The Truth About Alcohol (Proverbs 23:29-35)
I. Liquor and Lies
This morning I simply want to tell you the truth about alcohol. In most cases, you won't hear this truth in our modern media or in conversations around the water cooler. You will usually hear lies, the same lies that have been peddled for thousands of years.
Those lies are everywhere today. For example, countless songs, television shows, and movies don't simply talk about drunkenness as a feature of modern life, they normalize it (“Loosen up. It's just what people do.”). Oftentimes, it's even glamorized; promoted as an essential feature of going out and having a good time.
Of course, these kinds of lies aren't really new. For example, I remember growing up and watching The Andy Griffith Show, where one of the regular characters was Otis, the town drunk. Apparently, public drunkenness was something to laugh about. But is that the truth?
Why does this matter? Here's one reason: this past January, according to an article by Joe Carter, “the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research published a study reporting that between 1999 and 2017 the number of alcohol‐related deaths per year among people aged 16 and older doubled from 35,914 to 72,558, and the rate increased 50.9 percent from 16.9 to 25.5 per 100,000.”
Carter goes on to write, “Over the past decade, America has been so distracted by the opioid crisis that we hardly noticed an even deadlier epidemic... In 2017, opioids were involved in 47,600 overdose deaths, while alcohol was responsible for 72,558 deaths from various means. That's just one indication that we desperately need to hear the truth about alcohol.
And if we're genuinely interested in the truth, then there's no better place to go than to God. Let's do that by turning to Proverbs chapter 23.
II. The Passage: "The Way of Life" (23:29-35)
Actually, before we go to chapter 23, look back with me at chapter 3.
1. Wine: To Be Received (3:9-10)
Just past the famous encouragement of verse 5, to “trust in the Lord with all your heart”, we find more guidance in verses 9 and 10, this time in regard to money. King Solomon writes...
Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce;  then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with... wine.
The first thing you and I need to know when it comes to the truth about alcohol, is that alcohol is just one of God's many blessings. Yes, you heard me correctly: a blessing. Isn't that what we just read in verse 10? When we honor God as the Provider of all things by giving back to him from our material possessions, God will continue to give abundantly because of his abundant generosity. And for the first readers of Proverbs, that meant a good harvest and a fruitful vineyard. There vats would be bursting with wine!
This idea of wine has a blessing from God was also stressed by the writer of Psalm 104...
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth  and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man's heart. (Psalm 104:14–15)
Wine, alcohol, is just one of God's many blessings. Remember how the NT depicts this idea of wine as a blessing? John 2 gives us an amazing picture of God's hand providing wine, when Jesus himself turned water into wine at a wedding in the town of Cana.
2. Wine: Don't Be Deceived (23:29-35)
Now those of you who enjoy a cold beer or glass of red wine at dinner are sitting at home right now saying, “Amen! Preach it, pastor!” But let's make sure we hear everything Proverbs has to say about alcohol; everything God wants us to hear through this book. Turn to 23:29-35. We find these verses in a section that Solomon (in 22:17) has called “words of the wise”. So this may be a collection he's put together from some of the best wisdom saying he could find. Consider the “words of the wise” regarding alcohol, starting in 23:29. The writer asks...
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? [the answer?] Those who tarry long over wine [that means excessive consumption]; those who go to try mixed wine.  Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly.  In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.  Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.  You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast.  “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I must have another drink.”
Now, clearly this is not one of those classic two-part or two-line proverbs we find all throughout this book. There's a lot here, right? But let me, right from the start, try to simplify the message of these seven verses. What is the writer telling us here about alcohol? He's warning us that, though it may seem appealing at the start, too much alcohol will hurt us in the end.
Do you see that? It's right there in the center of the passage, in verse 32: In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. But right before that we hear about the look and taste of wine and mixed wine (that is, mixed with other things that would make them more intoxicating).
But look and taste are just some of the factors that make excessive consumption appealing to people. Some consume too much because everyone's doing it. Some consume too much because it makes them feel good or feel free. Some consume too much because it makes them forget. We get some some sense of all these reasons in the book of Proverbs. But as we read here, all of it comes at a price. Look at how this passage explains that price...
First, too much alcohol, that is, drunkenness, impairs your perception of reality. Look again at verse 33... Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things. No, this is not a good thing or fun thing as some would describe it. In the words of Proverbs 20:1...
Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.
Too much booze doesn't lead us to good things. It leads us astray. It leads to faulty perception and foolish behavior... behavior that often invites conflict. This is precisely why we read, in Proverbs 31, how King Lemuel's mother warned him of alcohol's effects:
It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.
We find yet another impairment in verse 34: it impairs us physically, so that we become like staggering sailors in the midst of a tempest. There's a reason the word “toxic” is right there in the middle of “intoxicated”. This... is sad, not suave or sexy.
Second, too much alcohol always results in harmful, never truly helpful, consequences. The opening and close lines drive this point home. In verse 29 we read about “woe”, “sorrow”, “strife”, “complaining”, “wounds”, and “redness of eyes”. If you grew up in the home of an alcoholic, you probably recognize all these things. Then, in verse 35, we hear the bizarre boast of the drunkard, claiming that even though his drinking resulted in a beating, “I did not feel it”.
Brothers and sisters, friends, how is any of this 'having a good time'? Whatever the 'feel good' factor in all this, the 'feel bad' factor is a lot stronger and longer. Could excessive alcohol really be the answer to a problem when the real consequences of excessive alcohol are so harmful?
In addition to this passage, proverbs like 21:17, 23:20-21, and 26:10 all emphasize the economic implications of being one who “tarr[ies] long over wine”: poverty and joblessness.
Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.
Be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat,  for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.
Like an archer who wounds everyone is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard.
But there's a third idea here in our main passage. Look at that final phrase in verse 35. What we read there reveals that too much alcohol too often leads to even more. Even though this fool has gotten himself beat up because of his drinking, even though he sits there reveling in the numbness of his swollen and bruised body, he still declares, “I must have another drink.”
This is what we would call today the statement of an addict; of an alcoholic. Did you know that in 2015, 26.9 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month. That's more than a quarter of adults in the U.S. In terms of the larger picture, according to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.4 million adults ages 18 and older have a drinking problem. And other studies show that a portion of those people are regular church goers. Brothers and sisters, friends, in a culture full of lies, in a culture full of struggling people, and the collateral damage of drunkenness, we desperately need to hear the truth about alcohol.
III. Suffering Abuse for Those Who Abuse
Let's quickly review what God, through Proverbs, has told us about the excessive consumption of alcohol. First, too much alcohol, that is, drunkenness, impairs your perception of reality. Second, too much alcohol always results in harmful, never truly helpful, consequences. Third, too much alcohol too often leads to even more.
But please don't forget the very first thing we learned in terms of the truth about alcohol: it is a blessing from God. If that's true (and it is), why do people abuse what God has provided as a blessing? Well, I think many of you know, that's the problem with every human being: we twist God's good design and abuse God's good gifts. But why?
Because we are sinners. Because we are rebels. Because we are, fundamentally, according to Romans 1:21 and 22, ...idol-makers and idolaters. Alcoholism or drunkenness, like so many of our unhealthy behaviors (getting high, overeating, gambling, pornography, etc.), is ultimately a worship disorder. We are asking alcohol to do for us what only God can really do... and wants to do! Instead of trying to wash away our pain or insecurities or frustrations with liquor, instead of looking to belong by means of the bottle, shouldn't we bring all of this to the One who can truly help? The one who can truly heal?
The gospel, that is, the Good News about Jesus means that you and I can now be servants of God rather than slaves to booze. This is deadly serious, friends. God said in Isaiah 5:11, Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them! When God says “woe to you”, that is deadly serious. But thanks be to God that Christ died for the drunk; that Jesus suffered abuse on the cross for those who abuse alcohol. There is genuine forgiveness and freedom for those who have believed and lived by the world's lies about alcohol.
If you are struggling this morning, please know there is hope. There is no pit too deep, no night too dark, no evil too black, no struggle too severe, no failure too epic, no pain too acute, no guilt too heavy, no addiction too strong, no doubt too deficient that God's grace in Christ cannot conquer and cover and cleanse you. Do you need that this morning? Just ask!
And what about those of who have trusted Christ, but are, for some reason, not taking God seriously when it comes to alcohol? You emphasize the blessing part, but not the warning. Can followers of Jesus really be loose when it comes to liquor? Absolutely not. “Drunkenness” is one of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:21 (along with things like sexual immorality, idolatry, strife, and fits of anger).
Similarly, Paul couldn't be clearer when he writes to believers in Ephesians 5:18... And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit... Notice how the first and second parts of this statement are connected. The question is simple: will you be under the influence of alcohol... or the Spirit of God? It can never be both. Getting drunk is debauchery, that is, surrendering to fleshly pleasure. But being filled with God's Spirit is surrendering to divine pleasure; that is, to what pleases God.
What can you do if you are struggling? You can drink deeply of the grace of God. I John 1:9... If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. In light of the truth about alcohol, in light of the truth about Christ, let's pray for ourselves, and for those who need to know the truth or those currently fighting this very battle.