Several weeks ago I had the privilege to officiate a wedding ceremony of one of my former students. It was a beautiful wedding and honor that they would ask me to serve in such a high pastoral role. The night before the wedding Emily and I received an invitation to go and see another of my former students perform at a local bar. Since we had someone to watch the girls and I had never seen Odie play, we decided it would be a good idea to go watch the show.

Before I continue let me give you a little more context. I am not a strict prohibitionist concerning alcohol. I do not believe that Scripture teaches that it is sinful for a believer of Jesus to drink alcohol socially and in moderation. It is clear that disciples are prohibited from indulging in drunkenness (Eph 5:18). I believe that Christian liberty allows for the consumption of alcohol as long as it does not: (a) violate the conscience of the one drinking. In other words, as long as they are persuaded in the Lord Jesus, then it is acceptable (Rom 14:14); or (b) the exercise of their liberty does not cause other “weaker”siblings in Christ to sin – meaning that they follow their example and indulge in this observed liberty but are not convinced in the Lord Jesus that indulging in this liberty is acceptable for them. Their conscience, thus, condemns them. Today we might call this giving into peer pressure without biblically weighing the pro’s and con’s of this liberty and deciding for oneself – under the guidance of the Spirit – whether or not one should drink. A final word of context. I do not make it my practice to drink alcohol. There are other issues related to the issue of drinking such as cultural context and my position and authority as a minister in Jesus’ church. So, for these reasons and others, it is my normal practice to abstain from the consumption of alcohol although I am convinced God has granted me the liberty otherwise.

The story continues…At the show Emily and I had a chance to reconnect with many former students from our ministry at Green Valley Baptist Church. Without exception almost every student was drinking. This wasn’t really troubling, but a later conversation prompted some questions about the purpose of this activity. If you don’t know, OdieMcCool broke up and now Odie is on his own playing music and being the whimsical, creative genuis that he is. One of the students told me that he wasn’t sure what he was going to do for “fun” now that the band was busted up because they used to go watch them play 3-4 times a week.

As we were at the bar I noticed that most of the students weren’t content to have one drink. There were multiple drinks being enjoyed (to the glory of God is a debatable issue). I left wondering, “What is the purpose behind this activity? Is it solely for leisure? Are the expenses of weekend social drinking – particularly on a regular basis – justifiable Kingdom expenses? Are people here just for fun or for purpose?”

As I consider the teaching of Scripture, when Paul and Peter were confronted with these issues of liberty related to food, drink and even circumcision, this was never an issue of a biblical author championing his liberty to eat certian foods or drink wine; they were always issues where these practices were acceptable in the culture where the Gospel was penetrating and these men of God were faced with whether or not these cultural practices were sinful for those converted in this cultural context. It was never an issue of liberty for pleasure by the biblical author. I’ve had so many conversations with students (of legal drinking age) who are convinced Scripturally that it is okay for them to drink a beer (and it is – under certain Scriptural conditions), but their only concern is their right to do so. It saddens me to think that we feel so little compassion and cooperation towards the body of Christ that we could cling tightly to an exercise of pleasure over and above the weaker faith of our Jesus siblings (and this is the dominant issue in Romans 14:1-15:7). Paul is concerned, yes, that we have the freedom to exercise our liberty, but that we not do so at the expense of others or the Kingdom.

This brings me back to what I observed: for what Kingdom purpose are young evangelicals around the US championing their liberty to consume alcohol? It is certainly one thing to spend time at a local sports bar weekly building relationships with the patrons and enjoying a cold one when its offered to you. But it is another issue entirely to burn hundreds of dollars a month at a local bar drinking alcohol simply because Scripture doesn’t forbid it for pleasure and without purpose. And the same could be said with the excessive amount of money we spend on clothes, entertainment, eating out and more (lest anyone get confused that this post is simply about alcohol).

There is nothing wrong with enjoying what God has given us as a gift for His glory. As a matter of fact, Scripture commands us to enjoy the good gifts God has given (1Tim 6:17). But the issues are those of excess and purpose. I can enjoy a glass of orange juice to the glory of God (and I do so regularly). However, if I am spending $300/mo on orange juice when there are issues of justice, mercy and compassion I have the resources to help eradicate, am I glorifying God with my resources, even if I am giving thanks to God for the $300/mo OJ addiction? And furthermore, for what purpose would I make such excessive expenditures. Paul himself says that “…the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousnss and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17).

My concern is that Christian liberty has become the “boast” of the younger evangelical. I dearly love many of the students I saw at Odie’s concert, but I know little of their devotion to Christ or His Church because I am so distanced from their current life situation. My suspicion is that many of them are only loosely connected to Jesus, rarely attend His Church, and give very little to support the hands, feet and heart ministry of His Bride. And yet, thousands of dollars and hours are likely exhausted pursuing pleasure and the cause of Christian liberty.

The prophet Jeremiah had something to say about what the priorities of the saints of God should be: “Thus says the LORD, ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches (and if I can add, let not the disciple boast in his liberty), but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD'” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

I’m convinced that at the final judgment God will not look down on those of us who boasted in our Christian liberty at the expense of the faith of others or good stewardship with an approving smile. I’m not sure how much God will delight in the proper exercise of Christian liberty. But He does delight in people that know and understand Him, who practice steadfast love, justice and righteousness on the earth. God, I pray that I will pursue these things with the same passion and desire in which I pursue my own pleasure. May my pleasure be found in your smile and no other.