As of the time of this writing, there are five known deaths from an online drinking game that has now gone viral. The game called Neknominate involves videoing yourself drinking a large amount of alcohol and then nominating someone else to outdo you. You can read the sad sick details here if you so desire: http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/18/world/europe/neknominate-drinking-game/index.html?hpt=hp_t3
Pressuring others to drink is nothing new. It seems that every year, we hear in the news of four or five valuable young men or women whose lives were snuffed out because they thought it fun to pressure each other at a high school graduation party or prom to "get hammered." In many cases, not much pressure was required. They just did thought it would be fun.
The New Testament gives us some direct instructions regarding getting drunk. Christians are people who come from the same backgrounds and the same world as those who are engaging in these behaviours. Many know the temptation to join in the overindulgence at an office party or a football game or a high school prom. The apostle Paul felt it necessary to instruct the Ephesian Christians in this regard. What is interesting is that Paul does more than simply say "Just say no!" He goes further by calling for a counter activity to the typical peer pressure that characterizes the party crowd. Instead of getting drunk with wine, press people to fill up on the Spirit of God. He wrote these words: "Do not get drunk with wine for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." Here are a few thoughts on this passage:
1. The Need for Community: One reason that people join the drinking crowd is because there is something lacking in their lives. They want to go "where everybody knows your name. And their always glad you came." If you don't know those words, it is the theme from the old television show Cheers. The song sticks in your brain. People are looking to belong to a crowd of happy people with whom they can find acceptance and community. They want to be with those who lock arms and sing loud and with gusto. How many Christians recognize that it is a biblical expectation that we "address one another" in song? Joyful expressive community is what we are created to inhabit and it sheds light on what it is like within the Trinity where the songs of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been celebrating for all eternity.
2. The Need for Content: The problem with drunkenness is not merely that you lose control. It is that alcohol often attempts to cover an empty place in the soul which tragically feels exacerbated afterwards. What every person longs for is a "lasting" sense of meaning, purpose and belonging. Alcohol abuse can increase depression. It distracts from the emptiness and monotony of life. What the songs of the Saints are intended to do is to unite the heart with the actual never leaving presence of the Holy Spirit rooted in the eternal truth of the historic redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our hearts are reminded that they will never be left alone. Our minds are reminded that our lives have substantial meaning and purpose under the eternal and unfailing purpose of God. This is why we must be careful never to lose the connection between songs that move the affection and the intellect. The affections are meant to be strengthened by the certainty of Biblical truth even if the song be as simple as "Jesus loves me this I know."
3. The Need for Compassion - What should stand out in this passage in Ephesians is how the command to address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs helps the believer to move from self to others. At the end of this activity, we are meant to be fulfilling the two great commandments: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Do you see that there? We are to give thanks and praise to God. We are called to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Let me recommend to you Timothy Keller's book, "The Freedom of Self-forgetfulness." The problem with drunkenness is that, if you wake up the next day, you still have to face yourself in the mirror. You may have even added a few more regrets that make it harder to be less self-preoccupied. Drunkenness does not free us from the debilitating nonsense of self-preoccupation.
When we sing of Christ, we are called to look outwardly. When we rejoice musically in the good news of God's salvation, we can put to bed once and for all the regrets of the past. When we point each other to God, we can get over ourselves and move forward building a life that is a blessing to others.
Helping a friend drown their sorrows in alcohol is a weak sign of friendship. It is temporary at best. It often makes life harder. Helping a friend negotiate their sorrows by reminding them by the Spirit of the unending presence and power of the Spirit in their lives, gives them something to hum and to sing when alone in the dark. This is what it means to really be compassionate. People use designated drivers to get them home safely when they have lost control of themselves. We remind one another that the Holy Spirit is our designated driver and He will never fail to get us through today and all the way home to Jesus.