Monday, July 22, 2013

1 Timothy 3: The Destruction of Nobility

The Destruction of Nobility

1 Timothy 3:1

What has gone before...

Following seven character qualities that demonstrate a person's aspiration and desire to serve as a leader, Paul presented a list of six examples of behavior: three negative and three positive. A comparison of two versions of the list showed that the ESV combined two of these behaviors into one, while KJV reflected more accurately the six distinct behaviors.

Moving on...

"If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money." 1 Timothy 3:1-3 (ESV)

Here, Paul lists three negative patterns of behavior which can destroy any one or all of the seven qualities of a "noble task".

  • Drunkenness (staying near wine)
  • Violence (smiter, pugnacious)
  • Sordidness (shameful gain)

"Smiter" means to strike with a firm blow; from Old English smitan, to smear or blemish; related to Dutch smijten and German schmeissen, to fling. "Pugnacious" means eager or quick to argue, quarrel or fight; from Latin pugnus, fist.


The first destructive behavior listed here appears to connect directly with sober-mindedness:

"Sober-mindedness", as we saw in a previous study, has as its root a word meaning "to abstain from wine". Although rooted in the literal meaning of refraining from alcohol, "sober-mindedness" was used to imply being discreet, cautious, alert and dependable.

"Not a drunkard", however, means the literal act of drinking a fermented beverage to excess. Combining the word for "wine" (oinos) with the word "near" (para) gives "drunkard" the literal, observable meaning of "always drinking alcohol", a person never without a drink in their hand, someone continually under the influence of intoxicating drink.

1 Timothy 3:1 (ESV) "If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task."

Drunkenness destroys the "noble task" of serving as an overseer.

"Noble task", as we saw in a previous study, means a beautiful, valuable act; having an outward appearance which reflects honestly the goodness and worth of one's behavior. Drunkenness slurrs one's words, brings dizziness and vomit, removes caution, and distorts memory and perception.

If a person were able to attempt some "noble task" while drunk, the outward appearance, smell and sound would disgust those for whom the work was performed. Any work attempted while drunk would likely result not in "nobility" but in injury, violence, crime or shame.

None of the character qualities and behaviors listed by Paul for the position of an overseer are possible while a person is drunk.


Drunkenness is always condemned

As we saw in a previous study, The Bible does not discourage the drinking of alcohol. Drunkenness, however, is always condemned:

"Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit." Ephesians 5:18 (ESV)

"Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine." 1 Timothy 3:8 (ESV)

"Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine." Titus 2:3 (ESV)

"You are all children of light, children of the day. 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." 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8 (ESV)

The Bible never commands a person to drink alcohol. But Paul did recommend that Timothy use a little wine for the sake of frequent ailments (1 Timothy 5:23). Wine is often used in The Bible as a metaphor for spiritual happiness and pleasure, and a person may enjoy wine and the like in moderation, experiencing in the body a small taste of what the Holy Spirit brings to the soul.

To the priests of Israel, God gave wine:

"All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and of the grain, the firstfruits of what they give to the Lord, I give to you." Numbers 18:12 (ESV)

God required all Israelites to set aside a portion of their income for the year for a thanksgiving celebration that could include wine:

"Go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire-oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household." Deuteronomy 14:25-26 (ESV)

Wine was seen as the fruit of God's greatness and grace:

"Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great!...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." Psalms 104:1,14-15 (ESV)

God's grace allows us to enjoy food, drink and medicine made from natural resources created by God and sustained by His power. These gifts are ours to enjoy, but at the same time we must be constantly aware of our inborn, human sin: Without genuine worship and love for God as Lord and Savior, we all will fall into idolatrous lust, drunkenness and rebellion.


photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc