An Exploration of Galatians: Deeds of the Flesh Part 7
Galatians 5:19-21 - Pray for self-control from the Holy Spirit and avoid excess and revelry.
”Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.“
Galatians 5:19-21 NASB1995
The last two specific deeds of the flesh that Paul notes in this passage are both social sins: Drunkenness and carousing. He then has a catch-all phrase, because it would be impossible to list all of the sins or deeds of the flesh whenever they are referenced. I’ll discuss this more later in this devotional.
So what is drunkenness? This word comes from the Greek word μέθη or methe meaning intoxication or drunkenness (another circular word definition). So does the Bible prohibit drinking? Here’s a great commentary from Gotquestions.org on this subject (links go to BibleRef.com):
Scripture has much to say regarding the drinking of alcohol (Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:3; Deuteronomy 29:6; Judges 13:4, 7, 14; Proverbs 20:1; 31:4; Isaiah 5:11, 22; 24:9; 28:7; 29:9; 56:12). However, Scripture does not necessarily forbid a Christian from drinking beer, wine, or any other drink containing alcohol. In fact, some passages of Scripture discuss alcohol in positive terms. Ecclesiastes 9:7 instructs, “Drink your wine with a merry heart.” Psalm 104:14-15 states that God gives wine “that makes glad the heart of men.” Amos 9:14 discusses drinking wine from your own vineyard as a sign of God’s blessing. Isaiah 55:1 encourages, “Yes, come buy wine and milk…”
What God commands Christians regarding alcohol is to avoid drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). The Bible condemns drunkenness and its effects (Proverbs 23:29-35). Christians are also commanded to not allow their bodies to be “mastered” by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Peter 2:19). Drinking alcohol in excess is undeniably addictive. Scripture also forbids a Christian from doing anything that might offend other Christians or encourage them to sin against their conscience (1 Corinthians 8:9-13). In light of these principles, it would be extremely difficult for any Christian to say he is drinking alcohol in excess to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Jesus changed water into wine. It even seems that Jesus drank wine on occasion (John 2:1-11; Matthew 26:29). In New Testament times, the water was not very clean. Without modern sanitation, the water was often filled with bacteria, viruses, and all kinds of contaminants. The same is true in many developing countries today. As a result, people often drank wine (or grape juice) because it was far less likely to be contaminated. In 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul instructed Timothy to stop drinking water exclusively (which was probably causing his stomach problems) and instead drink wine. In that day, wine was fermented (containing alcohol), but not necessarily to the degree it is today. It is incorrect to say that it was grape juice, but it is also incorrect to say that it was the same thing as the wine commonly used today. Again, Scripture does not forbid Christians from drinking beer, wine, or any other drink containing alcohol. Alcohol is not, in and of itself, tainted by sin. It is drunkenness and addiction to alcohol that a Christian must absolutely refrain from (Ephesians 5:18; 1 Corinthians 6:12).
Alcohol, consumed in small quantities, is neither harmful nor addictive for most people—the exception being those who struggle with addiction. Some doctors advocate drinking small amounts of red wine for its health benefits, especially for the heart. Consumption of small quantities of alcohol is a matter of Christian freedom. Drunkenness and addiction are sin. However, due to the biblical concerns regarding alcohol and its effects, due to the easy temptation to consume alcohol in excess, and due to the possibility of causing a brother to stumble, it is often best for a Christian to abstain from drinking alcohol.
So alcohol (especially wine) has been described positively in the Bible and there is strong scriptural evidence that Jesus drank wine. Paul advised Timothy to drink a little wine to ease some stomach pains. The crux of the matter is that alcohol is easily addictive and drinking it in excess (a sin) leads to intoxication, associated other bad behaviors and to health issues.
I am a wine aficionado. We belong to several wine clubs and like to enjoy an excellent wine with a good dinner. I usually never drink anything but coffee, water and some wine in the evening, not being particularly fond of other alcoholic drinks. I also personally believe that some of the sweetened carbonated beverages like colas are just as bad or worse for your health, leading to ailments like Type II diabetes and excessive weight gain, so I avoid those types of drinks. Steve also occasionally enjoys some of the craft brews that come from the hundreds of breweries that seem litter the landscape these days; he is an IPA fan and a little bit of IPA (India Pale Ale - usually with lots of hops) goes a long ways (at least for this casual beer drinker).
The problem is when you are in a situation, like a party, on a vacation or in other social settings that have alcohol. When I was in college over 40 years ago, it was considered normal behavior to drink yourself senseless with a group of like-minded stressed-out students on weekends. In my working days, there were many occasions where a group of us would gather in a bar or restaurant and have “a few” beverages while sitting around shooting the breeze or doing “shop talk”. It is also easy to get into really bad habits on vacations and especially cruise ships, now that so many cruise lines include unlimited alcoholic beverages in their fares. We have seen the negative consequences of this “freedom” when you observe other people after a day at sea or on the beach that are so drunk they can’t walk. I don’t like the feeling of being intoxicated (neither does my stomach) and we have both found that life is much more pleasant and our sleep is much better if we ask the Holy Spirit to give us self-control so that we can still enjoy the taste of a wine or beer but not to excess, and to avoid bad side effects and a state of sin.
Alcohol addiction and the effects of excess drinking are serious problems in this country. Most medical practitioners are now focused like lasers on their patients’ alcohol usage (it is one of the first questions asked every time I go to the doctor for any reason) and they have concerns for significant health problems if someone binge drinks or drinks to excess on a regular basis (and for women, the recommended maximum amount is one drink a day). As the article from GotQuestions.org notes, drinking alcohol is not prohibited by the Bible, but it is easy to drink in excess, become addicted, and even cause a brother/sister to stumble, so these are all cautionary considerations for the believer.
So what is carousing? This word comes from the Greek word κῶμος or komos and it has these definitions:
a revel, carousal
a nocturnal and riotous procession of half drunken and frolicsome fellows who after supper parade through the streets with torches and music in honour of Bacchus or some other deity, and sing and play before houses of male and female friends; hence used generally of feasts and drinking parties that are protracted till late at night and indulge in revelry
I thought this photo was appropriate, considering what carousing meant in the day of Paul, with the specific type of party in honor of Bacchus or Dionysus. The location looks like Bourbon Street in New Orleans during a big event (Mardi Gras or some other festival) and the ministers are down the street preaching about turning from sin and are probably being mocked to death by the young groups of drunks. We have been in New Orleans a couple of times and the folks there (mostly visitors in the French Quarter) don’t even need an excuse like Mardi Gras to walk around in the streets imbibing strong Hurricanes and engaging in debauched behaviors like women exposing themselves to get beads.
You can repeat the wild revelry on Florida beaches during college spring break and in that den of iniquity known as Las Vegas, Nevada (and they brag about it in their advertising). You can see it on the streets of Nashville, as bachelorette parties wander from one Honky Tonk to the next getting intoxicated and out of control (and one of the party is about to be married). You can see it at sporting events and college bowl games. People even go to Epcot at Walt Disney World and play an expensive game called “drink around the world” at the World Showcase (families visiting the park have complained about these adults getting very intoxicated and losing control).
Revelings or carousing are reckless and wild and SINFUL and are not appropriate places for a Christian. No matter how much fun it looks, I would urge folks to avoid these situations or to not take part in the worst aspects. We visited New Orleans on a cruise a few years ago for Mardi Gras and limited our activities to a parade viewing (in reserved stands) and to a good dinner in a restaurant near our cruise ship. We decided to avoid the French Quarter in its entirety because of the debauchery that would be everywhere.
Paul ends his laundry list of deeds of the flesh with a catch-all phrase “and things like these”. Just because a sin isn’t listed here or in other places in his Epistles or Scripture doesn’t mean it is approved or is acceptable to God. There are things like theft, murder (mentioned in some translations of Galatians), dishonoring of parents, and lying. There are other gluttonies besides drinking to excess: Overeating, pursuit of luxuries, selfish desires. There are sins of sloth and sins of omission. There are no big or small sins, because all sin is abominable in the eyes of the Lord.
Paul has warned his followers of these deeds of the flesh before and he ends this passage (Galatians 5:19-21) with a very strong warning that will be the subject of my next devotional. Then we enter into the beautiful fruits of the spirit, which will be explored in-depth before ending chapter five of Galatians.
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Please help me to have self-control and enjoy the fruits of the vine without indulging in excess. Help me to avoid being in situations that are full of carousing and revelry and be sober-minded and attentive to You. In Jesus Name, Amen.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
The Blue Letter Bible was accessed on 12/31/2023 to review the lexicon for the term drunkenness and carousing.
GotQuestions.org was accessed on 12/31/2023 to review the answer about the acceptability of drinking alcohol.