1 Timothy 5:23
No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.
Small church ministry is a blessing in so many ways. I love the context in which the Lord has called me to serve. However, it does come with challenges. Among them is the fact that I am not great with technology; yet, we are not able to pay someone with that spiritual gift to serve. Because of that, I sometimes botch the sermon recording. When this happens, I plan to write brief blogs over the sermon that was lost to fill in the historical gap.
Due to reasons I won’t spend time explaining here, while walking through the pastoral epistles, it was advantageous for my schedule to preach an entire sermon just on 1 Timothy 5:23. That’s right; one verse. That sermon was not recorded properly.
What follows then are the FIVE points of my sermon. I feel this little verse is a crossroads of five intersecting paths to travel.
1) The Mode of Inspiration
This verse reminds us of a very important principle about Scriptural revelation. The Bible was not revealed via dictation or posession. What that means is that the authors were not writing down a voice they were hearing, nor were they brought into a trance and made to write God’s Words without even being consciously aware. Rather, the Spirit was capable of using the authors infallibly while maintaining their personalities, passions, skills, etc. In other words, the Bible truly has two authors: man and God. The great confession on biblical inerrancy, the Chicago Statement, puts it this way:
“We affirm that God in his work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom he had chosen and prepared. We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that he chose overrode their personalities.”
Why do I think this small verse points to this truth? I say that because I think this verse is clearly a sidenote, or rabbit trail from Paul. Quite honestly, this verse does not fit the train of thought in the passage. It clearly breaks the thought, and then the thought naturally reconnects immediately afterward. Here is verse in context:
As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some people are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.
The ESV takes the liberty of putting the verse in parenthesis, and I don’t disagree with that. In so doing they recognize that the verse doesn’t fit. Read verses 22 and 24 together. They are a seamless fit.
This has caused some scholars to question whether this verse was actually written by Paul on the margins of the manuscript, and it eventually found its way into this particular paragraph. Others have made attempts to make the verse fit the context, but I remain unconvinced by those arguments.
What has all this to do with inspiration? Well, if Paul was inspired via dictation or possession, then I would be blaspheming God. The God of the universe does not have side notes, or rabbit trails. He does not reveal things in broken contexts, and He does not remember information last second. Nonetheless, humans do. This is part of Paul’s writing style and personality. And while Paul was protected from error, he never ceased to be Paul, and he never ceased to be human. This verse is one small proof of that.
2) The Authenticity of the Letter
Anyone who has studied the pastoral epistles (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) on an academic level knows that it is vociferously attacked by unbelieving scholars as being inauthentic; meaning, they do not believe the Apostle Paul actually wrote them. They are considered “psuedographic” letters, which means they are forgeries, written much later by impostors claiming to be Paul.
The conservative arguments against this are compelling, satisfying, and convincing. While I am not going to relay the debate points on both sides in detail, I will simply add that verse 23 is one small argument for the letters authenticity.
The reason is two-fold. For one, how could a false author writing much later have such intimate knowledge of young Timothy? This verse clearly reveals the intimate relationship Paul had with Timothy, and the great fatherly/pastoral care which characterized Paul’s relationship to Timothy. This information a distant stranger wouldn’t have. Second, why would a false author throw this in, especially in this location? It throws off the train of thought, and there is no good reason for creating this random stomach ailment out of the blue. This verse has the strong scent of authenticity.
3) The Evolution of the Gifts of Healing
Verse 23 has a very subtle, but important implication about the nature of healing within Paul’s apostolic ministry. We know that miraculous healings were common among Paul at the beginning of his ministry. Not only could the apostles heal, and did so on many occasions, Paul himself was even able to raise people from the dead (Acts 20:1-12). These were part of the supernatural gifts required for authorizing these men as legitimate divine spokesmen. Perhaps the most impressive healings in Paul’s ministry were those done from a distance. Acts 19:11-12,
And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.
The question has to be asked then, why didn’t Paul just heal Timothy? How does Paul go from healing people without even knowing it, from a distance, and raising the dead, to recommending Timothy try medicinal options? Why didn’t Paul have Timothy touch something he himself touched? Why didn’t he heal Timothy while they were together?
Secondly, why could no one in the church at Ephesus heal Timothy? Paul wrote to churches who had members to whom the Spirit of God was endowing gifts of healings. Yet, Paul resorted to alcohol to try and heal Timothy. Apparently no one at Ephesus had this gift.
Given that these epistles are some of the later letters Paul wrote prior to his martyrdom, this suggests that healing gifts served a particular purpose in the earliest God did not feel the need to utilize as often later in the apostolic ministry.
This does not prove that miraculous healings never happened after the early events of Acts, nor that they never happen today. But it doesn’t say nothing. It does need to be wrestled with extensively. The idea that every church has faith healers, that we ought to expect this gift, that we ought to believe God wants it to happen often certainly does not fit the data here. (See also Paul’s inability to heal Epaphroditus.)
4) The Value of Modern Medicine
That transitions us nicely into the next point this text reveals. That point is that modern medicine is, generally speaking, good.
During my previous ministry context, I encountered a group of Christians who believed that taking medicine of any kind was a sinful demosntration of lacking faith in God. Appealing to James 5:14, they claimed we must pray over the sick instead of treat them:
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
However, James 5 needs to be balanced with 1 Timothy 5:23. Yes, elders should continue to obey James 5. One church members are sick, elders should pray over them. Fellow Christians should pray for them. But that does not mean we are not permitted to also seek medicinal help.
Paul would never command Timothy to sin. Thus, the New Testament approach seems to be faithful prayers along side medicinal treatments. They are not mutually exclusive.
5) The Value of Alcoholic Drinks
These last two points are easily the most important. I ended then with a brief primer on alcohol. Verse 23 at least shows us that alcoholic drink is not inherently sinful. It is permissible. It’s not wrong; it is not taboo, not even for a pastor. Pastors and other Christians can consume alcohol.
This obviously does not mean that alcohol can never be abused. Certainly, drunkenness is a sin (Ephesians 5:18).
However, the biblical witness overall says alcohol is more than just a permissible medicine. It is actually a blessing from God! While the Old Testament has much to say in the way of rebuking the sinful, foolishness of drunkeness, it presents an overall positive picture of alcohol. The Bible speaks of alcohol as being rightfully used as medicine, for recreation, for celebration, and for worship.
The Bible does permit recreational drinking:
Psalm 104:14-15, “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen man’s heart.”
Ecclesiastes 9:7, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.”
The Bible presents alcohol as being a celebratory gift from God. Along with Jesus’ first miracle being that of creating new, delicious wine for the wedding in Cana, the Old Testament also speaks of God blessing holy nations with good wine:
Isaiah 25:6, “The LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; A banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, And refined, aged wine.”
Lastly, wine is used in worship settings without apology. The first ever communion used real wine. Wine was used in the temple worship.
Jesus Himself drank wine. He worshiped God with it in communion, and drank with sinners in evangelistic settings. In fact, Jesus drank often enough for sinful men to lie about His drinking and claim it was excessive:
Matthew 11:19, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say,’Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.'”
Jesus was perfect; He was not a drunk. However, He did drink, and that did not taint His perfection in the slightest.
While I recognize there are many reasons individual Christians may choose to refrain from alchohol, we cannot claim all Christians must.
Those Christians who do not abstain need to remember their duty to honor those who do, never causing them to stumble.
So what do we learn from this little verse? What can I exhort you with, since my sermon exhortations are lost? Along with a few other points, I would simply encourage you when sick to pray, and seek medical attention.
And equally important, I would exhort you to have a drink. Enjoy it. May it make your heart merry. But drink like Jesus. Do not abuse it, do not break the law with it, but instead, drink to the glory of God.