Some people consider birthdays to be worthy of a huge celebration. And in some places, being able to celebrate having lived another full year is indeed a blessing that we often take for granted here in the States. As for me, though I do recognize that the years I have lived have indeed been a blessing, as an introvert I don’t like to make a big deal of celebrating my birthday, and certainly don’t need a huge celebration.

In the United States, despite underage drinking being a fairly common practice, commemorating one’s 21st birthday with his or her first legal alcoholic beverage is still recognized as a significant rite of passage for young adults. Many of my friends have celebrated in this way, and although I wasn’t necessarily chomping at the bit to go out for my first drink on my birthday, I wasn’t opposed to the idea of going out for a drink with some friends.

My friend Ryan and I (I will be using aliases for the sake of privacy) turned 21 during the same week in June. Although Ryan was spending the majority of his summer working out-of-state, he came home to Connecticut to celebrate his 21st birthday alongside me and some of our close friends, and although none of us really talked about it, Ryan and I were working under the assumption that some part of our birthday celebration would include going to a bar for our first drink as 21-year-olds.

Our friends decided to take us out to dinner at Chili’s; among the guests were Ryan’s sister, brother-in-law, their daughter, and a couple of our other close friends. We had a fun time with lots of laughter, good conversation, and no alcohol. But eventually, dinner began to wind down and Ryan’s sister and her family left, at which point we began to discuss where to go for a drink. This turned out to be a longer conversation than any of us were expecting.

My friend Colin is a few months older than Ryan and me. All three of us identify ourselves as practicing evangelical Christians, but even though we agree on most issues of how Christians should live, we diverge significantly on the topic of alcohol. Ryan believes that drinking alcohol isn’t problematic, so long as you don’t drink with the goal of getting drunk, and I tend to agree with him. But Colin is largely against drinking alcohol in any capacity, and although I can easily understand why he would hold this point of view, it took a long, drawn-out discussion to convince him to join us.

I come from a family that doesn’t always drink responsibly, and I have seen the effects of drunkenness firsthand. Although getting drunk may be a goal of some people consuming alcohol, I personally don’t want any part of it, and I have known for a couple of years that I would never drink in the presence of someone whom I know has abused alcohol before, or who might be more susceptible to some of its negative effects.

I remember during our conversation that it was really just Ryan trying to convince Colin to join us; I was more indifferent on whether we went or not, although I did cast my lot with Ryan’s side of the argument. Maybe part of me wanted to be sensitive to Colin’s views, or maybe in the back of my mind I was actually still not sure of my own feelings on whether Christians should drink.

Many Christians differ in their views on whether we should drink at all; the stalemate that Ryan and I had with Colin about going to a bar was certainly not the first of its kind. But our conversation brought to light something that I really needed to be reminded of: the conversation is about a bigger topic than just alcohol.

As Christians, our concern should not be how alcohol – or anything that has the potential to be abused – affects us as individuals, since “all things are lawful, but not all things build up” (1 Corinthians 10:23). We need to look outside ourselves; we are called to “put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry” (2 Corinthians 6:3).

We shouldn’t look at refraining from certain activities as the taking away of our “rights” as individuals, whether it be in the consumption of alcohol, choices in media or clothing, etc. We should be able to refrain from certain activities willingly and joyfully, as we seek to honor God and lift up our brothers and sisters who may have struggles with those issues.

Ryan and I eventually convinced Colin to join us at the bar, after much hesitation, and he even tried some of Ryan’s beer, though I don’t expect he’ll drink again anytime soon (I would probably swear off alcohol altogether if my first drink had been dark ale like the one he tried). We were able to enjoy each other’s company, and drink responsibly as brothers in Christ without considering it an obstacle to our faith.