How to Be Intoxicated and Sober at the Same Time

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March 30, 2022

1 Peter 4:7 NIV

7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.

CONSIDER THIS

Be sober.

Pete says it three times in the span of five chapters. 

At 1:13: Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.

In today’s text: 7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.

And coming up at 5:8: Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 

I’m going to tell you what Peter means with his use of the term sober. He’s not singling out alcoholics. The Greek word is nepho (pronounced nay-fo). It would be easy to soft pedal this and suggest he means “clear-minded” if he hadn’t already said that too in the text. That word is sóphroneó (pronounced so-fron-eh-o) and it means to be of sound mind. Peter intentionally adds the word “nay-fo” which literally means something like, “watch out for the wine.” Remember, he is writing to people in persecution, pain, and deep distress; people for whom wine could easily shift into a source of spiritual comfort or escape—or to be more pointed—a kind of medication for anxiety or depression.

I hadn’t intended to go in this direction, but I sense the Spirit pressing me on it. Can we talk about alcohol? It is a sensitive subject, but it needn’t be. There are two groups of people who tend to get all the focus—the alcoholics and the teetotalers. My concern today lies with the vast population between. I believe “nay-fo” or true sobriety does not live between alcoholism and abstinence but on another spectrum altogether.

Before going further, however, we should name the main thing that almost never gets discussed in a conversation about the consumption of alcohol. Let me be emphatically clear. The demonic strategy of deception and distraction would obscure the real issue here. The issue is not about drinking alcohol at all. The issue is the fullness of the Holy Spirit. 

7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.

Human beings are made in the image of God, which means we are made to live and flourish at the level of Divine-Human Life. This is what is meant by a Holy Spirit-filled life. Jesus Himself shows us what this looks like. As our human spirit interactively participates with the Holy Spirit we have the capacity to become everything the New Testament says we can become—which is both breath-giving and breathtaking. 

Wine (and other alcoholic beverages) is an intoxicant. Many people can drink alcohol and not become intoxicated or impaired. Some cannot owing to what I would call the infirmity we commonly call alcoholism. Again, the issue is not alcohol per se but the Holy Spirit-filled life. There comes a point at which the consumption of alcohol impedes the working of the Holy Spirit with the human spirit. The Apostle Paul, writing to the middle first century churches, offered this guidance:

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, (Ephesians 5:18)

The kind of sobriety the Bible speaks of cannot be reduced to not drinking or drinking too much. It means being filled to overflowing (even intoxicating) life with the Holy Spirit. One of the most fascinating side conversations on the Day of Pentecost was this one:

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! (Acts 2:13-15)

The Holy Spirit operates like an intoxicant (though intoxicant is the wrong idea, as it means poison), simultaneously bringing an inebriating joy and sober mindedness. Wow! This is what we must give our utmost attention to—not debating over whether a glass of wine at dinner is a problem. It’s not, until it is; at which point it should be addressed. We must be focusing all of our energy on both the ordinary and extraordinary implications of being created in the image of a God and filled to flourishing overflowing by the Holy Spirit.  

O.K., now that we’ve touched on this sensitive subject, I would like to offer some pastoral counsel as it comes to the use of alcohol, should you a) not be prone to the infirmity of addiction, and b) choose to partake of it. I am sure I will be criticized for not taking a complete abstinence approach to the subject. If this is your conviction (or your church’s position), I respect it wholeheartedly. Even so, as a pastor, I owe wise pastoral guidance to those who do not take this approach. In keeping with that, I offer the following principles on the matter of consuming alcohol.

Only consume alcohol:

1) In awareness of the presence of God, never in secret
2) With others, never alone
3) In moderation, not in excess
4) In peace, never to escape sadness, anger, or to medicate pain
5) With food, never in hunger
6) With respect to all applicable laws
7) With love to abstain where it might cause others to stumble

7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.

Wake up sleeper and rise from the dead. . . 

Your turn: 

THE PRAYER

Jesus, you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. You are our peace in anxiety, our joy in despair, our wholeness in brokenness, our deep attachment when we want to escape. We pray for those we know who suffer with the infirmity of alcoholism or any other addiction. We long for them to be set free, to be delivered into complete freedom, and we have compassion on them without judgment. Holy Spirit, we want to be so filled with you that we run from even the slightest sense that we might grieve or deny your presence and full effect. Lead us into the kind of fullness that is all at once intoxicating and sober. Yes, Lord, this is our heart’s desire. Praying in Jesus’ name, Amen.

THE QUESTION

How do you think about and process this sensitive and often difficult matter? I welcome your push back. Try not to shove. ;0) And if you are struggling/suffering with alcohol and possible addiction, will you engage it at the next level of recovery? 

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt
Sower-in-Chief
seedbed.com

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Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.

9 COMMENTS

  1. J D ,thank you for you willingness to address this thorny subject. First, a little background. I grew up in a dysfunctional home due to the effects of alcoholism. Secondly, I spent the first couple of years on the Houston Police Department picking up drunks off the sidewalks in downtown Houston. Therefore, I’ve seen the damage that alcohol abuse can cause. But on the other hand, reinterpreting Scriptures in order to condemn the drinking of all alcohol is not the answer either. This approach comes across as legalism and drives the folks who need help with their addiction away. I believe that you’ve stated my feelings on the subject rather accurately. I would add only one other thing. Having some experience with a deliverance ministry, I’m also aware that alcohol like any other addiction can become a gateway for demonic oppression. During these times of extreme chaos in the world I can see where this becomes an even greater danger as some folks attempt to self-medicate using alcohol.

  2. Ephesians 5:18 offers an amazing alternative to getting drunk on alcohol or high on drugs. Instead, we can overflow with God’s Spirit and that’s an out-of-this world experience that produces “joy unspeakable and full of glory,” as well as “peace that passes understanding.” There’s nothing like continually basking in the incredible fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and experiencing the astounding gifts of the Spirit throughout the day (1 Corinthians 12:7-10).

    Letting the Holy Spirit flow “out of your innermost being” is extremely inebriating. That why, when 120 of Jesus’ disciples began to overflow with the Spirit and flooded out of the Upper Room into the street while whooping it up for Jesus, many people thought they were drunk. My view on Christians drinking alcohol is, who needs wine when you can be drunk in the Holy Spirit and ‘rejoice in the Lord always?”

    So how can you live under the influence (LUI) of the Spirit? How can you get and stay tipsy in the God’s Spirit?

    1) Ask. “You have not because you ask not.” Continually ask God to fill you up with the Spirit. I like to ask Alexa to play “Fill My Cup, Lord” and then sing along with my whole heart. Whew! Then I soon begin to feel the Spirit moving in my soul!

    2) “O, taste and see that the Lord is good.” The Holy Spirit needs to be experienced, not just theologized, surrendered to, not defined. Read the Bible every single day with a humble, open heart. Read it like a love letter, not like a textbook. Also check out: “Experiencing God” by Henry Blackaby.

    3) Go with the Spirit’s flow. Through your conscience and through His “still, small voice” the Holy Spirit prompts people to say and do things. If you resist His promptings, you’re disobeying God. If you begin to obey the nudgings of the Spirit, even when you would rather disobey them, you will soon begin to experience spiritual inebriation.

    4) “Stir up the gift that is in you.” If you are a genuine Christ-follower, the Holy Spirit lives inside of you, even if you have “left your first love.” Continually fan the embers of God’s Spirit into an ongoing raging fire in your heart. Get pumped up for Jesus!

    5) When people get drunk together, they call it partying. Party in the Holy Spirit like the first Christians did on Pentecost. Gather with one or more other Christ-followers and begin to celebrate, rejoice, and praise Jesus together. Go with the flow of the Spirit together as you listen to the Spirit and then say and do what He tells each of you to say and do.

    6) “Quench not the Spirit.” Don’t let anything put out the Spirit’s fire in your heart. Seek to avoid sin, but if you slip into a sin, quickly repent and let the living Jesus restore you to His amazing presence. (See 1 John 1:9 and Romans 8:1)

  3. Thank you for speaking out on this topic! As a recovered alcoholic, I’ve been clean and sober since 1985, it’s very hard for people to understand that some folks can be an alcoholic from the very first drink. I’ve always encouraged young people to know if there is alcoholism on one or both sides of their family tree. This greatly increases the chances of someone developing a problem with alcohol. Keep up the good work j.d.

  4. It is always about what dominates your life: God or something else. My Dad was a lost soul, and the problem was not drinking. It was the financial debt incurred as he lived beyond his means in pursuit of being “socially acceptable”. Somehow, spending money numbed his pain and gave him a sense that he was somebody who mattered.

  5. From a Family Physician’s viewpoint – Just the fact that you need to list so many restrictions to the use of alcohol is some evidence that it is not worth the risk. And what are the compelling advantages to the use of alcohol that make it worth the risk? More than 10% of people who consume alcohol will find their lives altered by it. Many lives are taken each year by impaired drivers. Just because it is not prohibited in scripture doesn’t mean it should be used. Better advice would be to avoid alcohol altogether, rather than risk it, while not condemning those who use it to glorify God, if there is such a thing.

  6. “The Holy Spirit operates like an intoxicant (though intoxicant is the wrong idea, as it means poison), simultaneously bringing an inebriating joy and sober mindedness. Wow! This is what we must give our utmost attention to…. We must be focusing all of our energy on both the ordinary and extraordinary implications of being created in the image of God and filled to flourishing overflowing by the Holy Spirit.”

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    J.D. – This reminds me of what you wrote about recently in the Daily Text regarding 1 Peter 3:15 and “setting apart Christ as Lord in our hearts.” It’s about our focus. You said, “Give Jesus time and space and he will fill us with all the fullness of God.” (Yep! You wrote that. Pretty good, eh?! 😉 ) Maybe it’s misguided speculation on my part, but if we’re being filled with all the fullness of God, would we need anything else? Granted, “setting apart Christ as Lord in our hearts” is an on-going, life-long pursuit, but it gets back to what we’re “giving our utmost attention to.” Is it on what I want, or think I deserve, or need, or am at liberty to do? Or am I focusing on what God wants me to focus on while I’m here on this earth? Methinks much of this would not even be an issue if the main thing were the main thing. (Oh, if I could only get this right in my own life most of the time. Too often the “tyranny of the urgent” gets in the way.)

  7. This post really spoke to me. I’m thankful you responded to the Holy Spirit nudging to dig into issue of alcohol. I, from a Holy Spirit nudge to confront my own separation for the Holy Spirit, quit drinking 9 years ago. Through the strength of the Holy Spirit I have been able maintain sobriety. As I read you post you (as always) eloquently captured my experience. Being of sober mind and not compromised has 100% made my life more full. Now comes the push back. Not shoving here only pushing back. You responded to the Holy Spirit by writing this and I feel certain there are folks that needed to hear these words. I was thinking of some of my band that might confront their consumption. At the end though you left a crack in the door for those who struggle to quit. As I read your list of exceptions there were things that I could have latched on and told myself that I didn’t have a problem. I wish you would have left that off and let your readers settle that with God. Regardless I know God is speaking to many from this post and I pray they too can experience the fullness available when they are sober. I looked for loopholes for many years.

  8. I am involved in jail and rehab ministries. Over 90% of inmates’ crimes are drug-related. Alcohol is a drug. Without going in-depth about the reasons, we should avoid alcohol, period—especially followers of Christ.
    These points I will make:
    1. it is a drug that is used to cope with life. Either to temporarily dull pain or give false pleasure.
    2. Even if in moderation, a priority is to keep it there. That takes energy better spent for God’s Kingdom.
    3. Alcohol is a slippery slope that wants to kill, steal and destroy. All drugs are tools of the devil. How many drinks does it take until the mind isn’t spiritually alert or sober to the devouring devil? One, three, or ten? None keeps the door closed for any demonic entry from that scheme. Alcohol puts a shower curtain veil between our soul and God. Jesus tore the veil; why put up another one?
    4. Does drinking alcohol honor God, in any way?
    5. When we seek anything in the world for help that can destroy, aren’t we short-changing what Jesus said he will do for us?
    J.D,
    The payer for this Daily Text was powerful. It is truth, and it counter-dictated everything you wrote in the Daily Text. Jesus didn’t come to help us manage life; He came to set us free and give us life to the fullest.
    I tell the guys in jail and rehab, “Instead of picking up a beer or pill at that moment, pick up the Bible and digest the Gos-pil!.
    So, if the Son set you free, you are FREE IDEED.
    Staying 💪 in Christ,
    Doc

  9. I am so thankful for the truth and I’m going to try my best to have faith till I give up everything I want and give in everything god and Jesus need from me. Now is time the end is near . I ask for forgiveness and love because god is my only light and candle in this work of darkness. I need to keep walking straight and slow because the wind will be the result of temptation and anxiety getting the best of you. It is hard to be fearless but I’m committed to being fearless for his glory for that’s what matters most no matter how much I love what he’s given me, he always comes first for the gift is not more important than the giver. Amen.

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