If you want a lively debate with other Christians, just mention alcohol! You’ll get impassioned responses from people on all sides of the issue, and you may even damage one or two of your friendships in the process (I say that mostly in jest).
Alcohol consumption among Christians has always required a careful reading of Scripture and an understanding of Christian liberty in the light of exhortations towards temperance. It’s a sensitive topic, requiring extensive study coupled with prayer for wisdom to apply God’s Word accurately and lovingly. Therefore, this small blog post can’t thoroughly examine the matter.
Truth be told, I really don’t want to blog about alcohol. But we can’t work through Titus 2:3-5 unless we deal with Paul’s command to older women women regarding this topic.
3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. (NASB95)
We might begin our discussion by asking why Paul specifically links “enslavement to much wine” to older women. Going back to verse 2, we see him call older men to “temperance,” which encompasses so much more than the question of drinking alcoholic beverages. I’d go a step further and suggest that his instructions to men don’t seem as pointed as his instructions to women. So again, we must ask why he needs to make this particular correlation.
Flipping back a page to Chapter 1 of Titus, we learn that most of Crete’s inhabitants had a reputation of unrestrained self-indulgence. For this reason, one of Paul’s primary purposes in this epistle was to help Titus establish churches that would highlight personal holiness among Christians as a contrast to their pagan neighbors. Drilling down a little deeper, I found commentaries saying that older women in First Century Greek and Roman culture tended to drink wine in excess. Apparently, given Crete’s indulgent lifestyle coupled with popular drinking habits of older women in that time, Paul saw the necessity of mentioning the problem.
Since older women have the responsibility to disciple younger women, we must make sure that we model godliness. I once knew a lady who mentored high school girls. Although I have no reason to think that she abused alcohol, her Facebook posts about “needing” a glass of wine troubled me. For a while, the posts were fairly frequent, and I knew the girls followed her on Facebook. I couldn’t help wondering if her example might encourage the girls to drink as a way of relieving stress. Could Paul have foreseen similar problems and wanted older women to set an example of purity for their younger sisters in Christ to follow?
Notice, however, that Paul didn’t mandate absolute abstinence from wine. Rather, he focused on “enslavement to much wine.” Some translations render the phrase “addicted to, much wine,” which, despite being a literal translation of the word, might give 21st Century readers a clearest picture of Paul’s meaning. Essentially, he wants older women to avoid alcoholism.
At this point, I want to explain my personal position on Christians drinking. To begin, be assured that I believe this matter falls under the umbrella of Christian liberty as long as one doesn’t cross the lines of impairing faculties and/or causing others to stumble. That said, I admit to having an aversion to alcohol that makes me very uncomfortable around it.
In college, I ignored my aversion to an extent, having both Christian and non-Christian friends who drank responsibly. On very rare occasions (mostly between the ages of 21 and 25) I’d have a single glass of wine with dinner. I felt somewhat cautious, especially because I can’t drink anything without a straw that makes me me gulp rather than sip, but I managed without getting a buzz. For a while, I talked myself into feeling okay with a social drinking now and then. Just before my 25th birthday, however, I realized that I really didn’t like the taste of alcoholic beverages. So it didn’t make sense to continue doing something that could potentially develop into something sinful.
That potential loomed large in my life. From the age of 15 onward, I had a close family member who abused alcohol during periods of stress. She wasn’t an alcoholic per se, but her drinking crossed the line many times. My experience with her taught me how easily someone can allow a simple drink of wine to quiet the nerves to escalate into something that endangers self and others. (And yes, her drinking physically endangered me on two occasions.)
Understanding that Scripture doesn’t completely prohibit drinking keeps me from imposing my personal convictions on other Christians. This is an issue each of us must work out with the Lord. But perhaps Titus 2:3 should make us think. Are we in danger of alcohol addiction? What example might we set for the younger women God has placed under our care? As you go before the Lord, I pray these questions can give you guidance.