I have heard a lot of folks talk about the issue of drinking alcohol as a matter of conscience. They appeal to Romans 14 to show that the Kingdom of God is not about eating or drinking. There is nothing inherently sinful in drinking alcohol. While this may be true (and I believe it is), too many times the implication seems to be that Paul wants to weak to become strong. More than this, it seems that the strong brothers in this area want the goal to be something that Paul does not. That is, it appears that many times in my conversation with folks (myself being included in this tendency!) is that the goal is that weak brothers will be drinkers. While this may not be on the forefront of the mind, it comes out in subtle jokes and not-so-subtle arguments.
While some have argued that Paul does not care whether the weak become strong, I believe he does want the weak becoming strong due to his desire that people emulate his devotion and way of life – which includes his being strong in matters of food and drink and days. With that said, how many times have we thought that if a brother is weak (the one who refuses to drink and believes others should not partake) then our goal as strong brothers is to have him be willing to pick up a pint?
We need to keep in mind that the goal for the weak brother – to become strong – means that he should have the same freedom in Christ to declare that the Kingdom of God is more important than eating and drinking and such. That is, he does not have to advocate drinking a beer with his other strong brothers. Rather, he very may well take the position that drinking is not the issue but his witness is more important.
Before you cry ‘Foul,’ you need to keep in mind context. In a conversation with a good friend of mine last week we were talking about this issue. If I were a Presbyterian minister this would not be an issue because there is not the baggage that comes with being a Southern Baptist evangelist. Those who claim that as the strong brother I have the obligation to drink in front of the weak to model fo them their freedom play too fast and loose with their freedom. Paul seems to be strong enough to carry the inaccurate understandings of his disciples (in Rome, Corinth, Colossae) so much that he is willing to forego his liberty of drinking alcohol if it causes them to stumble. If you say that he was dealing with a specific context of idolatry and it won’t trasnfer to our context, I would argue that the issue is not idolatry but stumbling due to a misunderstanding of Christian freedom – the common denominator with our present-day context.
More than anything, we want to aim for the weak brother to say not ‘Pass me the stout not the O’Doul’s,’ but ‘It’s okay if you drink alcohol because the Kingdom of God is larger than such law.’