What does the Bible say about recreational marijuana? That’s a great question – a question that is more and more relevant today, especially in Canada. Well, simply put, the answer is “Nothing.” But that doesn’t mean nothing needs to be said. Dr. John Neufeld gives a 15-minute presentation on this question, taken from our recent Let’s Talk: Marijuana indoubt:live event. He gives 4 biblical principles that will help shape our understanding. Even if you’re not interested in engaging recreational marijuana, it’s important to know and live out these biblical principles.
Who's our guest?
Dr. John Neufeld
Dr. John Neufeld, Canadian Bible Teacher of Back to the Bible Canada, is well known both nationally and internationally for his excellence in expositional Bible teaching. Dr. Neufeld is passionate about bringing the truth of God’s Word to life across Canada and beyond.
I have been given the dubious task of saying what the Bible say about marijuana. The answer is nothing. I guess I’m done and I’ve only used ten seconds to say that. Well, I have a little bit more to say than that. In the past we would’ve said, when marijuana was still illegal I would’ve said, “Well, Romans 13 really does speak to the issue because it tells us that we ought to as believers obey the governing authorities, except in those areas of our lives that done conflict with the teachings of Christ.” If the government says you can’t worship, well we would continue to do that. Outside of those areas we are called upon to obey the government.
Now the rules have changed, as you know. We’re called upon to look at this and ask, “Is there anything, any wisdom in the Bible that actually deals with that?” Now, before I do that, let me just make sure that you understand that I am only addressing the issue of recreational marijuana. I’m not addressing all of the other positive benefits there may or may not be in marijuana. That’s not my task. I’m not going to deal with that, and I’m not going to talk about whether or not you should wear a hemp shirt or not. I just don’t care. You want to wear one, just go for it. I don’t know what to say about that.
I do want to say, however, for a great many of us we’re going to say this is going to be the “youth” issue. What does an old guy like this know? Please understand, I was raised in the 60s and 70s. If you can remember the 1970s, you weren’t there. I mean it was just a fog that went all over the place. This is not a new issue at all. It does take some thinking about what the Bible actually says.
I’m going to put before you a number of principles. There are going to be four. I’m going to say that there are four issues that do speak to some of the issues about those things which we freely choose or freely choose not to do. On what basis to believers make wise choices in life? I’m going to begin by taking you to 1 Corinthians 6:18-20. I’ll just read that passage. We’ll start there.
It says, starting in verse 18, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commands is outside of the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” Now, that becomes the background to what’s being said. Given that, we are to watch sins against the body. Listen to what it says, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own. You were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body.”
Now in the past we have used this verse a great deal when it comes to the issue of cigarette smoke. I think that we need to maybe clarify a couple of things. Before I even talk about cigarette smoke, let me say that I think believers understand something about our own bodies. Our bodies are given to use as a gift of God, and God owns our lives. Therefore, he owns our own body. Therefore, it is beholden upon a believer to use his or her own body in such a way that brings glory to God. We are to look for ways in which our body is used as a servant of the Lord, and for that reason we’re asking ourselves how the use of our body should affect the body and affect our own effectiveness.
We’ve often spoken about both alcohol and tobacco and other legal forms of drugs. Now in the past, and I want to say something about alcohol because I know a lot of us will be thinking about this. I’m an old guy, and when I was first ordained as a pastor in my denomination, I was required to sign a document that said, “I will not touch alcohol in any form, no fermented drink will touch my lips.” I did sign that, not because I signed it out of conviction. I was a teetotaler anyway. I signed it just not to create a difficulty. I also recognized that the use of alcohol is not forbidden in the Scripture, but it has a long history of being forbidden among Christian people. It’s changed within your generation, but it wasn’t always that way. I think we probably misuse the Scripture in order to get it to say that.
When it comes to tobacco we in fact have a case to be made, because we know the long-term effects of tobacco on the body, and therefore as believers who hold that the body is sacred and a gift of God, we’re called upon to evaluate what will be the effects. That I would argue would be the first principle. I said there were four. That was the first one, and that’s the easy one.
The second principle is the principle of intoxication. Now, going back to the question of alcohol, there are a number of passages in the Scripture that tell us that wine gladdens the heart and that kind of thing. We remember that the Bible in fact can even commend the use of alcohol. Paul certainly does that to Timothy when he says, “Drink a little bit of wine because of your stomach.” You know that it says that. At the same time there are passages like Galatians 5:21. Most of us in this room, I think, would probably know Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience…” and so forth. Galatians 5:21, the passage just prior to encouraging us to walk in the Spirit tells us about the fruit of the flesh. One of the fruits of the flesh is drunkenness.
Indeed, when Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 2 he says, “Anybody who assumes spiritual leadership must not be given to drunkenness.” The Bible does seem to make a distinction between the use of alcohol, which it can even commend to us, and the abuse of alcohol, which is drunkenness. I would think that if we put all of that under a heading, which is the heading of intoxication, I think we have a bit of an understanding of what we’re talking about.
When it comes to the use of marijuana and simply the getting of a high, you might be able to answer for me whether or not it is possible to use marijuana in which you are not intoxicated or high. It would seem to me that the Bible forbids that kind of an activity and calls upon us to be rather sober-minded, that we are to be self-willed and not willed by our own flesh.
That brings me to the third principle that I think has something to do with this. It’s the question of habitual and unholy actions. Here I’m going to take you to 1 Corinthians 6:12. Paul, there, writes, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.” Now there is of course within Pauline theology an extended theology of the flesh. If I were to give you kind of a practical layman’s guide to what Paul means when he warns us about the dictates of the flesh, I like to use an example.
I used to wear a pair of glasses. They were very light on my head. I like them. I think they stopped making them, but they were made of what was called memory metal. That basically means that if you bend the metal in it and then you subjected the metal to heat, it would immediately take upon itself the original form all over again. The memory of the metal would just return to its form. In a sense, that’s what Paul means when he talks about the flesh. He speaks about those habitual ingrained patterns in which our flesh will simply revert to a pattern which it has memorized. As we are born into sin, the flesh very quickly memorizes patterns of unholy and unwholesome behaviour and repeats them.
You might say to yourself, “I’m never going to do”, whatever the action is. Let’s say, “I’ll never be angry again. Every time my spouse does whatever and I’ve been angry, and I’ve just popped off, I’m not going to do that again.” Your mind determines that my new course of behaviour is going to change. Then comes heat. What immediately happens is the flesh overrides the mind and overrides our own self-will. It overrides it and simply forms a pattern of behaviour that’s been memorized. The Bible talks about something called self-control in which we are to have control over our actions and not the flesh.
Here’s what marijuana, I think, does for me. We’re going to have to ask ourselves, “If I use marijuana because I need to relax”, we might want to compare that to someone who says, “I use sleeping pills because I want to relax.” Now I’m going to say that’s different if you have a regiment that’s prescribed by your doctor. If you’re using sleeping pills, painkillers, or any such thing recreationally because you have found that your flesh has just begun to respond to that and your flesh now is ingrained in its patterns, you’re going to have to ask yourself whether or not that is a pattern for marijuana as well. Will a person begin to regularly depend upon that euphoric that’s given in which the flesh rejoices, and we begin to develop those habitual patterns?
I’ll speak personally here. One of the reasons why I have made a commitment not to use alcohol in my lifetime is not because I think I have a biblical mandate for it but because I’m aware that I have, I believe, an addictive personality. I’m very careful about those patterns in my life that can easily form a life of its own. As believers, we are to be controlled by the Spirit, but we are also to be self-controlled. Every believer who wants to be wise in the decisions that they make is going to have to ask that question.
Okay, there’s one more thing that I want to spend some time on. It has to do with a principle of freedom. I’m going to take you to 1 Corinthians 10. You’ll notice I’m spending a lot of time in 1 Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians chapter 10:31 there’s a basic principle. I’m going to roll that out and then talk back from it.
1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” There’s a basic principle. No matter what activity I’m involved in, if I cannot say of that activity, “I give thanks to Jesus for this. I’m so glad that I did that, because in doing so I believe I honoured my Lord and Saviour,” if I can’t say that in my eating or in my drinking, or in anything else that I do– now context, context, context. The context really is a wider context which had swept through the church in Corinth. It had to do with meat that was sacrificed to idols. There are a lot of believers that said, “I ought to be able to partake because I know that an idol is nothing in the world at all. Therefore, whether I eat or whether I don’t eat is really entirely a matter of my own conscience.” That’s true in so far as it goes.
There’s another principle behind that as well. Paul talks about how it affects a fellow believer who may not have the same conscience that you do, who has just come out of a relationship with idolatry and sees you eating meat sacrificed to an idol and is therefore emboldened to go back to an idol temple. On top of that, Paul wants to also add that whatever pagans do in sacrificing to idols, they are actually sacrificing to demons. He says, “I don’t want you to be a participator in demons.” There has to be a great deal of wisdom that comes about when we exercise some of these free choices of ours. What is it saying to others? How is it directing my own behaviour? In the end of the day one of the main issues for every single believer in life – and it’s the main issue – is, can I so direct and live my life in such a way that I have brought every single area of my life, whether my leisure time or my directed activities under the lordship of Christ, so that Christ is pleased in all of my activities?
Well, we know we haven’t reached perfection yet, but to that end we strive. I think it’s a very important question to ask. Can I smoke marijuana to the glory of God? Well, I’m going to argue you can’t if it leads to intoxication. You can’t if it leads to a series of unhealthy choices in your life. In the end of the day, all of the choices for a believer are directed towards the long term. We’re always asking ourselves “Where does wisdom guide me? Where does wisdom lead me? How can I make the kind of choices now that will lead to the best possible consequences in eternity?” That’s the question that we’re always asking.
You can understand, I’ve not answered the question directly, but I’ve placed before you a number of biblical principles. Let me say them again, just in case you forget them. I’ve got them all written down here. Question number one was really the question about the use of our own body. Our body belongs to God. How should I be aware of the effects of marijuana on it. Secondly is the question of intoxication. Thirdly is the question of habitual patterns which I build into my own life. Fourth is the question of freedom. What constitutes the wise use of freedom so that in all things I bring glory to God?
That was Dr. John Neufeld giving his 15-minute presentation at our recent Let’s Talk:Marijuana indoubt:live event, which happened in February.
Well, the first thing that Dr. John brings up is sort of the question and the idea of the use of our body, our physical body. He brings up the biblical truth that our body belongs to God. He talks about 1 Corinthians, and it’s like you are not your own. He kind of asked the question “How should we be aware of the effects of marijuana on our body?” So, because our body is not our own, then obviously if we’re considering recreational marijuana we need to be thinking about, “Okay, well if my body is not my own and it’s the Lord’s, then I only want to put things in my body that is going to bring glory to God.”
It’s a hard one actually, because this, I find, out of some of the points that John made, is actually one of the biggest issues that I think we battle against in our society – the body. It can be really hard to talk to, because I think where we’re at, our society is really consumed by a need for autonomy, personal autonomy in our body, and “It’s my body and it’s my rights.” That makes it really difficult at times to talk about the relation to God in your body.
What I want to remind people is that I think we’re talking about this as “How Christians should respond.” I think that’s an important point, how Christians should respond. I was about to say unfortunately, but I don’t think it’s unfortunately. I don’t think we as Christians can live our lives in the way that “It’s my body, my rights, I can do with it as I want to do with it.” Like you were saying, if our body belongs to God, then what we do with it should follow along with the will of God as well and how we treat it and how we respect it. In some way, our body allows us to carry out his will in the world. If we’re not treating that appropriately, then we’re not going to be able to do that will appropriately either.
That’s good. Yeah, it’s a good point. It’s just such a radical belief in the midst of our society today, especially in our 21st century, to know that our body is not our own. You talked about the idea of autonomy sort of as body – autonomy that our body is our own, and we can do with it as we will. It’s like, no. That’s not true. That’s just a radical point.
I think it’s important too that he asked the question “How should we be aware of the effects of marijuana on it?” In a couple weeks from now, or more than a couple weeks I should say, we’re going to be listening to Dr. Lucinda McQuarrie’s 15-minute presentation on the show. She’s a family doctor, family physician. She kind of gets into some of the very biological specifics of what marijuana does to the body, which is very helpful.
I think that all of us, for the very … even if you’re listening and you’re not interested in taking recreational marijuana, but for the very fact that the Trudeau government is going to legalize it soon, probably this year, you should just be aware of the effects that marijuana has on the body so that you can be a good friend to your friends that maybe are considering it or things like that. We need to be talking about that.
Before we move onto the next point, though, Jake, how can we as Christians help our friends if we’re seeing them, and if they’re Christians, if we’re seeing them not really living in such a way where they’re believing that their body is not their own but rather the Lord’s? How can we respectfully, but also firmly, sort of encourage them and exhort them, and maybe even rebuke them so that they can kind of live in the light of the fact that their body is not their own? Maybe it’s not about marijuana. Maybe it’s about overeating or sleeping too much. I don’t know, who knows.
Yeah, and I think that’s a good point. I think as we’re talking about this, and it’s an important issue, but we don’t want to pigeon hole this as like the one worst issue ever. There are certain things, like John talked about, like drinking. Or overeating, that’s a huge one because that’s one we don’t really talk about at all, gluttony and all this stuff that’s super unhealthy for your body.
I think really what you have to do, and this is a lot of different circumstances, especially with young adults, especially with young adults who don’t really want to talk to you or might have some barriers up … I used to work as a youth worker for at risk youth. Maybe they have a different term now, but that’s what we called it at the time. You really just want to make sure that you have that sort of relationship or rapport with them that they understand that what you’re saying is because you care for them and for their future as well.
That’s so good. Yeah, that’s important to have. Alright, the second thing that he talks about is the question of intoxication. At the very end of the presentation, you probably heard him say that if there is a way that someone can actually take recreational marijuana without being intoxicated for the glory of God, then there is a question there.
We also bring up the fact that in Mark Ward’s book, and he was another speaker at the event, he does say that the National Administration of Highway and Safety? … I brutalized that. Hey, we’re Canadians. That’s an American administration that I don’t know about. Pretty much they were trying to figure out “How can we ding people or ticket people for driving under the influence of marijuana?” They kind of had to do all these studies. They say that one to two hits of marijuana will produce an intoxicated effect on the brain. One to two hits is one to two puffs of a joint. To me, I’m like there’s not really, maybe there’s a way to take marijuana to not be intoxicated, but that’s kind of a fine line.
Yeah, definitely is. That’s a tough thing because it starts at one. What they’re really saying is that it is possible with one puff of marijuana to become intoxicated.
Who is going to take one puff of recreational marijuana who goes to marijuana not to be high?
That’s true. I think recreationally that’s definitely true. I think that’s important. Recreationally I think that’s absolutely true. I don’t think there’s any other purpose recreationally for marijuana other than to get high, because it’s not a medical purpose then. It’s a difficult one because what really occurs there is sort of this physiological and also psychological change in you. I’m not a doctor by the way.
You sound like one though.
Maybe I do. I’m trying my best. What happens really is that there’s a removal from reality, of how life actually goes and how you usually feel. My issue with it is that I believe that we are called to be present in our lives, and also at times endure the hardship that we go through. A lot of people will use this or alcohol, or again food too, maybe food less so because you don’t really become intoxicated, but to sort of remove themselves from these situations and not have to deal with them. That’s tragic and I really feel for those people.
I would say for myself some of the most challenging circumstances in my life where I struggled the most have been also some of the greatest blessings in a refining way as well that have helped me grow and mature. I think the biggest struggle with this intoxication is that in our Christian faith we’re also called to love others. I think you see that in the greatest commandment about loving God and loving others. You also see it in the commission to go and make disciples of people. I don’t think you can do that if you’re absent mentally in a way.
It might be a bit of stretch example, but it is an example. What if you’re intoxicated and you see someone. Maybe someone needs a ride to a hospital or something. Are you going to be able to do that for them? What if someone at some point needs to have the gospel preached to them and you’re not in a state where you can even get those words out to explain that to them?
That’s good, yeah. We can’t get through all of them, but lastly, what about freedom?
Yeah, definitely on the freedoms, for young adults especially, and me working with young adults, that’s a really, really hot topic issue because they really like their freedoms a lot. They like to be able to drink or whatever that looks like. My challenge to young adults is, is there a difference between your personal freedom, you know between you and God, and freedoms communally with other people as well?
It gets back to what John was talking about with being a stumbling block. It gets back to what I was just saying before too. It’s about loving people. I had an experience once with someone who had been an alcoholic. I was out for dinner with this person and some other people. I will drink occasionally, but I chose not to drink in that circumstance because I knew that was something he had struggled with and didn’t want to entice him in some way to come back to that.
Before all this freedom stuff, I think we’re called to love people. Loving people looks like bringing them towards Christ. I think in some way if we’re tempting them towards that sin, then we’re not loving them.
That’s so good. I love it. That’s awesome. Thanks Jake for taking the time to chat with me today. I really do appreciate it.