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Happy Hour

February 7, 2011

3not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 1 Timothy 3:3

Here’s one of the most obvious passages on drinking in the Bible. It’s part of Paul’s instructions to Timothy, his emissary to Ephesus, on qualifications to look for in potential church leaders.

You would think if there was a specific prohibition against drinking wine or strong drink, Paul would have taken this opportunity to forcefully and clearly state the position. But he doesn’t lay down any such law. An admonition for leaders to “not ever let a drop of wine touch their lips” is absent here.

Paul says instead to look for men who demonstrate moderation, erring on the side of sobriety.

It’s often put this way with regard to Paul’s requirement for would-be elders: that they do not “linger long at the table” where alcohol is served. We know without a doubt from the original language that elders are not to have a penchant for alcohol. Certainly they are not to be heavy drinkers.

Further down when Paul discusses deacon qualifications (1 Timothy 3:8), he says the best candidates are those who do not to allow alcohol to take hold of their senses or minds, which is simply solved by not partaking in “much.”

The ability to push one’s self away from the table becomes more difficult with each round. The kind of guy Paul’s describing has a glass that does not get refilled. This guy places his hand over the glass when the waiter comes by and says: “No, I’m good.”

Despite Paul’s apparent laxness on this topic by fundamentalist standards, leadership is all about good modeling and unselfishly foregoing that which is fully acceptable, for the sake of others. This is the “weaker brother” concept (Romans 14:1-4). But it’s easy for a “tea-totaller” leader to become the “weaker brother” if incapable of tolerating peers who put into practice Paul’s guidelines. What happens is the “shocked offended” party is the very one who should be able to understand the liberty Paul’s extends. The real “weaker brothers” are actually fine with it and may be impressed by the leader’s restraint and good nature.

One last point, Paul had to brow-beat Timothy to get him to “no longer drink water exclusively, but to use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and frequent ailments.” (1 Timothy 5:23) I see two things here: Timothy was attempting to lead an exemplary irreproachable life, foregoing anything that might cause him or others to stumble (a good thing), and, imbibing in wine for its positive attributes was not uncommon in that day (not a bad thing). In other words, to partake of wine in Christian circles was not a huge shock in those times. It was not a jaw-dropper.

This topic is always volatile in conservative churches. But the focus should always be on setting a good example and playing it safe. Leaders are no longer in the rank and file and need to act accordingly. If you ask me, seriously consider why having an alcoholic drink is important to you. Weigh the plusses and minuses. If it’s not worth it, why take a risk? Nobody stumbles when you abstain.

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