What is the first evidence that someone is drunk? Way before they fall unconscious, even before they start slurring their words or lose their ability to walk in a straight line, the first thing you’re likely to see is a complete absence of inhibition.
“I love you man. No, seriously, I really love you man.” Englishmen are not accustomed to such overt expressions of affection for their brothers, but when these words fall from the lips of someone who’s intoxicated you’re not surprised. Any random person in the street might accost you and share far more about themselves than you’re wanting to hear.
So when the Holy Spirit fell on that small band of Christ’s followers in the very earliest days of the church and they’re accused of being drunk, what exactly was going on? What were they actually doing that made the other Jews watching them dismiss their actions as being under the influence?
I think the onlookers were embarrassed. They were embarrassed at the enthusiasm and passion of the Christians. They had only seen such uninhibited excitement at the end of a feast when everyone was heavily drunk.
‘… We hear them telling in our tongues the mighty works of God.’ And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ But others mocking said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
There it is. The only reason the Christians were accused of being drunk was because they were so utterly and inappropriately overenthusiastic about God. This was a religious crowd gathered for a religious party, and even they found it awkward to listen to these Jesus-followers gushing about the ‘mighty works of God’. So, the easiest way to handle the situation was to dismiss them as drunks.
In a previous post I tried to make the point that worship (telling God how great he is) and evangelism (telling others how great God is) are basically the same thing–it’s only the audience that changes. And that begs the question, why do we find evangelism so hard? If we can be enthusiastic and passionate about a million other things, and we can worship God passionately Sunday by Sunday, why can’t we open our mouths to talk about him to our friends?
The answer is simple: it’s not socially acceptable. And I don’t just mean it’s not socially acceptable in 21st century London, I mean it’s not socially acceptable almost anywhere at any time. Religious fanaticism is regarded with deep suspicion, and anyone who starts talking about their private faith in a public way must be a fanatic. And since none of us want to sound stupid, create a negative reaction, experience rejection, or be dismissed as odd or drunk or fanatical, we’d rather stay quiet.
And so we’re afraid. It really is that simple. We hide what we really think and feel about God because we’re inhibited and seeking to preserve some kind of dignity and normality in a world where fitting in and being admired is pretty much the driving force behind most of what we do. The only alternative explanation is that we’re not all that fussed about God.
How can this change? I suppose the early believers were in the same boat, and clearly the only thing that enabled them to overcome their instinct towards self-preservation was the experience of being filled with God’s Spirit. When God’s Spirit rushes into a man he loses his inhibition because the passion inside far exceeds the fear of rejection or mockery or whatever. He is uninhibited. He is drunk.