A One-Word Reason for Teetotaling

I’ve avoided this topic like the plague. My views on social drinking aren’t popular, and I’m not a fan of debates over non-essentials.

But two years ago, when I started writing regular posts, my purpose was to share the joy of knowing God’s Word. That purpose hasn’t changed.

And sometimes you just can’t avoid what the Word brings to light. So here we are.

My goal is not to discuss my opinions but to consider what God says and to take it seriously. I have a dozen reasons why I don’t drink. But I’d like to set aside all those reasons and look at one word. One word.

If I had no other convictions regarding social drinking, this one word might do it for me. One word that carries with it all the motivation needed for me to say, “No, thank you,” to even one drink.

Don’t worry. I don’t expect to convince you. As a matter of fact, I don’t want to convince you. Rather, I pray for you what I pray for myself daily: for true conviction that comes from the Spirit through the Word.

And right now, here’s where I’m convicted. One word: sober-minded.

In more than a few instances in the New Testament, we are instructed to be sober-minded.
See for yourself: 1 Tim 3:2, 3:11, 2 Tim 4:5, Titus 2:2, 1 Peter 1:13, 4:7, 5:8 {also Rom 12:3, 1 Thess 5:6, 5:8}.

I agree, “sober-minded” is never defined in these passages as “not drinking.” Though the Bible forbids drunkenness and drinking parties (1 Pet 4:3), it never condemns drinking. So, let’s say, for the moment, that “one drink” {should you rate yourself a self-control pro} is well within biblical parameters.

Now let’s look at the alcoholic substance itself. Feel free to do your own research, but by my understanding, ethanol {the active ingredient in alcoholic drink} directly, and negatively, affects the brain. With one drink, you have the potential to qualify as a drunk driver. One drink can affect your judgment. One drink means you’re not sober. You may not feel the effects, but that doesn’t change the reality. {See info on BAC levels and DUI laws here.}

What does it mean to be “sober-minded”?

It surely involves much more than alcoholic sobriety, but if “sober-mindedness” has anything to do with maintaining sanity, thinking rationally, sensibly, or seriously, having presence of mind, or seeing things clearly, I have a problem understanding how “one drink” would be desirable. It seems quite logical, rather, to stay away from anything that might impair proper judgment and the purely physical ability to “think soberly.”

Argument presented. Do what you want with it.

But can I just say – every word of God is perfect and given for our instruction. Perhaps I’m way off base in my interpretation on this issue. That’s why I never asked you to conform to my thinking, but to take a look at this one simple word: sober-minded. How does it instruct you?

As with all other words of Scripture, this word is important. Don’t gloss over it, but put it in bold for a second . . .

Preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:13

Oh how my mind wanders. Gets loaded with the gunk of life. Is stretched in so many directions. Becomes completely overwhelmed. Personally, I’m searching for any good thing that will help “prepare my mind for action,” and I don’t need stuff getting in the way.

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 4:7

May I never give way to mental slumber, like the disciples in Gethsemane who totally botched their opportunity to pray earnestly.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith. 5:8-9

So basically, we’re in a war, and the enemy is looking for an easy target.

If that “one drink” helps you watch for the devil and resist him, then be my guest. I’m feeling like a sword and shield {and the mental capacity to use them} may be more effective.

As friends and allies in the battle, you know my advised choice of armor.

But in the end, I humbly leave it to you.

 [image credit: unsplash.com]


22 thoughts on “A One-Word Reason for Teetotaling

  1. Often the thrust of the arguments around the topic of drinking is ‘how much can I have and still not sin.’ It’s the wrong way to think as you so aptly pointed out. it’s not what can we get-away with, but how can we best follow God. And being sober-minded is clearly the best option if that is our desire. Thanks for your thought-provoking post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this post and applaud you for writing the hard stuff. I don’t get to stop by each time but I see the headlines and feel your heart. I don’t think it could have been written out better than how you have it here, and Karen above said it well too. I think whatever is going to be the best witness is always more important than doing what we want because we want to. But after one draws close to God they really aren’t as interested in some of the other “stuff” anyways, or at least that is how it is for me. Blessings to you!

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  3. I’m wondering if there is perhaps a translation I’m not seeing where 1 Peter 4:3 speaks against drinking parties?

    I see it speaks against drunkenness (as does all of scripture) and against orgies (sex parties), but not where it speaks specifically against drinking parties and, when taken with Deuteronomy 14:26, I don’t see how it could speak against drinking parties because that earlier passage contains very specific instructions by God that food, wine, AND strong drink be brought or purchased at the location God specified and be used in a great celebration by the Israelites not as burnt or drink offerings, but for their own consumption to enjoy God’s specific blessing upon them.

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    1. 1 Peter 4:3: “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (ESV). Other versions translate “drinking parties” as banquetings, carousings, drinking bouts, drinkings, or wild parties. NKJV and NASB also translate as “drinking parties.”

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  4. Thoughtful consideration. Much to reflect upon. I’ll be looking into this. One thing that stumps me though is why Jesus turned water into wine if He was against us drinking alcohol? Here in the Netherlands wine is part of celebratory dining, as it was in Jesus’ time: partaken together with a dinner and in the company of family/friends. I see having a glass with the others at my table as joining them in fellowship and honoring their presence.

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    1. I’m not saying Jesus is against us drinking alcohol. I’m not suggesting that “sober-minded” is defined in Scripture as “not drinking alcohol at all.” I’m simply wondering if keeping alcohol out of your system may be one way in which to begin the process of sober-mindedness (for surely it involves much more). I just have a hard time seeing how a person would want any amount of the stuff in their body if they plan to think as clearly as possible and be of proper mind at all times. Yes, there are many other things that play into sober-mindedness, but maybe this is one possible interpretation/application/resulting personal conviction…whatever you want to call it. When it comes down to it, it may be that, for me, this “liberty” is one I gladly give up (and can’t help but do so!) out of a sincere desire to keep my mind clear, watchful, and ready for action.
      As for drinking to honor the presence of others at the table, I would rather honor them by explaining my reasons for refraining, should they ask. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t mean it threateningly, I hope it didn’t come across as that…that’s the struggle with non-face conversation. It’s more me wondering if you’d considered how these two things fit because I, like you, am devoted to walking in the Light of God’s truth and this event in the Bible has encouraged me to believe that Jesus does not call us to abstain completely…but I was open to hearing more from you and especially if you’d ever considered the significance of Him turning water into wine in relation to abstaining from drinking alcohol…because maybe there is an explanation that would still make drinking alcohol something we shouldn’t do.

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        1. Not at all! Sorry if seemed I was responding to a threat! :/ Yes, “non-face conversation” is tough! To be honest, I’m not sure what to do with the water-into-wine event. My first goal is to see that scenario rightly, and I haven’t studied it as much as I would like to. I do wonder if the wine of that time was different than the wine of today. I do wonder if the culture makes a difference, as alcoholism has become such a significant evil in our day. Were families being torn apart by it then? Was strong drink associated with such evil? Did the drinking at that wedding compel those in attendance to sin, as I’ve seen so many do today? Are there instances, such as wedding celebrations, where Jesus intends for us to lose our sobriety briefly for other purposes? I don’t know!

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  5. Of course, one word is never the way bible interpretation works, so the argument is flawed from the start. Without regard for being for or against this particular topic, the Bible tells us how to study and learn from it.

    First, all of the Bible must be consulted before concluding anything from a passage. Drawing a conclusion from one word is a private interpretation. (Clearly you have consulted other passages to draw your conclusion, but my point is that one word to establish God’s will is never enough. Even “Thou shalt not kill,” has exceptions.)

    2 Peter 1:20 (KJV)
    Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.

    Instead, spiritual words must be compared and divided correctly to gain full bible understanding.

    1 Corinthians 2:13 (KJV)
    Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.

    2 Timothy 2:15 (KJV)
    Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

    There are many Scriptures that address the use of alcohol, both pro and con. An honest approach must address them all. Otherwise, cherry-picking verses or words, one can justify anything.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make an excellent point, and I wholeheartedly agree. I hope I did not cause misunderstanding by calling it a “one-word reason.” I did not intend to convey that my argument is based on this one word alone. I have many reasons for my position and have spent extensive time searching the whole of Scripture to come to my conclusions. I did not want to get into all of that in this article. My main point in this article was to point out a word in Scripture that may be often overlooked. And for me, as I have studied this one word/concept in its various contexts, I continue to be drawn to the seriousness of it and the possible implications. I never said the Bible condemns drinking. I stated that quite clearly in my article. I’m honestly just sharing the thoughts that have come to me as I’ve pondered this idea of “sober-mindedness” and the surrounding passages/topics, and I’m simply seeking to discern why the “warning” is there, and how drinking may affect our ability to think soberly. As I explained to Anna in a comment above, I’m not suggesting that “sober-minded” is defined in Scripture as “not drinking alcohol at all.” I’m simply wondering if keeping alcohol out of your system may be one way in which to begin the process of sober-mindedness (for surely it involves much more). I just have a hard time seeing how a person would want any amount of the stuff in their body if they plan to think as clearly as possible and be of proper mind at all times. Yes, there are many other things that play into sober-mindedness, but maybe this is one possible interpretation/application/resulting personal conviction…whatever you want to call it. When it comes down to it, it may be that, for me, this “liberty” is one I gladly give up (and can’t help but do so!) out of a sincere desire to keep my mind clear, watchful, and ready for action.
      Hope that helps to clarify. Thank you, again, for pointing out the importance of studying Scripture as a whole – so crucial! Maybe I’ll have a chance to write regarding the other Scriptures on this topic someday.

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  6. First, thank you for this post. Well done 🙂 Now I’ll try to give an answer to those who want to argue the opposite.

    I have done an amount of research and study into this subject myself as well as have others I’ve spoken with. There are many words in the Bible that are translated as “wine,” and some of them can refer to grape juice and some to fermented grape juice and some to things that are possibly not even drinks at all.

    There is a difference between wine and strong drink in the Bible. Neither one of them is bad in and of itself and in fact both are given their uses in Scripture as well as ancient history. Their misuse and abuse are also warned of in Scripture. Now let’s look at some Scriptures about it some of which I believe have been mentioned above in the post and replies.

    The purchase and possession of it:
    Deuteronomy 14:26
    And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household,

    Yes, both wine and strong drink are not bad to be purchased, possessed, and used. However, that verse does not tell how that they are to be used. It only says that they are permissible to possess. To find the uses of these things, we read elsewhere.

    The use of it:
    Proverbs 31:6-7
    6 Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.
    7 Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

    1 Timothy 5:23
    Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.

    Here we find that is used as sort of medicine like a sedative or pain killer. History also helps confirm this. History also tells of other health related uses. The water back then was likely not always to be trusted and not everything you ate was likely the cleanest. In this way wine with its limited alcohol content of the day was good for purification and preventative medicine.

    I figure many take the verse in proverbs to mean that it’s alright to get drunk when you’re down and out. However, within the context of the whole Bible I believe the ones of heavy heart in that verse are the same ones who are ready to perish. Why do I say that? Because, how is drinking away your senses going to help you get out of poverty or misery? It isn’t. It is only going to make things worse. In that situation you are not to turn to drinking, you are to turn to God.

    Matthew 6:31-33
    31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
    32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
    33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

    Philippians 4:6
    Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

    In addition to that we also have what proverbs 21:17 says:

    Proverbs 21:17
    He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich.

    Throughout the Psalms men of God turn to God in their times of distress. We are to turn to God and not wine. Now, what else does the Bible say about wine?

    Psalms 104:15
    And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.

    Indeed it does make hearts glad. What else does the Bible say about men’s hearts?

    Jeremiah 17:9
    The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

    The heart likes things that are pleasing but not always good. Not everything that is described as pleasing in the Bible is good for us. For examples:

    Genesis 3:6
    And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

    Proverbs 5:3-5
    3 For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil:
    4 But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a twoedged sword.
    5 Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.

    Wine is pleasing and will distort you senses which is not good because we are to be sober minded and ready always to witness and watch for God.

    1 Peter 3:15
    But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

    1 Thessalonians 5:4-8
    4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
    5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
    6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
    7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
    8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

    The verse in Psalms could be understood as given above or taken to mean that wine does make a heart glad because having it in plenty is a good thing such that you are not in need of good drink. It could also be interpreted as another instance of wine as a medicine for health since oil is also mentioned along with bread to help the heart. These are physical health things, so the wine could likely be referring to physical health as well. If you are sick you are likely not glad, but if you are made well or kept well you can be glad about it!

    Now, let’s look at a verse about the misuse and abuse of wine and strong drink.

    The misuse and abuse of it:
    Proverbs 20:1
    Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.

    Proverbs 23:31
    31 Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.
    32 At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.

    Now, from other historical research it seems that the strong drink of the Bible was likely close to what we have as beer or maybe some wines. Wine in the Bible could vary depending on the word it was translated from and the context it was written in. It could be similar to strong drink, or it could be grape juice or even possibly not be a drink at all.

    This all indicates that the strong drink or strong wine of the Bible (which from historical research was possibly only on par with some of our lesser alcoholic drinks) certainly served specific purposes and was not to be abused or misused.

    This all also seems to indicate that even the normal wine of those days (which from history was likely less than or just barely on par with our lesser alcoholic drink) served a purpose which is filled in other ways today and was not to be abused or misused.

    This means we don’t need any of it anymore. So, while I do not believe the wine we have today is needed for normal drinking, it can be used for medicine. I would think there are better medications and cleaner food and water these days, but it can be used I guess.

    As far as drinking it “just because” but without getting drunk or buzzed, I don’t believe it is right except as a medication, but I’m more concerned about other moral issues that Christians (using the term very loosely) seem to be getting wrong these days.

    As far as drinking it to get drunk or buzzed, I think most of us agree that is wrong. For those who aren’t sure or who just think otherwise, 1 Peter 3:15 and 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8 seem to disagree along with likely plenty of other Scriptures.

    Another interesting point, Pastors are our examples to follow, so if they aren’t to drink, we should not either!

    1 Timothy 3:2-3
    2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
    3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;

    Titus 1:7
    For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;

    If all else fails, abstain from all appearance of evil.

    1 Thessalonians 5:22
    Abstain from all appearance of evil.

    If nothing else drinking does seem to have the appearance of evil.

    In conclusion, I hope you all take this for consideration and study and find it useful 🙂

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  7. When I saw the title, I surmised that the one word might be “love.” Our denomination takes a stand against drinking purely because of the weaker brother. As you say, the Bible does not prohibit drinking, but as I see many loved ones struggling with addictions I don’t want to be a stumbling block.

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  8. Great point on this issue of social drinking. Sober minding is sometimes not easy to obtain even without drinking. When we worry it’s impossible to be sober minded and think through something with a clear mind. There are many other things that can take away a sober mind, alcohol is one. Sober post sister.

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  9. The definition of “sober” also means “serious” or “realistic”. I think that’s truly how we are to approach the work of the Lord, because the time is drawing near for Christ’s return. Now regarding drinking, I am very cautious about it for a couple of reasons. One, because alcoholism runs in my family and I have seen the devastating effects. Two, because I try to keep in mind that I don’t want to offend a weaker brother. But I am not so sure that “sober-minded” means to never partake. But we are as Christians instructed to have self-control for sure. Thanks for your thoughts.

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    1. Thanks for the feedback! I agree – I’m not sure we can say “soberminded” means “to never partake of alcohol.” A general dictionary may give “serious” or “realistic” as a definition, but is that what God meant when he used the word, “sober-minded”?
      Whatever the term means, I’m not sure we can be “soberminded” if our bodies aren’t free of mind-altering substances.
      So much to think about! Thanks for joining the discussion!

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  10. Many of us who do not drink alcohol in any form use the reason to not offend the weaker brother who may see us drink and follow suit. We cannot use someone else with loose standards to excuse our own participation. It simply is not acceptable in God’s sight. Thank you for this new thought – – about being sober minded. I like that. Thank you for sharing with us here at Tell me a Story.

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    1. Lisa, among other reasons, perhaps because Jesus made it and gave it to those he loved to aid in a joyous celebration.

      The same question can also be turned around as we ask why a Christian would want to drink coffee, which is also a mood- and body-altering substance.

      Also, I don’t know that you intended it this way, but when you say “for the people who love to argue” it sounds as though you’re implying that only those who do not see consumption of alcohol as a sin or something to avoid as a Christian are the ones arguing, when we have all gathered around this article which makes an argument. Arguing and arguments have a purpose and are good because they allow us to refine our thoughts and beliefs and understand those we disagree with better.

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