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Choosing a Pastor

Church Leadership in the New Testament, Part 7

Qualifications of an Elder, I Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9

 “A bishop then must be... Not given to wine,” (I Tim. 3:2,3)

Not Given to Wine” Lit. “from or beside wine,” by implication, the effects of tarrying by wine: abusive brawling, quarrelsome, etc. Used only here and in Titus 1:7. “Deacons... not given to much wine.” (Lit. not giving heed or attention to) and Titus 2:3; “Aged women... not given to much wine.” (Lit. not having been enslaved to).

The contrast between elders “not being given to wine” and the deacons and older women “not being given to much wine” is probably not what it may initially appear to be. It is not contrasting that the elder may drink no wine and that the deacon and the aged woman may drink a little. In both cases the gist of the admonition is that wine should not be controlling the person.

 Wine is referred to over 200 times in the Bible. The vast majority of times it is mentioned matter-of-factly as in the normal course of people’s lives, whether Godly or ungodly. It frequently is mentioned as a blessing from God. There are examples given where abuse of wine or strong drink has been a factor in the cause of great sin and tragedy (e.g. Gen. 9:21ff; 19:32ff). There are also a number of warnings concerning the potential danger in strong drink:

Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” (Prov. 20:1)

Be wise... Be not among the winebibbers;... For the drunkard shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.” (Prov. 23:19-22).

Who hath woe? Who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine;... It biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.” (Prov. 23:29-35)

In light of these warnings, what should our attitude be concerning the elder or other believers drinking wine? Apparently, wine holds no intrinsic evil. Jesus turned the water into wine at the marriage feast in Cana (John 2:1-11). He would not, in any way, endorse sin. Apparently, Jesus Himself drank but did not abuse wine (Luke 7:34; Matt. 26:29). Paul told Timothy to “use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” (I Tim. 5:23). It is interesting to note that the word “use” here is not the word used for “drink.” It means “to make use of,” “to employ,” “to avail one’s self of.” This verse is speaking of a health-related value of wine for Timothy’s infirmity. Though this is not directly addressing “social” drinking it does let us know that at least some wine drinking is not wrong and in some cases could be beneficial. (11) (Note also, Luke 10:34. It is not likely that the “Good Samaritan” poured oil and grape juice on the victim’s wounds).

How do I apply this in my life? Can I claim Timothy’s admonition for myself? We probably will not be in the same situation as Timothy as our available medical care is more advanced. How about just normal, daily wine-drinking as was prevalent and considered acceptable in the culture of Jesus’ day? In some countries today moderate drinking is acceptable and in some areas the water is not safe to drink. In America, there is little need to base our wine-drinking upon this reasoning. We usually have clean water supplies that are safe and do not carry the potential for abuse.

On the other hand, we seem to get so much of our doctrine from our culture instead of God’s word. The Bible explicitly condemns excess in drinking wine but accepts moderation. Where should we stand? Do I have liberty in this area? I used to think that Romans 14 was a chapter concerning “doubtful” things (see verse 21). After further study I now believe that it is a chapter concerning areas of liberty for the believer. It also contains admonitions against misuse of that liberty.

 From the following verses we see that Paul highly valued his liberty in Christ but did not wish to misuse it. He had liberty to do things that were not inherently wrong but he labored to redeem every opportunity to glorify Christ. He gave up some of his “rights” that were lawful for him so that others would not stumble, but would be edified. “Love” was his motive. Note; two words used repeatedly concerning the possible effect of the improper display of our liberty to others are “stumble,” and “offend.” “Stumble” means “to strike out against, to beat upon.” “Offend” means “to entrap or trip up.” The gist of both of these terms is “to cause or entice to sin.” The words do not refer to hurt feelings or someone’s critical spirit.

Rom. 14:21; “It is good neither to eat flesh, not to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” By implication, neither food nor wine are intrinsically wrong, but each can be misused. In the context of potential stumbling blocks for the weaker brother, this verse puts meat (in v. 20 it is literally “food”) (12) on the same level as wine. Does that convict any of our Elders who are too short for their weight?

I Cor. 10:31; “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God:

I Cor 6:12; “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”(See the admonition to drink wine and strong drink to the Jew under the Mosaic Law in Deut. 14:22-26).

I Cor. 10:23; “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.”

Gal. 5:1,13; “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,... For brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”

The requirement is not that an Elder cannot drink wine. It has to do with “tarrying” by wine or being controlled by it. If Paul had wanted to say that the elder (or a believer who is not an elder) is required to totally abstain, he certainly could have and would have. I, therefore cannot Biblically judge an elder who drinks wine in moderation. Should not you as an Elder or even as a Spirit-controlled believer have the same freedom?

I would suggest that you go by the God-given principles of liberty (an important doctrine to God, Gal. 5:1; cf v.13). The above verses sum up some of these principles. It appears to me that that the Bible teaches that moderation in wine is an area of personal liberty for the Elder and for any believer. Do not misuse this liberty nor improperly judge one who appropriately exercises this liberty. (13)


(11)  Please see the writer of this paper if you are interested in scientific articles regarding the health benefits of moderate wine drinking. If you have a conviction that you should not ingest any alcohol, praise God; that is right for you. I just suggest that the Bible does not allow us to impose this regulation upon all. The intent of this study is not to initiate a non-drinker into moderate wine-drinking. It is an attempt to honestly exegete God's word in spite of our social prejudices and theological presuppositions. I take seriously God's command in Galatians 5:1 to “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free” (along with the love balance presented in verse 13). I have seen legalism in the Christian life area also affect the purity of the free grace Gospel. I also take seriously the warning of Galatians 1:6-10 concerning polluting the grace Gospel.

 (12) The word “meat” in verse 20 () is commonly used for food in general, that which is eaten. The word “flesh” in verse 21 is not the usual word used for the literal flesh of a person or animal, but is (), used only here and in I Cor. 8:13 and refers to flesh of a sacrificed animal. A parallel to this passage is also found I Cor. 8: In verse 8 and 13 the word "meat" is “” and "flesh" in verse 13 is “.” Please study the whole context. It shows a marvelous balance between our freedom in Christ and how we should limit our own freedom because of love.

(13) The best in-depth Bible study on the subject that I have found is the book, “God Gave Wine” by Kenneth L. Gentry, available from here or here or here. Two recommended shorter Bible studies on this topic are “The Bible and Alcohol” found at and “Wine and The Disciple” found at

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