The more I’ve worked with addicts and dealt with my own sins, the more I’ve realized that most churches are falling short in a very important area–freedom from sin. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Most churches teach freedom from sin. Most command freedom from sin. But very few are helping people become free from sin. Most of them simply tell people to quit sinning and then slap them on the wrist when they catch them sinning again or belittle and shame them for doing so. What can we do about this?
Alright, alright, I don’t want to get into a huge debate about whether or not a single drink of alcohol is a sin. We can talk about that later. I’ve just talked to several people over the past few weeks who keep having trouble with various sins and it these stories keep starting with one problem–alcohol. So, I thought I’d share Ephesians 5:18 with you.
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (ESV).
The Greek Word for Drunk
I’m not a Greek scholar, but what I’ve read says the word translated “drunk” here is “methusko.” According to Vine’s, this is special form of the word “methuo” which means to be filled and in the context of intoxicating drink means to be drunk. The special form is called the inceptive form. Vine’s goes on to say that this special form marks the process of the verb. That is, it is not talking about the end result but the process. (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p 343.). Webster’s Dictionary defines “inceptive” as “expressing the beginning of the action indicated by the underlying verb, …” Abbot-Smith’s Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testamentclaims “methusko” is “causal of [methuo]” (T&T Clark, Edinburgh, Scotland. 1973, p 282.). Bullinger’s A Critical Lexicon and Concordance To the English and Greek New Testament says “methusko” means “to grow drunk (marking the beginning of No. 1 [methuo])” (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids. 1978. P 238.).
I think this should give us a bit of a pause before we bottoms up. God addresses not just the end result, but the process from beginning to end.
Don’t Be Drunk, Be Filled with the Spirit
God didn’t just say don’t be drunk with wine. He offered an alternative. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Sadly, many charismatic teachers have taken this all wrong and believed Paul was saying being in the Spirit meant you would act like you were drunk.
That totally misses the point. He says don’t be drunk with wine because there is debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Why? Because you’ll act completely differently when you are filled with the Spirit than if you are filled with wine. Being filled with the Spirit does not mean you will act like a drunken fool. Being filled with the Spirit means you will act with the wisdom of the Spirit (cf. Ephesians 5:15-17).
However, notice Paul’s point in context. Instead of starting the process of be filled with wine, Paul says we should be filled with the Spirit. The contrasting point is to the degree we pursue the process of being filled with wine, we will not be filled with the Spirit. This is important because the Scripture repeatedly points out we must be filled with, led by and follow the Spirit (e.g. Romans 8:5-9; Galatians 5:16-25).
Scientifically, we know the very first things intoxicants attack are our judgment, willpower, discernment and inhibitions. Things we would never do under normal circumstances, we will do once alcohol gets into our system. Rage, fornication, theft, violence and so one easily follow once we start drinking the lubricant for sin.
This hearkens back to Proverbs 31:4-5, in which Lemuel’s mother told him not to drink lest he drink and forget the law. That is exactly what happens when we drink alcohol.
Alcohol: The Gateway Sin
In reality, even if you want to say that a glass of wine over the holidays is okay, can you at least see what Paul explains here? Alcohol in any amount is dangerous. To the degree you let it into your system, you hinder the work of the Spirit to guide you to life. Sadly, I’ve seen way too many people fall prey to all kinds of sins because they started saying they could handle a bit of alcohol.
I’m sure dozens of people can say, “I’ve had a drink and I haven’t done those things.” Fine. I can’t answer for everyone. My point is simply this, Paul says it is a gateway to abandoning the Spirit. If you want life through the Spirit, put the booze down. Don’t defend it. Don’t take it up. Set it down. Walk away. Fill yourself with the Spirit instead. That’s where life is.