1 Timothy 3:2
What has gone before...
In Paul's "job description" for overseer, the first and last descriptors function as an introduction and summary: above reproach and well thought of.
Paul requires Christians to consider whether they are above reproach concerning marriage. Biblically, marriage is a life-long, socially legal contract between one man and one woman. If this contract is broken, it must be only for the cause of sexual immorality. Divorce for any other reason is evidence of sin-hardened hearts.
Until such a heart is submitted to Christ in repentance, such a one should not be considered for the office of overseer.
After faithfulness in marriage, Paul next urges us toward sober-mindedness.
"An overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded.." 1 Timothy 3:2 (ESV)
SOBER-MINDED: nephaleos "nay-FAL-eh-os" (sober or circumspect, wary and unwilling to take risks); from nepho (to abstain from wine, to keep sober or be discreet)
This word occurs only three times in the New Testament, each instance as part of a description of godliness. Aside from Paul's mention of sober-mindedness here, as part of the job description for overseer, he refers to it twice more:
"[Deacon's] wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things." 1 Timothy 3:11 (ESV)
"Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness." Titus 2:2 (ESV)
The root of "sober-minded", nepho, meaning abstention from alcohol, occurs seven times, and each time is figurative for being watchful, alert and ready for action.
Wine taken to excess will dull a person's alertness, preventing them from recognizing dangers, confusing their motives and priorities. To carefully control one's desire for wine, or to abstain from any such influence, demonstrates a desire to be alert, to recognize danger and to maintain integrity and honor.
Paul urged Christians to "be sober" for the sake of faith, love and salvation:
"We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation." 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8 (ESV)
"The day" refers to the day on which Jesus will gather together all who belong to Him, all Christians past and present. To belong to "the day" requires people to live every moment with the awareness of Who Jesus is (faith) and how He regards us (love) and what He's done for us (salvation). Ignorance of these things, or apathy, or rejection, makes a person spiritually "asleep" or "drunk": unable to respond appropriately to reality.
Sleep and drunkenness both cause ignorance of reality, a dull awareness of what is happening. A person asleep or drunk does not easily respond to words spoken, opportunities arising or dangers approaching.
Being sober-minded is the spiritual equivalent of being awake and alert, unaffected by sleep or drink, prepared to act in accordance with reality.
For a Christian, being sober-minded means to deliberately and consistently live in faith and love, applying the truth of our salvation to every situation. It means to work diligently, despite suffering, doing good that glorifies Christ. Paul spoke directly to Timothy, but the essence applies to all of us:
"As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." 2 Timothy 4:5 (ESV)
A person sleeping, or drunk, will not be working, they will not be helping others. Notice that sleeping is not sin...we all must sleep. Drinking alcohol is not sin...it is often described as a good pleasure. But sleeping, or drunk, when alertness is required is sinful. Sleeping in order to avoid work is sinful. Drinking to the point of drunkenness to escape duty is sinful.
Paul refers to alcohol directly in verse three, warning churches to disqualify from the office of overseer any person who is "a drunkard".
DRUNKARD: paroinos “PAR-oy-nos” (staying near wine, tippling, a toper); from para (near) and oinos ("wine", literal or figurative); perhaps from Hebrew yayin (wine, as something fermented; intoxication); from an unused word meaning to effervesce.
"Tippling" means one who habitually drinks alcohol, from a word meaning "tumble over". "Toper" means one who drinks alcohol to excess, on a regular basis, from a word meaning "overbalance" or "slanted" or "tilted".
Because "sober-minded" at its root means staying away from alcohol, it seems important to ask whether Paul intended overseers to abstain from alcohol, especially since he includes a warning against drunkenness.
"Drunkard" occurs only twice in the New Testament, each time describing the qualifications of church leaders. The word for "wine", however, occurs 33 times, often as figurative language describing godly characteristics.
"Wine" describes the new spiritual life of a Christian converted from unbelief and darkness (Matthew 9:17). Jesus described Himself as "eating and drinking", obviously a reference to wine since critics reproached Him for being "a drunkard" (oinopotes, "a tippler", Luke 7:34). Jesus helped celebrate at a wedding, turning water into wine (John 2). Paul slipped in a small bit of medical advice in his letter to Timothy, recommending wine for frequent stomach ailments (1 Timothy 5:23). Finally, God's wrath is described as wine (Revelations 14:10).
John the Baptist, however, completely abstained from wine all of his life (Luke 1:15) as part of his vow of a Nazirite (Numbers 6).
Although convinced that nothing is unclean in itself, Paul listed wine as one thing that is liable to cause others to stumble (to strike at, to surge against, to stub on or trip up; Romans 14:21). Paul exhorted Christians to not get drunk with wine, comparing drunkenness to debauchery (unsavedness, profligacy, reckless extravagance, wasteful; Ephesians 5:18). Deacons and older women, as well as overseers, should not be given to much wine (1 Timothy 3:8; Titus 2:3).
WHAT DO YOU THINK? What has been your position regarding drinking? Because wine is often used figuratively in the Bible to describe happiness or abundant life, what experiences have you had with alcohol that have definitely been a blessing for you? What negative, harmful experiences have you had? What other substances are comparable with alcohol?