“You coming out tonight mate?” It’s a pretty routine question as you and your team reflect on a big victory. But it also sets a few alarm bells ringing. You want to be part of the team on and off the field, but you know the alcohol will be flowing and getting drunk will be the name of the game. If you’re a follower of Jesus, how should you react?
Camaraderie has to be one of the best things about playing sport. You put in the hard yards together in training and then celebrate or commiserate together after the match, commonly with booze. You have a collective identity that is hard to find anywhere else. The bonds and friendships you build up in team sports, in particular, can stay with you for the rest of your life.
As Christian sportspeople, we want to see this camaraderie and friendship flourish in our clubs and teams too. It’s a great way to enjoy God’s good gift of sport. Team spirit is something to be nurtured and cultivated. It’s also something we can take the lead in generating.
It’s also true that a hard-fought win feels all the better if you have collectively bust a gut in training to get to that point. Enjoying this with a beer or two has long been a key part of these celebrations, whether that’s in the clubhouse, the pub or a night out. Hence the phrase ‘a well-earned pint’. Yet we all know that a beer or two can easily become five or six as the drinking culture that is part and parcel of so many of our clubs kicks in.
Feeling uneasy yet? Booze can be a real minefield for Christian sportspeople. Can I get involved? What is the right approach to take? How can I be part of the team, but also stand out as a follower of Jesus? And then there’s the whole issue of initiations or welcome drinks, which so often takes place at the start of the season or when new players join.
But what does the Bible say about drinking culture in general? And how can we live that out in a way that is attractive to our teammates?
A good place to turn to is Ephesians 5. In chapter 4, Paul has just reminded his readers of the amazing new life they have in Jesus. They have been saved by His grace (Ephesians 4:7). As a response, they are called to put off their old self and put on a new self as the Spirit empowers them, liberated to be like God in His holiness. He begins chapter 5 by saying:
“Follow God’s example, therefore, as God’s dearly loved children”.
From here he tells these Ephesian Christians what this response to grace looks like in practice.
Fast forward a bit and we get to verse 18 [NIV]:
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit.”
Here and elsewhere, the Bible’s teaching is clear. God’s people are not to get drunk on wine or any other alcoholic drink, but this is not simply a negative command. It comes in the context of something incredibly positive – being filled with the Spirit. The very simple answer to our question is ‘don’t get drunk because you’re a Christian’. You have been saved by grace and are called to live for Jesus as a response to this. But that is far from the full picture.
The key is WHY we shouldn’t get drunk. If we’re adding this to a list of ‘dos’ and don’ts’ that define us as followers of Jesus, then we have missed the point. As Christians we are defined by what Christ has done.
Getting drunk is harmful for our health and studies show that too much alcohol can damage our sporting performance in the long term. As God’s created people, we want to look after the bodies He has given us. However, the main point Paul is making is that drunkenness leads to debauchery – a loss of self control. This is the opposite of the fruit the Spirit wants to produce in our lives. Jesus’ followers are called to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us about the hope we have in Him, but we won’t be able to do that if we’re drunk.
As followers of Jesus, we want to live lives that praise Him and show those around us how amazing He is. It’s not a case of rule keeping, but a response to what He has done for us. It’s only because of Jesus’ life-giving death on the cross that He enables us to put on this “new self” as His redeemed people. Debauchery and losing our self control is not in keeping with this new self, the new identity we have in Jesus. If we’re telling our teammates that we’re not going to get drunk, let’s be positive in explaining why! We can say why we want to live for God and getting drunk won’t help us do that. Here’s a video clip that can help us as we think about that.
It is easy to think that getting drunk will make us more alive and more fun, but then we’ve got the wrong definition of having a good time. We need to show that staying sober is not a miserable thing! And of course, Paul offers us the amazing alternative in verse 18 – “instead be filled with the Spirit”. As we let the Holy Spirit shape our words and actions, we are truly living the life to the full that Jesus promises us.
Is there a social planned at your club? How does this make you feel? Hopefully, this article has got you thinking, but here are three practical tips to close:
Think through how much alcohol, if any, you should drink. For some, having one or two pints easily leads to five or six.
Is there another Christian at your club you can go on the social with? If not, or even if there is, why not ask other Christian friends to pray for you to be distinctive in what you say and do. You can then offer to pray for them in different situations they may face.
Think through what you will say to a teammate who asks you why you’re not getting drunk. Simply saying something of your faith in Jesus can have a real impact.
Ed runs for City of York Athletic Club and is a member of Trinity Church, York.
Get the perfect start every
A weekly devotional for sports people