17th July 2023
From an Interview with John Piper
"Is drinking alcohol a sin?"
Let me start by putting my biases on the table - my background, my biases - because everybody is influenced by their family and the experiences they have had. I am a default teetotaller.
What that means is if I have my choice, I don't drink alcohol.
But I might, to be a good guest.
In other words, that is my little experience of freedom in Christ.
But when I was in Germany, I decided that I was not going to make a pain of myself.
If they put something on the table, I was going to do my best to manage it - to honour them - as a guest.
I want to let love be the guide, and love inclines me away from alcohol in our day.
But here is the nuanced answer, as well as a little bit of why I have chosen this path for myself and why I don't make it a requirement for everybody.
The first answer that I would give to the question "Is it a sin to drink alcohol?" is the same answer I give to the question "Is it a sin to drink water?"
And the answer is that it could be.
Drinking water when you should be giving a glass to someone else in need - that is sin.
Drinking water when you should be paying more reverence to the preaching of God's word - that is a sin.
Drinking water when someone just warned you that it is contaminated and might kill you - that is sin.
So drinking water can be sin.
Presumably then, alcohol could be sin, but it may not be.
Jesus made wine for the marriage at Cana. And I presume he made it because he expected people to drink it, and he didn't want to participate in their sin.
Paul told Timothy to drink it medicinally.
The church leaders are not to be enslaved to it, which I think implies a moderate use of it
Psalm 104:15 says it's a gift from God:
"Wine [is] to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart."
So, I don't think anyone can make a case from Scripture that teetotalism is required.
If you choose not to drink alcohol, like I do, as a kind of default way of life, it needs to be based on some principle other than what the Bible requires of us.
What might that be?
The situation, in which I live in America, is why I feel zero incentive to try to like and enjoy alcoholic beverages.
I am very content without them, and here is what I have in mind.
One-third of all traffic fatalities are due to alcohol involvement - and so on, with most of the ills of our culture.
You can read statistics on divorce and abuse and so on.
Not to mention that it makes people babbling fools on airplanes so that they get very, very annoying.
"God has given many other drinks that don't have the same kind of addictive and destructive side effects."
I did my ministry for thirty years at Bethlehem, just a few blocks away from 'Teen Challenge'.
Every Saturday night (virtually), some of those guys - who were in there to be set free from their addiction to alcohol - would show up, and they would come forward for prayer.
Their stories were simply tragic, and I was thrilled for them to get free.
I watched it destroy lives, and I watched the lives being rebuilt minus alcohol.
I looked on Google yesterday: Alcohol costs Americans two hundred billion dollars a year, according to the Center for Disease Control Prevention. That is $750 per American in health costs and work production costs because of alcohol.
By the way, nowhere in the New Testament is the communion drink called "wine."
Now, it probably was. I am not arguing it wasn't. It probably was.
But isn't it interesting that nowhere is communion called "wine"?
It is usually called the cup, or it is called the fruit of the vine.
So, nobody can insist that we are commanded to drink wine by being commanded to drink it as the Lord's Supper.
Given the fact that the Bible is mainly cautious about it, I don't have any desire for it.
And God has given many other drinks that don't have the same kind of addictive and destructive side effects.
It is remarkable how many warnings there are in the Bible about alcohol,
Ephesians 5:18, "Do not get drunk with wine."
Romans 14:21, "It is good not to ...drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble."
Hosea 4:11, "Beware of wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding."
What I would like to say is: I am saving the best for last.
I am saving the best for when I can handle it - and I know I am a man with an addictive personality.
I buy a pack of gum, and I chew the whole thing in five minutes.
So knowing myself, knowing this culture that is being destroyed in measure by it, I find little incentive myself for pursuing something I have no desire to pursue.
And let me end by just saying I do not condemn those who make other choices.
It is just not on my agenda to go on a crusade to get other people to join me in this.
I am just explaining where I am coming from.
It may be interesting to
listen to the interview with John Piper
Bible references avaiable, on request
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Come, Lord Jesus.