Acts Devotionals

Not a Drunkard

Before I became a Christian I used to smoke and use alcohol … and sadly, at times more than I should have. Long before my salvation I got this fitness idea in my head and gave up tobacco and alcohol and went running on the beach between Saldanha and Langebaan for a few miles each morning. Fitness was my main agenda in those days. The reason I mention tobacco and alcohol is because the latter comes up in our text today. By now we are getting used to the attributes required for elders:

1Ti 3:1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

The elder must not be given to drunkenness. Some translations say … “not given to wine”. We live in a world very different to the world of the Early Church. For us there is far more freedom of movement, though morally, nothing much has changed. Drunken stupor was common and addiction to alcohol was rife. There is no difference today … yet I included tobacco in my opening illustration … and then in our day, there is copious use of mind changing drugs … smoked or swallowed.

(1) Historical understanding. Three illustrations from the ancient world …

(i) These were herbs like black and white hellebore, mandrake, hyoscyamus (henbane), Papaver somniferum (also known as opium poppy), Strychnos, Frankincense-tree and dorycnium. The preparation of narcotics included the addition of other elements, mainly wine, to the opus of plants or to their extracts.

(ii) Ancient people in what is now Switzerland ate poppy seeds (the source of opium) in 2500 BCE. Coca leaves (the source of cocaine) have been chewed for thousands of years. Folk medicines made from plants and herbs have also been used since ancient times. People in ancient Palestine drank wine in 350 BCE.

(iii) The presence of drugs in human civilization dates back at least to the Neolithic period, with opium poppy seeds evident in Spain, hundreds of years before Christ. Cannabis dates back to many, many hundreds of years before Christ.

(2) Biblical reference for the consequences of drunkenness.

Ge 9:20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.

You may read what happened hereafter. You may also read about Lot’s daughters making him drunk in Genesis 19 and what followed.

1) Water purification. Although discussed before, we need to remember that the basic use of the word wine at the time of the Lord Jesus was a beverage. Depending on the region, 1/3 of wine added to 2/3 water or ¼ wine added to ¾ water for purification purposes.

2) Jesus made wine. Many use John chapter 2 to authentic not just the use of alcohol but the volume!

Jn 2:6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

What they say to authenticate huge volumes of alcohol misses the point John wants us to grasp:

Jn 2:11 This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

Add to this the fact that Jesus is God and if God speaks against drunkenness, how would he put people at risk of doing what He is against? One commentator says that according to his studies in the Greek, only that which was “drawn” out of the container was wine.

3) Death sentence. When parents had a delinquent son, guilty of an extravagant, debauched lifestyle, they would appear before the elders of Israel and declare it. Note in the text it includes being a drunkard … and the sentence was death!

Dt 21:20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you.

4) Past life. Previous excessive use of alcohol does not bar a man from becoming an elder. Where there is forgiveness and deliverance, there is new life and purpose.

1 Pet 4:3 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.

Note the words … “spent enough time in the past”. That is, before Christ. Now the elder is a new creation!

5) No association. Many in the Church at Corinth had a reputation of immorality. They did not seem to shake off the past easily.

1 Cor 5:11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

The reason for “no association” is that those delivered from such vices, in our case today, alcohol, would be drawn back into that vice. Another reason would be the example they are setting for other believers. I remember a Salvation Army man collecting money from drunks in a bar … and using that money to get drunk himself.

6) Decent behavior. Remember the elder is a man who must set an example to model against!

Rom 13:13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

There is a play on words here. To behave decently means to clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ! Indecency would be the content of verse 13. I listened to Radio 702 yesterday afternoon as I worked in the garage. They reported that at funerals in Soshanguve, at funerals, it would be a drunken, debauched, naked scene and as the Radio Host said … “of the worst type … and at a funeral at that.”

7) Forfeiting an inheritance. It does not matter how often one attends Church, services in Church or gives to the Church … should the person be addicted to alcohol or any other drug, a grave warning is:

Gal 5:19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Did you notice the prominence of “drunkenness” in all the passages used above? So …

8) Why must an elder not be a drunkard? Because he leads the people of God.

Eph 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

Nowhere does it say that the elder can’t use wine … it says he may not be addicted to it.

Our Father, fill our Church elders with Your Spirit to lead us to You and into a deeper knowledge of You. Amen.

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