Drinking beer in the presence of God

Are Christians allowed to drink wine or beer? Does the Bible condemn all drinking of alcohol? Does God command Christians to abstain from all drinking of strong drink?

These are controversial questions, but I believe the answer of the Bible about drinking alcohol is clear. We are all familiar, probably, with passages like Proverbs 20:1: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” It is fair to say that he Bible is filled with warnings about alcohol: loving it leads to poverty (Prov 21:17), and to sorrow, folly, and addiction (Prov 23:29-35).

But does this mean God absolutely forbids alcohol consumption? Well, the Bible is also filled with warnings about sex, about the dangers of immorality; yet modern evangelicals would never say that is is forbidden! God has given us sexual desires, but in a fallen world, with sin-corrupted hearts, we must beware the dangers of following them sinfully.

What the Bible teaches about alcohol is the same. In the context of all the warnings, we must consider passages like Deuteronomy 14:22-27. This is one of two passages that teaches something surprising about alcohol—surprising from most modern Christians’ perspective, anyway.

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The main point of this text is that God’s people should tithe from their increase so that they would fear the LORD, and joyfully eat that tithe.

I want to zoom in on verses 24-27. There, we learn that if an Israelite could not carry the tithe of sheep, for example, from his home to the tabernacle because it was too far away, God allowed him to sell the sheep and bring the money as his tithe to Jerusalem.

When in Jerusalem, what he could spend the money? Notice the freedom God gives in 26a: “for whatever you desire.” Then God gives some possibilities, including “wine or strong drink.” And he tells his people to “eat … before the LORD your God”—to drink beer in the presence of God, enjoying it and enjoying him!

Therefore, it is clear that the Bible does not categorically condemn wine or strong drink as a beverage for his people. Yes, beware its dangers; yes, make sure you live in love and don’t give cause to another believer to stumble into soul-destroying sin (Rom 14:15, 21). But don’t condemn a believer for drinking at all; this is to go beyond what is written in Scripture and put a burden of obedience on people that the Bible does not place on them (see Matt 23:4).