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Book 3, Lesson 6
Abstain: Acts, Romans and I Corinthians

I. TEMPERANCE IN ACTS; DRUNKENNESS IN ROMANS

Temperance in Acts 24:25: Paul and Felix

And as he (Paul) reasoned of righteousness, temperance (enkrateias) and judgment to come, Felix trembled…

Paul was not trying to persuade Felix to be a moderate drinker in Acts 24:25, as some claim. The situation was more serious than that. Paul was dealing with an unsaved, unjust, reckless governor of Judea who was living in open adultery, and who feared only Caesar. Paul probed this man's conscience when he spoke about righteousness, temperance (enkrateia—abstaining from all forms of evil) and responsibility to God. The Bible says Felix trembled. The use of the word temperance shows us that Paul was urging Felix to cut off his former ways of living because he would be judged by God.

In the English Bible, enkrateia in Acts 24:25 is translated “temperance” from Latin temperantia. Latin temperantia comes from the Greek temno, to cut off. The primary meaning of temperance-temperantia-enkrateia is abstinence. Many people today mistakenly believe the word temperance means moderation but its actual meaning in the Bible is cutting off what you should not hold on to. It means keeping yourself away from, not in, whatever is evil, useless or dangerous.

Two years after his conversation with Felix, Paul, as recorded in Acts 26:25, spoke to the new governor, Festus, and to King Agrippa and Bernice. As he concluded his defense, Paul said, “I speak forth the words of truth and soberness, (sound mind sophronsune).

The meaning of enkrateia is most evident in Paul’s statement to the Corinthians in I Corinthians 7:9,“But if they cannot contain (abstain, enkrateuomai), let them marry.” Wycliffe renders the word as”chastitie.”

Drunkenness in Romans 13:13: A Warning

     Let us walk honestly as in the day, not in rioting (reveling, carousing,
     as if “let loose”) and drunkenness, (methe, related to methuo), not in
     immorality and wantonness (recklessly ignoring justice, decency,
     morality), not in strife and envying (quarreling and jealousy).

Romans 13:13 is a warning from Paul to avoid the drinking and partying so common in Rome. Carousing or wild parties, sexual sins of all kinds, jealousy and quarreling or fighting are all part of the drinking scene.

     “But the verse says drunkenness,” say those who insist all wine is
     alcoholic. “Paul does not condemn moderate drinking, only
     drunkenness.”

If this verse means you can drink moderately, it must also mean you can carouse moderately, sin sexually moderately, and be jealous and quarrel moderately. True Christians all agree that we should totally abstain from carousing, sexual sins, jealousy and quarreling. Then we must equally abstain from alcoholic drinks. After all, the sins all Christians agree they should abstain from most generally spring from the one sin alcohol defenders protect—drinking. Abstaining from alcohol helps serious Christians to keep walking honestly in the day (light).

II. THE LAW OF LOVE: IS ALCOHOL INCLUDED?

The Law of Love in Romans 14:13 – 21

The law of love is God’s way for a strong Christian to help a weaker Christian brother. It is stated in verse 13.

     Let us not, therefore, judge one another any more; but judge this,
     rather: thatno man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his
     brother's way.

Romans 14:14 – 21 goes on to explain the law of love. Paul says he would willingly give up even what God said was good if this good thing caused a weaker Christian to turn aside from following Christ.

Food Offered to Idols and Jewish Customs

What was Paul talking about that would cause a weaker Christian to question Christianity? The main subject of Romans 14 is food or meat. Verses 2, 3, 6, 15, 20 and 23 all mention meat or food or eating. Verses 5 and 6 also mention “days” celebrated by Jews. Verse 15 says,

     But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat (food), now walkest thou
     not in love. Destroy not him with thy meat (food) for whom Christ died.

Verses 17 and 21 include drink with the food. In verse 21 Paul writes,
     
     It is good neither to eat meat (flesh) nor to drink oinos, (grape juice)
     nor anything by which thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is
     made weak.

Both the food and the drink Paul is talking about are good and approved by God, but the strong Christian, verse 16, should not “let . . . your good be evil spoken of.”

Why Would Food Cause Someone to Stumble?

In the Old Testament, God told Israel what meat was clean and what was unclean under the Mosaic law. He also warned Israel not to take part in idol worship. In New Testament times as the Gospel was preached, many Jews became followers of Christ. As Christians, they were no longer bound by the food restrictions of the Mosaic law. As far as idol worship was concerned, both Jewish and Gentile Christians considered such worship to be sin against the true God.

The desire to avoid idol worship or giving support to idol worship led to a problem. Often the meat for sale in the city market places was first sacrificed or consecrated to idols. The weaker Christians became afraid they were disobeying God with their food. They were generally new converts. Conybeare and Howson say,

These were probably Christians of Jewish birth, who so feared lest they should, (without knowing it) eat meat which had been offered to idols or was…(under Jewish law)…unclean… that they abstained from meat altogether.1

Paul was in Jerusalem when the church discussed the problem of Jewish law, idol worship and the new Christian churches. Acts 15:20 gives the rules for Christians:

     . . . they abstain from pollutions of idols (any idol worship including
     taking part in worship feasts with food and drink offered to idols), and
     from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.

Later, in I Corinthians 8:4, Paul deals with food offered to idols. He writes to the Christians, “As concerning, therefore, the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world.” He also wrote to Timothy, I Timothy 4:4, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused, if it is received with thanksgiving.”

Romans 14:14 tells us that Paul knew from the Lord Jesus that there was nothing unclean of itself; “but to him that esteemeth (thinks) anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”

When Paul said that nothing was unclean of itself “but some people think it is unclean, (their conscience bothers them) so it is unclean for them,” he was writing about food, not intoxicating wine. He knew God’s warning not to look at alcoholic wine in Proverbs 23:31. He also knew how careful Jesus had been to specify “fruit of the vine” at the Lord’s Table. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, he himself had written strong words against the use of alcohol. 2

     “So why would food cause someone to stumble?” If a weak brother
     truly believed it was sin to eat meat first offered to idols because it
     linked him to idol worship, Paul said he should not eat it. Eating it
     would be sin to him. Christians who were more mature and had more
     knowledge should not grieve this brother by eating such meat before
     him. They would be tempting him to sin against his conscience, and
     the issue of this food could trip him up in his walk with the Lord.

The weak brother’s problem is lack of knowledge. Rather than causing him to go against his conscience, Paul would give up the meat. But he always made every effort to teach the followers of Jesus all the counsel of God. He did not expect weak believers to continue in weakness.

Peter Faces the Problem about Food

It is easy to see that problems about food would come up as both Jews and Gentiles started to follow Christ. Some felt free to eat according to Acts 15:20, but others were bothered in their conscience—both because of the old Mosaic food laws they had practiced all their lives and also because of food offered to idols. They did not completely understand the difference between their old way of life and the Christian way of life.

Peter in Acts 10 is an example of how hard it was to change. While Peter was praying, God showed him a sheet with many animals on it. Then He said, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.”

     But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is
     common or unclean. And the voice spoke unto him again the second
     time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was 
     done thrice . . .Acts 10:14 – 16.

God was speaking to Peter about preaching to the Gentiles, people the Jews considered unclean. But God did use food as His example to teach. Peter resisted God on the food question until the third time God spoke to him.

When Should the Law of Love Be Used?

The law of love and the weaker brother, says Dr. Teachout “is applied in the specific instance where one’s God-approved eating or drinking habits become a genuine offense which would cause a Christian brother to stumble.”3 In other words, as a Christian what you are eating and drinking is right in God’s sight. An untaught Christian genuinely believes you are doing wrong. This causes him to question the Christian faith. The law of love says you will give up your good food-style if this will help your brother.

Weaker brothers should grow to become mature believers. As Peter was patiently taught by the Lord, so more knowledgeable Christians persist in teaching weaker brothers so that all followers of Christ may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, Colossians 1:9

Romans 14:1 says, “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” Although Paul says to welcome a Christian whose faith is weak, the last part of the verse adds a warning. The believers should not let the weak brother with his lack of knowledge be the cause of arguments within the church. With faithful teaching of the truth of Christ, the weak brother could be made strong. Some of these weaker brothers, in spite of all Paul did and taught, never changed. They became false teachers. Christians are warned about them in Colossians 2.

How Is the Law of Love Used Today?

Christians today often use the law of love as their reason for giving up alcohol. Those who believe the Bible teaches alcohol use is approved by God often use this law. They give up their own right to enjoy alcoholic beverages to be, they say, an example to a weaker brother who might start drinking and not quit.

Other Christians who are not sure if drinking alcohol is right sometimes and wrong at other times also use the law of love. These Christians lack knowledge of the Scriptures. First, they do not understand that God always speaks against drinking fermented wine in both the Old and New Testaments. Second, they are confused about the law of love. They do not know the law of love refers to giving up good things approved by God for the sake of a brother. To them the law of love refers to giving up doubtful or debatable things. A debatable thing is not completely right nor is it completely wrong. Everyone’s own conscience is the judge. The claim is that the Bible is “not clear on debatable subjects.”

When alcohol drinking is considered debatable, Christians in general agree “for the sake of fellowship, let’s not talk about it.” They know the problems alcohol causes; their conscience convinces them that drinking it is not right. On the other hand they think maybe Jesus made fermented wine, so how can they condemn it? If they really want to find a reason for abstaining from alcohol Christians who reason in this way turn to the law of love. They will not drink because they don’t want to cause their weaker Christian brother to stumble. They cannot take a stand against alcohol itself and expose it as sin, but they will abstain.

Results of the Wrong Use of the Law of Love

Since alcohol drinking is wrong in God’s sight, it cannot be included in the law of love. For the Christian who uses the law of love as his reason for not drinking alcohol, the law of love becomes, Dr. Teachout says, “compromise in disguise.” It looks as though this Christian is against drinking, but he really has taken no Biblical stand against alcohol. The wrong use of the law of love leads to condoning sin.

III. SERIOUS WORDS ABOUT CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP

Paul's Counsel in I Corinthians 5:8,11

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he had serious situations to deal with. In chapter one he mentions divisions in the church. In chapter five he talks about the real wickedness they were allowing. He says a little leaven or yeast leaveneth the whole lump. As the Corinthian believers did not deal with the sin in the life of one Christian brother, other sins began to show up. Paul counsels the believers:

     Therefore, let us keep the feast (Lord’s Table), not with the old
     leaven . . . .But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if
     any man that is called a brother be . . . a drunkard (methusos) . . . with
     such a one, no, not to eat. I Corinthians 5:8,11. In verse 11 Paul warns
     the Corinthian Christians not to take the Lord’s Table with “any man
     who is called a brother,” if he is a drunkard, a fornicator, covetous, an
     extortioner, an idolater, or a railer (violent complainer).

Methusos or drunkard in the context of this verse means “filled up with intoxicating wine.”

IV. CONVERTED DRUNKARDS IN I CORINTHIANS

Drunkards Do Not Inherit the Kingdom of God

In I Corinthians 6:9 – 11, Paul lists nine conditions that will keep people out of heaven. Drunkenness is one of them.

     Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of
     God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor
     adulterers, nor abusers of themselves with mankind (homosexuals),
     nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards (methusos), nor revilers, nor
     extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of
     you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the
     name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God, I Corinthians
     6:9 – 11.

The word “drunkard” is methusos. The context of methusos in this verse shows that it means “filled to the full with intoxicating wine.”

Paul says in verse 11 that Corinthian believers who used to practice the sins he has named have now been washed (forgiven for their sin), sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus. Sanctified means made holy or set apart for God. They had completely given up their old evil lifestyle. They had no thought of continuing any of these sins in moderation.

The next verse, I Corinthians 6:12, is Paul's statement, “All things are lawful unto me . . . .” Since this verse and another one like it in chapter 10 are used as an argument in favor of alcoholic drink we will study them separately. But it is important to remember the context of 6:12. Paul is not saying that the sins he listed in verses 9 – 11 are lawful to him. He has already said those sins keep people who practice them out of the kingdom of God and that the Corinthians had been able to give them up through the power of the Lord.

When we come to Him, God makes us new creatures in Christ. “. . . Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new,” 2 Corinthians 5:17. He doesn’t plan for us to continue in any sin in moderation. He plans to give us victory over sin. Christ prayed in Matthew 6:13, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

V. THE LAW OF LOVE IN I CORINTHIANS

Another Name for the Law of Love Is The Law of Expediency

Corinth, in Paul's day, was one of the most wicked cities on earth. The people were pagans who worshipped the gods and goddesses of Greece. Intemperance, says Dr. Teachout, was a way of life. Here Paul faced problems coming from converted pagans who mixed their old worship with their new found faith in Christ.

Because I Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23 say, “All things are lawful to me but not all things are expedient (profitable),” Dr. Patton calls the law of love in these chapters the law of expediency. Like the law in Romans 14, it means that we abstain from something good because of our concern that it may weaken the faith of fellow Christians and be unprofitable for Christ.

All Things Are Lawful: I Corinthians 6:12,13, and 10:23

     I Corinthians 6:12,13: All things are lawful (legal, permitted) unto me,
     but all things are not expedient (profitable, helpful or useful); all things
     are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
     Foods for the body and the body for foods . . .The body is . . . for
     the Lord.

I Corinthians 10:23 repeats the words of I Corinthians 6:12. “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient (profitable, helpful).” The last sentence of the verse has a different ending from 6:12: “All things are lawful for me, but all things edify not (don’t build up morally and spiritually).” Paul is talking about building up other Christians.

The View That “All Things” Includes Alcohol

These verses, I Corinthians 6:12,13 and 10:23, are used by both Christians and non-Christians who want to drink alcoholic drinks. They are also used by many Christians who abstain from alcohol.

If “all things are lawful” includes ethyl alcohol, it means that we are obeying God if we drink. He has made alcohol legal; He has approved the use of it. This reasoning leads both people who are drinkers and people who are total abstainers to mistakenly think alcohol is lawful in God’s sight.

In I Corinthians 6:12, Paul says that he will not be brought under the power of any of these lawful things. Christian and many non-Christian drinkers claim this means you must be moderate in the use of alcohol; you should not be under its influence or power.

Christian total abstainers, who even though they believe from the first part ofI Corinthians 6:12 that drinking alcohol is lawful, find a way to say it is wrong to drink alcohol. They argue from the second part of the verse and from I Corinthians 10:23 that it is wrong to drink because drinking is not expedient or helpful. It does not edify or build up your brother.

The Truth Is that Using Alcohol Is Not Lawful

When Paul uses the word lawful it means legal, obeying the law, or obeying God. Drinking alcoholic beverages is not lawful. It is not obedience to God, but disobedience. God has plainly told us in His word that He does not want His people to drink alcohol.

Paul does not include alcoholic drinks when he says all things are lawful. He includes only those things God has said are legal.

Lawful Things

Some Bible scholars think the words, “All things are lawful . . .” are a quote that Paul repeats from a letter the Corinthians sent him. In I Corinthians 7:1 Paul says he is answering a letter he received from them. Corinthian freethinkers argued that if they had a bodily appetite, it was lawful to satisfy it.4

What did Paul consider lawful? We know he named the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace… temperance, in Galatians 5:22,23 and said, “against such there is no law.” The fruit of the Spirit is totally lawful, approved by God. He also wrote in I Corinthians 6:9 to 11 about unlawful behavior or sin. He said that no drunkard would inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul makes the Bible stand against alcohol clear in I Corinthians 5:8, and 6:9 to 11, before he starts a new paragraph in I Corinthians 6:12. His new paragraph, verses 12 to 20, begins with “All things are lawful to me but not all things are expedient.” It is about food, the wrong use of sex, and God’s claim on believer’s lives.

The Pagan Custom of Meat Offered to Idols

In I Corinthians 8, Paul explains that God allows Christians to eat meat that has been offered to idols. The only meat available may have been killed at the temples. That meat is lawful. But he also warns them to give up this meat if it offends a weak brother. He repeats this in I Corinthians 10:28,29. This is the right use of the law of love. One Christian gives up his right to what God permits in order to help his fellow Christian.

Meat Offered to Idols and Sold in the Meat Market

In I Corinthians 10:25, Paul tells the Christians that they can eat meat sold in the meat market without investigating whether it has been offered to idols. This is legal in God’s sight. But again he repeats, “Don’t do it if it harms the church.” This is the law of love.

Eating and Drinking at Pagan Feasts

In the same chapter, he counsels Christians that although they may eat at a feast in the homes of pagan friends, they cannot eat at a pagan worship feast. This is illegal before God.

The worship feast was a celebration of the offering of meat, other food, wine or grape juice to the idol. Paul says the idol is really nothing. It is not living. But the cup was poured and food offered at the feasts to real evil spirits. In verse 20 Paul says he does not want Christians to be partners with evil spirits by eating at their feasts.

Some believers in Corinth were in the habit of accepting invitations to feasts in heathen temples. They considered this lawful. In verse 21, Paul warns, “You cannot drink the Lord’s cup and the demon’s cup. You cannot partake of the Lord’s Table and the demon’s table.” They had to give this up because it was sin, not because it was something good (lawful) that would hurt a brother.

Paul Closes His Teaching on The Law of Love or Expediency

I Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether, therefore, ye eat, or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” No one can drink alcohol to the glory of God.

The Law of Love Is Important

The law of Expediency or love is important in our Christian lives. Paul practiced it by giving up good things that were his right to help others to follow Jesus. I Corinthians 10:33 says, “. . . not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”

Summary of How the Law of Love or Expediency Works if Applied to Alcohol

If the law of love or expediency is applied to alcoholic drinks it means the following:

     a) it is lawful and proper to drink alcoholic drinks
     b) God teaches in the Bible and shows by Jesus’ example that His
         people may drink alcoholic beverages
     c) because of the evil we see around us due to excessive drinking, and
         the harm to our brother, we should deny ourselves, set an example
         and abstain from alcohol.

Such thinking is wrong. It does not fit with a biblical stand against alcohol. Alcohol drinking is never lawful because God never approves of alcohol drinking. The law of love or expediency does not apply to alcohol. Alcohol drinking is sin. We deny ourselves and abstain from bevrage alcohol because not to do so would be sin.

Endnotes

1. Rev. W.J. Conybeare, M.A., and Rev. J.S. Howson, D.D., The Life and Epistles of Saint Paul, Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1883, p.350.
2. Paul wrote I and II Thessalonians and I and II Corinthians before he wrote Romans. In I Thessalonians 5: 6 and 8, the word nepho (translated sober) means to abstain from wine. I Corinthians 5,6,9,10 and 11 as well as Romans 13 all show Paul's stand against alcoholic drink.
3. Dr. Robert Teachout, The Use of Wine in the Old Testament, Doctoral Dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979, p.315.
4. Conybeare and Howson, The Life and Epistles of Saint Paul, p.392.

 

   
 
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Woman's Christian Temperance Union
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