Revive Our Hearts Podcast

God’s Beautiful Design for Women, Day 13

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth talks about the way we often fall for idols.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: When things aren’t going the way we want, our hearts often go searching for substitutes. This can become a substitute or a replacement for God.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for Wednesday, February 22, 2017.

Nancy: If you’re just joining us in this part of our Titus 2 series, you’ll probably want to go back and listen to some of the previous programs to give you some context, and particularly as we talk today. We’re picking up where we left off yesterday on the phrase where Paul says in Titus 2 to older women that they’re to be reverent in behavior.

What does that look like? Well, they’re not to be slanderers—it impacts how they use their tongue. And they’re not to be slaves to much wine. And, again, I’m thinking, God doesn’t put anything in Scripture that’s unnecessary. So it behooves us to go through and see: What does He mean? What’s this about? Why does it matter to us?

So in the last program, we talked about the abuse of alcohol. We said the Scripture is clear that it is to be avoided, that we’re not to drink excessively. Drunkenness is contrary to the will of God for our lives because—not because God’s trying to kill our pleasure—but because a state of drunkenness is a state of being out of control and not being under the control of the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 5:

Don’t be drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery [that leads to excess]. Instead, be [controlled with be] filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 18).

So today, and I told you we were coming to this, we want to raise the question, not just about the abuse of alcohol, but also about the use of alcohol.

Now, I realize—believe me, I do—that sincere believers who love God and love His Word hold different positions on this topic, and we’re not going to resolve all that today. I will say, it’s clear that there’s some verses in Scripture that represent wine as a gift from God intended for our enjoyment. There are other verses, some of which we talked about in the last session, that focus on the potential dangers of drinking.

It is clear that the Scripture does not prohibit or forbid the drinking of alcoholic beverages. It gives us some limits about drinking, about excessive drinking, but it does not forbid the drinking of alcoholic beverages at all.

That means that Christians have freedom on this subject. And I want you to hear me say that because by the end of today’s session you may be wondering: Does she think it’s okay if I feel the freedom to drink? And I’m going to start by saying, “Yes. I believe that Christians have freedom in this matter and that we must not make rules for others that go beyond Scripture, and let’s not judge people’s spirituality or their love for God on the basis of our list.” Everybody hear me say that?

Okay, that said, it doesn’t mean that we are free to do whatever we feel like doing. I think there are several questions that are helpful for us to ask as we consider whether we can or should drink alcohol. And these questions can also be applied to other potentially enslaving behaviors.

So if you have no interest in alcohol, don’t tune out and say, “Oh, this doesn’t apply to me.” You do have interest in something that could be potentially enslaving. So whatever that something is, take these questions and apply it to that.

Number one: Is it harming your body?

First Corinthians 6 tells us that our physical body is the temple, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. If you’re a child of God, God lives in your body.

Now, in that context, it’s speaking specifically of not using the body, therefore, for sexual immorality, but the same warning could be applied to any sinful or harmful use of our physical body. So we have to ask the question: Is this drinking, the way I’m drinking, or some other habits, some other substance I’m using—other-the-counter meds, whatever—is it harming my body?

The physical risks associated with drinking too much, whether it’s on a single occasion or over time, those risks are well documented. I probably don’t have to tell you this, but in case you’re not convinced, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that these potential effects can include:

  • Interfering with the brain’s communication pathways. It can affect the ability of your brain to function.
  • Heart damage—things like strokes, high blood pressure.
  • Liver damage—fibrosis, cirrhosis.
  • Increased risks of certain cancers, including breast cancer.
  • Weakened immune system, and more.
  • Particularly pregnant or nursing women are warned against any consumption of alcohol because its presence in the bloodstream elevates the risk of physical or mental birth defects in their unborn children and also increases the risk of spontaneous abortion. So pregnant or nursing women are told: “Don’t drink at all.”

This is not to say, as you look at all these possible effects of overdrinking, that occasional or moderate drinking will ruin your health. But in light of the potential for alcohol to be abused and to be addictive, I think we need to consider the physiological risks of excessive alcohol consumption.

Now, before we move on, somebody is going to say: “Well, what about red wine being good for the heart?”

Let me just read you one quote by a doctor who’s a member of the American Heart Association, professor of medicine at Columbia University, New York City. He said, quote, “The same anti-oxidants found in red wine can also be obtained from unfermented grape juice and without the hazards related to alcohol.”

So, first of all, is it harming your body?

Number two: Does it or could it enslave you?

We’re looking at this phrase in Titus 2 that says we are not to be slaves to much wine. That word "slaves" is "to be held and controlled against one’s will."

One woman told me that in the days when she was drinking, she would call her husband before leaving work. She promised to come straight home, which she fully intended to do, but there was a local bar that was on her way home, and she said, “I couldn’t drive past it without stopping. I tried. I just couldn’t.” Now, obviously, this woman was not free. She was a slave.

Now, as I’ve said before, drinking, of course, is not the only habit that can have this kind of effect on a person, but the nature of alcohol, which the American Medical Association classifies as an addicting drug, the very nature of alcohol is that it can take us and hold us. It is addictive. That doesn’t mean everyone who drinks it will get addicted, but some will.

There are many people who drink to escape some sort of pain in their lives, but all too often who end up imprisoned by that habit they thought would give them relief.

There’s an old Irish proverb: “First a man takes a drink. Then the drink takes a drink. Then the drink takes the man.” That’s just describing the addictive potential of alcoholic beverages.

So when we say: Should I drink at all, even moderately? One thing I would encourage you to consider is the potential risk of becoming drunk or addicted.

Here’s the thing, as I’ve talked with many people about this over the years, that I don’t hear said often enough, and that is: No one knows how much they can handle until they’re past that point, and then it’s too late. Every case of alcohol addiction or abuse began with a first drink.

Ravi Zacharias, many of you are familiar with that name, was giving a message on Daniel turning down the king’s food and drink. He said—I thought this was interesting—“Don’t taste what you don’t want to hunger for.”

Now, not only considering the potential risk of becoming drunk or addicted, but also consider the potential of a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. So, if that is possibly something in your history, maybe something you’re aware of, maybe something you’re not aware of, genetically, then taking the first drink could be like playing Russian Roulette. You don’t know. I’m just saying: Consider these things. Does it or could it enslave me?

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul quotes a popular slogan in Corinth. The slogan was: “All things are lawful for me.” All things are lawful for me. And Paul says, “Yes, but, I will not be enslaved by anything. Yes, I can do—as a Christian—I’m free to do whatever God gives me the direction to do, but I’m not going to be enslaved by anything.”

Paul was at liberty to enjoy earthly blessings with a clear conscience, but he wouldn’t allow himself, even in his freedom, to be enslaved by anything.

So, number one: Is it harming my body? Number two: Does it or could it enslave me?

Number three: Is it an idol in my life?

We sometimes hear people being driven to drink. That might be due to stress related to marriage problems, work difficulties, depression, other challenges. When things aren’t going the way we want, our hearts often go searching for substitutes. And the calming effects of alcohol may seem like just what we need to help us cope, to help us get through this situation.

The challenge is that that calming substance, initially, can easily become a substitute or a replacement for God who wants to walk through that situation with us and teach us how to draw comfort in the midst of affliction and stress from His grace.

But we say, “No, I have to have this to comfort me,” and that can become a substitute or a replacement for God.

So, as you think about your drinking habits, or your eating habits—I think about that. I’ve thought about that a lot as I was working on this series. Ask yourself, as I’ve been asking myself, whether you’re turning to alcohol—or to food—for comfort and for help that God wants you to seek from Him.

Are the hardships and the disappointments of life, which we all have, are they driving you to drink? Are they driving you to excessive eating—middle-of-the-night binging, things that you know are harmful, things that you wake up in the morning, you hate yourself, you have such regrets about—are they driving you to some external substance to calm you, to comfort you, to give you peace?

Or are those hardships and disappointments driving you to Jesus? That’s the question. Are you trying to fill a place in your heart that was made for God? Are you looking to alcohol—or to anything else—to provide relief? to provide answers to problems, such as anxiety, guilt, boredom, rejection or loneliness? Have you embraced a false substitute god in your life?

Now, let me just stress here: The real issue is not alcohol or food or whatever. The real issue is our own sinful hearts that are bent to seek substitutes for God. You might not ever have a drop of alcohol cross your lips, but you might have other false gods in your life. Any substance, anything that I depend on to get me through life can become an object of false worship.

So ask: Is it harming my body? Does it or could it enslave me? And has this thing become an idol in my life, something I’m depending upon to get me through life other than God?

And then number four—and I think this is a really important one that we don’t talk about enough in this whole discussion on Christian liberties today—and that’s this question: Could my drinking, could your drinking, cause spiritual damage to others or lead them into sin? Might it be all right for you, but in the process of your doing it, might you be the means of causing someone who is not strong in their faith to be tripped up spiritually or morally?

Here we’re talking about the law of love—not just the freedom we have in Christ, but the law of love.

Now, those in the New Testament were sometimes saying, “You know, we’re free from the law. We don’t have to obey the law. That was Old Testament.” Some people say that today. But Paul talks a lot about the law in the New Testament, and one of the laws he emphasizes is the law of love—and that’s the responsibility, the obligation, to love others more than we love ourselves and our liberty.

There are three key passages in the Scripture, in Romans, and in 1 Corinthians, where Paul addresses various lifestyle issues that are not clearly spelled out in Scripture. The most common one he talks about is something that was an issue in the first-century church of eating meats sacrificed to idols. But in all these cases, they are issues in which some believers feel they have liberty and in which others say, “I cannot partake of this in good conscience.”

These are gray areas, so to speak, and Paul says, “How do you handle these? How do you deal with these?” Well, Paul basically lays out two principles for how we should deal with these kinds of issues, and both of these principles are an application of the law of love.

Here’s the first principle: Don’t pass judgment on others when you’re debating questionable topics. I would put, not the abuse of alcohol in that category, because that’s clearly wrong, but I would put the use of alcohol in this category. Don’t pass judgment on others when debating questionable topics.

Romans 14 talks about this. Let me just read an excerpt from the first 12 verses:

Let not the one who eats [the issue was eating meats sacrificed to idols, in this case] despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. [He’s a part of God’s family. He’s been received by God, so don’t you pass judgment on him.]

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. . . .

For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. . . . [ He’s saying every individual believer is going to give an account to God for his relationship with God, how he lives out this law of love and these areas of Christian liberty.] Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer (vv. 3–4, 10, 13).

Now, I just want to stop there and say: How are you doing on this principle? How am I doing on this principle? When it comes to something like the freedom to drink temperately or moderately, am I passing judgment on someone else’s heart, which I can’t know? On their walk with God, which I cannot know?

I’m doing this today to challenge you to think hard about this, to challenge you to ask some questions you may not have considered. But when you come away and you say, “I have freedom in my heart before God to drink temperately,” I am not God in your life. I’m not the Holy Spirit in your life. I cannot pass judgment on you. How are you doing on that?

“Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather . . ." And here’s the second principle. Let me say the principle, and then I’ll pick up reading in Romans 14. Don’t place a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a Christian brother or sister. Don’t trip them up in their faith.

So Paul says, Romans 14, verse 13:

Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know [Paul says] and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, [This meat that’s being offered to idols, those idols aren’t gods. He’s saying, “That meat isn’t unclean.”] but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.

For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. [There’s the law of love.] By what you eat, [or I’d add by what you drink or by anything else you do that may be permissible biblically] do not destroy the one for whom Christ died (vv. 13–15).

He says it in a similar way in 1 Corinthians chapter 8, verse 9:

Take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. . . . Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble (vv. 9, 13).

Paul says, “This is a no brainer. I can give this up. I don’t have to give this up, but I can give this up if I need to in order not to trip up the faith of someone who is younger in their faith or someone who cannot do this in good conscience. I don’t have to do this.”

Listen, if you have to do it, then it’s a god in your life, and that goes back to the previous question.

So here’s a key checkpoint in thinking about such matters as the use of alcohol: Which trumps the other? My freedom to drink, or do some other questionable, debatable matter, or the possible negative affect my example of drinking may have on others? And the answer is: What does the law of love require in that situation?

This is something you’ve got to think through, you’ve got to pray through, you’ve got to wrestle through. Now, it’s far easier and for some of us, we want someone to just tell us, “You can do it, or you can’t do it.” We want somebody to come and give us a list of rules.

And Paul says, “No. That’s not what Christ died to give you. That’s not why He lives in you by His Holy Spirit. You’ve got to wrestle with this. You’ve got to seek the Lord. You’ve got to ask these and other questions to determine before the Lord: What is the right thing to do?

First Corinthians 10, verse 23:

"All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.

Listen, you may be able to handle alcohol. You may never get drunk. I know people like this. It’s not an issue for them. They can do it temperately. They can do it moderately. They don’t get drunk.

But one question to ask as you’re thinking this through is: Could my exercising that liberty cause another believer to be led into sin?

And let me ask this: What about your children? You may have heard it said, “What parents tolerate in moderation, their children often excuse in excess.”

I’ve had women share with me over the years about their battle with alcoholism, alcohol addiction, and many, many of those women were first exposed to alcohol growing up in their own home. I’m not talking about parents who were alcoholics—some had that—but some just had parents who drank temperately. They just enjoyed a beer at the football game or a glass of wine with dinner.

Were those parents doing anything wrong? Not necessarily. Did those parents have a personal drinking problem? Maybe not. But their example may have helped ignite a spark that set a curious teenager on the path to becoming a forty-year old alcoholic.

I’ve got to say as parents and parents in the faith, we bear some responsibility there. We’re not just responsible for ourselves. We are our brothers’ keeper. We’re influencers, so we need to consider these questions.

I watched one husband’s eyes fill up with tears of regret as he realized—too late—that in exercising his liberty to drink socially and moderately, which he was able to control, he had failed to consider the weakness in the family history of his wife who along the way had fallen prey to dependency on alcohol. And he said, “I never saw it until this moment. I had no idea.”

He knew she had a problem, but he never saw how in some way he had contributed to that problem by exercising his liberty. In that sense, not wisely shepherding a wife who had a family history and an inclination, a bent, toward more alcoholic addiction.

To limit your liberty for the sake of someone else who may be led into sin as a result of your exercising your liberty, that’s not to capitulate to legalism, as some would suggest. It’s to exercise a greater liberty, which is to live by the law of love.

Now, I want to say it again: I have friends who are devoted followers of Christ who believe they are being faithful to Scripture by exercising the liberty to drink in moderation. And that may be where you land in good conscience before God. And I say, “Fine.”

I just want to ask: Have you thought it through? Don’t just do this because it’s something that you just do. Have you thought it through in light of these kinds of questions?

I want to say here at the end of this session that, in our day, and in a culture where addictions are so epidemic and destructive, my personal opinion—and that’s what it is—is that it’s the better part of wisdom to voluntarily choose to limit our liberty to drink rather than to exercise it.

Now, you’re not accountable to me. You’re God’s servant. You’re accountable to Him. So you wrestle it through. You think it through. I’m just telling you that’s where my heart takes me in thinking through this issue. And, admittedly, my thinking on this has been influenced by seeing the horrific toll taken on the lives of men and women and young people and families, including many believers and even pastors, by the abuse of alcohol.

I’ve also been influenced by personal history on this. My dad, as a young man, prior to coming to faith in Christ, demonstrated a bent toward addictive behaviors, notably with gambling and drinking. He knew firsthand both the attraction and the potential risks of drinking. So after he became a Christian in his mid-twenties, he resolved to abstain from alcohol.

It wasn’t a tough decision for him. It was between him and the Lord. He wasn’t self-righteous about his position. He wasn’t condemning of others who didn’t share his views. But we didn’t have alcohol in our home, and we knew that he believed that it was, at best, unwise to drink. In his case, it would have been utterly foolish to drink. He believed it was, at best, unwise.

So that history, coupled with knowing my natural bent toward compulsive patterns when it comes to simple pleasures, has caused me to suspect that if drinking were a part of my life, I could well be among those who would have a predisposition to drink excessively. I don’t want to go there. So years ago I decided that was a risk I would rather not take.

And also, I don’t want the exercise of my liberty in this or any other area potentially to lead another believer into something that would be sinful or harmful for their walk with the Lord.

So, again, this is an issue that each of us has to think through, pray through, with a sincere desire to honor the Lord and to bless and serve others.

In fact, I would encourage you, if you’re wrestling with this, to read or listen to a trusted Bible teacher who has a different view than mine.

Then ask the Lord to give you wisdom and clarity about your own life, considering your own circumstances, your own bent, and seeking above all to walk in the fullness and under the control of the Holy Spirit because that’s what sets us free from every addiction, every idol, and every potential of doing damage or harm to another believer.

Oh, Lord, please give us wisdom. I pray that my words will have been helpful, will be constructive, will not be misunderstood, and I do pray for someone who’s wrestling with perhaps moving into a bondage to alcohol. I pray, Lord, that You will set captives free.

And even over the next couple of programs as we talk about addictions and how to get set free, would You set captives free? And would You help us all, by Your grace, to walk according to the law of love? I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth warning all of us about the dangers of idolatry of any kind.

Nancy, I know you thought and prayed a lot about the programs this week on addictions.

Nancy: Yes. I have given this a lot of thought, Leslie. I first taught through Titus 2 several years ago, and then I began writing a book on this passage. And I don’t know that any chapter was more difficult than this one on being enslaved to much wine as along the way, I wrestled through how to approach this whole subject of alcohol in a way that would be thoroughly biblical and helpful to those who would read this book

Leslie: In fact, I found it interesting that the book includes a story about you and Robert that you didn’t share on the program. But you and he came from different perspectives on this issue of alcohol.

Nancy: Yes. We both came from godly backgrounds, but early in our relationship, as we were exploring the possibility of marriage, we realized that we had some different perspectives on this particular subject.

And when our listeners read the story in the book, they’ll read about a husband who really shows what it means to lay down his life for his wife when dealing with this topic. And I think that’s all I’m going to say about that at the moment.

I’d love for you to be able to read that story for yourself in the book, Adorned, and we’ll be glad to send you a copy of that book when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Your gift will help us continue providing Revive Our Hearts each weekday.

Be sure to ask for the book Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together when you call us at 1–800–569–5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com. Make your donation online, and mark the box that says you’d like to receive the book.

Now, tomorrow we’re going to look at a real-life story of the hold that alcoholism can have on a woman’s life, and we’ll hear about God’s power to set us free from any and every addiction. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you run from idols, and it’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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