I am thoroughly enjoying teaching through Jim Groth’s book “Living in Freedom” with him on Sunday nights. Jim has a way of laying things out there that really engages you and makes you think. He sent me this, and I wanted to pass it along as something to get you processing a bit.
The question is frequently asked of this dangerous world we live in, where people want to kill you simply because of what you believe, or what country you live in: how many of us are willing to give up freedom for the sake of the promise of safety? I have a good friend who has said many times that most Americans would be perfectly satisfied if China took over the United States as long as we could still go to Wal-Mart and watch the TV programs we want to. The same question needs to be asked of our spiritual life: how many times would we gladly trade true spiritual liberty for the “safety” of a legalistic worldview?
I am sitting here studying and thinking and it came to mind that a question came up about the vine and wine. I got to thinking and it seems to me that this may be quite difficult to understand. It illustrates to me just how subtle and insidious sin is, and the nature of our vigilance about keeping the “knowledge of good and evil”, not to mention our misunderstanding of grace versus law.
The question was (something along the lines of, I think) whether or not it is legitimate to grow vines from which the fruit of grapes are harvested and then turned into wine. I remember your answer about the alcoholic content, etc. But to me the issue has a different slant. It seems the question itself asks, “How willing are we to live by the knowledge of good and evil, always looking for some rule to live by, or conversely, some violation?” It is interesting that Jesus used this illustration since winemaking was the primary reason for a vineyard.
Here is a gray area that Paul addressed many times in his letters.In his time the question was about meat offered to idols or circumcision or something else. His principle was about the conscience and the freedom we have and the responsibility to exercise it in love. It seems to me there is no sin in the growing of grapes, the harvesting, the making of wine (regardless of alcoholic content) or the consumption of wine (Paul told Timothy to drink a little wine for his stomach’s sake in 1 Timothy 5:23). Getting drunk is another matter, and even then it seems that the real problem is the compromise that it may bring to behavior, not the just the actual effect (“Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit” [Ephesians 5:18]).
The principle involved is that we shouldn’t be looking around for the possibility of sin and spending all our time and effort to live by avoiding it or suspecting others. Doing so misses the whole point. Don’t get me wrong, some sins are quite obvious and Paul also deals with them in his letters, and he does condemn lifestyles of bad behavior. Even then we must be very careful defining what bad behavior or sin is. For instance, it is not in owning an vineyard and making wine or consuming wine, but in the behavior loosened by too much wine. These kinds of questions are often neverending, and frequently lead to a loss of freedom.
We must be vigilant in not turning into Pharisees, looking under every rock and crevice for the possibility of sin, and then condemning even that which may lead to sin. We must not repeat the desire of Adam and Eve–having the understanding of God in all the fullness of what is good and what is evil.
And to conclude as an aside, I am not too sure how weak the wine really was in Roman times. Certainly, at the wedding in Cana, after many hours and even days of drinking and celebrating when all the wine was gone it is probably true there were way too many who had had way too much. The reason the best was served first is because the celebrants would often be too drunk to tell the new stuff wasn’t as good. Even then, Jesus made more wine. He made it because it was the Father’s time to do so. As the miraculous “winery” He had no guilt or reluctance to make more wine. It was not His job to limit the wine so there would be no abuse. He didn’t argue with His Father about the ethics of doing this. The sin was not in the winemaking, and not in the potentiality of what others would do with what was given them–it only became sin when someone allowed themselves to consume too much wine and lose control of themselves. But lest we think to highly of ourselves, remember: we may never be “drunk with wine”, but we allow plenty of other things to control our words, actions and decisionmaking.
We need to keep in mind how easy it is to go down the path of the sin of distraction and take our eyes and minds off of God’s grace, and settle for the “easy” path of legalistic “safety”.