Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. (1 Timothy 5:23)
We have to be careful how we interpret today’s verse…and not for the reason you might think.
Timothy evidently had a stomach ailment known to Paul. It could have been the result of a virus he picked up in his journeys with Paul, a disease, or even the onset of intestinal trouble due to stress.
Paul received word Timothy was treating his ailment by drinking “only water.” What he was eating, we aren’t told. Paul’s treatment: “use a little wine.”
One mistake we can make is to assume “a little wine” is always a good remedy for stomach trouble. Some time ago I talked with a friend whose intestinal trouble was being irritated by wine and his doctor told him to stop drinking anything that contained alcohol. We can only assume Paul knew exactly what was wrong with Timothy and what would help. In this case, and in this culture, “a little wine” was a good treatment.
Another mistake we can make is to take this as a command that we “must” drink a little wine if we have stomach trouble. In our culture we have many cures, as well as a number of tests to determine the exact cause and location of the problem. If drinking wine violates our conscience, or if we battle the demon of alcoholism, Paul is certainly not saying we have to drink wine.
A third mistake is to use this verse as a justification for drinking unnecessarily, or in excess. “After all, the Bible says to drink wine for your stomach’s sake” is not exactly what Paul is saying.
Wine was a part of biblical culture. Water, and especially clean water was often scarce. And there were not a whole lot of beverage options for special occasions.
It is important to state, as we have elsewhere in our study of 1 Timothy, that drinking alcohol is not a sin. However, drunkenness is, as is being inconsiderate of the weakness of a brother or sister in Christ who might stumble because of our drinking.
I say all of this so we don’t abuse this verse on either side of the alcohol issue. It is not a command against drinking for purposes other than medicinal, and it is not a command to drink if it not our custom. Paul is merely giving medical advice, based on his knowledge of Timothy’s illness and his experience in ministry.
Personally, when I have stomach trouble, my first course of treatment is a Diet-coke. Then I move on to other, more recognized medications. I don’t drink alcoholic beverages, and in my experience with medicines that contain alcohol I don’t understand how they can help with a stomach disorder…except perhaps as a sedative. But I will take Paul’s word for it.
All discussion about alcohol aside, my main take away from today’s passage is that Timothy’s ministry was taking a toll on his body and Paul was trying to help him. The Lord’s work can be challenging, and I suppose according to our passage, can even drive us to “drinkin’”.
Dear God, ease my stomach. In Jesus’ name, Amen.