“And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;” (Ephesians 5:18)
The topic of alcohol can cause a firestorm in even the most devout congregations. Some people believe that they are permitted to consume whatever they want, since they have been redeemed by God’s grace and their spirits will outlive their earthly bodies. Others condemn those who drink out of social sensitivity, the appearance of gluttony or addiction, or simply a self-centered and judgmental spirit. And using the glib answer that “Jesus drank wine at the wedding” doesn’t help matters. So how does Scripture truly answer the question about drinking wine?
#1 Saved to Be Children of Light
Before we answer this question, Paul reminds us that we are commanded to be “followers of God” who “walk in love” as we relate to others (Ephesians 5:1-2). This allows us to reflect on the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, Who lovingly gave Himself up for us and set before us the example of living for the good of those around us.
He goes through some additional, concrete ways that we can avoid unrighteous living, and lists some specific behaviors we should avoid (Ephesians 5:3-6). Among these are immorality and impurity, greed, obscene language, thoughtless and hurtful words, idolatry, and disobedience to God’s words. He goes so far as to state that people will not share in the inheritance of God’s love if they live in such a way, since it is evidence of their lack of faith in God (Ephesians 5:5).
Instead, we are called to be “children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). The apostle Peter later reinforces this point, repeating our calling by God “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Light is always associated with the presence of God, and He will bring our entire lives into the light if we allow Him to. Even the darkest parts of us can be exposed to His brilliant, redemptive light (Psalm 139:12).
#2 Sleepers Called to Life
Darkness and death are coupled with images throughout both the Old and New Testaments. We are called out of darkness into light; we are raised up from the grave to walk in the newness of life (Romans 6:4). If we have indeed believed with our whole hearts and yielded every part of ourselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ as our Savior, we can live in the light along with Him (1 John 1:7).
Paul recalls the prophecies of Isaiah, who foretold a time when the people would be restored as if from the dead and given new life. They were formerly asleep, but Christ would shine His brilliant light on them and raise them to a new and glorious life (Ephesians 5:14).
#3 Switching Insensitivity for Love
The hallmark of this new life is the wisdom of God (Ephesians 5:15). Even if it makes no sense to the world around us (1 Corinthians 1:27), we must hold fast to the truth of Scripture. We must take every opportunity to share God’s love and seek out His will in our lives (Ephesians 5:17).
This is where Paul’s judgment on wine comes into play. It is true that Jesus drank wine at ceremonies like weddings and the Passover; it was a common drink of the day. Paul himself would advise his protégé, Timothy, to drink a little wine for medical reasons (1 Timothy 5:23), so it is clear that wine in and of itself was not forbidden.
The issue is not the drink, but the state of drunkenness. Paul warns that consuming too much wine – which even unbelievers will confirm leads to impaired faculties and chronic health problems – will lead to “excess,” or what is elsewhere translated as “debauchery” (Ephesians 5:18). The converse command of being “filled with the Spirit” will not lead to any such impairment, but will lead us to a richer and more fulfilling way of life.
When used in its proper context, alcohol can be perfectly acceptable. After all, God did create the fruit of the vine and pronounced it as good (Genesis 1:11-12). Furthermore, for Christians, the cup of Christ symbolizes His blood which was shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Mark 14:24). However, when we forsake God’s wisdom and instruction and allow ourselves to be consumed by anything over and instead of our Creator, we throw things out of balance and forsake our calling.
#4 Submitting to Christ Our Lord
Instead, as we have seen, we should be filled with the Holy Spirit, and submit ourselves to the will of God in gratitude and worship, and indeed to each other in love (Ephesians 5:20-21). Paul preached to the Philippians that we should not consider ourselves any better than anyone else (Philippians 2:1-4), and instructed the church at Corinth that they should not use their license as an excuse to offend someone with a more sensitive conscience for fear that they might lead them into sin (1 Corinthians 8:9-13). Instead, he teaches that we should follow the example of Christ, Who humbled Himself before mankind in obedience to God’s wisdom and will (Philippians 2:5-8).
Remember, the issue is not with the drink itself, but rather what devotion to alcohol – or anything else in our lives – can represent. Anything that places itself over and above God is idolatry, and we cannot allow ourselves to be consumed by anything but a devotion to the cross of Christ and a love for God the Father.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.