The old Victory Hotel had seen better days. In fact, at that time, some 40 years ago, it was an abandoned building, shuttered and boarded up, though it was only a stone's throw from the main railway station in the city. Passenger trains were no longer in vogue, and this area had become a pocket of decay in the community.
No one knows how the fire started on that bitterly cold, windy night, but flames quickly engulfed the old building. The firefighters used their resources to prevent the fire from spreading to nearby structures, with little thought of saving the building where the blaze started. By morning the building was a pile of smoldering, charred rubble as the exhausted firefighters continued to put water on hot spots in the ruins.
As this scene unfolded, bystanders were startled by a rustling of charred materials and smoking debris as a man pushed his way upward out of the blackened heap. It was a struggle, but he made it to the surface. Apparently, this person was well known as a local alcoholic, a "wino" if you will, who had wandered down into the bowels of the old building seeking shelter from the cold. Somehow, he had survived the inferno that had occurred above him, as well as the deluge of water poured on the fire.
Those on the scene watched in amazement as this person got to the surface and unsteadily made his way out of the rubble into the street, covered from head to toe with black soot. He looked around at all the bystanders for a moment and then turned away from them, heading unsteadily down the street, exclaiming, "What I need is a drink!"
A Dark Irony
While this story has a touch of irony and dark humor, it is a stark reminder of the ravages of the wrong use of alcohol as a beverage. The number of people who abuse alcohol is astounding, and growing—especially as we see economic conditions deteriorate, prompting many to seek escape in a bottle. The fallout from the abuse of this legal substance touches far too many homes, resulting in domestic chaos, which is devastating to spouses and children. It seems that many of the problems with violence in the workplace, financial troubles and other serious difficulties are directly related to the intemperate use of alcohol. Serious automobile accidents are often the result of "driving while impaired," and many states have tightened their standards on the blood alcohol level that is considered "intoxicated."
Because of these horrendous problems, many people, especially those with religious beliefs, strongly urge total abstinence instead of responsible use of alcohol. In 1920, the United States even outlawed beverage alcohol with the 18th amendment to the Constitution. However, making alcohol illegal did not solve the problems. Instead, it actually added to the chaos by creating a climate in which there was a market for "bootlegging" or illegal alcohol trafficking. This provided an opportunity for organized crime to flourish, and Prohibition was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933.
Today, alcohol consumption is growing, as Americans have developed a taste and appreciation for wines. Beer is a perennial favorite, with a huge variety of domestic and imported beers purveyed by giant brewers. In addition, there is a very popular trend for local micro-breweries or "brew pubs." Distilleries are not to be left out of the picture, and a wide array of "hard liquors," domestic and imported, are available. An incredible amount of money goes into advertising alcoholic beverages, with messages that are cleverly designed to give the impression that the only way to have a really good time is to imbibe of one's drink of choice.
Sporting events, particularly the major-league sports, which attract huge crowds at ballparks and stadiums, plus television audiences with multiple millions of viewers, seem to provide a huge supply of thirsty fans. As long as moderation is used, there is nothing inherently wrong with enjoying a drink with the game. However, there is a tendency to overindulge as the game wears on. How often do we see riotous activity after a big win or a disappointing loss at some great sporting event? Sadly, it happens much too often.
What Does The Bible Say?
The Bible has much to say about the use of alcohol, both the positive aspects and the potential pitfalls. For example, this plain warning is found in the Book of Wisdom, Proverbs: "Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise" (Proverbs 20:1). Then there is this graphic description of the result of abusing intoxicating drink:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart will utter perverse things. Yes, you will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, or like one who lies at the top of the mast, saying: "They have struck me, but I was not hurt; they have beaten me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?" (Proverbs 23:29–35).
This brings to mind the survivor of the destruction of Victory Hotel! It is an extreme example, but it illustrates the point that the abuse of alcohol can cause aberrant, potentially destructive behavior. We see the results all about us in society today.
A particularly sobering admonition for leaders and those in positions of responsibility is found in Proverbs. "It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes intoxicating drink; lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the justice of all the afflicted" (Proverbs 31:4–5).
In the Old Testament, there were specific instructions for the Levitical priesthood regarding the use of alcohol. Aaron was the high priest and he received this instruction: "Then the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying: 'Do not drink wine or intoxicating drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, that you may distinguish between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean, and that you may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them by the hand of Moses'" (Leviticus 10:8–11). It's obvious that when critical thinking is required, spiritual duties are to be performed or important decisions are to be made, abstinence from alcohol is advised.
God obviously takes this instruction seriously, as we see in the surprising account of the carelessness of Aaron's sons that cost them their lives. "Then Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it, put incense on it, and offered profane fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. So fire went out from the Lord and devoured them, and they died before the Lord. And Moses said to Aaron, 'This is what the Lord spoke, saying: "By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified."' So Aaron held his peace" (Leviticus 10:1–3). While alcohol is not specifically mentioned in this account, it is tempting to draw the conclusion that Nadab and Abihu's judgment may have been impaired due to "intoxicating drink," given that immediately after the incident, God begins instructing the priesthood on this very topic (Leviticus 10:8–11).
The New Testament also gives very plain instruction on the use of alcohol. The Apostle Paul, when explaining how to deal with those who thought eating meat was wrong, finished his instruction with these words: "It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak" (Romans 14:21). His point was that we should be considerate of other peoples' levels of understanding, so as to avoid giving offense.
In his letter to the Church of God in Ephesus, Paul gave this clear instruction: "Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God" (Ephesians 5:17–21). Elders and deacons were admonished to "not be given to wine" (1 Timothy 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7).
Paul had more to say on the subject of abusing alcohol when, in his letter to the Church in Corinth, he wrote, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9–10).
Not Inherently Wrong
As we read these rather stern, sobering instructions, we might conclude that all use of alcohol is wrong, but that would be incorrect. In fact, the very first recorded miracle that Jesus Christ performed was at a large wedding in Cana, a village in Galilee, a few miles northeast of Nazareth, when—at His mother's request—He made at least 120 gallons of good wine. The Apostle John recorded the details of this miracle.
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, "They have no wine." Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come." His mother said to the servants, "Whatever He says to you, do it." Now there were set there six waterpots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing twenty or thirty gallons apiece. Jesus said to them, "Fill the waterpots with water." And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, "Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast." And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, "Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!" This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him (John 2:1–11).
Jesus, our perfect example, would not have transformed the water into wine if it would be wrong to drink it.
Very importantly, on the night that Jesus Christ was betrayed, wine was served at the Passover meal that Christ ate with His disciples, during which He used it as a poignant symbol of His blood that was to be shed for the sins of mankind (Luke 22:14–22).
Paul instructed young Timothy, encouraging a proper use of wine, writing, "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities" (1 Timothy 5:23). Jesus indicated that He looked forward to sharing a glass of wine with His disciple in the future when His Kingdom will be set up on the earth. Matthew recorded it this way, "But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom" (Matthew 26:29).
A Matter of Self-control and Moderation
Like so many of the blessings that God gives us, the proper use of wine and strong drink requires self-control and a conscious effort to use it as God intended, in moderation and in the proper setting. For example, in instructing His people on how to use the Festival tithe, the use of alcohol as a blessing was mentioned, "And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen or sheep, for wine or similar drink, for whatever your heart desires; you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household" (Deuteronomy 14:26).
Some may choose, for personal reasons, to refrain from any use of alcohol except for the Passover service. Certainly, that is their prerogative and should not be a cause for concern or comment by others.
In gatherings of friends, family and fellow Church members, whatever the occasion, alcohol should not become the centerpiece or be allowed to become the dominant factor in having a good time. It has been my observation over a period of many years that when the use of wine, beer, etc. revolves around mealtime, it is very seldom a problem. If the wine or other drink is considered a part of enjoying the meal, abuse does not come into play. For example, a glass of champagne in celebration of some special event adds to the festivity and enjoyment of the occasion. This approach seems to be borne out in cultures that use wine as food and as part of a meal. Problems more often arise when "recreational drinking" occurs, resulting in intoxication.
As usual, the Apostle Paul "nailed it" when he instructed the Philippian Church, "Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand" (Philippians 4:5, KJV). If we are to please God in all that we do, then practicing moderation in food, drink and all our activities is a key.
The instruction to the Church of God is clear: "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues" (Revelation 18:4). This certainly includes the abuse of or the wrong use of something like alcohol, which God intended as a blessing. As Christians, our example within the Church and to those outside our fellowship is very important, for we are to be a "light to the world."
In all that we do, including our use of alcohol, let's be careful to do it according to Biblical instructions and guidelines, realizing that wine can be "a mocker" and strong drink "a brawler," and never let the use of alcohol cause us to be "led astray."