1 Timothy 5:17-25 “A Little Wine”
Do you recall getting a stick of chewing gum as a child for the first time and being told that you have to chew on it? You have to keep the gum in your mouth and not consume it as you would candy or any other food. I have a vague remembrance of this. I was older and had to sneak gum at school from a friend. My father did not allow chewing gum at home. I did grow up in a strict home indeed!
So, one puts the gum in the mouth. It has kind of a frosty feeling and taste. Then the taste fades away. It only tastes like one’s own spit. Strange. Of course the original chewing gum was the chicle plant from southern Mexico. It had no flavor from the start. So, the Chiclets company wrapped the gum in candy coatings.
The Wriggly chewing gum company had a different idea. They would infuse the gum itself with double the flavor of mint. So, truly before the now famous “doublemint” gum there was a gum that was essentially only single mint. It did not say that. The gum sold well because the flavor would actually last a while in the doublemint version. Finally we had a gum with lasting flavor!
Our passage for today starts with the idea of “double honor.” What is that? It is indeed very much like double minted gum. You see, leadership loses its flavor very quickly. It is wonderful when you are elected to an office, but within a month or so that honor dissolves away. You are left chewing the duties of being a leader. You just keep chewing on it—wondering perhaps about what happened to that flavor?
Timothy was handpicked by Saint Paul to go to Ephesus and become what we would call the “bishop” of that church. The congregation itself was pleased with Timothy in the beginning, but now the candy coating has gone. So, Paul says we need to double honor our Christian leaders! We need to infuse more flavor. That way, people may chew on the leadership before spitting it out.
Timothy seems also to be forgetting to care for himself. He is apparently not eating well. All of the services that he is providing to others, he himself is declining. He is feeding orphans and widows but having trouble taking a little nourishment for himself. Paul states that Timothy is suffering from ailments now. These ailments are likely stress related.
I think this is so apropos for our world right now in the middle of a pandemic. Whether we have gotten the actual Covid 19 disease or not, so much stress has been added to all of our lives, as change always means stress. Quarantines, lockdowns, tests, vaccinations, and all the on-line stuff we are expected to know how to do! Stress! WE need to make sure that we guard against this stress and keep ourselves strong despite it.
Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4 that the ox should not be muzzled while it is treading out the grain. This is a wonderful metaphor. If you have an ox out in a field of grain, working to make it edible, the ox should be allowed to eat some of what it is working at. This will give the ox strength and in the end get the job done in the most proficient manner.
Those folks who are out preparing the harvest for Jesus, should be “double honored” so that they do not fall down and die of exhaustion while doing the Lord’s work. Jesus himself realizes that he cannot do it all alone when he addresses his 12 disciples in Matthew 9:36-38, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.’”
Right after he says this, in chapter 10 of Matthew, he lays hands on the 12 disciples, renames them as “apostles” (those who are sent out) and then sends them out, commanding, “Go and proclaim the good news. The Kingdom of God is at hand!” He empowers his students. He ordains them. He unmuzzles his oxen to collect the harvest! He promises in that moment that they will be cared for by the providence of God as they go door to door.
Saint Paul talks about double honoring “teachers and preachers.” I want to share my thoughts on this because the church has struggled in the past with the designations of “teacher” and “preacher.” The actual Greek here says literally: “Those who labor in the Word and in teachings.” The term for Word is “logos” and is therefore a direct reference to sharing the message of hope of Jesus Christ as Savior. The term “teachings” was what was used to describe all of written scriptures that were available at the time, that is to say the Hebrew Scriptures. So, one labors both in the teachings of old—for instance the Ten Commandments—as well as the Word of God as shared by Jesus. These in Timothy’s time were still in the process of being written down. Preaching would be then specifically how one has experienced God’s salvation grace in one’s own life.
They are not opposed but rather complimentary! Paul himself, for instance, uses the analogy of a muzzled ox from the Hebrew Torah to help describe the labor of the ministry of Jesus Christ. In this we see preaching and teaching coming together in support of one another.
Seemingly we see that another issue that is causing stress in leadership in the church in Ephesus has to do with accusations being made against some. But, Saint Paul seems to set the bar higher than what was in the synagogues of the time. Instead of just having two witnesses against a leader, one should have three or even more.
Have you ever felt that because you are a Christian someone has painted a giant red and white target on your back? Then, you become the mechanical duck at the shooting gallery. But, it is even worse as a Christian. You have a target on the front and on the back! An example from our Covid crisis is that someone shoots you down because you choose to wear a mask: “Where is your faith?! God will protect you!” Or, if you do not wear a mask, “Doesn’t Romans 13 tell you to obey the earthly authorities? Don’t you care about the elderly who might die from your indiscretion?” As a Christian you are going to have people gunning for you from every angle.
Now despite this being shot at from everybody, you have got to show no partiality and no prejudice. Is that humanly possible? I know Jesus was able to do this. He even forgave the ones who crucified Him. I got to do that too? How do I do that and then not show partiality at the same time.
When I was in the church in Los Angeles, we had a woman in the congregation who like to show up to worship in rather revealing hot pants and tank tops. She showed up mostly drunk. Sometimes she was a bit too open with her affections for others. In fact one Sunday when I was standing at the door greeting after worship, she kissed me full on the lips. Everybody at the fellowship time saw. Some even gasped. So, I ask you, what is an impartial Christ-like response to that? I will tell you that if a young woman came to worship today, drunk, and wearing hot pants, I would probably freak out! How can I not pre-judge the situation with what had happened before? Yet, we cannot just judge people like that.
Would I ever call that person to come forward to be ordained by the laying on of hands? That is the next thing that Paul discusses. It is literally the laying on of hands in the Greek, though our bibles say “ordain.” I would never touch her after that! So, Paul is right—really consider for a long time who it is that you will lay hands on for ministry. Don’t be prejudiced. And, don’t be partial. Do not lay hands on just anyone.
Now comes the part that everyone remembers from this passage: Drink some wine Timothy! By flavoring the water with wine, you can kill a host of bacteria that might otherwise do you harm! It might cure what ails you!
I told you before that my father did not let his children chew gum? He did let us drink wine! Well, we had a vineyard and were producing our own—of course we got to drink it too.
We know that Jesus was not against drinking wine. His ministry started with the marriage at Cana where he changed water into wine for the people at the wedding party. Then, at the very end of his ministry, at the last supper, he poured out wine for the group gathered there as well.
Now, what I find fascinating about this is that Timothy is supposed to accept medical advice. For the sake of the church and for his own personal health in ministry, to reduce stress in Timothy’s life, he is to add a sterilizer to his water! That is what wine does when mixed in water. Does Timothy accept the medical advice? It would seem so! This is not a mystical healing. This is a medicinal practice being proscribed for the church!
Today we might say: “Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Sterilize surfaces. Get your vaccine” for the sake of the health of the church. Do this, and watch your stress level go down so that your spiritual level can increase! This is Paul’s prescription to the church in Ephesus, specifically to its leader Timothy.