Alcoholism is just one of many addictions that can take control of someone’s life. Because its effects are obvious, drunkenness can appear to be a worse sin than others. However, the Bible makes no such distinctions. It often equates the sin of drunkenness with sins we would consider “less important,” such as envy and selfish ambition (Galatians 5:19; 1 Corinthians 6:10). It is easy to pass judgment on someone who is falling-down drunk, while secretly excusing sins of the heart that God considers equally repulsive. The right response is to view people as God sees them and agree with Him that we are all sinners in need of saving.
The Bible is clear that drunkenness is sin (Isaiah 5:11; Proverbs 23:20–21; Habakkuk 2:15). Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” It is interesting that this verse contrasts the power of alcohol with the power of the Holy Spirit. It is saying that if we want to be controlled by the Spirit of God we cannot also be controlled by alcohol. The two cannot simultaneously hold sway. When we choose one, we eliminate the influence of the other. As Christians, we are to always “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 25; Romans 8:1, 14). So drunkenness for a Christian is never an option on any occasion because there is no occasion when we should not be walking in the Spirit.
Alcoholism is a form of idolatry, as is any addiction. Anything we are using besides God to meet or medicate deep heart needs is an idol. When we rely on ourselves, someone else, or something else to meet our needs for value, worth, or significance, we have erected an idol that takes the place of the real God in our lives. God views it as such and has strong words for idol worshipers (Exodus 20:3; 34:14; 1 John 5:21; 1 Corinthians 12:2). Alcoholism is not a disease; it is a choice. God holds us accountable for our choices (Romans 14:12; Ecclesiastes 11:9; Hebrews 4:13).
Followers of Christ should strive to love their neighbors as themselves, regardless of the problems or addictions those neighbors may have (Matthew 22:29). But contrary to our modern idea that equates love with tolerance, real love does not tolerate or excuse the very sin that is destroying someone (James 5:20). To enable or excuse alcohol addiction in someone we love is to tacitly participate in their sin.
There are several ways Christians can respond in Christlike love to alcoholics:
1. We can encourage the alcoholics in our lives to get help. A person caught in the trap of addiction needs help and accountability. There are many Christ-centered recovery programs such as Celebrate Recovery that are helping thousands of people break free from the chains of addiction.
2. We can set boundaries in order not to in any way condone the drunkenness. Minimizing the consequences that alcohol abuse brings is not helping. Sometimes the only way addicts will seek help is when they reach the end of their options.
3. We can be careful not to cause others to stumble by limiting our own alcohol use while in the presence of those struggling with it (1 Corinthians 8:9–13). It is for this reason that many Christians choose to abstain from all alcohol consumption in order to avoid any appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22, KJV) and to not put a stumbling block in a brother’s way. Since alcohol in its many forms has such a negative association in our culture, the potential for causing offense in weaker Christians is great. We must weigh our freedom against the possibility of causing others to sin or confusing unbelievers who associate alcohol with their own sinful lifestyles.
We must show compassion to everyone, including those whose choices have led them into strong addiction. However, we do alcoholics no favors by excusing or justifying their addiction. Jesus said we cannot serve two masters (Luke 16:13). Even though the context of His statement is money, the same principle applies to anything that controls us other than God. We must do everything we can to help people break free of whatever sin stronghold binds them so that they can serve and worship God with their whole heart.