Author: Ron Graham
Abstinence and Appearances
—Avoiding any association with evil
Christianity is not a religion of abstinence. Paul makes it clear that Christians should not be burdened with man-made rules of the "touch not, taste not" variety (Colossians 2:20-23).
On the other hand, Paul does lay down a general law of abstinence. He says, "Abstain from every form of evil" (1Thessalonians 5:22).
1 Alcohol as a Form of Evil
In the general law of abstinence, "Abstain from every form of evil" (1Thessalonians 5:22), we are interested especially in the word that qualifies evil, namely the word "form" or "appearance" (Greek ειδος (eidos 1491).
"Every form" doesn't simply mean every kind, but every aspect of evil —anything that appears evil to sensible people or has a strong association with evil. You might not see evil in alcohol itself, but you can appreciate and respect why others do, because they see...
- A crisis. Our community is being poisoned by drugs and alcohol.
- Substance abuse. alcohol is high on the list abused substances.
- Addiction. alcohol is addictive, and for the addicted it is toxic.
- Suffering. alcoholics' families suffer terribly. Wives are bashed, children live in fear and neglect.
- Death. Road deaths are commonly related to alcohol abuse.
- Disease. Liver disease, and other serious health problems are commonly related to alcohol abuse.
- Crime. Murders and pack rapes, riots and vandalism, sex orgies and other evils, are often fuelled by drink.
- Destitution. Who has not seen seen the pitiful and homeless drunk eating filth from rubbish bins?
When people see all this, when they "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15), when they see the blood, agony, dying, quarrels, despair, and ruin, is it not perfectly understandable that they speak of "the evils of drink"?
When people see the thin bruised wife, the pregnant thirteen-year-old who cannot remember who she slept with, the desolate grave of one whose death was alcohol-related —when they see these, is it any wonder they say, "Strong drink is a curse and a demon!"
When alcohol appears in this "form" is it not best for you to abstain from it, in order that your reputation and behaviour are seen to be "excellent among the Gentiles?" (lPe 2:12).
2 Abstinence for Disassociation
The Christian wishes to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness" (Ephesians 5:11). The Christian wants no association with any evil, including those evils related to the consumption of alcohol.
Abstinence from alcohol disassociates you from the evils that are so often alcohol related. When people say of someone, "She won't touch the booze," they might mean, "She's a wowser," but never do they mean, "She's wicked." Abstinence might look bad socially, but it never looks bad morally.
Abstinence has a strong association with goodness, whereas alcohol has a strong association with evil. In these circumstances, moderate drinking may be perceived as nothing better than moderate evil-doing.
3 Shining Our Light
Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). There is a clear principle underlying this...
- It is important how we appear to the community.
- As far as possible, what we do should be seen as good in other people’s eyes.
- It is not enough to do good, it has to be done "in such a way" that people recognize it as good.
We could call the above principle, "the principle of appearances". It means that we forgo what we regard to be good or right when it will not be seen as such, and instead behave "in such a way" that we will be seen to be doing what is good or right. We do not let our light shine by pleasing ourselves, but by setting an example that our neighbour will see as good (Romans 15:1-2).
Now this "such a way" of letting our light shine may not please every neighbour. Some may not like what we do. They may prefer that we participate in evil.
They may call us names like "wowser" or "goody-goody". However in their hearts they recognize that we are doing good. They see the light in us, even though they are lovers of darkness (John 3:19).
Abstinence from alcoholic drinks is called for today because there is so much evil in our society that is alcohol-related. How can you be certain that you do not associate yourself with this evil, or that you do not even appear to do so? By consuming alcohol, or by abstaining from it?