Author: Ron Graham


Abstinence and Appearances
—Avoiding any association with evil

Christianity is not a religion of abstinence. Paul makes it clear that Christians should not be burdened with man-made rules of the "touch not, taste not" variety (Colossians 2:20-23).

On the other hand, Paul does lay down a general law of abstinence. He says, "Abstain from every form of evil" (1Thessalonians 5:22).

1 Alcohol as a Form of Evil

In the general law of abstinence, "Abstain from every form of evil" (1Thessalonians 5:22), we are interested especially in the word that qualifies evil, namely the word "form" or "appearance" (Greek eidos 1491).

"Every form" doesn't simply mean every kind, but every aspect of evil —anything that appears evil to sensible people or has a strong association with evil. You might not see evil in alcohol itself, but you can appreciate and respect why others do, because they see...

When people see all this, when they "weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15), when they see the blood, agony, dying, quarrels, despair, and ruin, is it not perfectly understandable that they speak of "the evils of drink"? When they see the thin bruised wife, the pregnant thirteen-year-old who cannot remember who she slept with, the desolate grave of one whose death was alcohol-related —when they see these, is it any wonder they say, "Strong drink is a curse and a demon!"

When alcohol appears in this "form" is it not best for you to abstain from it, in order that your reputation and behaviour are seen to be "excellent among the Gentiles?" (lPe 2:12).

2 Abstinence for Disassociation

The Christian wishes to "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness" (Ephesians 5:11). The Christian wants no association with any evil, including those evils related to the consumption of alcohol.

Abstinence from alcohol disassociates you from the evils that are so often alcohol related. When people say of someone, "She won't touch the booze," they might mean, "She's a wowser," but never do they mean, "She's wicked." Abstinence might look bad socially, but it never looks bad morally. Abstinence has a strong association with goodness, whereas alcohol has a strong association with evil. In these circumstances, moderate drinking may be perceived as nothing better than moderate evil-doing.

3 Shining Our Light

Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). There is a clear principle underlying this...

We could call the above principle, "the principle of appearances". It means that we forgo what we regard to be good or right when it will not be seen as such, and instead behave "in such a way" that we will be seen to be doing what is good or right. We do not let our light shine by pleasing ourselves, but by setting an example that our neighbour will see as good (Romans 15:1-2).

Now this "such a way" of letting our light shine may not please every neighbour. Some may not like what we do. They may prefer that we participate in evil. They may call us names like "wowser" or "goody-goody". However in their hearts they recognize that we are doing good. They see the light in us, even though they are lovers of darkness (John 3:19).

Abstinence from alcoholic drinks is called for today because there is so much evil in our society that is alcohol-related. How can you be certain that you do not associate yourself with this evil, or that you do not even appear to do so? By consuming alcohol, or by abstaining from it?