This BIG Question comes from Casey Groff, who has been on Greek InterVarsity staff since 2009. She shares out of her personal history with alcohol, and the countless conversations she's had helping fraternity and sorority students walk through their questions and relationship to alcohol. Casey's story adds to an important conversation about the intersection of partying and life as a Christian. We hope you are able to think through this topic with a new perspective.
"But I'm 21..."
I often meet students in fraternities and sororities who struggle with the reality that they can drink when they turn 21, but wonder if drinking legally around their fraternity brothers and sorority sisters is the best choice as a Christian. They wonder if this will taint their witness, and they search the Bible for verses that say, "Don’t drink legally around your friend." They don’t find any (obviously!).
These same students also find that in 1 Timothy 3 Paul talks to church leaders and commands them to "live a life of self-control," which includes not drinking to drunkenness. But the passage doesn't say to abstain from drinking altogether. Although I agree with their observations, I remind them that the same verse also challenges them to live a life ‘beyond reproach’.
LIVING BEYOND REPROACH
The best way I have heard this described is: live in a way that is beyond criticism. This does not mean that everyone is going to speak highly of every decision you make. But as Christians, it does mean that other people are watching to see if our actions align with our beliefs.
It's true that our very lives are our best witnesses to those around us! When we hold a beer in a bar, we communicate something whether we realize it or not. People may not know that is your only drink and may assume you are "ok" with heavy drinking. Often those who feel convicted for their own actions may use you as a way to rationalize their own drinking. “Well, if Casey does it, then I can do it!” So when you just have to pair that margarita with your fish tacos, consider who you are with first.
WE DON'T KNOW EVERYONE'S STORY
Although drinking may be ‘permissible’ for you now that you are 21, my question to you is whom does it benefit? Is the drinking happening in a context that is honoring to God? Paul also speaks on the ‘freedom of believers’ in 1 Corinthians 10:23-33. In verse 23 & 24 he says:
23 'I have the right to do anything,' you say—but not everything is beneficial. 'I have the right to do anything'—but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
This verse speaks into my experience with alcohol, although you wouldn't know it if we were at a bar together. I am someone who has had my health, relationships and so much more stolen by alcohol. In fact, I was forced to abstain from alcohol in order to live, and now I choose not to drink and have been sober for close to six years. This makes me very aware of those who drink around me, even when it's just a casual drink.
There was one occasion where I was hanging out with staff friends after our work was done for the day. Everyone of age around me was enjoying beers, but a fellow Greek staff turned to me, surrounded by our Christian friends, and asked if I was uncomfortable with the consumption of alcohol happening around us. She acknowledged my battle with alcohol and validated my story and experience through this one question. I was not embarrassed at all; I felt so loved that my fight for sobriety was honored. Out of solidarity she did not drink with me that entire night. Her single act of not drinking a casual beer showed me so much about God’s love for me. So for you, it's possible by skipping that one drink, you may be communicating God’s love for someone in a powerful and tangible way.
NEXT TIME YOU'RE OUT
Let me clarify a few things. Yes, if you are 21, it is permissible and you are "free" to drink alcohol according to this country's laws and biblical standards. Perhaps you already practice your freedom by having a glass of wine with family, or sharing a pitcher over some good conversation with your friends. No, I am not saying that drinking is bad, or if you're 21 you're a horrible Christian for enjoying an alcoholic beverage. There are different ways that each of us relates to alcohol depending on upbringing, religious background, and previous experiences. Take into consideration that others might have differing experiences than you or me.
In a previous post, my colleague Steve referenced two extreme type of partiers, the binger and the prude. Instead, what would it look like to be radically different from these definitions!? Here's a challenge: If sharing a beer with our friends or family is a relational tool, how can you seek to be relational in a new way this week?