Today we continue our series on the character of the Christian. We are exploring how the various character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to exhibit them. I want us to consider whether we are displaying these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure. Today we will look at what it means for Christian leaders and for all Christians to be temperate and sober rather than drunk or debauched.
Paul tells Timothy, “An overseer must, A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; (1 Timothy 3:2–3).
Again, he tells Titus, elders must, “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: 6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. 7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;” (Titus 1:5–7).
Why this specific qualification? What is so important about it?
This is plain talking for anyone holding such office, Drunkenness is sin, and persistently drunken people require church discipline. So a person in a position of trust and authority over other people can’t have a drinking problem. I will further state, If an elder has a drinking problem, he will lead people astray and bring reproach upon the church. His overindulgence will interfere with spiritual growth and service, and it may well lead to more degrading sins. It is worth noting that the Bible does not lay the blame for drunkenness on alcohol itself, but on the one consuming it. In the Epistle of 1 Timothy chapter 3, I am pointing out to you that Paul did not require them to be total abstainers, since Jesus himself changed water into wine and made wine the emblem of his blood. What Paul requires, however, in moderation, is an example of the self-mastery already mentioned.
The general qualification here would be like the one above under temperance, namely, self-control—not addicted to anything harmful or debilitating or worldly. Freedom from enslavements should be so highly prized that no bondage is yielded to. I will extend the reach of this command from alcohol to any other kind of intoxicant or narcotic—a common and, I believe fair extension of the principle.
As we have seen for each one of these qualifiers, God requires all Christians—not just elders—to pursue the same standards.
Paul tells the church at Corinth that they must not associate or eat with “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” (1 Corinthians 5:11).
Why? Because drunkards (among others) “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10).
Again, Paul says, “ Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:21).
Elsewhere, he commands, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
Peter agrees: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;” (1 Peter 4:3).
The Proverbs also warn against drunkenness numerous times and in numerous ways.
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Proverbs 20:1).
“Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh:” (Proverbs 23:20).
Consider also this passage:
“Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? 30 They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. 31 Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. 32 At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. 33 Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things. 34 Yea, thou shalt be as he that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast. 35 They have stricken me, shalt thou say, and I was not sick; they have beaten me, and I felt it not: when shall I awake? I will seek it yet again.” (Proverbs 23:29–35)
Finally, specific groups of people are also told to be sober. Deacons are held to the following standard:
“Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;” (1 Timothy 3:8).
And again Paul writes, “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.” (Titus 3:3).
The Bible makes it crystal clear—God’s people are to be enslaved only to Jesus Christ. They are to resist any competitors, chief among them alcohol.
So, how about you? Does your life reflect sobriety and self-control? I encourage you to ask yourself questions like these:
- Do you have a biblically-informed position on whether or not Christians may consume alcohol?
- Do you abide by your position?
- Are you able to partake of alcohol in moderation and without becoming intoxicated?
- Would your friends and your family agree?
- Do you find yourself tempted to drink too close to your limit?
- Do you regularly succumb to the temptation to have “just one more drink”?
- Are there any other substances that you are addicted to?
- Do you look to alcohol or any other substance for the happiness and satisfaction that only Christ can provide?
Whether you drink regularly, occasionally, or not at all, I encourage you to consider praying some of these prayers:
- I pray that you would deepen my convictions about alcohol so that I can partake (or not partake) with freedom and confidence. Help me never to violate my conscience, never to pass judgment on others, and never to flaunt my freedom.
- I pray that I would be able to enjoy your gifts without becoming enslaved to them. I pray that you would give me victory over all drunkenness and indulgence. Even if that is an unthinkable temptation right now, I ask that you would help me never to relax my guard but always to be vigilant.
- I pray that you would make me more like Christ who was able to be around alcohol and those who consumed it, but who could not be charged with drunkenness because he is never once over-indulged.
Next week we will consider what it means for elders and Christians to not be lovers of money.