Wine, Drunkenness, Jesus, and How Living Above Reproach Got Twisted
“You must live above reproach” or “avoid the appearance of evil” or wait, how about “you don’t want to cause your brother to stumble?” This is all advice we’ve heard at one point or another. Social media is bringing this conversation back to the surface. There’s a new access to our life, but the counsel on what to avoid sharing can feel dated. I remember being told not to post a picture of wine because it might cause someone to drink too much. Honestly, it felt really religious, controlling and the explanation was weak. Especially since I didn’t have an issue with alcohol. Have you ever felt that way?
Times are changing, things once taboo is no longer taboo for the Christian. The world has progressed, a new generation thinks differently and church leaders can feel it. Since we have new perspectives on previously taboo issues we need to revisit why living above reproach is important. Anyone under the age of 30 won’t be satisfied with “you just can’t have the appearance of evil or you just can’t post or share whatever you want.” Living above reproach can feel obsolete.
Some people don’t even know what it means anymore or it’s misunderstood. Avoiding the appearance of evil can feel like religious control reaching too far into my freedom. Especially when we start to think about Jesus being called some pretty evil things. A generation is asking “Why?”
Let’s be clear about something now. Asking “Why?” isn’t a sign of rebellion or entitlement. It can frighten people who’ve accepted things as they are but not everyone. A generation’s looking to own their beliefs with authenticity. They want to know why because they can’t own cheap answers. Can it be dysfunctional? Yes, but so is the dysfunction of just accepting everything for what you’ve been told.
Let’s get back to living above reproach. I’ll probably use drinking as the primary example. Not because I have an issue, but because it’s the universal topic. I will say, I drink wine. I drink in moderation, with wisdom, never betraying my core values and always submitted in a community. It doesn’t mean I am exempt from living above reproach or don’t have frustrations with the whole thing.
I’ve asked myself:
Why does the Bible tell us to not cause our brother to stumble?
Why shouldn’t I be able to go to bars?
Why can’t I post pictures of me with wine?
Why should I be scared while looking at the wine bottles at the grocery store?
Why can’t I watch that movie?
My wife and I have had many conversations about bathing suits, drinking wine in public, leggings as pants and movies. Most of my answers, if not, all didn’t mention helping people. They were to make sure other Christians and leaders didn’t think I was a bad person. THAT’S RELIGIOUS! I am sorry, but it was a fear based decision and valuing my own “righteous” image as most important. I was afraid to even hold a beer in front of people. I DON’T EVEN LIKE BEER! I don’t think this’ what Jesus had in mind after all, Jesus drank wine, not grape juice.
It’s true Jesus was wrongly labeled and appeared evil to the Pharisees. However, the important fact is their claims were never justified. When Paul uses the term “above reproach” it’s for the qualifications of leadership in the church. This’ assessed not by a person’s appearance towards nonbelievers (that’s still important), but more to their actions known in the community. If they weren’t above reproach it wasn’t because of an Instagram post appearing a certain way it was because they actually did something worth being rebuked.
Paul gives them clear language, they can’t be drunkards, that’s being drunk not being seen with wine. This’ in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 if you want to read the list. The list isn’t assumptions made from being on the outside. Above reproach isn’t about image control, but a life of purity abstaining from arrogance, violence, greed, and adultery. This’ not about poor clothing choices or drinking a beer at a bar or posting a picture on Instagram.
I can already feel the objections. Don’t worry, I am writing part two and you’ll like it.
I am not saying we shouldn’t use wisdom, but let’s do it with a better understanding of above reproach. I overcame my hyper-religiosity with drinking, and my life is an open book and I’ve welcomed any justifiable character rebuke from those in my life. That’s what community does for us.
If you feel like I just gave your permission to share whatever you want to think again.
We need to search for a healthy perspective. Hiding or abstaining out of a desire for a good image isn’t a command of scripture. Jesus confronted that perspective and used John the Baptist as an example. Jesus crushed the idea you’re guilty by association. He didn’t consider it wrong being seen among the bad behavior club, but rather hoped it would become a looking-glass into the heart of the Father.
This led to misunderstandings as religious leaders wanted Jesus a certain way. They assumed if you’re with sinners then you’re doing what they’re doing. They regulation was abstain from all you’re doing Jesus, it’s not holy. Jesus then brings John the baptist into this in Luke 7:
33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”
Abstaining from everything got John the Baptist the title of DEMON. Jesus drinks and gets the title of DRUNKARD. Regulations don’t satisfy everyone. Jesus lived in good conscience about his decision and felt it wasn’t necessary to abstain completely from something.
Jesus uncovers those who judge the outside won’t be satisfied with abstaining or indulging. If we compare Jesus and John the Baptist we realize it isn’t more wise to do one or the other as a rule. John’s mission called for a certain behavior and Jesus’ mission allowed in good conscience what John’s couldn’t allow.
The abstaining and allowing I am talking about is on matters Christians can legitimately differ, not what Paul mentions in Titus and 1st Timothy as worthy of rebuke. This isn’t about clear laid out sins of drunkenness and sexual immorality.
If abstaining from something makes you judgmental, abstaining has hurt you. If allowing something makes you compromising, your allowance has hurt you. Giving up image control and realizing there’s a wisdom behind BOTH is a Christ-centered approach to it!
John isn’t a religious small-minded leader for abstaining. Jesus isn’t a sinner for allowing drinking. The accusations against Jesus could never be justified if you’re claiming you’re being mislabeled, but when it’s examined the accusations are justified you need to change. You’re not wrong for posting something or being seen somewhere your wrong for not discerning your call in the context of it all.
Wisdom doesn’t command dualistic thinking, but discernment. It’s why Jesus says “wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” It’s the offspring of your behavior’s that ultimately judge your choice.That isn’t an assumption of what your behavior will do, it’s justifiable evidence of what you’re behavior is doing. Children are seen, known and pointed to as proof.
By the way, I don’t think the verse we actually misquote on “avoid the appearance of evil” is about how you look. It’s actually properly understood as “abstain from all appearance of evil” and it goes on to mention God will sanctify you wholly and Paul follows by praying to keep you blameless. Why would he pray for you to be sanctified and preserved blameless spirit, soul, and body for the returning of the Lord if this is about how you look to others? He wouldn’t and this isn’t about your appearance.It’s about avoiding evil in any way, shape or form it appears before you. We’re to avoid evil in every form of it!
Living above reproach in the Bible isn’t about image control, it’s about living above justified accusations or criticisms on your character. Those kinds of justifiable rebukes come from leaders and community who know you, not outsiders with no relationship.
So, if you’re in good character, what do you do? One, you don’t need to live in shame because you can enjoy a glass of wine or watch a certain movie. Two, you can’t call the choice to abstain in a certain context religious. It’s a both/and situation that’ll be known by its fruit. You can’t post whatever you want, discern is required in freedom.