[Note: These are the notes for an assembly talk I gave at Logos School last week.]
This talk can be broken into two parts: first, I simply want to outline what the Bible says about alcohol and wine. The second part extrapolates from those principles to outline what the Bible says about tobacco and marijuana. The reason for this is that the Bible says an awful lot about alcohol/wine and virtually nothing about tobacco and pot. As Bible-believing Christians we want to stick close to the text of Scripture.
The Gift of Wine
The Bible teaches that wine is a good and dangerous gift. Wine is like a firearm. It’s good and has an important and right use, but it can also cause great harm. Psalm 104 says that God made “wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread which strengthens man’s heart” (Ps. 104:15). Likewise, the blessing of God is described as wine: those who trust in the Lord, “your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine” (Prov. 3:10). Lady Wisdom invites us, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Forsake foolishness and live…” (Prov. 9:5-6). Wine can be a symbol of wisdom. Wine can also be a symbol of salvation: In Ecclesiastes, Solomon says, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already accepted your works” (Eccl. 9:7). In Song of Songs, the bride says, “Your love is better than wine” (Song 1:2). “And in this mountain The LORD of hosts will make for all people A feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees… He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken” (Isa. 25:6, 8). “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isa. 55:1). Finally, when Jesus came, He came drinking wine (Lk. 7:34). He famously turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee (Jn. 2:9-10). And when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, He instructed His disciples to drink wine in celebration of his death, and we know the early Christians obeyed because some of them were getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:20ff).
The Danger of Wine
And this leads to the warnings that are found throughout Scripture: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). “He who loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich” (Prov. 21:17). Wine can cause all sorts of trouble: “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart will utter perverse things” (Prov. 23:29-33). Wine can pervert justice: “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes intoxicating drink; lest they drink and forget the law, And pervert the justice of all the afflicted” (Prov. 31:4-5). Partying with wine can be a good way to try to ignore the Lord: “Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may follow intoxicating drink; who continue until night, till wine inflames them! The harp and the strings, the tambourine and flute, and wine are in their feasts; but they do not regard the work of the LORD, nor consider the operation of His hands” (Isa. 5:11-12, Isa. 28:7). The New Testament is clear: “Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). Elders and deacons are both required to not be given to wine (1 Tim. 3:3, 8, Tit. 1:7). Likewise, older women are not to be given to wine (Tit. 2:3). Wine can also be a picture of judgment in the Bible, and God causes the wicked to become drunk with His judgments (Ps. 75:8, Rev. 16:19). So we can conclude that drunkenness is not merely a sin that may bring God’s judgment and trouble, drunkenness is also itself a form of God’s judgment.
The Gift of Medicine
The Bible also teaches wine has a medicinal use: “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those who are bitter of heart. Let him drink and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more” (Prov. 31:6-7). Paul encouraged Timothy to drink a little wine for his infirmities: “No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities” (1 Tim. 5:23).The soldiers offered Jesus wine mixed with gall as a form of anesthesia before crucifying Him, but when Jesus tasted it, He refused it (Mt. 27:34, Mk. 15:23).
Pot & Tobacco
So what does this mean for pot and tobacco? Well, the Bible doesn’t say anything about these plants directly. But we can reason from scripture to pretty good answers. The basic shape of the argument is that God created everything good in itself and that it is a good gift for something, but in a fallen world, everything can be misused and become harmful. So the question we ought to ask is: what did God create marijuana for? What did God create tobacco for? When we use the gifts of God the way He designed for them to be used, we can give thanks for them (1 Tim. 4:1-3). But if a purported use of God’s creation causes people to sin, we can rule that use out. So for example, Paul urges the Thessalonians to be watchful and sober, not like those who sleep and get drunk at night, but sober like those ready for war (1 Thess. 5:6-8). Marijuana has an almost immediate chemical reaction in a person’s body causing a mind-altering condition that cannot honestly be called “sober” or “clear headed.” Like some drunkards, many people report being able to function while “high,” but that isn’t the same thing as being watchful and alert. Likewise, the New Testament forbids the use of “pharmekeia,” sometimes translated “sorcery” in our modern Bibles (Gal. 5:20, cf. Rev. 9:21, 18:23), but the first two lexical meanings of the word are “administering drugs” and “poisoning.” In the ancient world, certain drugs were associated with consorting with demons and pagan worship practices, hence the word can be translated “sorcery.” Peter warns of the same: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Christians should have deep suspicions of using any sort of mind-altering drugs, since God requires us to be alert, watchful, and sober. But we should also be aware of the danger of harming our minds permanently as well making ourselves vulnerable to sin and attacks of the devil and demons. We can add to all of this the principle of wisdom justified by fruit, and while the moderate use of wine has been part of Christian civilization for millennia, no such culture has ever developed around pot. The fruit has been laziness, promiscuity, psychological side-effects, and (perhaps) even violence. So while it seems obvious that there are legitimate material uses for hemp, and there may be legitimate medicinal uses for marijuana, there is no godly recreational use of it. Since tobacco does not have mind-altering side-effects it does not fall afoul of the injunction against clear-thinking, but we should still be cautious since its cultural fruit has been mixed.
Sometimes Christians have argued that it is necessarily sinful to smoke tobacco or drink because the Christian’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:18-20). In context, Paul was specifically talking about sexual immorality, not forbidding an occasional beer or cigar. On the other hand, the fact is that drunkenness and the thoughtless use and abuse of other created gifts are frequently associated with sexual immorality and idolatry. “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He? All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (1 Cor. 10:21-24).
There’s a huge difference between sharing a cigar with your father and grandfather and the men of your church family in honor of the birth of a child and smoking cigarettes behind the barn in rebellion. There’s a huge difference between having a champagne toast to God’s goodness at a wedding and chugging cheap beer at 2am at a frat party. Whose table are you eating at? Whose table are you communing at? Is it the Lord’s table or the table of demons? Are you sharing communion with God’s people or with people who are leading you away from God?
So as you consider these things, ask these questions: Can I honestly give thanks to God for this use of His creation? Does this use of God’s creation draw me closer to God and to His people or further away? Is this use of God’s creation making me more vigilant against temptation to sin or less vigilant — are you becoming more sure or less sure of your convictions? Am I encouraging other people toward Christ and obedience to Him or am I merely seeking my own pleasure?
And remember in all of this to honor your father and mother. You are not your own, you were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body.