"Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities."
The issue of alcohol remains a charged issue in the church. There is a large element which holds so strongly to total abstinence that it looks with contempt on those who enjoy alcohol as unspiritual and even sinful. Granted, in an immoral age the ideas of moderation and temperance do not appear to be a strong limiting factor in any area of the church, much less society.
As a volunteer firefighter in my community, I have seen the common thread of intoxication in injuries and deaths on highways and in domestic abuse. These local cases, when multiplied by the size of our county, state, and nation, do represent tragic numbers. I therefore see the simplicity of total abstinence. But part of this stems from my personal preference (I dislike the taste of alcohol and always have). Subjective opinions and "simplifying" morality by means of man-made rules, however, are two key elements in pietism. From a Scriptural standpoint, total abstinence has no ground to stand on. Scripture condemns drunkenness but not alcohol itself. I feel I can thus disagree with the proponents of total abstinence without fear of being accused of defending a personal taste for alcohol. The fact remains that personal preferences and tastes carry no weight morally when God has spoken on an issue.
Paul tended to jump from topic to topic. This was because he knew the issues, needs, and questions of his epistles' recipients. He most likely just inserted this as an exhortation, though he may have felt the idea of purity as a moral inward concern (v. 22) rather than an external one (wine) was a logical lead-in to his point.
Paul could have just recommended that Timothy drink wine. Some may have shown contempt for such advice out of a false sense of piety. Timothy apparently had health problems. He may have been too austere, overdoing his moderation to the detriment of his own health. Paul warns him against a false view of moderation, so he phrases it more as an exhortation than as a suggestion. In other words, Paul is telling Timothy, "No more such austerity! Stop restricting yourself to water — use a little wine for your own good."
Our health is a necessary concern. Modern pronouncements of the health benefits of wine are of interest but need not be our focus. Paul was speaking under the inspiration of the Spirit in telling Timothy he personally needed to drink wine for his ailments. Promoting our health should be of concern to us. Negative laws have positive implications for our own conduct. If we are commanded not to steal, then we must, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, "lawfully acquire and increase our own and others' money and possessions" (Q. 74). Likewise, if we are commanded not to murder we are required to make "every lawful effort to preserve one's own life and the lives of others" (Q. 68). Preserving our own life must begin with our own diets. The reference here is to a medicinal use of wine. Timothy was apparently not interested in it as a mere beverage (perhaps like me). Nor did Paul urge it as such. But morally, the moderate use of wine for its health benefits cannot be separated from its moderate use as a beverage. If one is acceptable, so is the other (as the rest of Scripture indicates).
To ignore good diet and nutrition is to be a poor steward of God's gift of life and health. But likewise, to deny ourselves the simple and modest pleasures of life is to deny ourselves legitimate sources of joy and glad heartedness in the service of God. To deny them to others through false piety is to rob our neighbors of those pleasures God has allowed.
- Mark R. Rushdoony
Mark R. Rushdoony graduated from Los Angeles Baptist College (now The Master’s College) with a B.A. in history in 1975 and was ordained to the ministry in 1995.
He taught junior and senior high classes in history, Bible, civics and economics at a Christian school in Virginia for three years before joining the staff of Chalcedon in 1978. He was the Director of Chalcedon Christian School for 14 years while teaching full time. He also helped tutor all of his children through high school.
In 1998, he became the President of Chalcedon and Ross House Books, and, more recently another publishing arm, Storehouse Press. Chalcedon and its subsidiaries publish many titles plus CDs, mp3s, and an extensive online archive at www.chalcedon.edu.
He has written scores of articles for Chalcedon’s publications, both the Chalcedon Report and Faith for all of Life. He was a contributing author to The Great Christian Revolution (1991). He has spoken at numerous conferences and churches in the U.S. and abroad.
Mark Rushdoony lives in Vallecito, California, his home of 43 years with his wife of 45 years and his youngest son. He has three married children and nine grandchildren.