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Author: Ron Graham


Abstinence and Secrecy
—Why not just drink in private?

In our previous lessons we have looked at reasons for abstinence from alcohol. The influence of example has been a key point. We have been concerned that others may be led by a drinker’s example, to drink themselves. Consequently, if they are weak, they may stumble into sin, either by violating their conscience or by getting drunk.

Someone might ask why one must totally abstain from alcohol to avoid these dangers? If the main problem is the example we set, why couldn't we simply drink in private, in circumstances where vulnerable people would not see us and therefore would not be influenced by our action?

1 Unseen Yet Not Unknown

We can do things in strict privacy, but we do not deny that we do them, nor pretend that we don't. For example a husband wife's sexual relationship is a very private matter to them. However they do not deny that they have it, and would hardly want people to think that they don't.

As another example, Jesus said, "When you give alms, do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing, that your alms may be in secret... and when you pray, go into your inner room and shut your door, then pray to your Father who is in secret..." (Matthew 6:2-6).

Now this means that we will be private about our charity, and private in our prayers, but we certainly will not deny that we give to the poor and pray to God, nor pretend that we don't do these things. We do these things away from the public eye, however it is public knowledge that we do them.

Private drinking does not, therefore, solve the problem of adverse influence, because although people may drink privately, they do not deny that they drink, and they do not pretend to be non-drinkers.

They are not the kind of "secret drinkers" who pretend to be non-drinkers, yet sneak a drink from a hidden bottle. That kind of secret drinker is a liar and a deceiver whom God condemns (Revelation 21:8).

A teetotaller is able to say openly that he is a non-drinker. It becomes known that he never consumes alcohol. The private drinker cannot truthfully make this claim, so it becomes known that he is a drinker even though he does his drinking in private. His drinking is unseen yet not unknown. His influence on others is therefore a drinker’s influence.

2 Unseen Yet Still Unsafe

One of the dangers of drinking in private, is that its a bit like lighting a camp fire. The campfire might be a small private affair, but a spark can still jump into the scrub and start a very public bushfire.

The problems caused by consuming alcohol may seem to be contained when the drinking is done in a small group unseen by others. A family, for example, might include wine, just a glass each, with the evening meal. The family may believe quite honestly that there is no danger in that. However this is something of an illusion.

Regarding conscience there is always the message coming from some teetotallers that it is a sin to drink alcohol even in moderation. This can sow a seed of doubt in the mind of one such as a member of that family just mentioned. So a sin of conscience could take place (Romans 14:21-23).

Drinking in private does not make any significant difference to that possibility.

Regarding drunkeness. There is always the chance that a person who is encouraged to consume alcohol, albeit in moderation and in private, will turn out to have a weakness for it. Some people can really only handle alcohol by not drinking it at all. Moderate drinking is for them a giant leap toward alcoholism. For them, one drink is one step toward drunkeness, and one step too many.

Do you avoid falling over a cliff by taking one step toward it? To avoid drunkeness (Ephesians 5:18), the most important drink for some people to avoid is the first drink, not the drink that will make them drunk. Drinking in private does not help this situation in any way.

3 Unseen Yet Still Unremoved

The proverbial dust swept under the carpet may have been put out of sight, but it has not been removed. Private drinking of alcohol takes the drinking out of sight, but does not remove it from the devil's field of opportunity. We are warned, "Do not give the devil a place" (Ephesians 4:27).

It seems a fair observation that the devil has used alcohol ruthlessly to destroy people's lives, families, and bodies. So it seems prudent to keep alcohol entirely out of our lives, our families, and our bodies, so as to give the devil no place whatsoever.

We all know that if you give the devil an inch and he will take a mile. "We are not unaware of his schemes" (2Corinthians 2:11).

"If This Then That"

One of the devil's favourite ploys is the "if this then that" falacy. People do something that they believe is right and proper, such as having a glass of wine with their evening meal at home. Then comes the night for the eldest child to bring home a friend for the evening meal. Will the wine be on the table as usual? Well the friend likes a glass of wine too, and if we can have it every other night, then why can't we have it the night that a friend visits?

Then comes time for the child's birthday party. The parents say no alcohol at the party, but the child says that if it's okay for us to have alcohol at our evening meal when one friend visits, why isn't it okay to have it at the party with fifteen friends? After all, it's still at home under our control, isn't it?

See how it goes? If this then that. One increment at a time. After a few of those, it's all got out of hand. The devil loves to play this game, because there's so many possibilities. He can manipulate a principle so nicely that you will begin to believe that if you can buy a bottle of beer and drink it, then you can buy a brewery and make millions of bottles for others to drink!

Total abstinence poses none of these problems. It's clear cut and straight forward. Zero is zero. It gives the devil no place, no purchase. Taking alcohol out of sight does not take it out of the devil’s reach.

The Bible says, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7). You cannot do that by half measures. That's why, when I see all the destruction wrought through alcohol abuse, I encourage people to practise total abstinence from alcohol at all times, both in public and in private.

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