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Not Addicted to Wine

Written by: MacArthur Jr., John    Posted on: 04/08/2003

Category: Sermons

Source: CCN

The following is an excerpt from a message that was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, By John MacArthur Jr.  It was transcribed from the tape, GC 56-8, titled "The Qualifications for a Pastor" Part 4, Noble Character Part 2, Titus 1:7-8.  A copy of the tape can be obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412 or by dialing toll free 1-800-55-GRACE.

I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the original tape was made.  Please note that at times sentence structure may appear to vary from accepted English conventions.  This is due primarily to the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in placing the correct punctuation in the article.

It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription, of the portion of the tape, to strengthen and encourage the true Church of Jesus Christ.

The message is speaking about the qualifications for leaders in the church not being addicted to wine.  A key fact to remember while reading this file is that the Pastor, the Elders, and the Deacons are all given by God as "examples" to the church on how we are supposed to live.  They are not to be an elite group of Christians living at a higher level than the rest of the congregation.  We all must try to live the standard that God is demonstrating through the leadership.                                                             Tony Capoccia



                            Not Addicted to Wine                                     by                               John MacArthur

"Not addicted to wine," which translates (Greek word: paroinos), literally having the idea, the word "oinos" is a word for wine; "para" to be along side wine.  This requirement, by the way, is also given in 1 Timothy 3:3, there it says basically the same thing, "not being along side wine."  You'll notice in chapter 2, of Titus, verse 3, older women are not to be enslaved to much wine.  Back in 1 Timothy it talks about deacons not being given to much wine as well. 

So we find that not only those in leadership, but even those in the church as such, indicated by these "older women" in Titus, chapter 2, are not to be the kind of people who are associated with wine.

Now, what does he mean by this?  Well it's important for us to understand it.  We could broaden our concept a little bit if we remember that in 1 Timothy 3, we also have another requirement which is the word "temperate" (Greek: nephalios).  It originally meant that he was to abstain from wine.  A temperate person was an abstainer from wine.  It came metamorphically to mean "circumspect, alert, or clear-headed."  But the idea is the same: anybody in spiritual leadership is to be clear-headed; so never is he to be given over to anything that dulls the clarity of his mind.  Pastors, elders are to be in control of their senses at all times.

Now people always ask, "Does this mean that they never drank any wine at all?"  The answer to the question is, "No."  It doesn't mean that, they did drink wine in ancient times, wine was the common drink.  To be clear about it, and I will try to summarize what I have written at great lengths in my Ephesians Commentary on this issue. 

You couldn't drink the water without running some kind of risk.  Even today in Third World countries, the first thing they tell you when you get off the plane is, "Don't drink the water!"  Water has the capability to nurture certain things that can infect your body--bacteria, etc.  So generally speaking, water needs to be purified and that was true in ancient times as well.  As a result of that, unless it was a clear running stream somewhere, any kind of standing water would be potentially a health hazard.  They drank the juice of various kinds of fruit.  It might be a citrus fruit, it might be something like a pear or an apple, and very commonly it was grapes.  The common drink came from these fruits.

Now, to put that into perspective, you need to understand there was no refrigeration.  So, any kind of juice standing in the heat of the Middle East, of course, ferment.  Even the new wine "glukus" as the Greek word indicates, would ferment rather rapidly, though it was sweet at the start it wouldn't take long for it to turn.  Because of that, they took a number of precautions. 

The first of which was to mix the wine with water, as much as 8 parts of water to 1 part of wine.  This of course, acted almost as a disinfectant for the water, rather than a drinking of wine, because mixed 8 to 1 there wasn't much there.  But, the fermented wine with its disinfectant capability would purify the water, so the water would be then more drinkable and less potentially harmful.

The second thing that they did was to boil it.  They would take the wine that had fermented and they went through a boiling process.  This kind of wine probably comes from the Hebrew word or is associated with the Hebrew word "yayin," which basically refers to wine in the Old Testament, but has the concept in the very word itself of "bubbling up," it's not the bubbling of the bubbly in the wine, it's the bubbling of the boiling process.  And what they did was simply boil down the wine which evaporated all of the alcohol content, and evaporated all the liquid, and they ended up with a paste.  A thick paste which, by the way, they would even spread on bread to use like a jam as we do today. 

Now this thick paste could be contained in skins and kept that way, and at some point in time (it's a thick syrup) could be squeezed out and remixed in its concentrated form with water, and at that point would not have the property to ferment.  So that kind of wine, from paste mixed with water, would be non-alcoholic, wouldn't have any alcohol content.  The other kind as I mentioned would be that which was mixed with water, the alcohol content being diluted significantly so that you couldn't get drunk on it because your stomach couldn't hold what it would take to get you drunk, because there was so much water mixed with it.

So they took some serious precautions.  Now wine today is not like that.  Wine today comes straight out of the fruit, particularly the grapes as most wine comes from that, and as it comes it is purposely fermented, that's the whole point of it, to make it somehow intoxicating to one level or another, and it is consumed that way.  To mix wine with water would be a cardinal sin today, anybody who is "into wine" would tell you that, that's what I have been told (I certainly don't know it first hand).  Today you don't make wine out of concentrate; you make orange juice and grape juice in your kitchen out of it because you buy the little concentrated stuff and you mix it, and that's what we do today.  But the kind of wine that we call "wine" today, rather than grape juice or fruit juice, the kind of wine that we have today is not the same as the kind that would normally be consumed in Biblical times.

So what then does it mean here when it says, "This person is to be 'meparoinos' (Greek) not along side wine."  It really does mean, I think, what the NAS has translated, "not addicted to it."  "Para" (Greek), means "to be along side," not someone who is always along side the wine.  Not someone who hangs around the wine.  The intent of that concept here is a person who has some kind of an addiction to this or some kind of need to indulge himself in this to some degree of incapacitation (I'll put it that way). 

He's not just drinking the mixed wine for the sake of quenching thirst.  Now remember that the climate in Israel is very much like Southern California, in fact they are almost identical parallels.  It is hot and it is very dry there; it's a arid or semi-arid area, and there was a great amount of fluid needed, because the body would lose it's fluid.  They didn't have air conditioning for the homes or any thing like that as you would well know.  And consequently they put in a lot of fluids to just maintain the fluid level in their body.  It would be easy if they were drinking actually fermented wine . . . all of them would be inebriated all the time, particularly in the Summer.  And so they would normally have this mixture, and they would use it for the quenching of thirst, or they would use this concentrate which couldn't ferment then when mixed with water and they would drink that.

In either case, the idea was to quench thirst and to provide some refreshment and enjoyment without bringing about some intoxication, quite the contrary to what people use wine for today, which is somehow, to one degree or another to make them feel a little abnormal.

Now, he says basically here, that anybody who is a spiritual leader can't be involved in any of this kind of behavior, any kind of addiction to wine, any kind of coming along side wine, and any lingering around wine.  The implication being, you are hanging around it, you are not just drinking it for the sake of quenching your thirst or the sake of the refreshment of it.  You're hanging around it, you're along side of it, it's a major part of life and it has some impact on your thinking.

The idea could be one who is a drinker; one who goes to the feast and hangs around the wine; one who goes to the tavern or the inn or the bar, places associated with drinking, where there's potential for drunkenness, where there is potential for indiscretion, where there is a potential for losing control of yourself to the degree that you say things or do things that are inappropriate.  Where there is obviously the association with those who are drunkards, and those who are sinners.  Everybody knows that taverns and inns and bars, things like that in ancient times, were places of debauchery and iniquity. 

No man who has any of that kind of stuff in his life is fit to be a pastor or an elder.  When you bring that down into today's world it's still true.  People who frequent bars, who drink as a normal course intoxicating beverages, who hang around it, the idea would be drink your wine and leave, don't hang around and hang around, and keep drinking and keep drinking until you finally have inebriated yourself.  Anybody who is at all involved in that kind of thing is unfit for ministry.

But to take it a step further, I think it is safe to say that in the early church, that the people who knew the Lord, for the most part, would drink the mixed wine with water and the boiled and syrupy paste kind of reconstituted with water, and not even deal with "strong drink," which was a term for that which was unmixed, at all.  So they did everything they could to stay free of any intoxicating level of imbibing.

Now when you look at today, we have so many other opportunities that it isn't even necessary to get any where near alcoholic beverages.  We have so many other things.  With refrigeration we can preserve every imaginable kind of thing and not have to worry about its fermentation, so as elders here at Grace Church and pastors through all the years that I have been here, we have all affirmed a total abstinence position, and said, none of us would ever drink any alcoholic beverage, anytime, under any circumstance--it's not necessary.  And because the kinds of alcoholic beverages that we have today are not reconstituted, non-alcoholic, nor are they mixed with water sufficiently to dilute their force, we abstain from all of that.  That's been our position.  It is not necessary to drink that today so why would we do it? 

Another perspective is simply this, it tends to be potentially damaging to those who follow us.  Do you understand that?  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8, Romans 14, "I don't want to do anything that's going to cause another believer to stumble."  And you can believe one thing for sure, that if people knew John MacArthur drank wine, they would say, "Well, certainly if he does it then we can do it," and some of those people who say, "Because he does it I can do it," may end up being irresponsible, out of control, and who knows, may even become alcoholics.

So I don't ever want to be in a position of setting a standard that is going to cause another brother to stumble; to fall into iniquity.  And so Paul says, "If I eat meat and it makes my brother offend, I won't eat meat.  And if I drink a certain thing and it offends somebody, I won't drink."  And there are those weaker brothers, also an issue in those same texts who would be offended by that and so we have taken the position that is something that we do not do at all.  Now there may be an occasions when you are in a Third World country somewhere and you are having a communion service, and they serve real wine, that you make take a bit of it there because that's the necessary thing to do in that environment.  That would be the exception, obviously. 

But what Paul is saying is, "No man who is at all irresponsible with regard to those things which could potentiate drunkenness has any business being in spiritual leadership."  Now, let me elevate this thing a little bit more.  In Leviticus, chapter 10, verse 9, it was instructed that Aaron and all the high priests stay away from any alcoholic beverages.  In Proverbs, chapter 31, verses 4 and 5, we are told explicitly that alcoholic beverages were not for kings and not for princes or rulers.  The point being this: anybody who's a priest; anybody who is a king; anybody who is a ruler, is in a position where they are making very significant decisions that have implications for a wide range of people and they don't want to be operating without full comprehension.

I am confident that doesn't happen in our government, very confident.  One can only wonder what goes on after they have done things at the end of a long luncheon in which they have imbibed and come up with some of the things that they have come up with.  Aaron and the high priests, the kings and the princes, the rulers, were to abstain from anything that could in anyway dull their senses.  And then there was that very wonderful and unique vow in the Old Testament, according to Numbers, chapter 6, verses 2 through 4, called the Nazarite Vow.  The Nazarite Vow is associated with people like Samson, and Samuel, and John the Baptist, but there were many, many Jews who took a Nazarite Vow. 

It was basically a vow of devotion or commitment to God that said, that I want to live at the highest level of self-denial.  I will be unconcerned about what I wear; I will be unconcerned about my looks, my hair, and all of that.  I will touch neither wine nor strong drink.  In other words, I am cutting myself off from the celebrating kind of life.  I want to live in the pure and simple and straight forward and disciplined devotion to God.  John the Baptist was such a one, you can read about him in Luke 15, who totally abstained from anything that would in any way potentiate alcohol disability, and he stayed away from wine and strong drink altogether to be sure that he was living at the highest level.  That Nazarite vow, as I said, was probably taken by many, many Jews who chose to live at the highest level of dedication.

Then there is the interesting mention of Timothy, in 1 Timothy 5:23, where Paul says, "Take a little wine for your stomach's sake."  It certainly seems to me that the fact that Paul had to tell Timothy to do that, meant that it was against the grain of what Timothy's normal behavior was like.  He had to say, "Take a little wine" for medicinal purposes; most likely because Timothy normally wouldn't take any.  If the Nazarites lived at that level, then certainly those who were leaders in the church would live at that level.

So the man who is in spiritual leadership is not a man who is given to wine.  Not a man given to lingering beside his wine; being addicted to his wine, and all that goes with that.  As you compare the other scriptures as well the same statement is made with some differences: the deacons are not to be near the much wine, and the older women here in Titus.  But I think the spirit of all of that is the same, whether you are an elder or a deacon, or a person in the congregation, you avoid that which can intoxicate you.

Transcribed by Tony Capoccia of

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