Christian liberty, what does God require?

Although the focus of Paul’s teaching in Rom. 14 is on how the church is to treat the weaker brother, the apostle’s concerns go both directions: “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him” Rom. 14:3.

If, as we have seen, God has given wine to man for his use but never for its abuse, if sin lies not in the thing itself but in the heart and actions of people, then the focus of our concern ought not to be on the thing itself, but on how what we do affects our relationship with God, our impact on and attitude towards others, and our own growth in grace.

Specifically, whether you use or abstain from wine consider others.  It may be helpful for those who use alcoholic beverages in moderation to reflect on the great abuse of alcohol out of which has come pressure to abstain.  Historically this abuse was recognized, not only in fundamentalistic circles but also in some branches of Presbyterianism,  to the point that some churches required total abstinence for members, or at least for officers.  I point this out to emphasize the depth of concern, not to suggest that total abstinence is required by Scripture as a general rule.

Likewise those who abstain (and abstaining is a legitimate and at least for some a very wise choice) ought to reflect on the long history of God’s people enjoying wine as his gift and using it to God’s glory without falling into drunkenness.  Particularly for those for whom alcohol abuse (drunkenness) has involved sin and pain in their lives or their family members, it may be difficult to appreciate this, but they need to distinguish proper use from abuse.  This is simply putting into practice what Paul commands in Rom. 14:19 “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (ESV).

“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14: 8-9 ESV).

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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