“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” -1 Corinthians 10:31
When the Apostle Paul wrote this, he was reaching a climax in an argument he was making for how to apply Christian ethics that glorify God to everyday life. This statement he made was carefully pre-qualified as to its precise meaning and was not meant to be a catch-all bumper sticker to protect the antinomian-minded.
The Stumbling Block Test
Paul’s argument was that, while in itself, matters of eating and drinking are not sinful, the time and place can quickly make it so. The hot topic in Paul’s day was the close association that meals had with idolatrous practices. People were concerned that they may be sinning by eating something from the meat market that had been given a pagan blessing, but Paul assures them that since those so-called gods and blessings are not even real, there is no real spiritual danger. He tells them to “eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience” (vs. 25).
Where this determination can suddenly change, however, is in how your meal is perceived by other people. He turns the focus of his argument off of the conscience of the eater and onto the conscience of the bystander by saying: “But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his” (vss. 28–29).
The Christians in Paul’s day were very aware of the demonic activities that took place in the pagan worship practices and they often involved meals. It was an integral part of the overall experience. It goes without saying that the Christians in Corinth who were saved out of pagan worship that involved sacrificial meat offerings would be very sensitive to any association with it. They had the attitude that Jude wrote about later in “hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (v.23), meaning to hate any effect of and relationship to sin—be it direct, or indirect.
In effect, if any activity could appear to be compromising to someone else, then it became a sinful thing to do. Significantly, 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says to “abstain from every eidos (appearance, or form) of evil.”
Paul balances his argument by saying that while you need not feel guilty for the willingness to eat the meat in the first place: “Why should my liberty be determined by someone else's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks” (vss. 29–30). However, you ought to be willing to give it up for the sake of your weaker brother.
The Apostle wrote to the Romans on the same subject. In chapter 14, he makes it very clear that the food and drink in itself is not necessarily the issue, rather it is what you do with it. It is very similar in how Christians ought to handle sexuality. Only in a very specific context can it be expressed in a way that God allows. Outside of that context brings the weight of God’s judgment that condemns sin.
Paul says to the Romans: “Decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother . . . if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (13, 15).
The Apostle Paul is constantly looking out for other people’s consciences—not his own rights. In fact, he is fast to give up any right, or liberty, if it means having a greater chance of bringing about someone’s spiritual conversion.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul makes the argument:
“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle” (vs. 1)?
“Do we not have the right to eat and drink” (vs. 4)?
“Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ . . . though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (vss. 12, 19–23).
In the Jew’s case, Paul was willing to give up the eating of certain foods and drinks that were considered unlawful if it meant not putting a stumbling block in front of them to really know God. How vastly different is that from the mentality of our ongoing generation of immature church leaders who act as if God should cater to them and their rights regardless of the public around them?
This mentality flies in the face of God’s command to not put a stumbling block in front of anyone. As church leaders, we are in the public eye, held to a higher standard, and critiqued more closely. This is especially true when we multiply our audience through social media. If we ever purposely draw attention to our affinity of alcohol in a world that is saturated with the excessive use of it already, what are we really glorifying in such pretense? The Apostle Paul tells us it is not God.
The “Above Reproach” Test
Another aspect to this issue of being known for public drinking is in the very command to church leaders that we be men who are “above reproach”.
First Timothy 3 says that an “overseer must be above reproach . . . not a drunkard . . . not addicted to much wine” (vss. 2–3, 8).
Titus 1 says that elders must be “above reproach . . . and not open to the charge of debauchery,” which means to indulge excessively.
It is significant to see how many different ways the Apostle addresses drinking alcohol. While drunkenness is condemned altogether, alongside other gross sins such as sexual immorality, corruption, sensuality, orgies, drinking parties, and idolatry (Rom 13:13; Gal 5:21; 1 Pet 4:3), he goes so far to say that even the possible charge that you indulge in alcohol too often is a warning flag that you are not called to be a leader in God’s church because you would not effectively lead people, by example, to consider God’s call to holiness as you ought.
In the above mentioned verses where drunkenness is condemned, we see that people who do such things “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:21). Is it any wonder that God would not have the alcohol lover in a position of spiritual influence over a body of people where there are sure to be those who struggle with the thought of it?
The call for pastors and church leaders is a much higher one than what is typically modeled today. There seems to be an obsession for pastors to talk about things like love and self-sacrifice in very general terms, but rarely is there a careful articulation of how this can be fleshed out in our own lives by giving up our own rights.
In the words of Isaiah: “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink” (5:22). To put it another way—be not known for your alcoholic consumption and the love thereof.
The Temptation Test
This really serves to strengthen the first point made in that we are not to be a stumbling block to anyone. Let’s look at it with a slightly higher-powered lens.
When the Lord Jesus was speaking about temptation in Matthew 18, He made some very revealing statements that ought to make every Christian take their responsibility as ambassadors of Christ more seriously.
Beckoning to a child, the Lord said, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (vs. 5–6).
If your presence here on earth is going to be one that causes others to even be tempted to sin, then you’re better off dead—for everyone’s sake.
He continued: “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes” (vs. 7), (emphasis mine)!
These are not words to be taken lightly. If God would think us better off dead and in need of a statement of woe on our actions, then that only means one thing—we are not glorifying God. The most frightening possibility would be that we are not really saved, which could be indicated by our carelessness to God and His children. The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of someone who is really saved. If we have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, then His fruit will start growing—the first one being love. If we love God we will obey God and give up our rights for others.
It is true that our own sin nature and the depravity that comes with it, is able to conjure up temptations on its own (Js 1:14), yet those sinful bents can be exacerbated by the acts of others. Each person is responsible for not acting on their sinful inclinations, but everyone else can also be culpable for our temptation at the same time.
I recall the Apostle Paul’s command for children to obey their parents in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 & 6, while simultaneously charging parents not to provoke their children either. It goes both ways.
A Few Final Remarks
While all Christians are to be mindful of any situation that could potentially cause someone to struggle in their hearts and minds about anything in particular, pastors must be even more careful—especially as it pertains to alcohol. We cannot drink whatever we want, whenever we want, and always think we are doing so unto the glory of God. That is an entirely ridiculous, even irreverent, presumption to think that whatever we do determines the glory of God. On the contrary, it is when we act within God’s predetermined will that brings glory to God. Scripture is clear on this. It is not as if—as some would have us believe— the act of drinking alcohol commends us to God (1 Cor 8:8)! It is often in our abstinence of that thing in particular that will bring honor to God, considering the vice that so often surrounds it.
It must further be said that we must not be so offensive to the godly men who have gone before us in the past who have been documented as having enjoyed, made, been paid in, and sold things like beer and wine as being the justification for our modern and loose standard today. For one thing, they are not apostles and, therefore, do not exist as the final example of anything, per se. Secondly, there were practical benefits that spurred the consumption of beer in the Reformation period, for instance, like curbing the spread of dysentery in the water—reminiscent of Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to have some wine with his water for his frequent stomach ailments (1 Tim 5:23). Alcohol has a purifying effect in water. There is virtually zero need for any alcoholic consumption today in civilized areas, which places us in an entirely different situation, thus limiting our reasons.
It cannot be forgotten that even men of old, while at times articulating the same truths of the amoral quality of alcohol, were still privy to its common association and connotation that came with its public use. Spurgeon, in a sermon on the topic of parents whose children were not walking in the truth, once said, “I pity the father whose children are not walking in the truth, who yet is himself an earnest Christian. Must it always be so, that the father shall go to the house of God and his son to the alehouse?” His dichotomy is not without purpose.
Even Martin Luther, who has wrongly been criticized as a drunkard, wrote vehemently against drunkenness. He knew the difference and did not even want an association with it. For the modern hipster “pastor” to purposely self-promote their consistent consumption of alcohol is nothing short of having a very low view of what a pastor is actually called to do, not to mention what holiness is. Ultimately this stems from lacking the appropriate fear of God. Being above reproach becomes nearly impossible if that is what you are known for because that is a standard that is to be generally understood by all men—not just close friends who may approve and commend the practice.
This is not to say that a pastor couldn’t rightly enjoy some in his own private time, but it is not a matter for public display since impressionable eyes could be watching. Even at restaurants, the pastor must be thinking of more than himself. The time and place makes a huge difference on the perception of the order.
I have a dear friend who I knew to enjoy the taste of beer and would often order just one if he were at a restaurant—nothing more. Once he started teaching Sunday school at his church to younger children, though, he came under the conviction that it could be a devastating thing for one of his Sunday school kids to see him in a restaurant with a beer in his hands. Though he would never get drunk, he knew that it could be a devastating stumbling block, not to mention implicitly advocating alcoholic consumption as their spiritual teacher! He wisely decided not to ever order beer out again.
I told him how much I personally appreciated that because I was one of those children once. I used to immediately associate alcohol with sin—always. I only knew of it in a bad context. If I knew of a pastor who liked to drink, then I was instantly taken back to my former association with it (not mine, but family member’s) and it bothered me greatly. We eliminate the stumbling blocks by eschewing the practice. My friend’s concern was in the heart of the people who were watching and he gave up his rights. This is what God expects of us, men.
“It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves” (Rom 14:21–22).
In His Sovereign Grip,