This year I’ve had the great privilege of being able to teach the Song of Solomon down at our local rescue mission once a month for the ladies’ ministry. We have been working very slowly, going phrase by phrase through this tiny treasury of God’s love tucked into the heart of the Bible. This week we studied just half of verse two: “For thy love is better than wine.” Most of the women there have struggled with addictions, and perhaps alcohol is the most common. I don’t know what you think about drinking, but if you have a few minutes, I wish you would at least consider the thoughts in this short essay. (Understand that I come across pretty strong, but I was speaking to a very troubled audience, and the woman who directs the program had reviewed my notes and approved them before I spoke.) I don’t drink, but I have told my kids that if Jesus offers me alcohol in heaven, I will accept. As Michael Bloomburg mentioned at Michael (Armstrong’s) graduation address last week at U. Penn: “In God we trust; all others bring evidence.”
“…for thy love is better than wine.” What do you suppose the bride meant when she exclaimed that his love was better than wine? Let’s think about wine for a few minutes. What does wine do? Not only does it taste delicious (I’m going by hearsay here, since I’ve never had a drink), but it also makes a person feel relaxed. They say wine makes people forget their worries and stresses so that they feel happy. For that reason, wine is sometimes used in the Scripture as a symbol of abundance and joy: “Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased” (Ps. 4:7); “So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine” (Pro. 3:10). In times of abundance, people often tend to relax and forget their worries and stresses so that they feel happy. I certainly do, don’t you?
But, wine is a trickster because the euphoric effect of alcohol is only temporary, and in reality alcohol is a depressant. Although the first effect of alcohol is to make one feel less stressed and worried (which gives a temporary sense of euphoric relief), alcohol eventually leaves the drinker depressed. For this reason the Bible has many warnings about drinking. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Pro. 20:1). “He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich (Pro. 21:17). “Whoredom and wine and new wine take away the heart” (Hosea 3:11). Proverbs 23:29-35 describes the alcoholic as one who will experience great heartache and misery and warns: “Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder…”
Because alcohol at best only gives temporary relief, the Scriptures only recommend it medicinally for those who are ill (I Tim. 5:23) or about to die (Pro. 31:6), and its use is definitely limited for those in positions of authority. God condemned the religious leaders in Isaiah 28:7-8 because their drinking had impaired their judgment: “But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink…they err in vision, they stumble in judgment…” Even the civil authorities were warned against drinking: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink” (Pro 31:4). Finally, in the New Testament, church leaders are required to be men who are “not given to wine” (I Tim 3:3 and Titus 1:7), and the older women are instructed to be “not given to much wine…to be sober” (Titus 2:3;5). In fact, God gives this command to all people everywhere in Ephesians 5:18: “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess: but be filled with the Spirit.”
Although wine was used as a drink through the centuries where nonalcoholic forms of beverage preservation were not possible, given the stern warnings in Scripture against drinking, I have never personally been able to justify the use of alcoholic beverages. I recognize that moderation and not abstinence is the required standard of Scripture. I am convinced that alcohol consumption is a personal issue between each believer and the Lord…one of those “disputable issues” discussed in Romans 14 (see Rom. 14:21). There are without a doubt situations in which the Lord may give a believer freedom to drink alcoholic beverages. To my mind, this is akin to the Scriptures’ standard on slavery, which is also not abstinence but the requirement of merciful responsibility. Apparently there have been places and times in world history where slavery was allowable.
However, few Americans would advocate slavery as a necessary or optimal social structure for today. Similarly, I don’t believe that many thoughtful Christians would consider drinking a necessary or optimal dietary requirement for today. Studies from law and medicine provide frightening statistics about the percentage of people who become alcoholics after they begin drinking, and about the number of accidents, crimes, and illnesses that are related to alcohol consumption. According to the World Health Organization Global Status Report, 2004 Overview, in our country alone, nearly half (47%) of all youth who first drink before age fourteen will be alcohol dependent within ten yours. One out of every thirteen adults in our country either abuse alcohol (which is defined as becoming drunk one or more times in a month), or are literally alcohol dependent, which means alcohol becomes more important to them than their previous values.
Put very bluntly, for a significant number of people who begin drinking, alcohol becomes an idol more important to them than God, family, or in the end, even their own lives. One in every ten men in the U.S. drink, but cannot drink in moderation. I have heard that one in seven people who ever try alcohol will eventually abuse it and that many of those will become controlled by their addiction. Drinking any beverage that contains alcohol is an unnecessary risk today. Furthermore, and I quote: “The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization has classified alcohol as a Group 1 carcinogen. Its evaluation states, ‘There is sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of alcoholic beverages in humans.… Alcoholic beverages are carcinogenic to humans (Group 1)’.” It further states: “Studies have suggested that high concentrations of acetaldehyde, which is produced as the body breaks down ethanol, could damage DNA in healthy cells” (World Health Organization Global Status Report, 2004 Overview). The list of health risks is long. My husband, who specializes in internal medicine, used to say that if people would stop drinking, he’d only have half as many patients. I challenge you to ask God: “Is drinking a risk YOU want me to take?”
Beyond personal risk, a recent study by Yale researchers of more than 6,000 people revealed that smokers were five times more likely to quit smoking if their spouse quit, and drinkers were five times more likely to quit drinking if their partner didn’t drink. (See Journal of the Michigan Dental Association, March 2008, p. 26). Drinking “in moderation” amounts to one 6-ounce glass of wine per day, and medically speaking, anything more than that it considered “immoderate.” If you drink, ask yourself: How much am I drinking? How is it affecting me? Am I really only drinking no more than six ounces per day? What about my significant other? Are they also drinking that little? If they’re drinking more than is good for them, know that if you stop altogether, you will give them as much as a five-times-the-chance boost of being able to stop too!
Also, if any of you have heard the rumor that alcohol may actually be good for you, the same article debunks this theory. At the 2007 WineHealth conference in Bordeaux, France, research was presented indicating that Concord grape juice is superior to red wine in health benefits: “In fact, the grape juice produced a prolonged relaxation effect that red wine has not been cited as stimulating. Researchers say the grape juice causes a vaso-relaxation effect by stimulating the production of nitric oxide, which is known to be important in maintaining healthy, flexible blood pressures. The effect of the grape juice lasted for up to six hours, significantly longer than effects noted from red wine.” So, if you’re tempted to drink for health reasons—drink grape juice! (Also, grape juice is a lot cheaper, and water is even less, not to mention how many calories water saves!) 🙂
In I Pet. 4:1-6, careless drinking is listed with other “lusts of men” that believers should give up in order to pursue the will of God: “For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries: wherein they think it strange that ye run not with them to the same excess of riot, speaking evil of you…for this cause was the gospel preached…” Your obedience to whatever God requires of you will affect not only you but all those around you. If you drank before you were converted to Christ, your friends will “think it strange” that you will no longer run with them to the same “excess of riot!” You will be considered “no fun to be around anymore.” That’s okay. Your unusual behavior may be just what causes people to ask you why, and then you have the perfect opportunity to share that God’s love is even better than wine!