Now I’ve done it. Alcohol, caffeine, iPhones and elders combined. No way. Do elders need to think about more than just alcohol? (As if many are thinking about alcohol at all.)
Should elders look sideways at their morning coffee and their oh-so-close iPhone relationship? Do you love your alcohol, caffeine or iPhone? Literally? Whatever that thing is—alcohol, caffeine, the iPhone or whatever—if you can’t control it, gotta have it, can’t live without it or get cranky pants if it’s out of reach, then you’re a slave to that thing.
Elders sometimes debate whether it’s OK for them to have a glass of wine or a bottle of beer. Everybody knows that drunkenness is out, but there’s a lot of energy among solid men who feel strongly both ways about any drinking of alcohol. Is it harmless? Maybe, but maybe not.
Beyond qualifications and expectations cited in 1 Timothy 3-4 and Titus 1, several principles should guide freedom in the elder’s life:
• Don’t let your personal freedom lead someone to stumble (1 Corinthians 8:9-13);
• live by the high standard of what is best for you and the church, not the low bar of what is merely allowable (1 Corinthians 10:23; 1 Corinthians 14:12);
• things not forbidden may be lawful, but they might not be helpful. And, if they’re not helpful, then don’t practice them (1 Corinthians 6:12; 1 Corinthians 10:23);
• if I’m a slave to a habit, then I’m not free. And the Lord absolutely does not want me enslaved to anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). How do I know if I'm a slave to a habit? I can’t control it, I gotta have it, I can't live without it, I get cranky pants without it. Those are the marks of a slave. If you’re thinking, Ridiculous. What a joke. Well, you might be a slave to a habit and not even know it. A test: Put that thing aside for a few days or a couple of weeks. See how that works out for you. Maybe try decaf?
• it’s not good for elders to place their judgment under the influence of alcohol or any other substances (Proverbs 31:4-5). An illustration of the principle: An elder took a night phone call at his home. The call came from a man of his church. The caller urgently needed the elder’s counsel and wisdom. As the caller later said: He must have had a couple glasses of wine in him because he went off and talked like I’ve never heard him talk before. I could tell he’d been drinking. Beyond the shrinking of that elder’s reputation in the heart and mind of the caller, an elder never knows when he’ll be needed and expected to offer biblical wisdom. He should be ready, in season and out of season. And if he's even just a little buzzed, he isn't ready.
Now, about the iPhone . . . an article in The New York Times titled You Love Your iPhone. Literally describes research showing that people without their iPhones feel stressed-out, cut off and somehow un-whole. The author also cites a study that found a flurry of activation in the cortex of the brain when subjects heard the ringing of or saw an image of an iPhone. The cortex is the part of the brain associated with love and compassion. The subjects’ brains responded to the sound and images of the iPhone as they would respond to the presence or proximity of a girlfriend, boyfriend or family member. That’s genuine affection. Is that OK? I know it's the seductively irresistible iPhone but, really, is that OK?
So alcohol, caffeine, iPhones and elders, tied together in a single string. Better to have the Lord in that first place, so that you can’t control Him, gotta have Him, can’t live without Him and get cranky pants if He seems to be out of reach. On the other hand, slavery’s easy. Maybe that’s obvious in concept, but it’s certainly not obvious in daily practice.
Oops, excuse me . . . got an iPhone message. (Ooooh, I do love my iPhone.) Need a caffeine fix. (Get a headache without it and got to have the energy bump. A mint or two covers the coffee breath.) Looking forward to a buzz at home tonight from that good wine. (No worries, no calls after 9 p.m.) Can't wait to win some big money from my elder buddies in Texas hold 'em this weekend. (How much can I win before I sin?)