“Do not get drunk.” Ephesians 5:18
I am spending most of the year preaching verse-by-verse through John’s Gospel. Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine is reported in 2:1–12. This event raises a lot of questions for Christians regarding alcohol consumption.
I have taken a few daily devotions now to help address the issues and answer the questions. Because this is such a personal and painful issue for many, I wanted to use this daily devotion on the subject to share some of my personal family history.
My family name is O’Driscoll. We come from County Cork in southern Ireland. Although many records pertaining to our family history were destroyed in a fire in Dublin, my dad and I reconstructed some of our family heritage by visiting Ireland together. O’Driscoll means “the messenger of God,” and it can refer to a preacher. That’s great, but our family history has rarely been godly or good.
For hundreds of years, we were a land-owning warrior clan with fortified castles and a small empire. Things changed when new political leadership arose. In the country where our ancestors battled with Vikings, Norsemen, Spaniards, and assorted smaller European tribes, everything was upended when the English government passed laws banning all who didn’t belong to the Anglican Episcopal Church from owning land or homes.
Apparently, we were dispossessed, losing our land, homes, and fortified castles, presumably along with our dignity. Around that time, according to the historians we spoke with, our clan chose to become pirates. We gained fame for robbing ships that passed through Baltimore Harbor in southern Ireland. On at least one occasion, we boarded and overtook a ship from Algeria carrying a cargo of wine. That seizure touched off an international incident, wherein Irishmen were taken as slaves in retribution. Although we were Irish Catholics, the men for generations thereafter were not the kind of men I aspire for our sons to be, with twin terrors of alcohol and violence marking our family down through the years. This haunted generations of our family, even after we immigrated to America on coffin ships filled with Irishmen who died while seeking freedom.
In recent years, at least one of my cousins has been on the television show Cops because of addiction… and he wasn’t one of the cops. I’ve been told I’ve got an uncle who died of gangrene because he wouldn’t stop drinking, and the infection overtook his healthy organs until it killed him.
I grew up in a neighborhood with two serial killers: Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer. Drug and alcohol abuse along with prostitution and gang violence ran my neighborhood growing up. The first funeral I remember attending for a drug overdose was a girl from my junior high school.
My parents started a new legacy that I intended to continue. They did not do drugs or abuse alcohol but rather worked hard to keep my four siblings and me out of trouble. I’m deeply grateful to my parents for keeping me out of harm’s way growing up. I grew up fearful of alcohol and drugs and avoided both.
When Grace and I married at the age of 21 in college, she would occasionally have a glass of wine with dinner, which did not bother me since I have never struggled with alcohol. I did not consume alcohol until I was 30 years of age – at that time a father and pastor – and felt that it would not be a problem. Previously, I abstained solely out of personal conscience because I did not want to repeat a past family problem.
My first ministry position was as a college pastor at a church that asked me to sign a document saying that I would refrain from any alcohol consumption. I did so in good conscience because I didn’t drink at the time, believed (and still do) in submitting to spiritual authority, and felt called to serve at that church.
I honored my covenant not to drink alcohol during my entire time serving that church. My counsel for anyone in a church or denomination that requires total abstention is to either honor the position humbly or leave graciously. Do not sign something and then fail to keep your word, because that is lying. And, do not become contentious or divisive. If there is a reasonable way to work toward a more biblical position, feel free to do so while maintaining exemplary character.
Are there any changes that need to be made in your life regarding alcohol?