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Pastorial Sobriety

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by John MacArthur


When was the last time you sat down and evaluated your testimony? Not the story of how the Lord saved you, but the daily testimony of your life. What does your life say about your faith, your knowledge of God and His Word, and your love for His people? In simple terms, what is your reputation?


We’ve been looking at the apostle Paul’s list of qualifications for church leaders (1 Timothy 3:2-3). Many of the character traits he describes are born in the leader’s reputation over time. Paul’s not just giving a list of dos and don’ts, past sins or past successes—he’s painting a vivid portrait of what a godly shepherd’s life must look like at the character level.


The pastor’s reputation is a vital element of his ministry. What he’s known for in the community extends to the reputation of the rest of his church, as well as the reputation of God’s Word. If, for example, the pastor was known for having a foul mouth and a coarse sense of humor, that would color the reputation of his entire congregation. It would also indicate to the outside world that the pastor and the rest of his church do not take seriously what Scripture says about that kind of speech (Ephesians 5:4; Colossians 3:8).


Today we’re going to discuss another necessary aspect of the pastor’s reputation—another vital quality that he must exhibit to be a godly shepherd.


Not Addicted to Wine


Paul says the one who desires to be a leader in the church must not be addicted to wine (1 Timothy 3:3). The apostle’s concern is not whether the man in question gets drunk. Obviously, someone given to drunkenness would in no way be qualified for the ministry. Rather, an elder who is “not addicted to wine” is a man who does not have a reputation as a drinker. He doesn’t frequent bars or involve himself in the scenes associated with drinking.


The Bible points out the tragic consequences when leaders are drinkers. Isaiah blasted the spiritual leaders of Israel for this very sin:


And these also reel with wine and stagger from strong drink: The priest and the prophet reel with strong drink, they are confused by wine, they stagger from strong drink; they reel while having visions, they totter when rendering judgment. (Isaiah 28:7)


Isaiah 56:9-12 adds,


All you beasts of the field, all you beasts in the forest, come to eat. His watchmen are blind, all of them know nothing. All of them are dumb dogs unable to bark, dreamers lying down, who love to slumber; and the dogs are greedy, they are not satisfied. And they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each one to his unjust gain, to the last one. “Come,” they say, “let us get wine, and let us drink heavily of strong drink; and tomorrow will be like today, only more so.”


A man who is known for his drinking has no place in the ministry. He is a poor example, and will surely be the cause of serious sin and disaster in the lives of others who follow his example—justifying their indulgence because of their leader. Instead, a godly shepherd must be a man whose associations are radically different from those of the world, and whose example leads others to righteous conduct, not sin.


A Little Wine for Timothy’s Stomach?


Some pastors might appeal to Paul’s exhortation for Timothy to drink some wine (1 Timothy 5:23) to defend their own use of alcohol. But that defense crumbles under closer examination. In ancient times most people consumed wine, since it was the staple liquid to drink. The water was impure, and mixing the wine with water not only significantly diluted the alcohol content, but purified the water. A mixture of eight parts water to one part wine was common, so as to avoid any dissipating effect.


Timothy was even reluctant to take the mixed wine, so as not to set a bad example and cause someone to stumble. Thus, he was committed to abstinence, and Paul had to tell him, “no longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23). Drinking only water was contributing to his poor health.


Today the same circumstances don’t apply. And even if you subscribe to the potential health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, Paul’s exhortation has much more to do with how you drink than whether or not you do it at all. Is it an occasional drink in the privacy of your own home? Or is it a key facet of your public persona and a constant topic of conversation? Bottom line: Are you known as a drinker?


If so, Paul says you’re disqualified from leadership in the church.

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