A couple of weeks ago, I was privileged by Christ to preach about the church in Thyatira from Revelation 2:18-29. At the end of that sermon I gave a personal illustration that I felt would help SPC to consider how to apply the passage to our own lives. I told you all that a couple of times a week, at the end of the working day, I drive across the street to Lincoln Park restaurant to relax, enjoy a beer, and build relationships with the wonderful people who work at that restaurant. I felt that this was an important part of my life to share with the church in order to illustrate the need to think through how we live the gospel out in the world around us.
Over the last couple of weeks, many concerned members of our church have asked me questions like this, “Tim, why did you feel it was necessary for you to share with the church that you drink beer? Don’t you think that will tempt others to justify drunkenness or to take sinful liberties with their freedom in Christ?” Just for the sake of clarity I would like to respond to these concerns. To be clear, my illustration was not haphazard. I prayerfully thought through the illustration and determined that it was the appropriate picture to use. I was convinced that the illustration would work on two levels:
1) Challenging Two Mindsets: A Small Kingdom Worldview / A Divided Kingdom Worldview – Remember the church in Thyatira had an interesting problem: half the church was living out a “divided kingdom worldview” – one side of kingdom of life that worshipped Christ and another side of kingdom that worshipped the gods of the age; the other half of the church was living out a “small kingdom worldview” where they worshipped Christ in a small huddle and pretended that no other kingdom existed. I believe that both of these impulses are harmful to the cause of Christ. Think about it, there was a group of people in the church at Thyatira who were embracing a horrendous life-style of idolatry, drunkenness, and sexual immorality in the secular Roman business world. There was another group that evidently huddled together in a brand of Christian delusion and ignored the other group and the challenges of living in the secular Roman world. Both groups were sinning! Notice Jesus’ words: “I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel (false teaching), who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.” Christ is saying, “Many of you are following the teaching of Jezebel (living a life outside of Christ’s glory and thoughtlessly worshipping the gods of Rome in your business practices and private lives), meanwhile others of you tolerate (and ignore) ‘Jezebel’ false teaching that promotes idolatry, drunkenness, and sexual immorality.”
Put simply, the negligence of Christ centered teaching on “how to be in the world, but not of the world” (John 17:14-18) was making the church at Thyatira extremely weak. They had not discussed or thought through how to eat, how to drink, or how to run their businesses to the glory of the Lord in a Roman pagan society. The lack of teaching along these lines left a void that was filled with the false teaching of Jezebel. In applying this passage to SPC, I chose the practice of drinking alcohol as an issue in our day that can easily be pushed into destructive extremes. It is my sense that at SPC we have three types of approaches to drinking alcohol. Those who say Christians should never drink alcohol because it is a sin, those who say Christians can drink alcohol however they wish with no restraint or thought, those who say Christians can drink alcohol thoughtfully to the glory of Christ. In contrast to the church at Thyatira, my illustration was designed to get us to do what Thyatira was not doing – to talk about it. One thing is sure, from all conversations that I have had since that sermon, we are talking about it. That’s a good thing. My desire is that we at SPC will continue to engage in prayerful dialogue with each other so that we are careful to steer away from judgmental legalism on one side and away from sloppy practices of freedom on the other.
2) Communicating Full Disclosure of my public life – Another reason I felt that it was important to share the illustration was to make the congregation fully aware of how I conduct myself in the public marketplace. Let me explain. What if you were at a restaurant and you saw me sitting at a table having a beer with a friend? Most of you may think nothing of it. Good for you. However, there may be those who see me and are led to two wrong conclusions. You might conclude, “Wow, Tim is having a beer! I can’t believe that! He’s supposed to be a pastor! He is failing to practice Christian temperance! He is in sin! What a horrible example. I wonder what else he is hiding?” Or you might conclude, “Wow, Tim is having a beer! That’s great! He is practicing liberty! He is casting off all gospel ethics. That must mean anything goes and I can do anything I please!”
In order to avoid those two wrong conclusions, I felt that it was important that you all understood my position to both teach and to live out the Christian liberty that I have been given by Christ. Yet, I wanted you to know that I strongly desire to express that liberty, by the graces of Christ, in a thoughtful and prayerful way. I believe that Christians are called to joyfully embrace Christ and his creation. All things are given by him to be enjoyed in one way or another. Yet, I also believe we are called by Jesus to practice that freedom in a careful way that glorifies God and seeks to avoid the idolatry, addiction, and sensuality that was practiced by the church in Thyatira. Living our Christian lives in this manner requires us to live in an honest way before the face of Christ and to pray continually for Holy Spirit led wisdom. For me personally, in regard to drinking alcohol, context and quantity are extremely important. Drinking alcohol in a restaurant or at home is much different than consuming alcohol in a setting that is obviously displeasing to Christ. I must continually be prayerful to consider the context of my freedom. The quantity of alcohol that I consume is also vital. I honestly cannot have more than two beers to the glory of Christ before I cross a line toward drunkenness, which is scripturally displeasing to Christ. For others, this may not be the case. You may be able to drink a little more than me before reaching that line. Still others, because of struggles with addiction, may not be able to consume alcohol at all. Each one of us must be honest and thoughtful before our King, who is the Ruler of every area of our lives.
So Surfside Presbyterian Church, let’s talk and pray about these things so that we may prayerfully keep from legalism, guard from thoughtless freedom, flee destructive idolatry, love more liberally, embrace Christ more dearly, and glorify God more fully in the public and private sector of our lives.
So now, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. – 1 Corinthians 10:31
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2
I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. – John 17:14-18