One of the qualifications specified by Paul concerning local church leadership relating to alcohol is that “A bishop then must be…sober…” (3:2; Tit.1:8). This Greek word sōphrōn is elsewhere translated as “temperate” (Tit.2:2) and “discreet” (v5). It means to be ‘sound or whole in mind’ and to be self-controlled as a state of mind. It is an exhortation to keep and preserve all natural facilities of the mind free from dulling influences.
This is not only a qualification for leadership but is the standard expectation for every believer. What is to be normal in every believer should be exemplified in leaders. Other associate words belonging to the same word family of sōphrōn are as follows:
The word sōphroneō is translated “to think soberly” (Rom.12:3),“to be sober” (II Cor.5:13), “to be soberminded” (Tit.2:6) and “be ye sober” (I Pet.4:7). The word sōphrosunē is translated as “soberness” (Acts 26:25) and “sobriety” (I Tim.2:9, 15). And sōphronōs is translated as “soberly” (Tit.2:12).
While these words most certainly address the believers mind as being kept sane, sensible, controlled, and functioning with clarity and alertness they also include a freedom of the mind from the influence of intoxicating drinks. The true believer has a responsibility to watch over his mind and preserve it from any influence that would dull its abilities. In secular society in the 1st century it was freely used to mean a mind preserved from alcoholic influence.
When alcohol is consumed the ability to think is immediately influenced and compromised. Medical science tells us that the effect of alcohol reaches the brain within one minute after intake. Every part and member of the body is controlled by the brain so anything that affects the function of the brain affects every part of the body.
Alcohol is not a stimulant but a depressant. Alcohol depresses the brain and slows down its ability to control the body as well as its various normal facilities. This is why alcohol can be so dangerous. Alcohol acts like a sedative on the brain and as a result slows down muscle coordination, reflexes, movement and speech.
Within the alcohol is the power and ability to undermine the natural God-given abilities of thought and action. The alcohol first targets the front lobe of the brain which is the area that controls every form of wise judgement and social interaction.
Alcohol literally suppresses self-control and natural inhibitions even when taken in low concentrations. Under moderate influence an individual will begin to act differently. It has been more than proven that even an initial drink begins to change the ability of the mind to perceive correctly, to learn or to remember things.
The ability to follow objects with the eye, intellectual activities such as arithmetic, memory in storing and retrieving information, the ability to discriminate correctly and attention to detail are all impaired by moderate consumption of alcohol.
The only reason that someone feels more relaxed, free from stress and anxiety, or happy after a drink is because the alcohol has begun to affect the natural function of the brain by beginning to put out of action God-given facilities. So far from being a gift from God alcohol works against that which God has given to man.
Even one glass of wine or pint of beer is enough to start undermining the natural mental alertness which God has granted to us. Leaders are to guard this gift from any influence or substance that would undermine it. A lessoning of the mental facility, the ability to rightly respond or the ability to weigh and judge situations is not at all acceptable for godly leaders or for any believer.
Sobriety of the mental facilities necessitates abstinence from any intoxicating influence. A believer who seeks to relax, recuperate, get happy, forget his troubles or experiences joy through alcoholic drinks has compromised this call to sobriety of mind.
It is a scientific, legal and medical fact that even the smallest amount of alcohol affects speech, balance and a person’s ability to make clear judgments and decisions. By the time someone realizes that their alcoholic intake is beginning to affect them it already has! Even after one glass of wine or one pint of bear the individual’s ability to discern its affect upon themselves has already diminished.
According to II Tim.1:7 we know that God has given us a "sound mind." That is a sōphronismos which means a disciplined, self-controlled mind. Those who seek to honour such a gift will continue to discipline and controll the mind by abstaining from intoxicating drinks.