If you have done any amount of Bible study on the subject of healing, you have likely come across material that uses Timothy’s stomach problems as evidence for a belief that sometimes sickness is in the will of God for Christians.
“Timothy’s stomach” is usually brought in to the discussion along with Paul’s thorn. (I covered Paul’s thorn in another post, so please read that post if you are interested in this subject.)
The way I have heard this come into the conversation usually goes something like this: “What about Timothy’s stomach? Paul couldn’t heal Timothy, so healing is not always God’s will.” Here is the passage that is being referred to in those statements:
1 Timothy 5:23
No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake and your frequent infirmities.
In this verse we see that Timothy has been struggling with “frequent infirmities.” Timothy has been getting sick a lot. He is having stomach problems. I don’t think there is any way to deny that point, nor is there any reason to. However, I believe that it is problematic to use this passage as proof that healing is not always God’s will, and that sometimes God wants us to remain sick.
When you read the passage, you see very clearly that Paul is telling Timothy how to avoid getting sick so often, and how to relieve his symptoms. The goal of the advice is that Timothy is not sick anymore. If it was God’s will for Timothy to be sick and suffer, then Paul was telling Timothy to go against the will of God when he gave him advice on how to feel better.
If Paul actually believed that Timothy’s frequent illnesses were God’s will, then he should have been saying something like “This physical illness and suffering are from God. It is part of His mysterious plan, and He is using it to teach you something. So, don’t do anything that would relieve your symptoms. Timothy, if you want God’s will to happen, you need to be as sick and miserable as possible.”
Of course, that is ridiculous on many levels, and the hyperbole is intended. But it does make a point. If sickness is God’s will for Timothy, then it would be wrong for Paul to provide medical advice. And from what we know of Paul’s character, he would not be contradicting God’s will like that. Since Paul is telling Timothy how to get better, then Paul must believe that it is God’s will for Timothy to be healthy. And that means Paul would not believe that God’s wants Timothy to be sick. Jesus viewed sickness as an enemy (Acts 10:38), and so did his followers, including Paul.
So, I believe that should settle the biggest part of the confusion that surrounds this verse. “Timothy’s stomach” cannot be used to prove that sometimes sickness is God’s will, because Paul is telling Timothy how to avoid being sick. Wholeness, health, and wellness is what Paul’s advice is supposed to lead to, and we are on safe ground if we assume that Paul’s advice in 1 Timothy lines up with God’s will.
But why is he advising him to “stop drinking only water,” but to add some wine into his diet? Why is he not ministering healing to Timothy, or telling Timothy to believe for his own healing, etc?
If you live in an area with unclean water, and you drink that water, and you aren’t used to it, you are likely to have frequent stomach problems. However, if you use wine or some other beverage with antiseptic qualities, you can decrease your chance of getting sick. This is what Paul was telling Timothy to do. That is why Paul is telling him to drink wine.
That tells me that sometimes some good advice on how to avoid getting sick in the first place is appropriate. But It absolutely does not tell me that sometimes God wants people to be sick.
Let me compare this to something that is more common today. What if someone is smoking 2 packs of cigarettes per day, and they have developed lung problems as a result. You could minister healing to them and see God heal all their lung problems. But if the person continues the behavior that caused the problem in the first place, the condition is likely to return even after they have been healed. Some practical advice, wisdom, and common sense is appropriate sometimes.
This passage in 1 Timothy doesn’t teach us that God wants Timothy to be sick. In fact, it means the opposite. The purpose of the passage was to get Timothy to be strong again, and to help him avoid being sick. This is offering practical wisdom on how to avoid a recurring problem that is hindering Timothy.
Read the passage again, and ask yourself this question. Does God want Timothy to be sick, or to be healthy and well?