Christians in Paul’s day were commanded to abstain from certain foods. “Abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication” (Acts 15:28-29). You will notice that abstinence from certain foods is lumped in together with abstinence from fornication. But how about alcohol?

Abstinence and Conscience

1 A Reason for Abstinence

The interesting thing about this is that Jesus declared all foods clean. Mark quotes Jesus as saying, “When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable.  So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also? Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him,  because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?” And He said, “What comes out of a man that defiles a man.  For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within and defile a man” (Mark 7:17-23).

So here as clear and plain as it can be said we have Jesus saying that all foods are clean

If Jesus declared all foods clean, why was abstinence from certain foods required? Why was it sinful to eat meat sacrificed to idols? Paul explains that an idol is nothing, so food cannot be spoiled by offering it to an idol, which is an imaginary god.

Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one.  For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live” (I Corinthians 8:4-6).

The problem was that many people had faulty or super-sensitive.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     consciences. They had become so accustomed to idols that they couldn’t eat meat offered to idols without feeling that they were worshipping idols. Jews, likewise, could not shake off the belief that the law given to Noah and Moses must still hold good, that animals should not be eaten unless at the slaughter their blood was allowed to pour out of the carcass. So they thought of things strangled as defiled food and forbidden by God’s law                                                                                                                                                                                                             (See Genesis 9:3-4, 8:1-13, Deuteronomy 12:20-25).                                                   Thus, even if the meat itself did not defile them, people felt they were defiled by their own guilt and doubt if they ate the meat.                                                        .

(See l Corinthians 8:1-13, Romans 14:14, 23).

The reason that abstinence from meat offered to idols was   wrong for some people was not that it was sinful itself, like fornication is, but because their faulty conscience convinced them otherwise. . Therefore abstinence was necessary to avoid encouraging such people to violate their conscience. It was the brotherly love thing not to force your personal convictions upon another and thus cause them to stumble in their faith.

2 Laws and Taboos

Paul discouraged, even condemned, adherence to old taboos                                     (See Colossians 2:20-23)                                                                                                      He did not want people to become obsessed with abstinence. He did, however, want them to adopt and live by the following principle:                                                                                                                                               All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.”                                 .

 (See  I Corinthians 6:12-a,8:1-13;  I Corinthians  10:23).

One might say, “If there’s no law against it, and I can do it with a clear conscience, then why shouldn’t I?” The answer is, because it is harmful and not helpful, and you have to think about the other person’s conscience, not just your own.

The conclusion to which all this leads, is that whilst we should not make or be bound by food laws and taboos as such, we may still need to voluntarily abstain from some foods out of respect to those who would violate their conscience if they partook of those foods.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 (See Romans 14:13-23, Romans 8:1-13, Rom 15:1-2).

3 Application to Strong Drink

We notice that Paul included the drinking of wine, as well as the eating of meat, in one of his exhortations to abstinence, “It is good neither to eat meat, nor  drink wine, nor  do anything by which your brother stumbles or  is offended or is made weak” (Romans  14:21). The above principle applies to the drinking of alcohol beverages as well. Alcohol is especially offensive to Christians who have been saved out of an abusive, alcoholic home, where they saw their mother abused, when the rent money was spent down at Duffy’s tavern and they and their brothers and sisters had little food to eat and  no decent cloths to wear.

Other Christians have a sensitive conscience about alcoholic drinking because they have been brought up to believe that strong drink is sinful and total abstinence is essential to maintaining a balanced Christian life. After all what is moderation to one person is not moderation to another.  30% of college dropouts are due to alcohol, 43% of accidental deaths are alcohol related, 75% of incest is alcohol related, 98% of Campus or date rape is alcohol related and hundreds die on our highways every week by social drinkers. Alcohol has drowned more men than the sea. However, if the one who drinks with a clear conscience leads one to drink who feels guilty, then a serious offence has occurred.  

Another  stark reality is that some people have a weakness for alcohol. This weakness leads to addiction or excess, so that they become drunkards. Such people cannot practice moderation. They must practice total abstinence if they are going to overcome their alcohol problem, their sin, and the shocking harm it causes. Surely we should set an example of abstinence for their sakes.  

It’s Your Choice

If you are doing something which another person believes to be wrong, that person may weaken and be led by your example to do the thing which may bring about his spiritual downfall. To wound another man’s conscience and cause him to stumble and perhaps never recover is to sin against Christ. If you would hate to mislead anyone like that, then you have a very good reason to abstain from alcohol, period.

That’s Something To Think About,

Pastor Bob