1 Timothy T. 23.
ALL Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable" (2 Tim. iii. 16). God is the author of all Scripture to this extent, that He has intimated to us that He is responsible for every sentence in the Written "Word. Every clause there has been inserted by Him for a special purpose.
Quite true, there are some portions that are apt to offend a superficial reader, and some that seem at first sight barren and unmeaning. But even in this the Word is like God its author; for in His Providences He does many things that offend; and on the face of Creation has left not a few spaces that seem very useless at the best. When, however, all these are carefully examined, we are not long of having our first impressions changed. We find there is something very precious below the surface.
The text in 1 Tim. v. 23 (like that other, 2 Tim. iv. 13) is one of the kind in question, "Brink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake, and thy frequent infirmities." Let me shew that in reality it contains things of great value, every way worthy of the Holy Ghost.
I. It bears upon our being "faithful in the least." Our Lord has taught His disciples to be conscientiously careful and circumspect in smaller matters, as well as greater (Luke xvi. 10). And in accordance with this teaching, Timothy was led to consult Paul upon a point of comparatively smaller importance, but yet one that proved his scrupulous anxiety to please his Lord in all things, and do nothing wherein he could not look for the Divine blessing. It was a matter about his health of body, his "stomach," and "frequent infirmities." In reply to this part of his letter, Paul wrote the verse before us. And it is worth while noticing that in replying he did not treat Timothy's question about health as one that might be passed over and disregarded. No; after speaking about very weighty matters, such as "The Mystery of Godliness," "apostatizing for the faith," "the conduct of office-bearers, the exercise of discipline," he proceeds with the same care to attend to Timothy's personal inquiry." Paul knew (for the Holy Ghost knew) the connection that exists between a right state of health and the proper discharge of duty in our office. He wished it to be always remembered, that attention to our physical state is necessary to the right performance of duty. The Lord might have made our
* As in 1 Cor. xv. 5, and then xvi 1, 2, the Holy Spirit guides him to pass on at once from the doctrine of the Glorious Resurrection of the Just to the practical subject of a Collection for the poor saints.
souls independent of the body, but He has not so arranged. Are you a minister 1 Are you a teacher 1 You cannot do justice to yourself or to those under your care, if you are careless about your bodily state, indifferent to exercise, to food, to sleep, to good air, to anything conducive to a right state of health.
II. It bears upon the use of medicine. Timothy is directed to use special means. He is not told to leave all to take its course and just go on with his work. The Holy Ghost by Paul inculcates in many ways the doctrine of divine sovereignty, but nowhere for a moment countenances fatalism. He enjoins the use of means; He holds us reponsible for the use of means. Hence, no doubt, even in working the miraculous cure of Hezekiah, there was application of means at the same time: "Let him take a lump of figs and lay it for a plaster upon the boil, and he shall recover" (Isaiah xxxviii. 21). It is fatalism, not faith, to set aside skilful physicians. The sixth commandment comes in here in full force, enjoining the use of all right remedies. At the same time, be not as Asa, in the day of his trouble, when he overlooked theLord, while he assiduously sought the help of physicians. The " disease in his feet" was "exceeding great;" it grew worse and worse till he died, not however because he sought the help of medical skill, but because he did not acknowledge the Lord "who healeth all our diseases" (2 Chron. xvi. 12).
III. It bears on the subject of miracles. It casts a side-light on that point, which is very interesting. Paul, who ao often wrought miracles, who, formerly, at Ephesus, where Timothy then resided, so healed disease that the very touch of a handkerchief from his person chased the disease away (Acts xx. 12), and made evil spirits flee, does not propose to work a miracle in behalf - of Timothy. Nor is it likely that Timothy asked this; for he knew very well that when Epaphroditus, a most useful pastor at Phillippi, was ill, Paul wrought no miracle to raise him up. Just as afterwards, when another friend and brother was sick, Trophomus, nothing was done for him beyond the use of ordinary means which in the course of some weeks might bring a cure.
We find that John, the beloved disciple, acted in no other manner in the case of Gaius (3 John 2); working no miracle in his behalf. And why all this 1 To teach us some weighty truths. 1. The gift of miracles was for the glory of God, not the honour of men. No apostle could work a miracle unless God plainly indicated to him that he desired it to be done on that person. 2. The apostles did not act to gratify self; they had supreme regard to the will of God. 3. The Lord did not then, nor does He now, wish His ministers and workers to be free from weaknesses, and infirmities and trials. That earthen vessel, not very attractive, and always ready to break in pieces, is very often the vessel in which He is pleased to put His treasure. He may use a strong, healthy, vigorous Paul, who can go on preaching as before after being stoned, after being five times beaten with rods, and three times made to bleed under the lash, and three times shipwrecked; but he wishes us to know, for the comfort of those whose frame is feeble, that he can and does use, in a remarkable way, such workmen as Timothy who groan under frequent infirmities. Eichard Baxter, I suppose, often rejoiced in reading this verse that tells of Timothy's "stomach" and sicknesses, and how he was left to struggle on against them in the use of ordinary means, such as "a little wine."
TV. It bears on the question of Temperance and Total Abstinence. Read the words again attentively. "Use no longer water;" be no longer a mere waterdrinker, but use a little wine;" use wine; a little of it. We learn from this that there is no sin in using wine. It is here recommended for medicinal purposes; and if Timothy had not used it when he was thus enjoined, it would have been a sinful neglect. There is nothing sinful in the use of wine in itself; it is the manner and measure of using it that may be sinful; for as Proverbs xx. 1 has warned us, "Wine is a mocker; " it so often and so insidiously leads on to evil. But Christ at the marriage in Cana gave it for good ends. There was a blessing in it as used there. And so, when Timothy used it for medicine, there was blessing in it.
But, at the same time, we learn from this very text, that there may be good and solid reasons for altogether abstaining from wine* Paul knew that Timothy
* The Nazarites and Reohabites rigidly abstained from even taking a grape; but this was not because there is sin in that fruit. They had special reasons, and good reasons, for abstaining; but the sinfulness of using wine in any circumstances, was not one.
had hitherto abstained entirely, and he does not blame him in the slightest degree. Nay, the tone of his words is all the other way; only, he tells that now it will be right for him to deviate a little from his former practice. What Timothy's reasons were for abstaining up till now, we cannot tell; but he had seen good cause in Ephesus for being an abstainer. And any man among us who knows that £147,000,000 are spent in strong drink every year in Great Britain, and that there are not less than about 99,000 public houses, as well as about 39,000 beer shops, may well stand still and consider if he should not shun the very appearance of giving countenance to this enormous evil. Indeed, does not our passage justify us in inferring that there ought to be some special reason for any one indulging in the use of wine. Do it (says Paul, or rather the Holy Ghost by Paul) "for thy stomach's sake and thy frequent infirmities." And even then, use only "a little." No doubt, Paul understood his patient's case; and certainly he wished him to be cautious even in taking a little. Not like many of our physicians who, without knowing the habits or the constitutional tendencies of the sick one, give advice that is understood to allow the free use of wine. And all the more should we be nervously cautious here since every one knows that our wines are far more dangerous than the strongest wines of those days. The alcohol in our wines is what recommends them to most; in old days, it was the nourishment they yielded.
V. Take a parting look at Timothy. Do you feel inclined to say of him, "I suspect he must have been one who was over scrupulous, who brought himself into bondage by his tenderness of conscience. Only think of him consulting the great apostle about this trifling matter regarding himself." We reply: there is another way of looking at this man of God. He acted thus because he sought to do as we are enjoined in 1 Cor. x. 31, "Whether ye eat or drink, do all to the glory of God." In him we see a fine manifestation of " the heart of flesh" (Ezek. xxxvii.), the tender conscience, that gives good heed to every hint and intimation of the Divine will, and is guided in every decision not by a regard to self but by a reference to His pleasure. This is true holiness of heart; and in all holiness there is not bondage, but perfect liberty and gladness.
VI. Look once more at our God and Saviour. In this text, we see Him, through His servant Paul, attending minutely to the concerns of young Timothy. What a heart of love. "The very hairs of your head are all numbered," says He to us (Matt. x. 30). "There shall not an hair of your head perish" (Luke xx. 18).
Thanks be to our Prophet Jesus, for this verse about Timothy and the "little wine!"