A Study Of 1 Timothy 5:23
“DRINK no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake, and thine often infirmities.” – Paul to Timothy
UNPOPULAR as this text may appear in this day of religious reform, in which the scriptures have fallen so far behind the spirit of the age, we have nothing of popularity at stake, may venture a few remarks upon it without the fear of losing the favor of the reformers of the day.
Paul, the writer of the text, was an inspired apostle, and wrote as he was directed by the Holy Ghost. Timothy was a minister of the gospel, and a bishop or elder of the church of Christ at Ephesus. It was therefore proper that Paul, as one of the twelve judges of the twelve spiritual tribes, should instruct Timothy how he ought to behave himself in the house of God.
From the text we learn that Timothy was a man of frequent infirmity, and from the fact infer that although gospel ministers are required to be sound in the faith and practice of the gospel, they are men of bodily infirmity like all the rest of mankind.
Timothy could not be temperate in all things, unless he discontinued the use of water and used a little wine. We do not know that Paul required a tetotal abstinence from water; but he evidently believed that water was more injurious to the health of Timothy than wine would be; he therefore directed a discontinuance of the former and the use of a little of the latter.
Paul did not in this case, or in any other case, direct the use of much wine; but elsewhere forbids that the saints should be drunken with wine, wherein there is excess.
From the above considerations we infer that there is a very wide difference between the views of Paul and those of the modern false apostles of our age, as the latter hold that the use of intoxicating drinks, to any extent, is a moral sin; that they are not to be used in any case, to any extent whatever, without involving guilt and sin on the part of the person or persons using it. Paul, however, held with his Lord, that the use, not abuse, of all things was lawful and expedient, and all things were to be received and used by the saints with thanksgiving.
Had our Lord regarded the use of intoxicating liquors as a sin, is it consistent to believe that he would have given Israel wine as a blessing, or directed the children of Israel to buy wine and strong drink; or would our Savior have changed the pure element of water into such wicked stuff as wine, and then, after the people had already well drank, caused the better wine to be served to the governor and the feast?
Had our Lord approved of the doctrine of modern tetotal abstinence, would he have been called a wine-bibber or wine drinker ?
Again we infer, that the modern theory is not only without a divine warrant in the sacred pages, but is absolutely in opposition to the revealed laws of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Any person, therefore, connected with the church of God, who shall violate the laws of Christ, by uniting in modern societies which are hostile to his laws, are guilty of disorder, and should be labored with as offenders; and if not reclaimed, excluded, as in all other cases of walking disorderly.
In rejecting the inventions of men on this subject, and adhering strictly to the bible, let no one suppose us to advocate an excessive, or even habitual use of wine, or other intoxicating drinks; such is not the fact, either in theory or in our practice. But we do believe, and maintain, that the bible is a full, perfect and infallible guide for the children of God. They were no countenance the excessive use of wine or strong drink, or of any thing else; but they direct that we should use all things bestowed upon us by a bountiful providence, as not abusing them. It is a reflection on the wisdom and goodness of God, for men to attempt an improvement of the divine rule. The church is required to withhold her fellowship from drunkards; and if any in our connection become intemperate in eating, or drinking, or otherwise, they are to be put away, if they cannot be reclaimed by gospel measures. it is disgraceful, and abominably wicked, for christians to indulge in an unbecoming use, or we would rather say, abuse, of what God has given us. Any person who cannot be reclaimed from intemperate habits, by gospel discipline, from a sense of their allegiance to their heavenly King, by the love of God dwelling in their hearts, by a sense of gospel order, by a desire to walk circumspectly, ought to be put away from the communion and fellowship of the church of Christ. To sustain them in the church by any other constraint than that found in the New Testament, is a perversion of the laws of Christ, and involves the sin of retaining in church connection, such as the laws of Zion have commanded us to put away. We care not for the slang of the enemy, in slanderously reporting us as wine-bibbers, gluttons, &c.; for so they accused our Lord; but when any of the household of faith give occasion to the enemy, to reproach them on this ground, it is trying indeed; therefore, suffer the word of exhortation.
Dear brethren, let us abstain from all appearance of evil; let us live soberly, righteously and godly in the present world. And although we are not at liberty to allow any man to judge us in meats, or in drinks, or in regard to a holy day, let us, as children of the light, as the followers of the Lamb, as the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, deny ourselves of all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and endeavor to show an ungodly generation that we, by the laws of Christ alone, are taught to walk worth of the high vocation wherewith we are called. If our infirmities (we don’t mean depraved appetites) require strong drink, there is no more harm in using it moderately, than mil or bread; providing we use it lawfully; and it is as great a sin for us to refuse it when, like Timothy, our sickness, or natural infirmity requires it, as to refuse any other temporal blessing that God has given us. It is not in drinking a little wine that the evil lies; but in carnal indulgence, which inculcates an appetite for still greater indulgence, and so leads on to actual intemperance. In the use of wine and other strong drink, there is perhaps a much greater danger of cherishing an immoderate thirst, than in the use of many other things; we are therefore to be the more guarded – to use it with the greater caution; and if we cannot use it without exciting an inclination to use it excessively, it is our duty, as christians, to abandon the use of it altogether. By the same rule which required Timothy to discontinue the use of water, because it was detrimental to his health, we are required to abstain from wine and strong drink, when our infirmities require water instead of wine.
By Elder Gilbert Beebe
New Vernon, N. Y.,
June 1, 1840