Paul is giving directions to Timothy how the affairs ought to be conducted in the house of God till he comes. We should bear in mind for a proper understanding of this letter that Paul is not writing an orderly, doctrinal thesis; he is writing a letter to his son Timothy, a youthful minister in the church, as he stands in the midst of the hard facts of life, the problems that are perennial to every minister; in the throbbing stress and strain of one who must stand in the office and bear great responsibilities.
There is a certain gullibleness in judging of people which Timothy must avoid as a dangerous pitfall; Timothy must by all means not act from the motive of sinful suspicion, nor must he be a naive “babe in the woods” who gets the wool pulled over his eyes by evil men, who would get him committed to their sinful purpose and plans. He must use much wisdom and spiritual discretion. He must not get involved, but keep himself pure.
But let us listen to Paul himself as he writes: “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partakers of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure. Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine own infirmities. Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment: and some men they follow after. Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand: and they that are otherwise cannot be hid” (verses 22-25).
At first glance one would be inclined to interpret the phrase “lay hands suddenly on no man” as referring to the laying on of hands which was a symbolic rite used for placing men into office in the church—a rite of consecration accompanied by a definite injunction and charge. Contextually it would refer to the putting in office of elders. And then Paul would say: be sure that you do not actually place evil men into office.
However, Paul has given definite instructions for this already in I Tim. 3:1-13. Besides, there is something quite general about this warning against “suddenly” placing hands upon anyone. The fact that Paul does not say, “lay hands suddenly upon no one” who will be a bishop, but leaves it general (“no man”) shows that Paul evidently had in mind that he should not give full confidence to any man hastily as one worthy of any position of influence or membership in the church.
The phrase “laying on of hands” must have had a rather definite meaning and application in the days of Paul. A study and survey of the current usage of the phrase shows that it was a rite or usage which was taken over by the New Testament church from the Old Testament by Jewish Christians.
Sometimes the Lord instructs the church to “lay their hands” on those who are to be placed into office. Thus Moses is instructed to appoint Joshua, the son of Nun. We read in Numbers 27:18: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation and give him a charge in their sight.” And we read in verse 23 of said chapter: “and he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge, as the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses.” (Emphasis supplied.) In Deut. 34this act of Moses upon God’s command is again referred to. Already in Gen. 48:14 we read of this custom and rite at the occasion of. Jacob’s blessing the two sons of Joseph when he wittingly crossed his hands.
However, the custom is also used as a symbolic act when the priests placed their hands upon the sacrificial victim. Lev. 3:2, 8, 13; Lev. 4:4, 15, 24, 33; Lev. 8:14, 18, 22;Lev. 16:21. When no sacrificial victim is substituted for guilt then the people, in a given case, must place their hands upon the sinner who must die, as in the case of the Egyptian’s son who cursed the NAME of the Lord. Lev. 24:14.
In the New Testament we read of Christ’s laying His hands upon the heads of infant children (Matt. 19:13 ff.), and also of the church’s laying their hands upon the deacons in Jerusalem at the time of their appointment to office (Acts. 6:6), and of Paul’s laying his hands upon certain disciples at Ephesus after he had instructed them in the baptism of Christ (Acts 13:3).
The phrase “laying on of hands” does not refer to the actual impartation of spiritual powers, but was a symbolic rite, showing that those upon whom the hands were laid were (1) appointed and (2) charged with certain duties in God’s church.
Timothy must, therefore, not easily adjudge men worthy of a place in the offices in the church, nor worthy of responsibilities generally. He must not easily and “hastily” give his sanction to any man. There is no exception to this rule. Not all are “well-born,” true sons of the gospel, genuine children of the light. There is chaff amidst the corn and the two must not wittingly be mistaken. Hence, this precaution is urged by Paul:
The inevitable result will be, that, if hands are “hastily” laid on anyone and everyone, those responsible for placing such men in office or according them their expressed confidence will be guilty of the “sins of others.” He that joineth himself to a harlot is one flesh with her. One cannot, in this connection, but feel saddened by the wholesale acceptance of ministers from another denomination, as was done recently by the Christian Reformed Church. Time will tell whether they will be so blessed and happy in this gullible transaction; whether they have accepted a goodly number of opportunists or not! In my labors as Home Missionary I have had ample opportunity to be reminded of this rule of Paul to Timothy his son. We don’t need a few “Trojan horses” in our midst. Timothy must not be tempted to advocate an insane growth in number in the church.
It requires great “purity” of heart and mind to take this stand; to dare to say “no” at the right time, whatever the pressures may be. He must keep himself “pure”; he must be able, in his public life and ministry, to point to the record and the minute book of the consistory, and feel that he has performed the Lord’s work as a good steward, and that he is not to be blamed for giving his confidence to the wrong people, nor that he has given them a public badge of being trustworthy when they were not.
For there is a very general rule which Paul cites here; it is a maxim which every minister and elder may write in his notebook. The basic principle underlying this maxim is that in the church of Jesus Christ on earth men and women are fundamentally of two kinds: those of whom it is said that the gospel is for them a savor out of death to death, and those for whom the gospel is a savor out of life unto life.
This is a sobering thought!
Did not the aged Simeon say to the parents of Jesus, when he held the infant Savior in his longing arms, “This child is set for a fall and rising of many in Israel and unto a sign of contradiction . . . that the thoughts of many hearts be revealed?” The thoughts, the deepest intents and aspirations of the heart, must be uncovered and placed in the searching light of God’s judgment in its naked truth.
Hence, when Christ was on earth and had performed many “signs” and many believed, the Lord did not trust them. He did not need to be told what was in them, for He knows what is in man (anthropos)! He knows that the heart is deep. It is true we do not know this as He knew it; yet, we too are not “hastily” to trust anyone, not even one’s own son! Shall not they be one’s greatest enemies betimes?
In the time of the foregoing principle Paul enunciates the maxim (a brief statement of a practical principle), which we here state briefly:
1. There are evil men. (a) Revealed already as evil men. With these one has no difficulty; one will not be tempted to “place hands upon” such. (b) Not yet revealed in their being evil. But it will surely come. Hence, do not place hands upon “hastily.”
2. There are men with “good works.” (a) When such are present we have no difficulty. In these we may believe that they are trustworthy. These speak for themselves. (b) But there are others who are good men, but who are not yet revealed clearly in that capacity. These will come to manifestation in due time.
This maxim of Paul is practical, it is a workable directive; it will insure that Timothy will not wittingly endorse evil men in the church.
It is true, God only knows the hearts. But Jesus tells us: by their fruits ye shall know them. We should also say just a word about Paul’s instruction to Timothy to “drink a little wine.” This verse seems to be somewhat of an enigma to interpreters. It seems to be “stuck in” between two verses which speak of such earnest and serious matters as the proper endorsement in the church of worthy members. What has this to do with Timothy’s menu on the table: drinking a little wine! Does Paul suddenly become a doctor, a therapeutist?
It seems to me that even though there is no logicalconnection to be observed here, there must be a very factual connection. As every minister of the gospel knows and all who bear responsible positions among men, it requires a good, strong, healthy body to perform the difficult tasks of life. See what happened to a Calvin and his stomach by his constant privations of food and rest. It has been said jovially (many a true word has been spoken in jest!) that a man has a “preacher’s stomach,” meaning that he has ulcers and lack of appetite. Timothy apparently was not a man of robust health, a man with an iron constitution, as Paul evidently was. He had “often” to complain of illness.
Possibly the stress and strain of being a minister aggravated his condition. Timothy needed a bit of wine to stimulate his appetite. He must not “drink water,” that is, be an exclusive “water-drinker” as the word in the Greek has it. Certainly he must drink water. Who doesn’t need water! If Timothy could drink but, a “little wine” and no water—pray what therapeutic advice would that be?! Sapienti sat!
Perhaps Timothy had also come under the influence of those who insisted that marriage was sinful and that meats must be abstained from. There are those teetotalers even today. They would not even think of drinking wine at the Lord’s table; it must be grape juice. Christ made wine; it was the best according to the connoisseur (the sampler of wines) at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. These false teachers did not understand that God made all things “good” and nothing is to be rejected being received with thanksgiving, since it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer. Timothy may not have desired to offend these.
Paul says: do it not! Let “wine serve you;” drink a little. It is good medicine, a good tonic for your stomach. Do not deprive, it of its needs, but be of good health in body and soul, and perform the work of an evangelist with vigor. It is not that which entereth into the mouth that defiles the man, but that which proceedeth from it. Keep thyself pure.
Thus be a good workman in the house of God.