Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 3:1-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/27/2016 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 3:1-7
“Sober, Self-Controlled, Respectable”
As we dig back into 1 Timothy and this section on the qualifications to the elders, we are starting to dig into the long list of qualities. You’ll notice that the first half contain only positive qualities that the elder should have; that’s in verse 2. Then the second half starting in verse 3 largely contains negative qualities that the elder should not have. And so today I’ll going to take the next three positively stated qualities in the list from verse 3. Last time we talked about being a husband of one wife. So, that means we’ll take the next three: temperate, sober-minded, and of good behavior. Or as I’m preferring to translate them as you’ll see in today’s sermon title, sober, self-controlled, and respectable. And I believe these three are helpful to discuss together. They have a sort of connection or relation that seems to make sense for us discussing them together in one sermon. So, these are my three points for today’s message. I’ll talk about each of these individually: what it looks like for an elder to be sober, for him to be self-controlled, and for him to be respectable. These are qualities the church should require of its leaders. But make no mistake, these are qualities every Christian should personally seek, so hopefully you will see the application to yourself throughout today’s message.
Let’s begin then in our first point to talk about being sober. The pew Bible has here the word “temperate”. As will become clear when working through these different qualities over the next few weeks, is there is a bit of a challenge to discuss words from dead languages when they are simply in a list like this. You see, context helps us greatly to understand the fine nuances of words from ancient, dead languages. But when a string of different words like this are placed in a list, there is not a lot from the context that will necessarily help us. What also becomes a challenge is that the three words for today that we are looking at, all appear only in the pastoral epistles and nowhere else in the New Testament. Yes, they do appear elsewhere in Greek literature at that time, so we know what these words mean. But they just don’t have the same context within the New Testament Greek that other words do that can help us understand their usage. And so, what you’ll find when you scan the different English translations, is that some versions will hone in on different nuances of these words.
So then, with this word which I’m translating as “sober”, you’ll see that several have “temperate”, the KJV has “vigilant”, the ESV has “sober-minded”, and there are others as well. When you look this word up in a Greek lexicon you can see the various range of meanings and usages. Lexically, it seems that the word in its root form is a word about sobriety. In other words, that you are not drunk or intoxicated. And so, when translations use “temperate” they are taking the nuance of this word that says how someone stays sober. You stay sober by being moderate with alcohol. On the flip side, when you have the translations like vigilant and sober-minded they are taking a more figurative approach to this word of sobriety. They are taking the nuance that one is to be alert, clear, and level-headed in their thinking. Some translations and commentators prefer this more figurative sense of the word because verse 3 speaks against people given to wine, aka drunkenness. The argument of some is that if verse 3 speaks against drunkenness, why would verse 3 commend literal sobriety? They ask, wouldn’t that be redundant? But the response is to remember the structure of this passage. There is first a list of positive traits and then a list of negative traits, and there does seem to be some intentional contrast between the two lists. A self-controlled person won’t be violent; a hospitable person is not going to so love money that they won’t share with visitors, etc. So, it seems appropriate that Paul could be talking about the more general quality of being sober and then turn around speak against drinking too much.
So, let’s make sure you understand what I’m getting at here. I’m saying that these different English translations are dealing with different nuances of the Greek word. And that’s why I like the translation of “sober” in English. Because that is root meaning of this word, and in English these other nuances are still there when we say the word “sober”. In English, to say that someone needs to be sober, would infer that they would have to be moderate and temperate in their use of things like alcohol. In English, to say that someone needs to be sober, can also make us thing figuratively in the sense of being sober in your thinking in general. But to say in English that you need to be sober especially makes you think of the fact that you need to be in control of your brain and able to clearly think and control your body. This would at a bare minimum mean then that you would not place yourself under control of foreign substances so that you check out of reality into a state of drunkenness or in some other drug induced “high”. Christians ought to be sober. Let us look to live the life God has given us, instead of trying to escape from it.
So, hopefully some applications come out of this pretty quickly for you. With regards to alcohol, drunkenness is a sin. As I mentioned, verse 3 specifically is referring to that. Now this doesn’t mean that alcohol is completely forbidden by the Bible. No, the Bible is clear that one could consume alcohol in moderation. For example, Psalm 104:15 speaks of God’s many blessings to mankind and it speaks of wine making glad the heart of men. That verse goes on to immediately refer to blessings of bread and oil. And so, that Psalm can speak of the blessing of wine in the same breath as the blessings of bread and oil. Consuming alcohol in moderation is not a sin. However, if you have too much alcohol and find yourself no longer sober but drunk, then that is a sin. Christian brothers who struggle with that are not qualified for the office of elder. That is because Christians in general are not to live in drunkenness. They are not to check out of reality and give up mental and physical control to some substance. They are to be sober. Brothers and sisters, I think we need to be careful here. In reaction to teetotaling Christians, we’ve asserted our scriptural liberty to enjoy alcohol in moderation. But we need to be very careful that we don’t use that liberty as an excuse for drunkenness. I think those of us who drink occasionally, need to be very vigilant in making sure we are not actually falling into drunkenness in the name of Christian liberty.
As for another application, this becomes a very timely message for us with the recent passing of Proposition 64 that legalizes Marijuana under state law (though it is still illegal under federal law). Putting the laws aside, is the recreational smoking of Marijuana permissible for a Christian? Is it simply a matter of Christian liberty? Well, I am not expert in Marijuana use, but my understanding is that there is no moderate or temperate use of Marijuana. You are either high or you are not. If you are using it recreationally, it is so you can get high. You are either giving over control of your mind and body to the drug, or you are not. In other words, if you are recreationally engaging in Marijuana, you are not being sober in the spirit of this word here. That’s the problem here, of course. People who want to get drunk or who want to get high are surrendering control of their mind and body and trying to escape reality in one way or another. But we are reminded in this passage that such is not commendable conduct for a Christian. We should be sober.
Let’s turn now to our second point. Let’s consider the importance of being self-controlled. Our pew bible translates this word as “sober-minded”. That translation may be a little confusing to our conversation since I just spoke of a similar concept in our first point regarding being sober. But the idea of this word is that you carefully consider what is sensible and prudent behavior, and then you act accordingly. In other words, you are using your mind to control your matter. You are looking to avoid extremes. You are not some impulsive, rash person. Rather, you are a calculating person who determines wise behavior and then acts that way. You think before you act. Or, in other words, you are a person with self-control. That’s the general idea. You are self-controlled.
Think how important this is. Think of how wide of a scope this idea of self-control is. We need self-control in what we eat and drink, otherwise we get unhealthy, or overweight, or drunk. We need self-control of our emotions, otherwise life can be quite a roller-coaster and we can cause many problems in our life and in the lives of others around us. We need self-control in our speech lest we say things that are unloving or unwise. We need self-control of our desires in general, good or bad, lest our desires rule over us.
It’s also interesting to think of how this self-control relates to the previous quality of sobriety. If you are not sober, self-control is likely the first thing you’ll lose. People make all kinds of bad decisions when they are drunk or high. When you are not in control of your mind, you won’t be in control of yourself. A lack of sobriety will contribute to a lack of self-control. One sin can lead to another sin.
All Christians should strive for such. Interestingly, in Titus 2, Paul tells Titus how each age and gender are to conduct themselves in the church. In that chapter, this same Greek word of self-control appears 3 times. In context, you basically see that everyone, old or young, male or female, all need to have self-control. It is such a fundamental quality for a Christian. And so, if this is true in general for Christians, we especially need our elders to have this self-control.
Lastly, let us turn now to our third point and consider being respectable. Our pew bible translates this as a person who is of good behavior. The idea in this word is that you behave in an appropriate way, and because you live in an appropriate way, others look at you with respect and admiration. Other nuances of the word include disciplined, honorable, modest, and sensible, which all deal with this general idea about conducting yourself in the right way, in the proper way. The point here is that you are conducting yourself in accord with accepted standards of propriety. As a Christian, those standards are particularly identified for us in Scripture.
The only other place this word is found in the New Testament is in last chapter, 2:9. There it’s paired up with clothing. Our pew Bible translates it there in 2:9 as “modest apparel”, but if you recall when we dealt with that passage I said a better translation was “proper apparel” or “appropriate apparel”. Well, it’s the same idea there applied to clothing, and here applied in a more general way. Just like there is appropriate clothing and inappropriate clothing for a Christian in a given context, so we too must think about how to live appropriately as a Christian in the varying contexts we find ourselves in.
Along these lines, I was tempted to translate this simply as “appropriate”, that elders need to be appropriate. Though I thought that might sound funny if not explained. Yet, sometimes we use that language when talking with others. Like if you see someone do something untasteful, you might even chide them by saying, “You are so inappropriate.”
So, this is a broad concept, but an important one for getting us to reflect on how we conduct ourselves given any situation. Just like in 2:9, we should think about what clothing is especially appropriate and proper when you go to church, we should also give thought to how to act appropriate given whatever situation we are in. If this idea can be applied to clothing in last chapter, then we see it applied in general here. We should strive for appropriate actions, appropriate speech, not to mention appropriate clothing. We should give though to what is appropriate at a funeral, at a party, at a church service, at the workplace, at the movie theatre, etc, etc. Let us look to live appropriately, and see that we have elders that also look to live appropriately.
So, again building on the first two qualities, I hope you see how this third notion of respectability and appropriateness can be related to the previous two qualities. We said if you are not sober, you won’t be self-controlled. Well, similarly, if you are not self-controlled, you aren’t going to conduct yourself or present yourself in a respectable and appropriate way. The three different qualities we discussed today can certainly feed off each other. Of course, that goes both ways. I’ve mentioned the negative. But the positive is also true. If you are sober, you will be more equipped to be self-controlled, which in turn will make you more able to live respectably.
Trinity Presbyterian Church, we’ve had some time this morning to think of the qualities of being sober, self-controlled, and respectable. As I reflected on these qualities, and our human struggles with these, I again turned to Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Lord of righteousness, and so we are not surprised when we see him reflecting these sorts of qualities. And I as reflected on Christ in this regard, I remembered the cross. I remembered that on the cross, per Mark’s account, we see that Jesus was offered two different things to drink. One was wine mixed with myrrh which he refused. The other was sour wine which he accepted – a drink of sour wine back then was a refreshing drink of vinegar mixed with water. It’s clear why he drank the sour wine: he was thirsty, and that would have refreshed him. And yet he wouldn’t take the wine with myrrh. We aren’t told why he wouldn’t take it, but commentators agree that such wine was offered to people being crucified to help them deaden their senses and mind to their pain. In other words, it would help to take away their sobriety to help them through the misery of the cross. But Jesus wouldn’t take it. He wouldn’t throw away his sobriety at the cross. Surely he thought he needed to experience the terror of the cross and God’s judgment, not just escape reality through drugs. Evidently Jesus thought the atonement of God’s elect required him to be in his right mind as he experienced God’s wrath and curse for sin.
Jesus had the self-control on the cross to forgo the easy escape through drugs. He also had the self-control to stay on the cross and not immediately call for twelve legions of angels to come to his rescue (as he reminded his disciples when they had arrested him that he had such authority). He had the self-control not to call down fire from heaven on all the people who passed by mocking him while he hung on the cross. There, when those passersby acted so inappropriately to him and to humanity, Jesus acted quite proper for the occasion of the atonement of God’s elect. He stayed there hanging on the cross, in his right mind, bearing divine wrath, for us, and for our salvation. For that we respect and honor and admire our Lord with the greatest of praise!
How was it that Jesus could endure all this with such sobriety, self-control, and respectability? It was not easy to do. Remember right before when he was in the garden, praying, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done.” And so, what did he do to help him through this experience of the cross? He prayed. And as Luke’s gospel records in Luke 22:43, then an angel appeared to him from heaven, strengthening him.” In this hour of greatest trial, Jesus did not turn to booze or some other drug to get him through. He turned to the Lord in prayer and God provided strength, even through angelic support! This is why we stand here today before God justified by faith. For we all can look at these qualities today of being sober, self-controlled, and respectable, and remember ways we fail in these categories. But if you are in Christ by faith, then you are forgiven. He secured that forgiveness even as he turned down that myrrh filled wine as he hung on the cross. In Christ, we have been forgiven of all these sins.
But that doesn’t mean that we just live defeated by these sins. No, for it is this same Christ in whom we have forgiveness, that we also have new life. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation!” And in Galatians 2:20, Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
And so now in Christ, when God looks at you, he doesn’t see a struggling sinner who struggles with being sober, self-controlled, and respectable. No, when he looks at you he sees Christ who is sober, self-controlled, and respectable. But that also means that he sees what Christ is growing us to be. Christ is at work that we would grow to have these qualities. And though our growth will not be finished in this life, we are encouraged that he tells us to look for elders who do possess these qualities. That should encourage you that such growth is possible in this life. Let us then in Christ strive to put on these qualities. Let us trust in Christ for this growth. Let us also rejoice as God raises up leaders who can be good examples in this regard. Let us pray for them that they would continue to model these qualities. And as we saw Jesus do in the garden, let us be praying for our own strength in these ways. We look forward to how all of this will be brought to a completion at Christ’s return. I leave us with similar words from Peter, 1 Peter 1:13, “Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Amen.
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.