Updated: May 15, 2020
I remember being at a friends house when I was a kid and hearing his dad groan out, “I am never drinking again!” I was not exposed to addiction in my home so when I heard this exclamation I was excited. Drinking is not good and if someone says they are never going to do it again, that is a great thing. It didn’t take me long to realize that “I am never drinking again” is a joke that drinkers make when they are dealing with their hangover. It’s the cry of someone who is sobering up from the night before.
There is a difference in someone who is sobering up and someone who gets sober. People who have realized they are truly addicted to a substance and decided to make a change can tell you the day they “got sober”. I had a coworker that could tell you, to the day, how many years months and days it has been since he had a drink. Getting sober is a huge decision that has its own serious struggles, so it is no wonder that people hold the day as special. It is truly a wonderful thing when someone makes that decision.
Getting sober is such a great thing because of how awful drunkenness is. The negative effects of alcohol on the brain include changes in behavior, blackouts, dependence, slurred speech, and will even cause the brain to shrink. Heart disease increases in those who drink alcohol. Liver damage, increased infections to the lungs, damage to the central nervous system, are just a few of the many ways alcohol steals ones health. Someone who gets sober will have better health and that is great for the individual, their family, and society in general.
In another way, someone getting sober is great due to the fact that it means that they are seeing things clearly. What may have begun as seeming fun and games quickly turns into a lifestyle of lying to oneself, and using more alcohol to silence their conscience. But the person who is getting sober is facing their problems. Perhaps there are underlying reasons for their substance addiction, and as long as they stay in a cycle of intoxication, they will never face those issues.
Getting sober is also great because people do some despicable things while intoxicated. Domestic violence and sexual abuse goes through the roof when intoxicating substances are involved. Children are neglected for addiction. People violate their own morals when they are drunk. Someone who gets sober is going to automatically have a more wholesome existence. They will do less bad, and at the same time do more good.
In 2 Timothy 2:26 the Apostle Paul uses the idea of “getting sober” in relation to people who are enslaved in sin. He tells Timothy to teach the truth “that they may come to their senses”. In the original language this phrase is just one word. It comes from a word that has two parts. One part means “again or back”, and the other means “sober, or sound sense”. Put together the word conveys the idea of someone who was intoxicated but is now sober and seeing things clearly.
I think we all can appreciate how any sin can intoxicate people from better judgement. Someone intoxicated by lust may engage in sexual activity reserved for a married man and woman. Someone intoxicated by pride may walk all over whoever gets in their way. We may look at sins we have committed and think, “I knew better than that”. So why did we sin? Our desires will intoxicate us.
But 2:26 is not necessarily talking about those types of sin. This context is dealing with a very specific sin.
Have you ever considered that people can be drunk because of false doctrine? That is exactly Paul is writing to Timothy about. He is essentially telling them they need to sober up from whatever joy they get from their error and turn back to the truth.
When people are drawn away to a false doctrine, they can get drunk with it. That is not said to be unkind or ugly. It is just a matter of fact. When people, because of their erroneous doctrine, have lost their senses and become unreasonable they have reached spiritual drunkenness. In the same way an intoxicated person will follow a series of bad decisions, a person intoxicated on a false doctrine will follow a series of illogical conclusions. I would like to use two popular doctrines to point out how one can be drunk in error.
Premillennialism quickly defined, is the teaching that the kingdom of God was set to be set up by the Messiah as a physical early kingdom in Jerusalem, but because the Jews rejected him God set up the church as a temporary fix. They contend that someday that kingdom will be established and preceded by a series of signs. It is a very popular doctrine, but those who subscribe to this teaching overlook some serious implications and logical conclusions of this teaching.
First, if God planned and prepared to do something, but did not account for rejection, that means God had a bad plan or prepared wrong. In other words, God made a mistake. Does that sound like sober thinking?
Second, for this doctrine to be true, it must be concluded that God is “learning” how to deal with the mind of man. Therefore God is not all knowing. Is that sensible?
Third, can I ever trust God again? If God promised that the Messiah would set up his kingdom but then changed the circumstances, who’s to say the Jewish people don’t reject him again? Why should I believe God this time?
Surely no one would flat out make those statements, but the belief in this doctrine says each of these things by implication. Implication comes by reasoning. When people get drunk in the doctrine of premillennialism, they lose the ability to reason for the sake of their doctrine.
Think also of the teaching on salvation. You ask the majority of people what they must do to be saved and you will likely be told to simply believe that Jesus is the Son of God. They will say that faith alone is all one needs. Belief is most certainly a necessity in ones salvation (John 3:16, 8:24), but when people say that that is all, that is a senseless teaching.
First, It causes one to minimize the commission of Jesus on how people are saved (Matt 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:47).
Second, It causes one to “look the other way” on the observable way in which people were saved immediately after that commission in Acts 2:37-41.
Third, It perverts the sensible teaching on other acts necessary for salvation (Rom 6:1-7).
Fourth, It argues in the face of a clear statement of an apostle “You see that man is justified by works, and NOT by faith alone”(James 2:24).
No sober person would argue against clear teaching in the scripture, but that is precisely what is done with defending faith alone salvation.
It doesn’t need to be assumed that every person taken captive by these teachings are evil in motivation(although some certainly are 1 Tim 6:5), but it does need to be realized that they are still in error. Paul told Timothy that he must be gentle and willing to teach and correct them (2 Tim 2:24-25). Same is true today. We must present the truth so people can come to their senses.
It’s a mockery to God to make his clear teaching confusing. God doesn’t want us to enter into a senseless religion where we just operate on feelings and whims. He doesn’t want our beliefs to be something that make sense to us only on a personal level, he wants our beliefs to be those that make sense according to his word (Acts 17:11). He wants us to be confident in the things we believe (2 Tim 3:14, 1 Cor 14:33), not the things we feel. There is a pattern of sensible words to follow (2 Tim 1:13, 2:15, 3:16). How else could we test ourselves to see whether we are of the faith (2 Cor 13:5)?
Someone who is drunk can sober up, and people who are drunk on false teaching can sober up too. But it is only through correcting them with the truth, the word of God.
For someone who is deep into their false teaching, getting sober doctrinally, may be the hardest road they ever go down. It may cause friends to abandon them. It may cause problems in the home. It will take dedication to study. It will take sacrificing old habits and desires. But it is the only way of “escaping the snare of the devil”.
Just like a person puts down the bottle for good and becomes a great help for people trying to get sober, those who are willing to have their eyes opened to the truth become some of the greatest workers in the Lord’s kingdom.