A NOTE ABOUT THIS TRANSCRIPT
The following sermon transcript does not match the video version of the sermon—it matches only the audio version. Here's a brief explanation why.
John MacArthur routinely preaches a sermon more than once on the same date, during different worship services at Grace Community Church. Normally, for a given sermon title, our website features the audio and video that were recorded during the same worship service. Very occasionally, though, we will post the audio from one service and the video from another. Such was the case for the sermon titled "Losing Your Life to Save it," the transcript of which follows below. The transcript is of the audio version.
The Lord is blessing us with young people in this church, you notice. Our new member receptions on Sunday nights, so many young people. The Lord is bringing a generation of young people to the knowledge of Himself and it’s just a terrific joy for me.
And speaking of young people, I was asked before the service why it is that I have decided the last couple of weeks to talk to you about the Christian and drinking alcohol. Maybe I do need to tell you why. I have decided to do this because it’s been a long time since I talked about this. Of course, I have spoken about it in the past and all of that is available on MP3s and CDs and much of what we have taught through the years is available in books and commentaries.
But the reason I have done this in this particular period of time starts with the fact that you may have many paedidaktikos (?) is the Greek word. You may have many tutors. But if I may be so bold, you have one spiritual Father, in the earthly sense and Paul said that to the Corinthians. You may have ten thousand paedidaktikos, people influencing you but you have one who is responsible for your soul in a very real sense as your teacher.
You know, when we talk about what the church is, it really comes down to Hebrews 13:17. That verse sums up how the church works. “Submit to those who are over you in the Lord, follow their faith for they care for your souls as those who must give an account.” That’s a pretty serious accountability. I have to give an account for the care of your souls. And the dangers of alcoholism are obvious to all of us. And it’s a part of soul care, and particularly because our church is so full of young people and they’re the most vulnerable and the most susceptible to the dangers of drunkenness and the habits that are developed from consuming alcohol.
As a responsible shepherd to the Lord for you and for men in seminary and students at the college and all who are on the wider level of the field of this world that the Lord lets us influence, it’s just another one of the elements in shepherding that needs to be dealt with. And what has elevated the interest today in this time is a new generation of young pastors who are strong advocates that Christians need to frequently use their liberty and begin to drink, if they haven’t already done it. And some of these pastors have publicly said, “I have asked the Lord for forgiveness for not drinking alcohol.”
So we have endeavored to give you a biblical understanding of this issue and one that will provide some protection for you. Let’s go back to Ephesians 5:18. Ephesians 5:18 is a starting point in which the Apostle Paul makes a very strong contrast, unless you know why he says what he says. Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Does that seem a strange contrast to you? Why would you contrast being filled with the Holy Spirit with getting drunk with wine?
Somebody might say, “Well because he’s talking about two extreme opposite ways to be influenced from the inside. You don’t want to be controlled on the inside by alcohol, you want to be controlled on the inside by the Holy Spirit. And there’s truth in that, but that’s pretty obvious. But there’s something far more significant in what he is saying here and we went into this in detail last week, I’ll just give you a review of it.
He is contrasting the drunkenness that was essential to pagan religious experience with a true communion with God produced by the Holy Spirit. The religions that dominated the Mediterranean area, the mystery religions, the byproducts of the mystery religions had as a part of the components a major part. Drunken orgies because it was believed that if you were drunk, you transcended the nominal world, you transcended the terra firma and you elevated yourself to commune with the deities and so they engaged in drunken brawls and drunken orgies of gluttony and immorality and this was all intended to elevate them to commune with the deities.
Paul speaks of that in 1 Corinthians 10 when he says, “They don’t communicate with God, they communicate with demons. They communicate with demons. They’re engaged with demons. Paul is talking about a different kind of religion. People in Ephesus would be familiar with that kind, as the people in Corinth were, as all the people in the Mediterranean Gentile world were. They would go to the temple and ceremony or whatever you wanted to call it at the temple would turn into a Bacchanalian feast of gluttony and drunkenness and immorality and temple prostitutes would accommodate the people. This was worship. And the Apostle Paul is drawing a stark and extreme contrast by saying that to truly commune with the one true God, you must be under the full control of His Holy Spirit. This is a completely different and legitimate experience. All you get out of the drunkenness, dissipation, another word for debauchery and you’re exposed to demons.
That’s the unregenerate way of life. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5, again in 1 Corinthians 6, that’s how you used to live. But you’re washed, you’re sanctified. You don’t live that way anymore. That’s the old way. I love Peter’s words, 1 Peter 4:3, “You have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do, living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing…get this…and detestable, here’s the key word, idolatry. All of that was part of their worship. Lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing all caught up in idolatry. You have enough time in on that. You don’t need to do what pagans do.
And we talked about the fact that drunkenness is a sin, unmistakably a sin. It is condemned in the Old Testament. It is condemned in the New Testament, any kind of drunkenness, anything that dulls your senses, that removes the restraints in your behavior that alters your thinking. You’re to be sober-minded, clear-headed and drunkenness is a sin.
But that isn’t really Paul’s primary issue here. His primary issue is that there’s a new kind of worship in Christ. It is the opposite of the extreme immorality of the past. That is the behavior from which you have been saved and you can’t go back. First Corinthians 10, he says, “You can’t come to the table of the Lord and then go to the table of demons. Being filled with the Spirit is living under the power of the Holy Spirit. We did a whole message on that a few weeks ago. Living under the power of the Holy Spirit which means you’re living under the power of the truth. The Word of Christ is dwelling in you richly and you’re being conformed to the truth both written and incarnate by the work of the Holy Spirit who fills you.
But having seen that as the primary point here of Ephesians 5:18, it seemed to me a good place to stop and talk about this whole matter of should we drink at all. Obviously we don’t want to be a part of a debauched, pagan orgy. That’s extreme. But should we drink at all? What should be the Christian’s view of that? And so I told you I had eight principles by which you could make that decision. And last week we spent an hour and fifteen minutes on one. How many of you were here last week, put your hand up? You came back! Wow! Bless you. I’m sorry I went over…no I’m not, take it back, I don’t want to compound my sin. But we had a wonderful time talking about one principle and it is this principle and it’s really a historic consideration.
People who…Christian people, Christian believers who advocate for drinking wine have one basic argument. Believers in the Old Testament drank wine, believers in the New Testament drank wine. That settles the case. Right? That’s always the argument. Which then brought up our first point. Is the wine today, or the alcoholic beverage today the same as it was in biblical times? Are we talking about apples and apples here? And the answer to the question is no and we saw that last time. And if you weren’t here, you need to get that and listen to it. And I used an analogy, and I’m going to repeat it just briefly.
The Bible never condemns slavery. The Bible never condemns slavery in the Old Testament. It never condemns slavery in the New Testament. In fact, it used slavery as an analogy of how we are to relate to Jesus Christ, He’s the Master and we’re His slaves. In the Old Testament people had slaves and that was okay. Slaves were to be obedient to their masters, masters were to be kind to their slaves. In the New Testament it was the same thing.
So you might say to me, “Where do I go to buy some slaves? They had slaves in the Bible. They had slaves in the Old Testament. They had slaves in the New Testament. I need some slaves. I want to be a full orbed Christian, I need slaves.”
It’s a different world that we live in today…very different world. Nobody would advocate that. No Christian would advocate that. It’s analogous to say because people drank in the Old Testament, drank in the New Testament, we need to go drink alcoholic beverages. But wait a minute. Are we talking about the same thing? What slavery is today is human trafficking, very different than a benevolent system which took people who were destitute in and made part of the family and gave them care in exchange for work. So we asked that question. And the answer to the question was wine both in the Old and the New Testament was very different than it is today because it was diluted. There’s all kinds of evidence, replete evidence that the people who drank wine in ancient times, even people who were non-Christian people drank wine mixed with water three to one as high as twenty to one…twenty parts of water, one part of wine down to three parts water, one part of wine. Another way they handled it was they would boil the wine because there was no refrigeration, everything fermented in a few days. They would boil the wine down to a paste. When they boiled it all the alcohol would be boiled out of it and then they would simply reconnect it and mix it with water and it was completely unfermented juice. We gave you all kinds of indications of the fact that drinking undiluted wine was viewed as barbaric.
And do you remember that I told you the primary point was this, that it was a sanitary provision by God in a fallen world that wine or any other fruit ferments because fermentation produces within the fermented juice deadly killers of bacteria. And we talked about that, didn’t we? And I read you some modern science about that. What they did was purify their water by mixing it with fermented wine because of the properties of fermentation act to kill the bacteria. And I told you that almost every bacteria, salmonella, staphylococcus and I named a whole bunch of others, will be dead in 60 minutes at the most, 30 to 60 minutes in any kind of liquid like that. And people in ancient times felt that to drink unmixed drink was barbaric.
Wine in those days would have a two to four percent alcohol content, maybe as high as twelve to fourteen in the Gentile world. But by the time it was diluted down and diluted down and sometimes boiled and then remixed with water in a very hot climate, it needed to be or you would be drunk whether you wanted to be drunk or not. And it was a protection. That’s why Paul said to Timothy, “Take a little wine for your stomach’s sake because it will help kill the bacteria. So we’re not talking about the same kind of thing. So we answered the question, was the beverage they drank in the Bible times the same as today when you have undiluted alcoholic drinks that would go all the way up to 75 percent alcohol? Far cry from what they consumed in Bible times. And that was the first question.
Now I’m going to go through the other seven tonight, maybe. We’ll see. Number two, let’s ask a second question. Is drinking alcoholic beverage necessary? Is it necessary? And the answer to that would be…what?...no. We would all agree with that. You don’t need it to kill the bacteria. There’s…I’m assuming there’s no bacteria in my faucet water. I mean, I’ve been drinking the stuff for all these years, I’m still here. Why? Because we live in a sanitary world. I don’t need to mix some kind of component in my water. I don’t need to boil my water unless I’m in a foreign country and I’ve been there where you boil the water. The first time I went to Egypt they said, “Do not drink the water. Do not drink the water. The water is loaded with bacteria, don’t drink it, drink only bottled water.” So we did. We drank bottled water and one day I went out of the place where we were staying and a guy was filling up the bottles we had just drunk with water out of the tap coming out of the building. I don’t think he understood the issue. But I’ve been in places where we’ve had to boil it before we could do anything with it. I understand that. But that’s not how we live at our house. That’s not how we live in our world. We live in a sanitary world. In Bible times there was little choice and there was benefit from drinking juice. Juice has beneficial properties, dietary properties in it. We talked a little bit about that. It added some flavor to life. But one had to be very careful and it had to be mingled and mixed or boiled to diminish the threat of drunkenness. And now we live…and, of course, the side effect was that it was a purifier. It sanitized. It killed bacteria. We don’t have a world now where we live with impure water so it’s purely a matter of choice…purely a matter of choice.
I also told you that some people say, “Well I like the taste of it,” and I gave you a modern test, a recent test about how they’ve proven that it tastes better, the more water you mix with it even now. And that’s true with coffee. Remember our little discussion about that? Coffee as well because it has a chemical ability to release flavor when you mix water with it. It’s purely a matter of choice today.
So the first question is; was it the same as today? No. Second question, is it necessary? No. Purely a choice. Okay, thirdly, is it the best choice? Is it the best choice? Let’s phrase the question a little bit different. If you want to be sure that you avoid drunkenness, is it the best choice? Does that help? If you want to be sure you avoid drunkenness, is it the best choice? No. Again it’s a question of your choice.
We want to take the high ground, don’t we? It’s not necessary, we already established that just plain and simple. And now it’s a question of choice. There might be some compelling things in Scripture that would help us to make the best choice. So let’s take a look at them. Let’s go back to Leviticus chapter 10…Leviticus chapter 10. We’ll just work our way through a few things here in this little lesson. There were a couple of guys named Nadab and Abihu, remember them? Sons of Aaron. And they took their respective fire pans and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord which He had not commanded them. Aaron’s the High Priest, right? So they’re in the priestly line. They’re supposed to be doing priestly duties. What are they doing? What are they doing? They’re doing something weird. The only way it can be described is strange fire. God had prescribed how the fire was to be placed on the altar. How the incense was to be presented. And they did something different than what God had commanded. They went in there and did something that was out of line.
So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them. They died. They tampered with the prescription for the incense and it cost them their life. What did they do? They offered strange fire. Why would they do that? Well they wouldn’t have done it if they would have been thinking. So maybe something affected how they were thinking.
You say, “Well why would you say that?” Well it’s just a thought. Down to verse 8, “After the Lord had killed his two sons, the Lord spoke to Aaron,” and what did He say? “Don’t do…what?...don’t drink wine or strong drink.” Don’t you think there might be a connection here? Not you, not your sons with you when you come into the tent of meeting so that you will not die. Ah…I think they were doing weird stuff because they couldn’t think clearly. They were drunk. Don’t do that so that you will not die. And make it a perpetual statute through your generation.
The whole priestly line. So as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, between the unclean and the clean. What happens when you’re drunk is that you can’t make distinctions. You don’t know the difference between reality and fantasy, unreality. And teach it to all the sons of Israel. You’re going to be the teacher of Israel, you’re going to have to make distinctions. How can you do that if you’re inebriated? So since you are responsible for the spiritual welfare of this nation, you as priests…as priests you understand that. They were the officers of the theocracy. You have got to stay permanently away from anything that’s going to affect your discernment and your judgment and your instruction. You’re the spiritual leaders in the nation. Total abstinence.
In Numbers chapter 6, the Lord speaks to Moses at the beginning of this chapter and He says, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man or woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazarite, to dedicate himself to the Lord.’” Okay, now we’re talking about special dedication, full dedication to the Lord. “He shall abstain from wine and strong milk. Drink no vinegar whether made from wine or strong drink, nor shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh or dried grapes. Stay away from it all together all the days of his separation.” He doesn’t eat anything produced by the grapevine, even the seeds, even to the skin. All of those prescriptions extend all the way to the grapes and the seeds and the skin to make sure you stay away from the wine because everything ferments in a day, two days, three days.
This is the highest level of consecration that a Jew could make. A Nazarite from Nazir is the root, it means to vow and that’s why it says in verse1 a special vow. Literally it’s the consecrated one. If someone wants to be fully consecrated to God, Nazr speaks of devotion or separation or holiness. So the Nazarite was the person who consecrated himself wholly to God, took a vow of separation and self-imposed discipline, sometimes for 30 days, sometimes for 60 days, sometimes for 90 days and sometimes longer and sometimes for a whole life. There were three Nazarites in the Old Testament for life…well actually the last one is a transitional into the New; Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist…lifelong Nazarites.
There were many more people who took the Nazarite vow. You can read it in the second chapter of Amos’ prophecy. But over time, there was less and less and less interest in the Nazarite vow because there was less and less consecration to God and more and more idolatry, as we know as a move toward the captivity, a northern Kingdom captivity, a southern Kingdom. And so the prophets were marking out the fact that there was a diminishing interest in this level of consecration…a diminishing interest. By the time you get to Jeremiah who was announcing the Babylonian captivity, there are very few. You see that in Lamentations chapter 4 verses 7 and 8. People aren’t interested in living a separated life. Whereas if you to the other way in the history of Israel, go back to 1 Samuel 1, you meet a lady who when she went before God in passionate prayer, she separated herself from all that kind of consumption, her name was Hannah because she wanted to be at the highest level of consecration to pour out her heart before the Lord.
John the Baptist, Luke 1, says, “He would drink neither wine nor strong drink.” He was a lifelong Nazarite…a lifelong Nazarite. He was the greatest man who ever lived up until his time. He was lifelong separated.
The reason is because of the potential for drunkenness that lays with this if it’s abused. It doesn’t have to be if it’s mixed. Proverbs 31:4, “It’s not for kings, O Lemuel, it’s not for kings to drink wine or for rulers to desire strong drink, for they will drink and forget what is decreed and pervert the rights of the afflicted.” If you’re going to give strong drink, give it to him who is perishing, somebody in the agonies of death in a world with no anesthesia and no pain pills. If you’re going to give it…if you’re going to give wine to somebody, somebody whose life has reached the bitter dregs let him drink and forget his deprivation and his trouble remember no more.
People in terrible condition who need relief, and at the cross of Jesus Christ there was an attempt to offer Him some relief that way, which He refused to take. But for leaders, kings, priests and prophets like John the Baptist? Clear mindedness.
In Titus, and I’ll just show you this quickly, well let’s look at 1 Timothy 3 and then we’ll do Titus. First Timothy 3 where you have the qualifications for an overseer, an elder, pastor. Verse 3, “Not addicted to wine,” that’s the NAS, “not addicted to wine.” Literally we’re talking about not beside wine. Verse 8, “Deacons, nor addicted to much wine.” Not attached to wine. Careful about that. Those who are leaders, those who make decisions, those who are arbitrators, those who are kings, those who are rulers, those who are mediators, those who are teachers of the truth of God, those who represent God to the people and the people before God as priests maintain the standard even in biblical times, elders are not to be beside wine and deacons, it says, are not to be attached to much wine. The standard is higher, I guess, in a sense there, for elders because so much more is at stake.
So all of that simply to say this, what’s the highest ground? What’s the highest choice? That which is established by those who have the most responsibility and influence. I don’t miss this message and that’s why I don’t and never have consumed alcoholic beverages. Why would I do that when I have the measure of responsibility I have, a spiritual responsibility? I don’t want my senses dulled. I want to have discernment. I want to teach accurately the Word of God.
I read this week that Pat Sajak, who is on television in that thing where they spin the wheel around, what’s it called?, Wheel of Fortune…or whatever it is, confessed that he’s been through the years drunk a lot of the time that he’s been on the air. You know what? It doesn’t matter if you’re spinning that wheel, whether you’re drunk or sober. But it does matter when you’re responsible for people’s souls and to accurately handle the Word of God. And that’s why the pastors and elders of Grace Community Church have always had that same position. For the most part, that’s the people of Grace Church have had that same position because in a very real sense they follow the faith of their leaders. And apparently that’s what Timothy did, he followed Paul…Paul said to him, “Follow my faith,” and so since he did he had to tell him, “Okay, take a little wine for your stomach’s sake,” cause he was following his leader.
I want people to make the highest choice and the best choice. So is it the same? No. Is it necessary? No. Is it the highest and the best? No. Let’s try another question. Is it habit forming? Is it habit forming? This is a very basic and foundational question, and by the way it could be…it could be applied to a whole lot of behaviors, couldn’t it? A whole lot of them.
Listen to 1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful for me but not all things are profitable.” Why? “Because all things are lawful for me but I will not be mastered by anything.” I will not be brought under the power of anything. Does it have the potential to bring me under its power? Is it expedient? I love the old Authorized, “All things are lawful but not all things are expedient.” That’s a great English word…expedient. It actually comes from the Latin root ped which is your feet. Does it free my feet? That’s literally it. Or is it going to tangle me up? Trip me up? Take me captive? Shackle me?
Well we all know the answer to that. Alcohol has the potential to create dependency. It can be habit forming. And at the same time, mind controlling. Now we’re all creatures of habit, right? I mean, down to the little basic things, you know, you like a certain kind of toothpaste, you shave your face starting on the same side every time and moving to the other side, and you get up and do the same routines every day and we all have habits. And, you know, some of you love your coffee in the morning, or in my case my pot of tea in the morning, get me going. That’s a habit but that is not a habit that has the potential to take control of my mind and alter my behavior. But alcohol can create a chemical dependency and a mind-altering power contained in it at the same time makes it very dangerous. And we all know the terrible stories of alcoholics who can’t come off of it, whose lives are ravaged and ruined. Thirty-eight million alcoholics as of now in the United States.
So, is it the same? No. Is it necessary? No. Is it the best? No. Is it potentially habit forming? Now the answer’s different. Yes. Let’s take it a step further, number five, is it potentially destructive? Is it potentially destructive? Yes, because I just read you in Ephesians 5:18 that it can lead to osotia…osotia is the verb that is…or the noun that is translated dissipation. Osotia originally, the root word, means incurably, hopelessly sick, or one who by his manner of life is self-destructive, that’s what dissipation means. The concept of osotia is a person who by his manner of life is self-destructive. Can alcohol have that potential? Can it be destructive? Oh, you can talk about sclerosis of the liver, that’s one area where we all know alcohol can be destructive, it can even produce a horrible, horrible ballooning of the veins of the esophagus and there are all kinds of terrible things it can do physiologically. But can it be destructive in relationships? Can it destroy your purity? Can it so alter your judgment that you sin openly, willingly, boldly, blatantly because the restraints are removed?
People do weird things when they’re drunk. Noah did. Noah must have been a respectable man. I mean, when the Lord drowned the whole human race, He kept Noah and Noah must have been the guy that influenced Mrs. Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth and their three wives and those are the eight that God saved. And then the picture you have of Noah after the flood, what does he do? He gets drunk. Now let’s give him a little bit of a break, maybe…maybe post-flood fermentation happened faster. That’s possible. But what happened when he got drunk? It was embarrassing. It was shameful. He lost his dignity. Middle Eastern men don’t lose their dignity. No one should lose his dignity.
So that’s the question…can it be destructive? Can it lead to dissipation and destruction? The wisdom of the book of Proverbs weighs in on this. You will remember this, “Wine is a mocker,” chapter 20 verse 1, “strong drink a brawler and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” No, because destructive things happen. And then in Proverbs chapter 21 verse 17, “He who loves wine will not become rich.” Drunks don’t get rich. And in Proverbs 23 verse 21, “The heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty and drowsiness will clothe him with rags.” We see that all the time, don’t we? We have this new category of people called the Homeless. Well bless them, my heart goes out to them but they’re not the homeless, they’re the alcoholics. They’re the drunks in our culture, for the most part, and it’s a heart-breaking reality.
Proverbs 23 verse 31, “Don’t look on the wine when it’s red and it sparkles in the cup and it looks so inviting, when it goes down smoothly. At last it bites like a serpent, stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things. Your mind will utter perverse things.” That’s the point, isn’t it? And you’ll be like somebody who lies down in the middle of the sea.” Not a good idea. “Or like one who lies down on the top of a mast.” That’s a stupid idea, too. Now we are warned about that, the potential destructive power of alcohol.
Is it the same? No. Is it necessary? No. Is it the best? No. Is it habit forming? Yes. It is potentially destructive? Yes. Question number six, is it offensive to others, particularly other Christians?
You know, you may be convinced that you have all the freedom you want, and there’s a flaunting of freedom, there’s an ugly, ugly flaunting of freedom among some of these young guys who call themselves pastors that’s just heartbreaking…heartbreaking, a narcissistic kind of “I’m going to live my life, I couldn’t care less what you think.”
You know, we may be convinced that our maturity and our strength supersedes our vulnerability and we can control absolutely anything in our freedom. But I told you last week, Darren Patrick’s book called The Church Planter, the book for the young generation of church planter says, “The biggest problem among these young pastors is drunkenness. What kind of a testimony is that? Is that an offense to others?
I’m going to have to take in to consideration the people around me. For one, I don’t want to….I don’t want to liberate former alcoholics to drink because they can’t without sinking into the same moreasm (???) that they came out of. I don’t want to lead people who are young people who don’t drink to drink because some of them will become binge drinkers and they’ll justify what they did because they saw me do it. In other words, I don’t want to be the cause of someone’s drinking, I don’t want to be the justification for someone’s drinking because I don’t want to be the stumbling block. That’s an important thing for me. That’s an important thing for you, as well, because you have people looking at your life, start with your children. You don’t want your child to be a binge drinker. You don’t want your child to be an alcoholic. You don’t want your child to have his judgments skewed and drive his car like two teenagers did down the street near our house two weeks ago, into a tree and kill one of them, put the other in critical care. You don’t want that to happen to your kids.
You don’t ever want to be a stumbling block even to the person who feels that drinking is sinful because they come out of a culture of drinking and now that they’ve come to Christ, they see that as a part of their past. That’s what was going on in the church. First Corinthians 8, “Take care that this liberty of yours doesn’t somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”
There are believers that have a weak conscience. You know, if you grew up in the bars and the saloons and did what people do in that kind of life style, and then you came to Christ, all that goes with that life style will be part of the ugliness of your sinful past. And you wouldn’t have the freedom to go back into that situation because it would reek of all that the Lord delivered you from. I wouldn’t lead you back and thus offend your conscience, your tender conscience.
People who came out of the kind of religion where there were drunken orgies, I’m sure there were some of them who didn’t want to touch anything connected to that. Am I going to lead you back into that? Because if your conscience tells you it’s sin, to you it is sin.
You know, Paul makes this point here that they eat meat offered to idols in these orgies, these ceremonies. They bring their sacrifices, they offer the sacrifice, they’re offered to the gods and then the stuff that’s offered to the gods, some of it’s burned, most of it goes out the back into the pagan priest’s hands and they run a butcher shop. So you’re walking down the street, you want to get some meat for dinner, and you go into the little butcher shop and you find out that this is meat that went to the idol but you’ve become a Christian. And what are you going to say? I can’t…I don’t want anything to do with meat offered to idols. I’ve been rescued from that.
Don’t force that brother to eat that meat offered to idols, any more than you would stuff a ham sandwich down a newly converted Jew, because that’s an offense. Paul talks about this in the tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, and he gives a scene. Here’s the scene. If you go to the house of somebody, a non-believer, you’re trying to evangelize a non-believer and you bring a young Christian, a weaker brother who is new in the faith and has been rescued out of idolatry. You go into the house of a Gentile who is in the midst of paganism and you sit down at his table and you’re trying to evangelize him, and out he comes with a big plate of meat. And the weaker brother looks at it and he knows this guy and he’s got the stronger brother with him to help reach his friend that he knew in his paganism. So he says to his friend, “Where did you get this meat?”
“Oh I got it down at the temple butcher shop, you get the best deals at the temple butcher shop.” That was offered to idols.
Now an idol is nothing, right? It doesn’t exist. And there’s nothing wicked about the meat but his conscience can’t handle it. So let’s say you’re the strong brother, you’re the mature Christian, here’s your dilemma. You could say to the host, “We’re not eating your meat, sorry,” and offend the unbeliever. Or you could say to the weaker brother, “Buck up,” like you say to your six-year-old, “You’re eating what’s on your plate, right?” I mean, you’ve got to…you’re going to offend either the weaker brother or you’re going to offend the unbeliever.
Who do you offend? Paul says, “Offend the unbeliever.”
Why? Well for one thing, if you offend the weaker brother and you’re kind to the unbeliever, the unbeliever will decide that it’s better to be an unbeliever and related to you than to be your brother. But what he really needs to see is the unique, sacrificial, compassionate love among believers. That’s a test put at the end of the tenth chapter of 1 Corinthians.
In Romans, just quickly, Romans 14, verse…well, verse 13, “Don’t put an obstacle, a stumbling block in a brother’s way. Verse 15, “If because of food your brother is hurt. You’re no longer walking according to love.” You know, it just hurts my heart to see men in positions of leadership in the churches telling people they need to go drink, you have liberty, and offending people, pushing people into behaviors that give them a guilty conscience and knock them back a few steps in their developing liberty. Don’t destroy with food your brother for whom Christ has died.
Verse 17, “The Kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking. Don’t tear up…verse 20…tear down the work of God for the sake of food.” Verse 21, “It’s good not to eat meat or drink wine, or do anything by which your brother stumbles.” So you give up your liberties so as not to ever offend another brother, one who hasn’t yet matured to understand those liberties and for whom those kinds of behaviors are so freshly sinful.
You know, I think the same thing about music, a lot. Is there anything more demonic, is there anything more ungodly, is there anything more raw, is there anything more lustful, is there anything more drunken than a rock concert? I mean, it’s a horrible thing. It’s a horrible thing. And yet they try and reproduce it in the church. True believers…I don’t know how true believers who came out of that background could experience all the same stuff and not have their conscience wracked because it’s that that they have been delivered from. And I’m not talking about the style of music, I’m talking about the whole created experience. It’s endeavored to be mimicked.
Well, you get the picture, right? I will never use my liberty to offend someone else. I’m happy to put my liberty aside. After all, it’s not necessary to drink and it’s not the best to drink, it’s not the highest and the best. And that leads me to the seventh, will it harm my testimony? Can it harm my testimony? And I’ve already answered that question, it can. I want to do all to the glory of God. I don’t want any…anybody to think less of me as a Christian. I’m happy to set aside any freedom for the sake of a clear, clean, Christian testimony.
And that just leads me to an eighth point, and it’s sort of carrying everything into one little final thought. Am I absolutely certain this is a behavior that is right. That’s how I get…that’s where I get with things like this. Will God be disappointed if I don’t do this?
Now you say, “Well you could ask that about coffee or anything else.” Oh, I know. But still that thought comes into my mind. Will I be absolutely sure that my conscience will not accuse me and God will be pleased if I do this? And that’s sort of Romans 15, we want to please our neighbor for his good and his edification. For even Christ didn’t please Himself. I understand that. That’s my desire to do nothing that offends someone else. But beyond that, I want to do everything I do to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, verse 6, just as Christ accepted us to the glory of God.
So, I want to think of it not only as to how it affects others, but I want to ask the question, would God somehow be disappointed if I didn’t do this? Is this a means and a way in which I can glorify Him? Is it the same? Is it necessary? Is it the best? Is it habit forming? Is it potentially destructive? It is offensive to others? Is it harmful to my testimony? And am I really certain it’s right?
Now let’s go back to Ephesians 5, and I want to close with one verse there. And by the way, those questions can be basically asked of lots of different behaviors. Verse 15, “Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise.” Walk, yeah carefully evaluate every step…every step. Grasp every opportunity. Verse 16, “Make the most of your time because the days are evil.” Walk one step at a time in wisdom, in an evil world, in an evil day and don’t be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Father, it’s been good. It’s been important for us to think about this, not just in the context of one behavior but as a kind of a structure, kind of a framework for thinking about a lot of behaviors and asking these very same questions. I ask that You would protect us here, our church family, from misuse of alcohol, from setting a bad example that shows up in tragedy in those we know in our family, children, young people who are most susceptible to this kind of unrestrained behavior. I pray, Lord, that You’ll protect from this. I pray for those people who are tempted to drunkenness, who find some…some relief or even some dependency on an alcohol that pushes them into this. I pray, Lord, that You’ll give them grace and strength and power and accountability and victory over this. I pray that we might raise a generation of young people who are sober-minded and clear thinking and want to live at the highest and the best level of spiritual devotion. We want to set the example for them in the cleanest and clearest and unmistakable way, use us to do that. And we desire in everything to give You glory. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
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