Blessing or Curse?

Ethyl alcohol may be, to various people at various times, a source of enjoyment, a party beverage an antiseptic, a depressant, an anesthetic, part of a religious observance or an addictive drug.  It all depends on who is using it and how. Christians need to be aware of the properties of alcohol and of the proper uses for which God intended it.

Alcohol can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on how it is used.  Most people who drink alcoholic beverages find them to be a blessing.  On the other hand, sadly, there are a few who find through abuse of such beverages – that alcohol can be a curse.  This group includes the approximately 10 percent of drinkers who develop the malady of alcoholism, which destroys them physically, mentally and spiritually.

It doesn’t matter whether the alcohol is consumed in beer, wine, whiskey, gin, vodka, vanilla extract or mouthwash – they all contain the same ethyl alcohol or ethanol (C2 H 50H), and people need to be aware of the proper – and improper – uses of this chemical.

The Bible reveals three basic proper uses for alcohol:  religious, medicinal and for enjoyment.

Religious uses of alcohol

In the Old Testament alcoholic beverages were important in various aspects of religious observance.

God’s people, Israel, were commanded to include drink offerings they made to God (e.g. Num. 15: 5, 7, 10).  Wine was among those blessings of which the Israelites payed tithes and gave offerings to their Creator (Neh. 10:39, 13:5).

Old Testament prophecies of the Millennium envision a world of material as well as spiritual blessings for everyone, and wine is used to symbolize those physical riches (Amos 9:13).  Alcohol, used properly, will add another dimension of happiness to the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on earth.

Abstinence from alcohol was also religiously significant in special cases. 

Those who took Nazarite vows were to abstain from "wine and strong drink" (Num. 6:1-3).  The Israelite hero Samson was a Nazarite; part of his vow, as the angel told his parents, was that he drink no wine or strong drink (Judge. I3:7).

As an act of worship to God, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah refused to eat the king's food and drink his wine while they were in captivity. In pagan Babylon, choosing instead to eat pulse and drink water (Dan. 1: 8), and they were blessed for doing so.

Wine is used to represent the sins of the great whore of Revelation, where the world’s kings are said to be "drunk with the wine of her fornication" (Rev . 17:2).

For the Church now, the Bible shows one specific religious use for alcohol – at the Passover.  Jesus indicated that the small amount of wine Christians are commanded to take on the first of God's annual Holy Days represents His "blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28).  This religious use of alcohol is, of course, the most significant in all history.

Alcohol as medicine

The medicinal value of alcohol is in its ability to act as an anesthetic (painkiller) and an antiseptic (prevents infection).

The good Samaritan poured oil and wine into the wounds of the man he befriended on the road to Jericho (Luke I 0:30-37);  undoubtedly the purpose of the wine was to deaden some of the pain and to prevent infection.  Today we have more advanced drugs for anesthesia, such as novocaine, which dentists use to deaden nerves when they pull teeth. Alcohol, though now generally mixed with other patent medicines, is still recognized and used as an antiseptic for minor scratches and cuts.

The apostle Paul suggested that Timothy use a little wine for his stomach's sake (I Tim. 5:23).  The Bible does not indicate the nature of Timothy's stomach problem or what his "often infirmities" were, but per­ haps there was some difficulty with the drinking water or Timothy had a digestive impairment. However, whatever it was, note that Paul said to use a little, not copious amounts, of wine.

The  book  of  Proverbs  comments on the sedative effects of this drug in a warning to those in positions of authority:  "It is not for kings, 0 Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine;  nor for princes strong  drink:  lest they drink, and forget  the  law, and pervert  the judgment  of any of the afflicted.  Give  strong  drink  to, him that is ready to perish, and wine unto  those  that  be  of  heavy  hearts.  Let him drink, and forget his pover­ ty, and   remember   his   misery   no more" (Prov. 31:4-7).

Alcohol can cloud a person's thinking.  It can tranquilize those suffering pain or having psychological problems such as poverty, but this use of alcohol is very limited and should be resorted to only with extreme caution.

The danger of using alcohol as a sedative is that a person can become dependent on or even addicted to the drug.   All too often    people have started  out  by  using  alcohol  to  help themselves  sleep or  to  escape  severe  problems,  only  to end up addicted  to  the chemical and suffering from the destructive syndrome of alcoholism.

Thus alcohol, which can produce good, becomes destructive through abuse.  It is far better to find some real solutions to your problems.  If you are burdened with heavy difficulties in your life, remember the assistance God offers you through Jesus Christ: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart:  and you shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt.  II: 28-30).

If poverty or financial problems are plaguing you, remember Christ 's admonition that a Christian is not to worry about food or clothing, but should rather seek the Kingdom of God first – then his needs will be supplied (Matt. 6:25-33).  God knows every one of your needs and will provide them if you rely on Him  –  you should not allow these physical consideration's to so burden your mind that they cause you stress and tension that require relief from sedatives such as alcohol.

Drinking for pleasure

In addition to the religious and medicinal uses of alcohol, God also approves of drinking to add pleasure to social occasions such as weddings and parties. Wine and other alcoholic beverages can make people more cheerful and give greater enjoyment to already happy gatherings. They "gladden the heart of man" (Ps. 104:15, Revised Standard Version).

Christians should always exercise caution when using alcohol for pleasure, however, because of the ever-present danger of overuse, which will utterly destroy any enjoyment that could have been derived from a social occasion.  Nobody likes a drunk, including the drunk himself.

Notice how Jesus Christ used wine at a wedding He attended in Cana.

The supply of wine had run out at this particular marriage celebration (John 2:3) , and Jesus took it upon Himself to resupply wine for the feast.

Because this passage shows no religious or  medicinal  use  for  the  wine, we are left to conclude that it was to be  used  to  cheer  the  hearts  of  the guests , including Jesus and His disciples. A wedding is an exciting, enjoyable occasion, and a little wine can make it more pleasurable, if used moderately.

Verse 6 indicates that Christ may have turned from I00 to 160 gallons of water into wine. This would seem like an enormous amount of wine for a wedding feast.  However, during this particular period of history, Jewish wedding feasts lasted seven days, especially if the wedding involved a dignitary of the city.

This particular wedding was apparently a rather prestigious affair, because a "governor of the feast" was in charge.  If this were a seven-day affair, and most of the village of Cana had been invited, then the stated quantity would not have been an excessive amount of wine at all.

This demonstration of supernatural power was the "beginning of miracles" by Jesus (verse 11).  Why would the first of Christ's recorded miracles be that of turning water into wine at a social occasion?  Perhaps it is because God was aware of the controversy that would develop among religious people over the use of alcoholic beverages.

The issue of drinking has been a raging battle among religions for centuries. One group of fanatics in the United States was so vocal that the government imposed a total pro­ hibition on all alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933.

And indeed, if a person were to view only the devastation caused by alcohol abuse and alcoholism, he would be forced to accept the conclusion that the use of alcohol is evil. However, the majority of those people who choose to drink alcoholic beverages do not have any problems because they do so. There is nothing wrong with the proper use of wine, "which cheereth God and man" (Judg.  9:13).

Alcohol abuse

As we have shown, however, the misuse of alcohol is very dangerous. And alcohol abuse is not only harmful physically, but spiritually as well.

During Christ's ministry, the religious bigots of His day condemned the way He used wine, calling Him "a glutton and a drunkard” (Matt. 11:19, RSV). 

These charges, of course, were utterly false accusations from ignorant sources.  You can be sure that while Jesus most likely used wine at meal times and on some special occasions, He was never drunk. The Bible says that though Christ was tempted in all points as we are, He never sinned , and drunkenness is a sin that  will keep you out of the Kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9-1 0, Gal.

Christ Himself warned His followers not to be drunken (Luke 21:34). Paul told the Corinthian church to "put away from among yourselves" any member who was a drunkard –   to have no fellowship with such a person (1 Cor. 5: 11-13).  No person who is unable to use alcohol properly is fit to be a minister (1 Tim. 3:3, 8, Titus 1:7). Paul taught the Ephesians to "be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess," but rather to be filled with the Spirit of God (Eph. 5:18).

Have you ever been guilty of drunkenness? What about at an event like the Feast of Tabernacles?

Notice  God's  instruction  about how to spend your second tithe, "and spend the money for whatever you desire, oxen, or sheep, or wine or strong  drink,  whatever  your appetite craves; and you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household" (Deut. 14:26).  Alcoholic beverages are to be used, if you desire, to help you rejoice in the presence of God.

But this instruction should never be used as an excuse to get drunk at the Feast, which would bring shame on you, your family and friends and cast a dark shadow on the Church of God.  You are to rejoice – not bring disgrace on Christ's Body, which can happen when moderation and common sense are not exercised.

The Bible nowhere commands Christians to drink alcohol, with the exception of about a tablespoonful during the Passover service. Alcohol should be seen as a blessing that God has given human beings to honor Him, to help heal our bodies, to cheer us up when needed and to add pleasure to meals and social occasions. As Christians, we should be aware of the benefits and dangers of alcohol and use it properly, so we can truly consider alcohol to be the blessing God meant it to be.   

Originally published as Alcohol: Blessing or Curse? Good News, March 1980, pp. 15-16.

Note: The old Worldwide Church of God no longer exists and the group that took it over would not make Herbert Armstrong's old church writings available, even when I offered to pay. So the above article is freely shown in the public interest. The most faithful remnant of his old church is the Continuing Church of God.

Here is something more recent on alcohol:

February 2, 2018

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center found that low levels of alcohol consumption can actually lower inflammation in the brain and help it clear away toxins, including those linked to serious diseases like Alzheimer's.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, focuses on the glymphatic system, which is the brain's cleaning process. When mice were exposed to low levels of alcohol consumption — comparable to two-and-a-half drinks per day — they showed less inflammation in their brains and a more efficient waste removal process, compared to mice who were not exposed to alcohol.

"Studies have shown that low to moderate alcohol intake is associated with a lesser risk of dementia, while heavy drinking for many years confers an increased risk of cognitive decline," says Maiken Nedergaard, co-director of the Center for Translational Neuromedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center and lead author of the study. "This study may help explain why this occurs.

"Specifically, low doses of alcohol appear to improve overall brain health."

The University of Rochester's new research isn't the first to find health benefits associated with low levels of alcohol.

Consuming alcohol in moderation can also lower mortality risks from all causes, including cardiovascular disease, a study published in 2017 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found.

Moderate drinking was also linked to a lower risk of some heart conditions — like stroke, heart attack and heart failure — in another study published in 2017 in BMJ. ...

When it comes to the brain, another study from the University of Rochester found that its ability to clear out waste and toxins is more active while asleep (so get your rest) and also improves with exercise.

While drinking red wine in moderation is often touted as being healthy for the hear ... research is conflicted. And while the American Heart Association notes that "the best-known effect of alcohol is a small increase in HDL cholesterol," it points out regular physical activity is an effective way to get that boost.

The association does not recommend drinking alcohol to gain potential health benefits, and instead, advises that if you do drink alcohol, do so in moderation, meaning one or two drinks per day for men and one for women. Drinking more than that can increase the risk of health problems including high blood pressure, obesity, stroke and breast cancer.

Alcohol can be blessing in moderation, but excessive amounts are a curse.

Some may also wish to read the article Binge Drinking, Health, and the Bible and/or watch the video titled How Should a Christian View Marijuana?

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