Works of the Flesh (Part 6)

Fools’ Day began as a celebration of subdeacons but eventually became a day of excess and debauchery with echoes of various pagan rituals. By 1431, the Roman Catholic Church officially forbade the Feast of Fools.

Intemperate Excesses

This last group speaks of behavior that can lead to the violation of the sixth and seventh commandments—and if the drunken speech I’ve heard is a fair sampling—to the violation of the third commandment. And as for “other sins like these,” I don’t know whether Paul was referring to other forms of wanton behavior or referring back to the whole list that characterizes what it looks like to live after the flesh—probably the latter.


Unsteady History of Drunkenness

Drunkeness (μέθη/methē) is incompatible with the Christian living, a fact Paul highlighted by elsewhere by a direct contrast between between filled with wine or being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). I think of an especially abusive incompatibility between drunkenness and Christian living in the case where Paul had to rebuke people who came to the Lord’s table drunk, selfish, and divisive rather than sober and unified (1 Cor 11:21).

Timothy George suggests that Paul may have been alluding to hangovers from their former participation in “the mystery religion of Dionysos, the wine god.” He also wonders if some of the libertines in Galatia may have returned to old habits of the “bacchanalia,” justifying it by an abuse of the idea of Christian liberty.1Timothy George, Galatians, NAC (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 397. Whatever, the origins of this concern in Galatia, the behavior would have compromised Christian witness at best and denied it at its worst.


In the singular, κῶμος/kōmos refers to “carousing” and in the plural to “orgies” (NLT, NIV, REB), “carousing” (NASB, NRSV), or carrying on in bacchanalian revelry. Orgies (κῶμος) is a term everywhere connected with drunkenness (Rom 13:13; 1 Pet 4:3), and it evokes images of gluttonous and licentious parties.


Intemperate Excesses vis-a-vis the Charismata

Paul gets right to the long and short of it when he warns, “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Eph 5:18).

A prayer against intemperate excesses…

Die Unmäßigkeit” (excess, intemperance), by Heinrich Aldegrever (1502–1555/61)

Father, your Son taught his disciples to pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” For anyone who struggles to live a temperate life, I pray that you would grant wisdom to avoid temptation as much as possible and strength to face it down when it’s unavoidable. Fill their daily walk with the new wine of “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17, ESV).

I pray this in Jesus’s name. Amen.


  1. What should a Christian response to drunkenness and licentiousness look like?
  2. Can you think of ways you and your circle may engage in intemperate excesses that harm your Christian witness?

Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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