I am a member of a family that seemed particularly sensitive to alcohol consumption. It’s not important to go into details about who, or when, but suffice it to say that I had been around it my entire life and I looked at alcohol as something that wasn’t all that bad. Yet, back in 1993, during a regular trip to the doc, I had some routine blood work done. The results showed some abnormal liver function – presumably linked to excessive alcohol consumption. The tests weren’t wrong…
To be perfectly transparent, it scared me… in fact, you might say that it scared me sober… That was on March 24, 1993 and I haven’t had a drink of alcohol since then. Cold turkey. Its been 28 years since that fateful day and since then, all my liver function tests have been perfectly normal. I was lucky that, with the help of God, I was able to quit and never look back. Many others I know haven’t been so lucky… I still work mentoring people who are in recovery and I derive great joy from being able to share my journey and assist others in their quest to maintain sobriety.
I am particularly interested in Scriptural verses that have to do with drinking. Theologians still debate whether or not wine mentioned in the Bible was fermented or not. There was the first miracle of Jesus, performed at a wedding feast in Cana in Galilee, when water was turned into wine. But when did the water become wine? When the water was put in the jars? When it was poured into the glasses of the wedding guests? Or when the liquid in the glasses touched the lips of the guests… we don’t know – the Scripture is silent on this point.
But wine has to age and, yet, here we have “instant” wine that has not gone through the fermenting process. Of course, with God all things are possible so maybe there was a compression of time and Jesus created fermented wine on the spot. We don’t need to know the answer, but I confess that whenever we came across verses in the Bible that refer to drinking, I am interested in the context and tend to consider all the possibilities.
One day, back in my seminary days, we were translating a verse from the original Greek. It had to do with not drinking and, instead, singing hymns and psalms. Now one of the things you learn in school is that the psalms and hymns had a certain cadence and format – conservative institutions believe that this type of music is the only permissible music for the church.
Being the inquisitive person that I was then, and still am today, I poked the bear and asked my classmates what it meant if I liked contemporary worship music – you know, the stuff that is far more popular than only playing the old standards. To my surprise, one of my classmates indicated that I must not be saved if I liked contemporary music. That’s right – he said it out loud – right there in class. After my initial shock, I asked our teacher if we could take a detour and discuss this theological point.
I don’t believe that you can lose your salvation – once saved, always saved. So, knowing that I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I didn’t for a moment believe that somehow I “fell off the bus.” It led to one of the most profound theological discussions I had during my entire time in seminary. In fact, it cemented my thinking about salvation and that my position was biblical and correct. Admittedly, there have been times when I was a little shaky about my salvation but that had nothing to so with singing or worship! And I know that deep down in my heart, God loves me, and you, and once we accept Christ as Lord and Savior, we are heaven bound, eternally.
It is interesting, though, that the conversation occurred as we were translating a verse on alcohol! So, in honor of the many theological conversations we had discussing specific verses in the Bible, and 28 years of my sobriety, tonight’s verse is the same verse that we were translating that day in class.
The apostle Paul was writing to his church at Ephesus. That particular church was the most mature church at the time and Paul was issuing instructions to them. He spoke very directly and from his heart. He tells them, in Ephesians 5:18-20, “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (KJV)
Paul gave his church great advice. And I have learned a great deal of theology as a result of studying Greek with my classmates. Those were remarkable times that I miss… My encouragement this evening is that God wants us to concentrate on the things of the Kingdom. We should be focusing on worship and the things above – not on the things of this world. My prayer is that whatever we do, we will do it in moderation and maintain our focus on God. It’s by His grace that I am still here to teach the Word and worship the Creator of everything. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…