My girlfriend and I disagree about alcohol. When we began courting, I was under the legal drinking age and had no interest in alcohol. When I became of age, I started to enjoy alcohol responsibly, but my girlfriend was disappointed with this undertaking. She was raised in a teetotaling family, and she sees the regular use of alcohol as unwise and unneeded.
While she doesn't think drinking alcohol is a sin, the thought of her future husband drinking alcohol makes her uncomfortable. Her father is actively involved in our courtship, and while he doesn't have a problem with me drinking alcohol, he is exercising his spiritual headship in guiding her thinking about alcohol in the family (which is a negative view).
What would you advise me to do in this situation? I'm willing to give up alcohol for her sake, but I'm not sure if that's the best thing to do.
Thanks for your question. As is usually the case with more specific questions like this one, it's difficult to speak directly and specifically without knowing more details about the situation and the people involved. Still, I can offer some principles that I hope will help you think through this.
First, a basic theological principle (that everyone involved in your question seems to acknowledge): Without delving into secondary questions of exact alcohol content or how precisely the fermented drink that the Bible calls "wine" compares to today's options, orthodox scholars agree on the general principle that Scripture prohibits drunkenness but not the use of alcohol within the bounds of wisdom and responsibility. (See, for example, Ephesians 5:18 ("do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit"), John 2:1-11, 1Timothy 5:23, Proverbs 23:20, Proverbs 20:1).
Because we are not dealing with a clear sin issue (apart from drunkenness), a Christian's responsible use of alcohol or lack thereof is a matter of both freedom and wisdom. The Bible tells us, however, that context — particularly the way our actions affect others — often determines the definition of wisdom, as well as when and whether a particular freedom should be exercised. Paul tells the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 that "'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." (The NIV renders verse 23 as "'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.")
In chapter 8 of the same letter, Paul writes that "if food makes my [weaker] brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (8:13, ESV). Both of these passages involve some fairly complex contextual issues that might render them more or less applicable to your specific situation, but they illustrate the broad principle that in exercising our many and various Christian liberties, we are to strongly consider the good — particularly the spiritual good — of others.
So how does your use of alcohol affect your girlfriend's spiritual good? Because your relationship with your girlfriend is very serious and probably headed toward marriage (full disclosure: I spoke very briefly with this questioner about his situation in addition to receiving his email question), you should handle this situation with an eye toward possible long-term spiritual leadership of this woman. Even if we assume that for whatever reason, your girlfriend is living in undue fear of the dangers of alcohol specifically and the temptation of her future husband generally (see 1 Peter 3:6), insisting that you are free to drink and will do so regardless of her feelings is probably not the most effective means of ultimately leading her to grow in her trust in God or you (see 1 Peter 3:7). If the two of you do end up getting married, then both of you will make accommodations to the other out of love and care, but as a husband, you are particularly called to sacrifice your own desires (and freedoms) when necessary for your wife's spiritual good (Ephesians 5:25-27).
On the other hand, if you are concerned that your girlfriend's views on alcohol reflect a broader tendency toward unhealthy legalism in her life, then that is a worthy conversation to have, and if in having that conversation you believe that your theological views on major issues are too different, then you might seek counsel about whether marriage between the two of you is wise. Even here, though, these conversations and deliberations will likely be more productive without an insistence upon your freedom and intention to drink.
Frankly, another way to think through this is simply to weigh the importance of the two things in tension here: your freedom and desire to drink alcohol versus your relationship with a woman who could be your wife. I am not a teetotaler, and we can all relate to the good and natural desire to do something that you find enjoyable and that Scripture allows, but the simple truth is that alcohol use is (or certainly should be) nothing more than a trivial and secondary pleasure in the well-lived Christian life.
If you agree to abstain now (whether permanently or for some period of time before revisiting the issue), it's certainly possible that some time under your loving and sacrificial leadership would ease your wife's mind on the alcohol issue. If not, it's a pretty small price to pay in the context of a godly, satisfying marriage to a woman you love.
Well, I promised broad principles, but it's probably pretty clear which way I think I would lean if I were in your shoes. You know the specifics of your situation, and so does the Lord who grants wisdom and counsel. It's a tough question that requires wisdom. I will pray that the Lord supplies it.
For His glory,
Copyright 2014 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.