This post is adapted from a sermon I preached from Proverbs 23:29-35. If you’re interested in hearing more, feel free to follow my sermon podcast on Apple Podcasts, Anchor, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Breaker, PocketCasts, RadioRepublic, or other podcast apps.
Our society, particularly in America, is dominated by a message of self-indulgence. Whether it is all the beer ads during football games, or binge-watching Netflix, the message to us as consumers is that you need one more, you deserve a little more, one more won’t hurt. But the bible reveals to us that we were designed to operate within certain bounds. We were created with limits, and the habitual disregard for those limits will wreak havoc, not only upon the one that over-indulges, but on those all around him as well.
Let’s look at Proverbs 23: 29-35, and we’ll begin to unpack the bible’s teaching related to drunkenness and, as we will see, how those same principles apply in different areas of life as well. Proverbs 23:29-35:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
30 Those who tarry long over wine;
those who go to try mixed wine.
31 Do not look at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup
and goes down smoothly.
32 In the end it bites like a serpent
and stings like an adder.
33 Your eyes will see strange things,
and your heart utter perverse things.
34 You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
like one who lies on the top of a mast.[h]
35 “They struck me,” you will say,[i] “but I was not hurt;
they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
I must have another drink.”
We will begin by looking at drunkenness from four different angles. First the risks associated with drunkenness, then the Root of the problem, then the Remedy in Christ, and the Result. Risks, Root, Remedy, and Result.
So, let’s first see what the divine author of this proverb would have us understand as the Risks associated with drunkenness. The risks associated with drunkenness. Our proverb tonight is in the form of a riddle, of a series of questions, and it begins by asking “Who has woe, who has sorrow, who has strife, who has complaining, who has wounds without cause, who has redness of eyes?” The answer, which we have already read in verse 30, is the one who lingers over wine. The drunkard, we are meant to see, will have pain in every major area of life.
First, He will have woe and sorrow, or emotional pain. He will say things to his family and friends that cut very deeply. Or he’ll promise things, but never follow through. People can’t trust him, and his lack of trustworthiness makes him angrier, which leads to even more emotional carnage.
Second, the drunkard is promised to have strife and complaining, or relational pain. His boss will increasingly notice that the man’s work is not what it used to be. His mind isn’t as sharp, he seems to take off earlier and earlier, come in later and later, and not meet deadlines like he used to. His wife will get less and less of his attention, which is always reserved for the bottle. The kids don’t see much of dad anymore, and when they do see him, he’s not himself, he’s short tempered and explosive. Everyone gets used to not having him around, which makes him feel even more lonely, and drives him further to drink.
Third, not only will he have emotional and relational pain, he will have wounds without cause and red eyes, or we could say, physiological pain. His body wasn’t designed for such abuse, and it begins to show. The thing that promises him life, is only hastening his death.
And those of us that have lived long enough to see the terrible costs of drunkenness, we also have seen that this pain is usually gradual. Nobody wakes up one day and finds themselves a drunkard, when they had a previous history of being sober minded. No, drunkenness begins with a little taste here, a little indulgence there, getting a little too tipsy one night, and enjoying that feeling, then chasing that feeling again, and again, until one day you wake up and realize you’re barreling down the road of drunkenness, causing a wake of emotional havoc behind you.
What makes this sin even more tragic, is that this pain is usually evident to everyone but the drunkard. The painful effects of drunkenness are usually evident to everyone around the drunk. He seems to come to every family function with a red solo cup in his hand. Over time, you come to expect it from him. You can’t even remember the last time you didn’t see him with a beer in his hand. And everyone around him can tell he is a drunk, even if he won’t admit it. His eyes are red, the proverb reminds us. You can see it in his eyes. If you’ve lived in proximity to a drunkard, you can probably spot the signs. They’re eyes are bloodshot and pupils are dilated, even long after they quit drinking for the night. They’re face looks well worn, and they’re body not as youthful as it should be, aging faster than everyone else’s, because, as the proverb tells us, they are wounding their body. If they drink enough, they’re skin will even begin to weather, as they continually abuse their liver.
And perhaps the most tragic piece of this whole situation is that the drunkard’s pain is entirely avoidable. It is entirely avoidable. He inflicts pain on his family, abuse on his body, makes himself a stench to his employer and his neighbors, he drains himself of resources and usefulness to society, and all for something that he could have passed up. He could have left alone. He could have left in the liquor store, or just walked passed the bar.
If we skip down to verse 32, we also notice that wine has a bite. When the seeds of drunkenness bear fruit, it comes with a sting: “In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.” Over indulgence brings pain and grief. Period. The end. There is no other end to that road. It will be unpleasant, regardless of what promises are made. The over-indulgence of alcohol promises to relieve pain, but it only multiplies it. It promises to bring friends, but in the end it divides them. It promises life, but brings only death.
Not only does it bring pain, but verses 33-35 show us how drunkenness changes our very perception of reality. Your eyes begin to see strange things, it says. When you’re drunk, you can’t even trust your own perception. You can become paranoid, thinking everyone is talking about you; or fearful, thinking that the enemy is right outside; or angry, thinking that people are out to get you.
And what happens when a drunk can’t rightly perceive reality: he says perverse things, verse 33 says. And many of us have seen that. Drunkenness loosens the lips and lets whatever venom is in the heart flow freely. That’s what Jesus says: out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, and it is the heart that is revealed when a drunk runs his mouth.
But as is that isn’t enough, the next verse uses nautical language to describe his disorientation: “You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of the mast.” In short, you’ll be like someone who is drunk with seasickness, unable to stand up straight, unable to support yourself, unable to be of any use at all, except for chumming the water.
You’re so disoriented that verse 35 tells you that you’ll say: “They struck me,” but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it.” And that state of disorientation and false perception is true in two different ways. It’s true when he’s drunk and when he’s hungover. That is, when he’s drunk, he says, “They struck me and I didn’t feel it,” because he’s puffed up by pride and feeling no pain. The alcohol makes him think he is invincible, that nobody can talk to him that way and that he can take on the world, if he has to.
But the proverb is also true when he is hung over, because he says, “They struck me and I didn’t feel it,” that is, his body feels beaten, but there is no evidence of a beating. His body is aching all over and his stomach is churching, but he has no black eyes or bruises. He feels like he was in a fight, but he doesn’t remember the fight.
And what does a man in this condition crave? How can he solve his disoriented, unpleasant hangover? He craves another drink. That’s the best cure for a hangover, the drunk says, give me another drink. And the sad cycle begins all over again.
So, what are we to make of this sorry drunk? What lesson are we to learn? Well the simplest and most evident lesson is verse 31: “Don’t look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.” And the writer isn’t suggesting that merely looking at wine in a cup is sinful and to be avoided. Rather, don’t linger over it, don’t lust over it, don’t be frequent to the cup, don’t use your imagination to entrance you with all the promises of what it can offer. Don’t sit at work and daydream about the beer you want to have that night.
In short, don’t be enslaved to alcohol, which leads to my 2nd point, which is the Root of the problem of drunkenness. The root problem of drunkenness, is not alcohol. The bible nowhere gives an absolute prohibition of alcohol. In fact, and this may come as a shock to some, the bible actually proscribes wine in a couple of instances. Proverbs 31:4-7 says that the king should avoid wine, and save it for the poor and dying man to alleviate his pain. Proverbs actually commends wine to alleviate the plight of those in intense suffering. Further, Paul tells timothy to have a little wine for the sake of his stomach.
The problem with drunkenness is not a problem of alcohol ultimately. It is fundamentally a problem of enslavement and self-control. It’s not the drink that’s sinful, its drunkenness, just like the problem is not with a feast, the problem is with gluttony or enslavement to food. The problem is enslavement to anything created, not the created thing itself. When God created all things, he pronounced them good, and that goodness of the creation continue today. But when we place anything above God and we bow down to it, then we have become enslaved to it.
Have you ever become enslaved to anything, maybe even a good thing? Work is a good thing, but enslavement to it is a sin. Shopping isn’t inherently sinful, but being enslaved to spending is sinful. Having a beer isn’t necessarily evil, but enslavement to alcohol is. Physical exercise is of some value, Paul says, but if you’re enslaved to working out, then you’re worshipping a false idol.
What is it that seeks to enslave you? Is it enslavement to the praise of others, constantly being a people pleaser and desperately afraid of someone not liking you? Is it enslavement to entertainment? We even have a name for it: binge watching seasons of tv shows. The list of potential idols is limitless.
If you’re not sure what your potential enslavements are, let me give you a few diagnostic questions. Think about whatever it is that might enslave you and ask a few questions.
- If I’m unable to have or to do this, what is my reaction? Do you get antsy, agitated, frustrated, unable to sleep, irritable? If so, then that thing might have you enslaved.
- If someone else can have this or do this activity, what is my reaction? That is, do I get easily jealous of others, resentful and bitter, because they can have or do what I cannot.
- If other people found out how much I did ___, would I be ashamed or embarrassed? If people knew how much Netflix I watch, how much I’m on Facebook, how many beers I have each night, how I just ate a whole dozen doughnuts, would I be ashamed or embarrassed? If so, I might be enslaved to something.
These diagnostic questions can help us discern those areas in our life where we may be failing, where we may lack self-control, where we might even be enslaved. In fact, if we are honest, we all have areas where we lack self-control, where we indulge too much or too often, where we let sin lead us astray.
Paul even tells us in Romans 6:16 that when we fail in these ways we present our bodies as slaves to sin, which leads to death. That’s the ultimate destination and the just reward for each of these kinds of sin: death. Paul in the same chapter speaks of death as being the wages earned, the just payment for anyone employed in the work of sin, which is all of us.
All of us have at some point over indulged in something. We’ve gotten drunk, or we’ve engorged ourselves at a feast, or we’ve watched way too much football, or we’ve spent more than we had, or any number of things, and by doing so, we demonstrate that we’re enslaved not to God, but to sin. We’re enslaved not to righteousness, but to lawlessness, and thereby have demonstrated that we deserve eternal damnation and death.
But Paul doesn’t just stop there with the bad news, he continues in Romans 6 by reminding us of the Remedy for our sin. He says in verses 17-18: “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” Those that have come to Christ have been set free from sin, we’ve been liberated. We’re no longer bound by our passions and our appetites. We’re no longer defined by our habits and our weaknesses. Christ has come to set the captives free, to redeem from Egypt those that were in chains, and to bring out of the slavery of addiction a people for himself. That’s the good news of the gospel. That whatever our sins, whatever our patterns, whatever our enslavement, whatever our weaknesses, we can be forgiven because Christ was perfectly temperate and self-controlled in our place. He never gave in to the temptation to be drunk. Never succumbed to the passions or appetites of his flesh, never let his feelings lead him astray.
Christ was the man that Adam never was. Adam fixed his gaze on the fruit that didn’t belong to him, just like the drunkard lingers over wine and gazes at it sparkling in the cup. But Christ had his gaze fixed on the mission at hand. His mission was to honor his Father through perfect obedience, and he did just that. And because of his faithfulness, his self-control, and his righteousness, we can be set free. Christ is the remedy for our enslavement, freeing us from our bondage to sin.
I’d like to spend the remainder of our time tonight talking about the result of Christ as our remedy. The result of Christ as our remedy. What happens when we are freed by Christ? The Result is that we begin to bear the real, demonstrable, and apparent spiritual fruit of self-control. The result of our coming to Christ and receiving him as the remedy to our enslavement is that we actually begin to bear the spiritual fruit of self-control.
Paul continues the enslavement language in Romans 6, even applying it for our life in Christ. Far from freedom in Christ meaning that we can do what we want, we see instead that we have a new master. Paul says in Romans 6:19: “For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” We become slaves, not to sin, but slaves to righteousness. Instead of being driven by our passions and our flesh, we become driven by the Holy Spirit. Rather than being enslaved to indulgence, we become enslaved to Christ, which looks like, among other things, self-control, moderation, and temperance. We have been given the ability to reign in our passions, to use our appetites, not to indulge the flesh, but to strengthen our spiritual vitality and usefulness.
So how do we do this? What exactly does this look like? If I have been enslaved to something, how do I begin to grow in this area, and try to conquer my enslavement to this false master. Let me give you a 5 principles to keep in mind as we seek to grow in self-control:
- The battle for self-control begins with this core truth: anyone that is in Christ is free. Sin no longer has dominion over you. The new testament uses a variety of language to describe this reality of our new nature in Christ, also called our regeneration.
- If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. (2 Cor 5:17)
- We were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom 6:4)
- The old self has been crucified with Him in order that our body of sin might be brought to nothing so that we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:6-7)
- You’ve been saved by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3).
- The fact of our new birth, our new life in Christ is a bedrock truth that we can’t forget when we’re battling against sin and for the spiritual fruit of self-control. Sin no longer is our master, You don’t have to sin, we can have victory over our individual temptations, because Christ is our new master and holiness is our new aim.
- Anyone that is in Christ is free, and those whom the son sets free are free indeed.
- Although we have genuine Freedom in Christ, that doesn’t mean the absence of struggle.
- The New testament makes clear this dynamic in a variety of different ways. We’re born again, yet our old sinful nature clings close. We’re a new man, yet the old man won’t leave us alone. We’re raised again with Christ to walk in newness of life, but our old life won’t let us go.
- The New Testament paints a picture that is not overly triumphant, but soberly optimistic. And we need both of these dynamics in mind if we are going to be sober minded and self-controlled.
- If we forget that we are new creations in Christ, then we can lose hope when we’re deep in the trenches battling sin. We need to be reminded that sin no longer is our master, that we’ve been given the holy spirit, and that we CAN have growth in this life. Furthermore, we must remember that our new birth is based on Christ’s faithfulness, and not our own.
- But, lest we get over confident, we also need to keep in mind the ongoing presence of sin, lest we set ourselves up for failure. If we over emphasize the fact of our new birth, of us being new creations in Christ, and we neglect the teachings of the new testament related to our remaining sinful flesh, then we’ll be tempted to be over-confident in our abilities, and put ourselves in situations that we never should have.
- If all I do is preach to myself that I’m a new creation, that the old is gone, that sin is not my master, then I might put myself in foolish situations. A person struggling with drunkenness that only speaks about his new birth, might just be foolish enough to think he can walk into a bar and not be tempted. That’s just dumb.
- We need to remember both aspects of our life in this age: that we’re new creations, and that we still have propensities toward sin in this life.
- Although we have genuine Freedom in Christ, that doesn’t mean the absence of struggle.
- The battle for self-control requires the dependence upon the Holy Spirit. If self-control is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, then we can’t force that fruit to grow on our own, any more than I can force a tree to produce apples. I can water the ground and tend to the weeds, but the growth belongs to God.
- Likewise, I can’t in my own strength force the growth of spiritual fruit, but I can tend to the weeds of sin, I can stir my affections toward Christ through bible reading and meditation and prayer, I can nurture my soul by tending to the public means of grace, preaching, prayer, the sacraments. But I can’t muscle my way into spiritual maturity without the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence and help. Let me give you some examples:
- A Glutton swears that he won’t over eat again after he walks out of the buffet or out of Krispy Kreme. A Drunkard swears off of liquor when he wakes up and feels like he wants to die because of his hangover. Adulterers feel shame and remorse when they wake up in someone else’s bed. But many of them, regardless of how much shame they felt at the time, end up back in the same sin not too long after.
- Why is that? Well their repentance usually was not genuine, and their efforts to curb their indulgence are usually external, fleshly, rather than dependent on the holy spirit.
- For example, the shame of over indulgence may make a glutton swear that he’s going on a diet, and he’ll join a gym, and download an exercise app, and buy a week’s worth of vegetables. But soon he ends up back in the same buffet. He was using fleshly tools to try and break a spiritual problem, and wasn’t dependent at all on the holy spirit.
- A drunkard might try to go to AA meetings, and change his route home so that he doesn’t drive past the bar again, but neither of those things require the Holy Spirit’s aid. He’s trying to fight a spiritual battle using fleshly weapons.
- The battle for self-control requires dependence upon the Holy Spirit, which leads right into our next point,
- Self-control is not a matter of behavior modification; it is a matter of the heart. Or we could say it another way: self-control is really first fought at the level of affections, not at the level of action.
- This is related to the previous point about the spiritual nature of the battle, but we can be tempted to try and produce the spiritual fruit of self-control via fleshly means, which doesn’t nothing to change the affections of my heart.
- A drunkard might be tempted to think he is killing the sin of drunkenness because he has removed the alcohol from his home and doesn’t walk past a bar without a buddy there to keep him out of it.
- A man struggling with lust can likewise put content blockers on his computer and phone, which might be good and necessary, but those things just eliminate some occasions for stumbling, they don’t and can’t address the core of the issue, which is the heart.
- We can be tempted to put our faith in those barriers, to rely on those barriers, rather than seeking the root of the issue, which is our heart. We want to be the kind of people that wisely puts up barriers, but that has a dependence upon Christ the whole time, and is seeking heart level change, rather than mere behavior modification.
- We want to prayerfully seek to root out whatever sinful desires we have and kill them by the power of the holy spirit. The drunkard might need his friend to help him avoid the bar, but where we want to eventually get is to the stability of a heart that isn’t even tempted toward drunkenness. The lustful man might need accountability software on his computer, but we want to get to where the man has a deep and abiding love for Christ and contentment in his wife to where the lust has been cut at the root, at the level of the heart.
- Self-control is not merely outward behavior modification, it is a matter of the heart.
- The battle for self-control is a group effort.
- From the very beginning we’re told that it is not good for man to be alone. The first thing that God said was “Not Good” was Adam being alone, so God blessed him with a companion.
- We too need to remember that when we’re trying to battle some sort of enslavement and grow in self-control.
- Drunkards can’t beat the bottle alone. Gluttons can’t curb their over-indulgence one their own. Adulterers can’t become chaste in heart without the help of godly companions.
- We were designed for new covenant community. To be concerned for each other’s well-being and spiritual development. To spur one another on in the fight for holiness.
- We may not all need the same kind of help, but we all need help. Some in the church need strong intervention, need a persistent accountability partner that will love them enough not to let them hide in the shadows of sin.
- Others might not need that, but they need the encouragement to keep fighting the good fight.
- Others really need mentoring, to know what Godly manhood or womanhood might look like.
- We all need the prayers of the saints, if we are to survive in the spiritual warzone that is life in this age. We need each other, if we want to grow in the spiritual fruit of self-control, and battle against the enslaving sins that can cling so closely.
- The battle for self-control is a group effort.
As I close, let me speak to a few different groups about the nature of self-control. To those that are not a Christian: hear the warnings of scripture that your enslavement to sin now will bring eternal death. Outside of faith in Jesus Christ it is impossible for you to break your enslavement to sin. It is your master. You may think that you’re self-controlled and temperate in all things, that you haven’t murdered anyone and that you’re not a drunk, but Jesus makes clear that if we’ve even gotten angry at someone then we’ve murdered our brother in our heart. If we’ve over indulged one time in any way, gotten drunk one time, sinfully over-eaten one time, then we’ve sinned against a holy God that will come and judge. He will expose your enslavement to sin and justly reward it with an eternity in hell. Turn to him this very day, read of him in scripture, see how Christ came and died for the ungodly, that they might be liberated from their slavery to sin and freed to walk in the power of the holy spirit.
To the children and young ones: I want to encourage you to consider how you’re walking in self-control now. You’re setting yourself now into patterns of life that will be hard to break later. Consider how you spend your time and your energies and your free time and your money now, and ask yourself, “What would be the result if that pattern remained unchanged until my death bed?” Am I temperate, self-controlled, wise in my liberties now, or are there changes that I need to make, lest I get trapped by deep ruts of habit that were cut while in my youth?
And for the rest of us, I want to encourage you to continue the good fight of faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Christian life is a war, and remember how Paul starts his discussion of spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6: “stand in the power of HIS might.” Don’t fight in your own strength, but rely upon the Holy Spirit, leaning on your brothers and sisters in the faith, keeping your gaze upon Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 – “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”