol — that it teaches a right and beneficial use of wine and, on occasion, other alcoholic drinks. But what is right use? And what is abuse? "Be not drunk," commands Scripture (Eph. 5:18). Drunkenness is a sin, a "work of the flesh" (Gal. 5:21). What is drunkenness? It is common to claim that one is only "under the influence" of alcohol, but not drunken. This is a false definition. Being "under the influence" is the first stage of drunkenness. It is abuse! Alcohol has been abused when one's mind and body become drugged so as not to properly bear the fruits of God's Holy Spirit. That's the Bible definition. One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control (verses 22-24). Alcohol abuse — being "under the influence" — results in a lack of self-control. Christ warned His followers not to be drunken (Luke 21:34). The apostle Paul told the Corinthian church to "put away from among yourselves" any member who was a drunkard — to have no fellowship with a person who cannot control his or her drinking (I Cor. 5:11-13). This, of course, refers to persons who simply will not face up to or try to overcome drinking problems, not persons who are working on and overcoming their problems. Drunkards will not enter the Kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9-10, Gal. 5:21). No man who is unable to use alcohol properly should be ordained an elder of Jesus Christ (I Tim. 3:3, 8, Tit. 1:7). If a person finds he cannot control his drinking without overdrinking or becoming drunk, he must do everything in his own power, and draw on help from God's power, to discipline himself not to drink alcohol except at the Passover.
Alcohol's intended purpose
It is unfortunate there is so much alcohol abuse in the world. There can be, for persons who use them properly from the beginning, a positive and beneficial side to alcoholic beverages. (See the article "Alcohol: Blessing or Curse?" in the March, 1980, Good News for more information.) The Bible reveals three proper uses of alcoholic drinks: religious, medicinal and for social enjoyment. Scripture describes only two basic kinds of alcoholic beverages: "wine" made from grapes (Hebrew, yayin; Greek, oinos) and "strong drink" (Hebrew, shekar). The latter was an alcoholic, naturally fermented drink made from dates or other fruit. Naturally fermented wine is between 10 percent and 15 percent alcohol. Anything higher is fortified wine. The high alcoholic drinks — sometimes called hard liquor today — are produced by distilling grain-based mash or other vegetable sources, a process not used until the Middle Ages. High alcoholic drinks (40 percent to 50 percent ethyl alcohol, or 80 to 100 proof) should be used far less often than some people do. These drinks should be used with caution and then highly diluted. The danger of these high alcoholic drinks is that they lend themselves to rapid abuse, drunkenness and alcoholism. Liqueurs are somewhat different
in that they are usually served in small amounts and then sipped slowly But remember, any alcoholic drink, no matter what its alcoholic content, can be abused and lead to drunkenness or alcoholism.
Why abuse begins
Unless we are careful we can gradually slide into alcohol abuse by using alcohol for wrong reasons, like many do in society around us. Unfortunately, many in society, and some in God's Church, use alcohol to cope with their daily problems, frustrations and feelings of inferiority. God never intended that alcohol be used to escape problems or to cure loneliness, boredom or depression. Using alcohol for such reasons is habit forming. Alcohol use has already gone too far when a person automatically reaches for alcohol whenever he or she has difficulties or emotional problems. Over a period of time a person becomes psychologically addicted to alcohol as a method of coping with personal problems. By persistently keeping alcohol in his or her bloodstream, a person may become physically addicted to alcohol as well. When we come into God's Church, we repent of wrong ways of living. The Bible teaches us to resolve our problems God's way. God's way to solve personal problems and frustrations is through prayer, seeking forgiveness and setting our minds and values aright or straightening out interpersonal wrongs. God's way is not first reaching for an alcoholic drink! "Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18).
What alcohol does
The vast majority of humans readily metabolize small quantities of ethyl alcohol with no harmful physical effects. Most humans also metabolize alcohol at about the same rate — about three quarters of an ounce of pure alcohol an hour. Please note the words vast majority and most. Not everyone metabolizes alcohol with the same results. Some persons, because of health problems or some metabolic reason, cannot properly utilize or enjoy alcohol. To them, just a little alcohol is a toxin, producing distressing symptoms. You must consider this fact of life when you are host to any affair involving alcohol. Nonalcoholic options should be provided. Researchers from all over the world have independently confirmed that one and a half ounces of pure alcohol a day is the upper limit of moderate drinking before noticeable health damage seems to occur in human beings. One and a half ounces is the amount of alcohol in three one-ounce drinks of 100-proof whiskey, four eight-ounce glasses of beer or half a bottle of natural table wine. That's a statistical average for a healthy 150-pound person. But please note! This amount cannot be applied to all individuals. Some persons have a much lower tolerance for alcohol. Individuals in every country will vary. One's occupation may affect the amount one can drink. Those engaged in hard manual labor may be able to use a little more during a day than those in sedentary occupations. God holds each of us responsible for what we drink. He also holds us responsible for staying well back from levels that produce ill effects in our lives. How we handle alcohol is a test of our character! Jesus' first miracle provided high-quality wine for a big wedding feast. This affair was big enough that a governor of the feast was appointed. In Jesus' day, a wedding for important people often was a week-long celebration involving a whole community. The amount of wine Jesus miraculously produced was not excessive at all. The Bible says "wine ... maketh glad the heart of man" (Ps. 104:15). It is not wrong to experience this beneficial state of mind. But you also need to be aware of the dangers of passing the alcohol level that produces it. Moderation in God's Church means not drinking to one's limit, and never all at once. Moderation means if more than one drink is taken, the drinks should be spread out over a long period of time. God's way is not always pushing to the edge of some "upper limit." Unfortunately, the problem with discussing any kind of limit is that those who abuse alcohol nearly always kid themselves that they can handle much more than others, when they can't. Abusers are usually the last to admit they drink too much. They think they drink in moderation. The problem is they define moderation based on their past habits or on the standards and practices of others in society around them. But it is excess for them! They kid themselves they can handle their drinking, but they don't kid others who witness the stuporous effects of their drinking. "Never envy a heavy drinker who does not seem to get tipsy," warns one expert on alcohol abuse. "Alcoholism may be the next station on his train ride." Scripture warns us about comparing ourselves with others or measuring ourselves by others' standards (II Cor. 10:12). Research shows that the problems of alcohol abusers can be traced to one or two basic weaknesses: 1) wrong early environment or emotional upbringing, which have ill-prepared them to handle alcohol properly — often from the beginning of its use, or 2) immature handling of personal problems, which leads a person to abuse alcohol as a solution to his difficulties.
Beneficial in small amounts
How many of us learned to use alcohol in small amounts in wholesome surroundings, with right attitudes and with good associates? Scientific research has proven that our reactions to alcohol are greatly affected by the circumstances, surroundings, attitudes and associates in which or with whom we drink. Our mental and physical environment is as important as alcohol itself. Ethyl alcohol is an anesthetic, a depressant, not a stimulant. But we may experience a beneficial and stimulating effect from a small amount of alcohol — an amount that can add happiness to right social occasions. How does a small amount of alcohol (again, in those persons who can metabolize it satisfactorily) do this? Different levels of alcohol in the bloodstream produce different responses in the brain and body. In most persons, a small amount of alcohol seems to act as a stimulant because it slows down the tense, driven part of our brain that deals with new learning or making judgments. It also dulls the centers that make us aware of exhaustion and discomfort. The edge is taken off self-criticism and self-doubt. We feel emotionally freer, more communicative, yet we are in control of our actions. This can be an adjunct to good social occasions. (But please remember that alcohol is an anesthetizing drug. It should never be taken, even in small amounts, before making critical judgments, evaluations or decisions affecting your own or someone else's life.) But what happens if we drink more than this proper amount? Drink then becomes excessive. Alcohol starts anesthetizing deeper areas of the brain that control attitudes, perceptions and bodily movements. Loss of social restraints, loss of control over body movements and loss of emotional control start to occur. Harmful aspects of the human personality — defects of character normally controlled — often then come out. A person may manifest a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde personality. Those persons whose personalities are essentially shy or timid often become even more quiet and retiring. That is not beneficial to themselves or others. Those persons struggling with deep anger or strong emotional problems may become belligerent, abusive, destructive or immodest. Still higher alcohol levels in the bloodstream depress areas of the brain controlling vital organ functions — breathing; heartbeat and, central nervous system responses dangerously weaken. Further use leads to coma or death.
Make alcohol a blessing
Alcohol can be either a blessing or a curse. Everyone's response to alcohol is not exactly the same. If we use alcohol, how we use it is a measure of our character. God is judging all of us in this matter — our eternal life is at stake. Moderate drinking should rarely entail more than a couple of drinks a day, or at any social occasion. And if more than one drink is taken a day, our drinking should be spread out over a period of several hours, not all at once. The higher the alcoholic content of a drink, the more careful we must be. God's way is not walking along or any-where near a precipice or danger point. If we cannot drink this way then we should not drink alcohol at all — except at the Passover. The way we drink, what we mix alcohol with, what we have in our stomach, what our surroundings, feelings and attitudes are — and, not the least important, who we drink with — all have significant effects on the way alcohol will affect us. Only if we are living God's ways can alcohol be the -blessing God intended it to be!