Counting the Cost – Lesson 11:Alcohol

Key Scriptures: Daniel 5, Esther 1, Proverbs 20:1, Ephesians 5:18, Galatians 5:21, Proverbs 23:29-35, Romans 14:21, 1 Peter 5:8, 1 Corinthians 6:10, Galatians 5:19-21, Luke 21:34, 1 Corinthians 6:12, Titus 2:3, 1 Peter 4:3, 1 Peter 2:18

Guiding Question: How does God feel about Christians drinking alcohol?

Optional Introductory Activity: If you can afford it, purchase alcohol impairment goggles. (We found them on Amazon for about $100.) Have students do various tasks while wearing the glasses. It’s important to note, that some students are able to adapt to these goggles quickly. Experts say driving while impaired by alcohol is the same as going a long period without sleeping. If you can’t afford the goggles, you can ask students how they feel after not sleeping for a night or more. Explain that the drinking of alcohol is somewhat debated in both the secular world and by some Christians. Have them list all of the possible positives and negatives of drinking alcohol – whether or not they are valid or godly reasons. Keep the list visible as you will edit it after the lesson.

Lesson: (Questions to students are in bold italics.) A lot of Christians have opinions about the drinking of alcohol. You may have heard several opinions that seem very different. Today we are going to spend some time looking at what the Bible has to say on the topic as well as examining some other information to see what conclusions we can safely make.

Read Daniel 5. What had been happening before the handwriting on the wall appeared? What was Daniel’s message before he interpreted the inscription? King Belshazzar threw a banquet for a thousand of his nobles. It’s important to remember kings in this day and age were vulnerable to assassination if the people around them hated them. They often threw lavish parties to win the loyalty of their – in this case rather large – inner circle. Along with rich, expensive foods, there would have been a lot of wine. These parties didn’t just last an hour or two. Often they went on for many days.

We don’t know for sure how long Belshazzar and his nobles had been partying, but they were evidently feeling in quite the partying mood. The King called for the golden vessels his father’s army had stolen from the Israelites Temple, so he and his friends could drink from these special gold goblets. As if that weren’t bad enough, they praised their idols as they drank from these goblets. It’s important to remember everything in the Temple was sacred. Items would have only been handled by the priests. They were items meant for worshipping God, not for partying. Evidently, that was the last straw for God and the kingdom was invaded and Belshazzar killed that very night.

Let’s look at one more story before discussing the role alcohol played in more detail. Read Esther 1. What was Xerxes doing at his banquet right before he got the idea to call for Vashti? Once again, Xerxes was king of an empire trying to make his inner circle happy. In fact the Persians (whom Xerxes ruled) were well known for having multi-day drinking parties and planning battles while drunk. Interestingly, an ancient historian tells us they re-examined the plans the next day when they were sober to make sure they were good before using them. While they might have thought there was some value to planning while drunk, they were also smart enough to know being drunk could also cause them to make some very bad battle plans.

At this particular party, the wine must have been more free flowing than normal, because the Bible tells us Xerxes told his servants to give everyone as much wine as they wanted – with no restrictions. When Xerxes called for Vashti, he didn’t just want her to poke her head into the party to say hello. The expectation was that when Persian rulers were having these drinking parties, the Queen was not present. In fact, she was in seclusion. It was considered inappropriate for her to be exposed to such behavior. Some scholars think Vashti may have been asked to wear only a crown and nothing else. The scripture isn’t really clear. The reality was that being asked to join a drinking party was as shameful in her society as if she had been asked to appear nude in front of them.

What do these two stories involving alcohol have in common? It is safe to say the people at both of these drinking parties weren’t thinking about God. In fact in Daniel, they were praising their false idol gods. No one was thinking about what God wanted them to do or the example they were setting. They weren’t thinking about anything other than their own personal pleasure.

The second thing to notice is that both groups made some pretty poor choices. It seems the more alcohol they drank, the worse those choices got. The alcohol clouded their judgment. In fact at the beginning of the second chapter of Esther, it implies Xerxes realized he had effectively left himself without a queen by his side because of his rash actions. This meant he was forced to search for a new queen.

There are other scriptures in the Bible that reinforce these two assumptions. Read the following passages and see what additional information they have that can help us better understand how God views our drinking of alcohol. Proverbs 20:1, Ephesians 5:18, Galatians 5:21, Proverbs 23:29-35, 1 Corinthians 6:10, Galatians 5:19-21, Luke 21:34, Titus 2:3, 1 Peter 4:3-5. What do these verses add to our understanding of how God feels about His people drinking alcohol? What are some of the explanations given? It isn’t that God doesn’t want us to enjoy our lives or have fun. God merely wants us to choose healthy, godly ways to do it.

It is important when talking about alcohol, to understand a little about the land and culture of the Bible. Israel was a very dry country. Their crops and the people themselves depended on the rain that fell from September to April. They would have captured rain water in cisterns to use for drinking, cooking, cleaning and other purposes. This collected water had to last them from April to September when the rains returned.

Even with cisterns, the people lived on very little water. The average American family uses 118,000 gallons of water a year for a family of four. In Bible times, Jewish families had access to on average 5300 gallons of water a year for a family of six. This is well below the 11,600 gallons of water considered a healthy minimum for a family to use.

This means that especially towards the end of hot summers, the cisterns were nearly empty. People had to get their hydration from other sources. Pomegranates and grapes were the main sources of hydration. Without refrigeration, fruit juices ferment. Grapes can turn into wine or vinegar. The alcohol content of this wine is debated, but some scholars believe the wine would have been diluted when drunk for hydration (John A Beck, of the Jerusalem University College for example.).

The point to remember is that grape juice that had fermented in whatever form was used by the average Jew as hydration, not recreation. Their consumption would have been low, because grapes were as valuable and hard to grow as water was to obtain. The idea of getting drunk was also looked down upon for many of the reasons found in the scriptures we just read.

If you have been looking for an excuse to drink alcohol and think you have found it, we need to consider a few more scriptures and some secular information. Read 1 Peter 2:18. What does Peter tell Christians to do regarding the laws created by authorities? What are your local alcohol laws? Regardless of whether it is okay with God for us to drink any alcohol at all, if you are under eighteen in the United States, it is against the law. To be obedient to God, you cannot drink alcohol at all under the age of eighteen. If you are over eighteen and drive or participate in certain other activities, there are laws about how much alcohol you can drink. Breaking those laws is disobeying God, regardless of your personal opinion.

Now, read Romans 14:21. What does the author say we need to consider before we eat or drink anything? God wants us to think about the impact our choices may have on the spiritual lives of others. Will someone drinking a glass of wine at dinner unnecessarily tempt an alcoholic who is trying to stay sober? Will non-Christians assume inaccurate things about God because they see you drinking alcohol? Will they assume you aren’t a Christian? Are you setting the example of Christians as a light, different from those in the secular world?

Read 1 Peter 5:8. This verse is similar to the verses we read earlier in that it implies we need to be sober minded in order to be successfully watchful against Satan and to avoid making poor choices and sinning. Sober usually implies there is nothing to impair your judgment. Impairment begins at a .05 blood alcohol content….easily obtained by only one or two drinks. The Bible teaches drunkenness is a sin, so if God equates impairment with drunkenness, at what point are you drunk? The person drinking is almost never accurate about their level of impairment. Most underestimate how much the alcohol they have consumed is impacting them. Playing the guessing game of what God considers drunkenness is playing a game where you can’t know for sure when you have crossed the line. It’s not a great game to play if your goal in life is to be pleasing to God.

We have two more verses to consider. Read 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and Romans 12:1. In previous lessons we discussed the great care with which the Temple and animals intended for sacrifice were treated. God demanded purity. Are we taking the best care of our Temple, are we being the best living sacrifice when we consume alcohol? Ironically, science has some research for us to consider.

Alcohol has a negative impact on our bodies, even in small amounts. It can cause heart damage, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, stroke, liver damage, pancreatitis, frequent diarrhea, vomiting, infertility, some cancers (especially mouth, breast and colon), lung infections, fatigue, stomach distress, birth defects, brain damage, weakened immune system, muscle weakness and cramping, memory black outs and loss, etc. As we have discussed earlier, it can also cause behavioral changes which would hamper our ability to do the things God wants us to do at any moment in time. If alcohol consumption can lead to these health problems, are we really caring for our bodies the way God intended for us to do when we drink it?

Read 1 Corinthians 6:12. Some people like to quote the first part of this verse as “proof” they can drink alcohol. Let’s think about the second part of that verse for a minute though. “Not all things are helpful”. Is alcohol helpful to those of us trying to please God and live a faithful, productive Christian life? We’ve already talked about a lot of the problems that can result from consuming alcohol, but there are even more. The book of Proverbs talks a lot about how God wants us to be wise and not foolish. What other information do we need to know about the impact alcohol can have on us?

Did you know alcohol lowers our ability to resist temptation and we are much more likely to sin if we’ve been drinking? That it hampers our ability to make wise choices of any sort? Of course, not everyone who drinks alcohol will take their poor choices and sinning to this extreme, but here are some decisions studies have found people are more likely to make if they have been drinking alcohol (and their potential consequences). 25% of traffic deaths involve a drunk driver. Seven times more likely to be involved in a fatal car wreck. One in four violent crimes committed by someone who has been drinking. 15% of robberies, 26% of assaults and 37% of rapes and sexual assaults are committed by someone who has been drinking. Obviously, sober people commit these crimes, too. The belief though is that those who have been drinking would have made better choices had they been sober. The alcohol encouraged them to give into the pressure to make a sinful choice. Even suicide is 120 times more likely in alcoholics than in the general population and there is thought to be a strong link between merely consuming alcohol/drug and suicide attempts.

After this lesson, you may have more questions. Your parents and other respected Christian adults would probably love to discuss what you have learned in this lesson with you and help answer any questions you don’t understand. In the next part of the lesson, we will look at some of the reasons people often give for drinking alcohol and see if there are better, healthier, godlier answers.

Skills Activity: Review the main points in the lesson. Ask students to give some of the reasons people give for drinking alcohol. Make sure the following reasons are included in your list.

  • To forget problems
  • To lessen anxiety
  • To overcome social awkwardness
  • To get a “buzz”
  • To have “fun”
  • To be less inhibited (So they are brave enough to do something that frightens them, ask someone out, etc.)

For each reason, are there healthier, more godly ways to accomplish the same things? While having the discussion, be sure to point out the realities of alcohol. For example, if you are drinking to be less inhibited, you may end up going farther sexually than you normally would. Or if you are using it to have fun, talk about all of the negative side effects that can happen while drinking and with the hangover the next day.

For many teens, drinking is an activity they participate in when they don’t have any better ideas for entertainment. Teaching students how to find safe, godly, fun – and especially unique activity options – can often help them find the fun they are seeking. Some teens are natural thrill seekers and are tempted because drinking alcohol is something risky for them to do. Encourage these risk takers to take up rock climbing or other activities that are more controlled, safer and godlier, but still give them that risk taking thrill they are seeking.

Most importantly, teens need to understand their problems don’t disappear when they are drunk. They are actually more likely to create additional problems for themselves after consuming alcohol. If they need a distraction, there are healthier ones than drinking alcohol. Ultimately though, they need to spend time in prayer and problem solving, rather than allowing their problems to continue or grow worse.

You may choose to close the lesson by returning to the original list you made in the opening activity. How would students change the lists after this lesson?

Application Challenge: Review the scriptures from the lesson. What would you say to a friend that was considering drinking alcohol? If you are struggling with this issue. talk to a trusted Christian adult. Drinking alcohol can lead to lifelong consequences and should be considered carefully and prayerfully.

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