Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:18
This is my fourth reflection focusing on the first part Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” You may be wondering why I am lingering on this passage for so long. I realize that I am playing into the stereotype of the Christian pastor who is preoccupied with the sins of the flesh, such as excessive drinking. Honestly, when I began my reflections on this verse, I did not expect to write as much as I have. But, as I thought and prayed about Ephesians 5:18 and its relevance to our lives, I came to believe that I needed to say more than could be communicated in one or two reflections.
Alcohol abuse was a major problem in the first century. This hasn’t changed in twenty centuries. In fact, it may have gotten worse. Every day in America, 28 people die as a result of drunk driving crashes. Each year, tens of thousands of people suffer physical or sexual abuse related to excessive drinking by perpetrators. Millions of families are devastated by alcoholism. I could go on and on with bleak statistics. But there’s just no doubt that alcohol abuse is a major problem in our society. Therefore, Christians are called by love to do something.
Many Christians I know have chosen to respond by avoiding alcoholic beverages altogether. Others believe that they may drink in some circumstances, while avoiding drunkenness. I believe that this is one situation where we are ought to follow our own consciences and the leading of the Spirit without judging others.
But, I would suggest that merely avoiding alcohol or drunkenness in our own lives is not enough. We need to bring the good news and healing power of Christ to others. We need to work for change in society and its institutions in order to protect potential victims of alcohol abuse. Many churches offer programs for individuals and families touched by alcoholism. Others provide a community in which people wounded by alcohol abuse can find wholeness.
I believe Christians should offer to our world a way of relating and celebrating that is not dependent on immoderate drinking. For example, when I was in college, most parties were driven by excessive use of alcohol. In fact, the verb “to party” pretty much meant “to get drunk.” Some Christian friends and I decided to see if we could make a difference. We didn’t go around lecturing our tipsy friends. Rather, we threw parties that offered great food, delicious drink, as well as dancing and plenty of conversation. We invited our friends to join us. I’m sure some thought our parties were boring. But others seemed to like them. One of my secular friends said to me, “At most parties I’m so wasted I can hardly think. But at your parties I have deep conversations with people. I like your parties.”
Ephesians 5:18 does not simply urge us not to get drunk. It also offers an alternative: “Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” We’ll examine this imperative in next Monday’s reflection. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.
(Mark D. Roberts)
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you experienced God’s grace in response to your own experience with alcohol abuse and its implications? In what ways has God used you to bring healing and wholeness to other victims of the misuse of alcohol? How are you creating an alternative community in which true celebration is not dependent on excessive drinking?
Gracious God, you know how much our lives are hurt by the abuse of alcohol. We see its ravages all around us. If we have been wounded, may we receive your healing. Help us to be agents of your grace and mercy to others. Show us how we can make a difference in our world when it comes to alcohol abuse. Give us a vision for an alternative way of living, a new way of celebrating, that allows us to delight in this life without misusing any of your gifts. May we offer to our neighbors and our world a vision of abundant living, filled with your Spirit. In the name of Yahushua Amen.