By J.R. Miller
1 Corinthians 10:23-33
Drunkenness is a sore peril. We cannot at once remove the evil from the land--but we may put into the hearts and minds of young people such principles and such motives that they may be able to resist the temptation about them and keep themselves pure and safe, clean and unspotted. Our Lord's prayer for His disciples was not that they should be taken out of the world, away from its evil--but that they should be kept from the evil.
The passage is a discussion of the question of personal liberty and duty to others--how far we may exercise our liberty, and where and how far we are required to by the law of love to deny ourselves practices or enjoyments for the sake of others. This question has an obvious bearing on the matter of the use of alcohol. Some men claim that they have a right to drink alcohol, so long as they do drink to the excess of drunkenness. They claim that no one has a right to interfere with their privilege in this regard, and that they are not required to think of the influence, which the exercise of their liberty may exert on others about them. Are they right in their contention? Or is there a higher law, which requires them to deny themselves if there is danger that the exercise of their liberty shall hurt others, lead them to put their lives in peril?
Paul says, first, that there are things which are lawful--but which are not beneficial. When he says, "All things are lawful," he does not mean sinful things. These are never right. He is referring directly to the eating of meats which have been offered to idols. He is entirely satisfied himself, that the meats were not affected by their being taken into an idol temple, since an idol is nothing--only a piece of wood or stone. It is "lawful" for him to eat such meats. God does not care what kind of wholesome food we eat--it is our moral acts of which He takes notice. Paul says that all such things were lawful to him. That is, so far as he was personally concerned, it was no sin for him to eat of these meats, which had been carried first to an idol temple.
Yet that is not the end of the answer. "But not all things are beneficial," he adds. There may be things that are right enough on simple moral grounds--and yet which as Christians it is not well that we should do. If we were living alone on our little island, and no other person lived anywhere about us, the question would be very much simplified. We might do as we please, then, so far as lawful things are concerned. We may play our flute or keep our noisy phonograph going all night, if it gives us any pleasure, for there is nobody next door nor anybody near to be annoyed or kept awake--by the exercise of our liberty. But if we have neighbors, if there is a sick person in the house next to ours, that introduces a new element into the question. "Let no man seek his own good--but each his neighbors good." We have no liberty to distress the sick woman next door with our noisy phonograph. We must think of the other person, and be ready to deny ourselves any dear liberty of our own--if it is going to cause hurt or give pain or trouble to another. The other's good is to be thought about--before our own pleasure.
You have a right to eat any food you wish, not troubling as to whether it may have been offered to idols or not. But if someone calls your attention to the fact that certain food has been offered in sacrifice, you must stop for conscience' sake--that is, for the sake of the conscience of the person who spoke to you about it, and who thinks it wrong to eat it. That is, you must deny yourself your liberty in the matter, because the exercise of that liberty would do harm to another person.
Paul gathers the whole question into one wonderful, comprehensive and luminous sentence, "Whether therefore you eat, or drink, or whatever you do--do all to the glory of God." We are to do everything to the glory of God--that settles it all. That is one standard of Christian living. Selfishness is not, never can be, to the glory of God. We must think of the people about us, of their comfort, of their good, of the influence of our acts upon them. We must think of the weak brother for whom Christ died, and not by our liberty cause him to stumble.
It is very easy to apply the principle of this lesson to the use of alcohol. Nothing comes in here concerning the matter of alcohol in its effect upon the person himself. The man to whom this argument is specially directed, is the man who claims the liberty to drink moderately, temperately, as he likes to call it. He says he has a perfect right to do so. In one sense, he has. If there were no other people about him to be influenced by his example, if he is satisfied in his own conscience that he can drink moderately and yet safely--no one could say a word against his exercising his liberty. But if he has boys growing up in his own home, or brothers, or friends, or companions, or neighbors, who may be influenced to follow in his steps, and who may not be able, as he claims to be--to stop inside the danger line, the question is different. Then, is he not bound by the higher law of love to abridge his own liberty, to sacrifice his own desires, to deny himself his lawful indulgence, lest he might put a stumbling block in the way of weaker ones.
But this is not the only phase of the alcohol question which we must consider. In teaching children and young people, it must seem to be necessary also to present always the duty of abstaining for one's own sake--as well as for the sake of others. Every boy should want to make the most possible of his life, and the use of alcohol works ruin in everyone. It does harm to his body. It injures him mentally. Then, it destroys his spiritual power. It robs him of that delicate refinement which is an ornament to the life that possesses it. It leads him into companionships and associations which are degrading and debasing. As a result, he loses his good name, the respect of worthy people, and the confidence of the community. What the final outcome will be, need not be sketched here.
On the other hand, boys should be helped to realize and always to remember that a clean, pure, wholesome, self-restrained youth is the beginning of a noble and worthy manhood. The boys have only one boyhood. Some things they can experiment on, trying different ways to see which is the best. But there is no room for experiment in living. "Youth comes twice to none." Life has been compared to an arrow, which flies as it is directed on the string. If it is aimed westward, it cannot possibly fly eastward. If the life begins wrong in boyhood and youth, if it is directed toward dissoluteness and debauchery, there is little hope that it ever can be turned about so as to attain the beauty, the nobleness, and the worthiness of an honored manhood. Let the boys think of this matter seriously, and begin right. If they do this, they will find it easy to make all their life manly and noble.