I was cupbearer to the King. And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence.–Nehemiah 1:11b-2:1
Nehemiah was the cupbearer and his job required him to swallow enough Persian wine to determine whether or not it was poisoned. It was his tongue that was ultimately responsible to be discerning enough to prevent the king from incurring sickness, death, and to also insure that the King and his party would not receive an inferior or distasteful product. Make no mistake, the wine of the Persian Kings wasn’t watered-down grape juice.
Nehemiah was not a drunkard, but he wasn’t a teetotaler either. Does Nehemiah appear to abhor his job? Does it appear to bother his conscience? Did this prohibit him from leading God’s people? Did it appear to hinder his standing among the Jews? Did it bother God that Nehemiah drank wine? Did God stop Nehemiah from returning to this practice 12 years later?
Nehemiah would not be accepted for a leadership position in many of our churches today. As a young teen, I went to a church that viewed the drinking of any alcoholic beverage as being sinful. As a young man, I attended a church which frowned strongly upon alcoholic beverages. I went to a college and a seminary that forbid any alcoholic beverages. Most of my adult life, I attended churches that continued to follow this pattern. Sermons against those who partook of alcohol were often preached with a sense of disgust, fear, and loathsomeness.
I adopted the position of these institutions, and I developed a negative view towards the Nehemiah’s of God’s Kingdom. We teetotalers often viewed believers who sometimes drank as being “worldly” or prone to being carnal, or somehow less spiritual. We would say things like, “that brother loves the Lord, but he does like to keep beer in the fridge for occasions. Just thought you should know”. This type of religion kept me sober, but it also blinded me from being able to equally embrace the wine-drinking Nehemiah’s that served my God with a free heart.
For some, being a teetotaler is freedom from bondage. To this, I say amen and stick to it. For others like me, being a teetotaler was a sinful attitude. To this, I say woe is me.
One day I met a Southern Baptist pastor who asked me to have a beer with him. I was puzzled! We talked a long time about the scriptures that spoke for/against alcoholic beverages. We talked about scriptures that said do not look upon the wine when it is red, and how wine is a mocker. We talked about whether the wine of the Jews was mostly water, grape juice, or diluted wine. While we were at the bar, he was able to buy a man a drink and fervently witness to him. I was amazed. We prayed in the bar. He was reaching people with the Gospel. He had a discipleship group that met at the bar.
Through this pastor I was able to see other positive scriptures which instruct us to do the following,
Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.– Ecclesiastes 9:7
The Psalmist recognized that it is God Himself who gives us a drink specifically designed to gladden the heart and affect the mood:
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth, And wine which makes man’s heart glad, So that he may make his face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man’s heart.–Psalm 104:14-15
In God’s economy, wine was a blessing of restoration and not a curse:
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.–Amos 9:14
I could not deny the scriptures. I had to repent from my evil attitude and ways. Self-righteousness is insidious and unable to be seen by the one who possesses it. My religious practice would have caused me to hesitate from freely receiving wedding wine that had miraculously changed from water. Some refuse to believe that Jesus would make an alcoholic beverage that could lead to drunkenness. That’s as stupid as believing that Jesus didn’t multiply bread and fish for fear that people would commit gluttony. Clearly, there was enough food leftover to commit gluttony. I’m sure that some overate. Food and wine are simply amoral agents. We are the abusers.
So how do we reconcile the scriptures which speak against wine with the scriptures which promote wine? We can learn by observing the differences in Samson and Paul concerning hair.
Consider Samson. For him, it was a sin against his vows and conscience to cut his hair. You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb.–Judges 13:5. God clearly approved of long hair as a sign of dedication to him.
Consider Paul. He considered long hair on men to be inherently shameful. To him, it was something so inherently wrong that you didn’t even need to be taught that it was wrong. Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him?–1 Cor. 11:14. This is scripture, and it clearly teaches the abhorrence of long hair on men.
Does God shun long hair on men, or is it a sign of dedication? Should Samson cut his hair since scripture clearly shuns long hair on men? Both are scriptures. What do you do? It’s a lot like the back-t0-back scriptures in Proverbs which say, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” Which one do you obey?
Let the Spirit and good sense guide you.
If alcohol controls you; If you have to have it; If it tempts you; If you are prone to excess and drunkenness, then obey the scriptures which say, “Do not look upon the wine when it is red”! Stay away from it because for you “wine is a mocker”! DO NOT BE ENCOURAGED TO DRINK OR FOOL YOURSELF INTO THINKING YOU CAN TRY IT AGAIN. STAY AWAY!
If alcohol has no grip on you at all, you are not deceived by it, and you do not abuse it or get drunk, then you are free to obey the scripture which says “drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do”.
We must be careful not to flaunt our freedom before those who are prone to stumble. Paul said, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.“ When Paul says “never”, did that mean he became a vegetarian? I doubt it. I think he means he didn’t ever flaunt before them. So don’t go posing with a beer on your Facebook photo. Why do people do that but won’t hold up a kool-aid, yoo-hoo, or a coke in their photos? Are you trying to say something?
Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.