REMEMBER THE WEAKER BROTHER
I’m a Christian. I have been freed from the bondage of sin. By no merit of my own, I have been given indescribable grace that pardons me from any blemish on my record. I have a positional righteousness before the throne of the Holy God because of the blood of Christ.
I also struggle with alcohol.
Those who know me know that my struggle with alcohol is not the same as so many others. I have never tasted alcohol. I have never been tempted to taste alcohol. I have no desire to taste alcohol ever in the future. My struggle is a different one.
I’m the weaker brother. As much as my pride desires to refute that statement, I know it is biblically true.
I’m the weaker brother because I do not have freedom from alcohol. It is a burden to me.
When alcohol is present, I get extremely uneasy. My heart beats faster. My palms begin to sweat. In college, I would rarely show up at parties because there was a chance there would be alcohol present. On the extremely rare cases when I would attend, I would bring my own water or Gatorade bottle from home. I would leave it sealed and carry it around all night long, making sure that no one could spike my drink and that no one had the wrong idea about what I might be drinking. If someone asked me to hold their drink, I profusely refused, terrified of the thought that a picture might capture that instant and haunt me forever.
I’m the guy who struggles with alcohol because I have spent my whole life in a dreadful fear of it. I come from a line of alcoholic fathers. By the grace of God, the curse was broken before I was forced to wrestle directly with the consequences that alcoholism brings. But its impact still hangs over me.
My dad grew up in a home where alcohol flowed regularly. His story is all too common, and all too real. He saw the dangers of it. He watched a marriage dissolve, faced abuse, and his father’s health decline as a direct result of alcohol’s impact. He struggled with alcohol himself for a number of years. The stupid decisions. The painful consequences. The high cost he was willing to pay every time a bottle came to his lips.
When God freed him from that life and broke the cycle in the lineage of our family, he vowed to abstain from it for the rest of his life. He vowed not to bring it into his home so that my brother and I would not be exposed to those ugly extreme consequences that he knew so well.
And out of my father’s love for me, he warned me to stay away from alcohol. He saw what it could do. He knew how painful of a life he had lived. And he didn’t want that for his children. So at first he commanded me as his son living under his roof and then implored me as I became responsible enough to deal with my own decisions to stay away from alcohol. Don’t go down that road. Don’t play that game. It’s not worth it.
So now, as an adult, the impact of those words is still with me. For as long as I can remember, alcohol was equated with sinfulness. It was bad. It was evil. I was supposed to flee from it.
I now understand that drinking alcohol in and of itself is not sinful. Trust me, I’ve tried to make the Bible say that it is. But it simply isn’t. Drunkenness is sinful (Ephesians 5:18, 1 Corinthians 5:11). But Scripture is overflowing and abundantly clear that the fruit of the vine is a gift from God (Psalm 104:14-15, Proverbs 3:9-10, Genesis 27:28, etc.).
I believe I can make a legitimate case for why it would be wise to abstain from alcohol. But that is not my objective here.
My plea with the Christian today is to not neglect the weaker brother. Don’t forget that some of us are still struggling with alcohol. Don’t forget that some are recovering from the pains that alcohol caused them and daily fighting the temptation to run back to that old familiar habit. Don’t forget that some of us grew up in a different set of circumstances with a different perception of alcohol.
Don’t forget that some of us are the weaker brother.
Paul outlines this situation clearly in Romans 14:
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. – Romans 14:13-15
So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. – Romans 14:19-21
I know that part of my responsibility as the weaker brother is to grow in my faith. To work away from my standing as the weaker brother. But the language of Romans 14 (and similarly of 1 Corinthians 8) indicates that the other brother has a great responsibility in this regard.
In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin provides helpful comments on the subject of human freedom.
“We should use God’s gifts for the purpose for which he gave them to us, with no scruple of conscience, no trouble of mind. But…it is perversely interpreted both by those who allege it as an excuse for their desires that they may abuse God’s good gifts to their own lust and by those who think that freedom does not exist unless it is used before men, and consequently, in using it have no regard for weaker brethren…Nothing is plainer than this rule: that we should use our freedom if it results in the edification of our neighbor, but if it does not help our neighbor, then we should forgo it.”
So, when you are excited to exercise your Christian freedom and to drink alcohol, remember that it does not have to be displayed publicly for it to be true freedom.
Remember that others may be affected negatively by it.
Remember when you post your picture of you drinking a glass of wine on Instagram and Facebook that the weaker brother may stumble over it.
Freedom is a wonderful gift. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak (1 Corinthians 8:9).
Remember the weaker brother.