22 Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin. 23 No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. 24 The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after. 25 Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed.
When I read these sentences, it almost seems like I am reading a list of proverbs. They are very easily read as bullet points, aren’t they? Verse 23 is usually plucked out to justify drinking of alcohol, yet I think it lessens the weight of what Paul is saying. Did you notice that it is surrounded by verses that talk about sinfulness? This whole chapter has pretty much talked about sin. Paul is a very good writer, yet in this one instance we tend to think he had ADD and randomly injected a sentence. We also pass this off as God’s way of preserving a historical record of Timothy’s stomach problems…really? We need to reread this passage not through what we have already seen or heard, but as if it is the first time we are reading it. Go ahead, read it again.
The “laying on of hands” was a very important and symbolic gesture at that time. It was what happened during a commissioning of elders and deacons. Missionaries were sent after the church “laid hands” upon them. Paul is stressing here something I already touched upon and he already detailed, making sure when you appoint someone to a position they are ready for it. We shouldn’t be filling up positions just because someone needs to sit in a chair. This is what causes disorder, poor leadership examples, and a misled congregation. By putting an unprepared person in a position, you cause everyone they lead to stumble.
Next we find this oddity about drinking water and wine. It is evident that Timothy only drank water until this point. If we read this in the context of the other sentences, we see that Paul is telling Timothy that drinking itself is not a sin. Maybe Timothy was abstaining from all alcohol or other drinks for purity or another reason. I believe this is the case because of Paul’s following statements about sinfulness.
Paul reminds Timothy that sinfulness is revealed, whether it is evident to us or not, God knows. God knows our hearts and as we know from Jesus’ sermon on the mount, it is about our hearts which drive our actions, not our actions alone that are involved in sinfulness. Is it a sin to drink? Is it foolish to abstain from alcohol? What Paul reveals here is that it’s between you and God and we should seek out His will in every situation because He will reveal to us what we should and shouldn’t do in order to abstain from sinfulness.
I’ve also talked before about judging others. Paul mentions the sins of some being evident while the sins of others being revealed at a later time. What does this have to do with us? It means don’t worry about it! It isn’t our place to judge people because of their sin. It will be “taken care of” in due time. We are called to love them anyway. When we start focusing on other peoples’ sinfulness, we start ignoring our own and become burdened with its consequences for no good reason.
How can you change your sinfulness today?