October 19, 2017

Behaving Properly (2) – Specific Application

Don Johnson

Behaving Properly Part One is here.

In our first article on this subject, I closed with these words: “The concept is this: God’s will as expressed in Scripture has a wider and deeper application/implication than mere surface understanding suggests. We are called to think and live the spirit and intent of Scripture, even if God doesn’t specifically name a particular modern expression of that sin.”

My point is that when God gives us directions in Scripture, he means for us to think about all the ramifications and applications of those directions. He doesn’t mean that we should consider the exact legal definition of a term and congratulate ourselves if we keep to that precise standard. When God say, “Thou shalt not kill,” he doesn’t mean that it is “OK” to hate, to nurse bitterness in the heart, to defame or ridicule or any of a number of expressions of anger, internal and external. The Lord Jesus himself showed us what God thinks is covered by “Thou shalt not kill.” He did the same for “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

I want to move to some specific applications, but first I’d like to give a couple of illustrations to reinforce my thesis. Many of the ‘sin lists’ mention ‘theft’ or the Old Testament command “Thou shalt not steal.” I have taken security training in the past. A scenario was proposed to us where someone is hired as a security guard at a convention, just to patrol the grounds, not allow unauthorized access, etc. Part of the duties takes the guard past a buffet table after the attendees have departed to another room for a meeting. A lot of food is still out, it will only be discarded by the clean-up staff. Is it legitimate for the guard to help himself while making his rounds? Answer: No, not without specific permission. The food doesn’t belong to him, to help himself is nothing more than theft. He might not be charged in a court of law for stealing a piece of fried chicken, but he could be fired for it. That is what secular authorities say.

But I have a further question. Suppose the guard doesn’t take anything, but every time he passes the table he longs for the food and wishes he could have some. Has he violated a spiritual law? I think he has. It is “theft in the heart,” a failure of the spirit to live by God’s will and standards.

To shift to another arena, traditionally conservative Christians have been against participation in dancing. More broad-minded people, including some professing Christians, have scoffed at this standard. An interesting observation on this point comes from a biography of John Calvin: “A ban on dancing had already been introduced before Calvin’s time, but it is true the regulations had been tightened. Calvin thought that since the way people touch each other in dance is nothing less than a first step to adultery, the purity of the body would be better safeguarded by the complete avoidance of dancing. Even if nothing untoward was to happen it was … in Calvin’s words, ‘an invitation to Satan.’”[1]

From this information, the two terms are quite clearly describing the limits of excess in alcohol related sin. When we consider this in light of our understanding of Biblical reasoning about the next terms, especially “chambering and wantonness” (“sexual promiscuity and sensuality”), we can readily see that the exhortation encompasses a changed walk covering a wide range of behaviour with respect to alcohol, not simply these two ‘limits of excess’.

When it comes to chambering and wantonness, no one will argue that it is permissible for a married Christian man to date some woman not his wife, as long as he doesn’t commit “chambering and wantonness” with her. How then is that that Christians can argue that it is legitimate to “date the bottle” – drinking is acceptable so long as you don’t get drunk? If you consider the milder term and Peters words in 1 Peter 4.3, it is quite clear that even drinking at the banquet, not necessarily to excess, is considered inappropriate behaviour for Christians.

1 Peter 4:3 For the time past of our life may suffice us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, when we walked in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries:

In the comments to the post we republished from Maranatha’s Sunesis blog, “Anemia in Fundamentalism,” a couple of commenters tried to claim that it is only narrow-minded fundamentalists who link sexual sins with alcohol. The fact is that these sins are repeatedly coupled in Scripture, as you can see here in Romans 13.13 and in 1 Peter 4.3 as well as many other texts.

How does one go about defining drunkenness? At what point is someone drunk? The state defines a form of drunkenness at a fairly low level that makes one incapable of operating a motor vehicle. My understanding is that it doesn’t take too much alcohol to render an individual “under the influence”. Regardless of the actual point at which someone is legally “drunk”, it is quite clear that alcohol produces changes in the mind and body before the legal limit is reached.

The refusal to think deeply and carefully about the implications of these prohibitions is very revealing. One of the driving forces behind much of the attempt to weaken fundamentalist Baptist convictions against alcohol appears to be the lust for alcohol. Many want permission to drink, and they drink for the feeling the drink provides. The spirit behind this is the spirit of drunkenness, the desire to experience the feeling the beverage provides.

Brethren, we are to walk in the day, not in the night. The night is almost over, the fulness of the Great Day is about to come upon us. How can we allow indulgence in the delusional sins of the world when we have an eternity of light to live in? Let us live as if we are already in that Day (Romans 13.11-14).


Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

  1. H. J. Selderhuis, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2009), 151; Brian Collins, “Exegesis and Theology,” Blog, Calvin on Fundamentalist Taboos, accessed November 13, 2014, http://www.exegesisandtheology.com/2009/07/14/calvin-on-fundamentalist-taboos/)) You see, we conservatives have Calvin on our side!

    The point we are making is that in applying biblical prohibitions, the ramifications extend beyond the explicit words of Scripture. This is one of the reasons conservative Christians have justified opposition to tobacco use long before the secular world began to treat smokers like pariahs. We looked at various Scriptures, considered the nature of the substance, and concluded that using tobacco defiled the body, the temple of the Holy Spirit.

    The passage I began this discussion with is Romans 13.13:

    Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. (Rm 13.13)

    Some versions turn the exhortation to the honest walk simply thus: “behave properly”. Three categories are then raised in a series of pairs to lay out for us what Paul has in mind when he talks about “becoming behaviour.”

    1. Alcohol related sin (“rioting and drunkenness” – “carousing and drunkenness”)

    2. Sexuality related sin (“chambering and wantonness” – “sexual promiscuity and sensuality”)

    3. Personality (anger/strife) related sin (“strife and envying” – “strife and jealousy”)

    We’ve already made some application of points 2 and 3. I’d like to conclude by making some application on the first category, Alcohol related sin. All conservative Christians will agree that there is such a thing as alcohol related sin, no doubt. The two specific sins mentioned in Romans 13.13 would be prohibited for certain: “chambering and wantonness” (or “carousing and drunkenness”).

    The first term translates komos, which Thayer defines “as a revel, carousel, i.e. in the Greek writings properly, a nocturnal and riotous procession of half-drunken and frolicsome fellows who after supper parade through the streets with torches and music in honor of Bacchus or some other deity, and sing and play before the houses of their male and female friends; hence, used generally, of feasts and drinking-parties that are protracted till late at night and indulge in revelry.” We can probably think of parallel activities in our culture that are all too frequent occurrences in our society.

    The second term is methe, Thayer defines it as “intoxication; drunkenness.” According to Trench, it appears to be the strongest term expressing drunkenness in Greek. A related term, topos, is used only once in the Bible, at 1 Peter 4.3, which describes “the drinking bout, the banquet, the symposium, not of necessity excessive (Gen. 19:3; 2 Sam. 3:20; Esth. 6:14), but giving opportunity for excess (1 Sam. 25:36…).” ((Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (London: Macmillan and Co., 1880), 225. []


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