“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”
(1 Timothy 3:14-15)
The Household of God
Paul wrote to Timothy giving instruction on “how one ought to behave in the household of God,” which he identified as the “church of the living God.” There is a sense in which the church is God’s covenant family in which He is the Father of all fathers (Eph. 3:14-15). His children “behave” as they “ought” within this spiritual family as they treat each other like brothers (cf. 1 Tim. 5:1-2; Gal. 3:25-29). Cornelius the centurion was “a devout man who feared God with all his household” (Acts 10:2) which would have included his wife, children and perhaps even his servants.
Another way to understand God’s “household” is to see it as the dwelling in which God takes up His residence (2 Cor. 6:16). The church is elsewhere described as God’s “temple” (1 Cor. 3:16), “dwelling” (Eph. 2:22), “spiritual house” (1 Pet. 2:5), or “household” (1 Pet. 4:17). The church is an organic, holy, spiritual home for God to live.
Being then a living house for God to dwell Paul emphasizes the Christian’s “conduct” (NASB) or behavior or manner of life (cf. Eph. 2:3; 2 Cor. 1:12; Heb. 13:18). This behavior is not limited to the times of assembly for worship because God's household is not the church building. Paul is not giving a set of instructions that only apply to how we act in the assembly, but teaching us how to behave at all times as God's people.
A Pillar & Ground
Furthermore, Paul calls God’s people a “pillar.” Paul was writing to Timothy, a younger preacher working with the church in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). The city of Ephesus was famous for their magnificent temple dedicated to Diana which housed an enormous image of the goddess that the locals believed “fell down from heaven” (Act 19:35). Great pillars held up that temple ceiling providing stability and sturdiness.
The church is to function like a “pillar” in the same way. The apostles had reputations like “pillars” (Gal. 2:9), figuratively supporting the Jerusalem church. They were integral parts that held up that living structure. Acting as a “pillar,” God’s people are to prop up acting as a “support” (NASB) or “buttress” (ESV) or “bulwark” (NET). The word “support” denotes steadiness, something that is settled and firm and unmoving (a related word is used in 1 Cor. 15:58). The thing that God’s people are to support is “the truth.”
Some will interpret this verse to say that the church has a monopoly on truth, that the church alone can dispense the truth, and that the truth depends on the church. This reasoning is dangerous and (ironically) untrue. The truth does not originate in the church. The truth does not depend on the church. Rather it is the other way around!
The truth originates from God being His very words (Jn. 17:17; Psa. 119:160). The truth came by Jesus (Jn. 1:14-18), Himself being the living embodiment of God’s word (Jn. 1:1, 14; 14:6). Jesus identifies the Spirit of God as the “Spirit of truth” who would guide the apostles into “all truth” (Jn. 16:13). This He has done (1 Cor. 2:10-16; 2 Pet. 1:3; Jd. 3).
The truth is something divine, originating in God and revealed in a final authoritative way in Christ (Heb. 1:1-3). He has authority to dispense truth because it belongs to and originates with Him. There is “only one Lawgiver and Judge” (Jas. 4:12). His followers have no authority over His truth because it is His and not ours. We have no authority to change it, legislate it or manipulate it. It exists independent of us and is not ours to tamper with. Jesus is the foundation of the church (1 Cor. 3:11). The church is the product of truth. In other words, the truth is what begot us, caused us to be born again (Jas. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:22-23, 25).
Why do men feel they have authority over the truth? Why do we hear of “the church” (of England, Catholic, etc.) amending or making law? Who has authority over the law in a kingdom, the citizen or the king? The “household of God” is not a democracy but a kingdom. We cannot, as citizens of the kingdom, feel that we have any power over the truth or that the truth depends on us in any way. The truth predates us. The truth begot us. The truth will exist without us.
Putting it All Together
How then does the church function in relation to the truth? We play no more and no less than a supporting role. In one sense, the church is grounded in the truth. In another sense, the church is to hold up and exalt the truth. The church consists of those who gladly receive the truth (Jn. 18:37), sincerely obey it (1 Pet. 1:22-25), zealously defend it (Phil. 2:15-16), openly proclaim it (Eph. 4:25) and powerfully prove it (Eph. 3:10).
Though the truth exists despite its reception by men, its power and effectiveness is demonstrated by its product: the church (Jn. 8:31-32). The “conduct” of God’s “house” is God’s testimony and an effective conduit for His truth to be proclaimed (1 Thess. 1:8). Someone once said, “the church gives truth an objective existence." May God grant us grace to think humbly concerning His truth. Let us be content to receive it, to live it out and share it with others being products of its power.
“…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
In a congregation the size of Danville it is easy to feel left out. The Bible is clear that this should not be the case in any congregation. Every member has an integral role to play. Paul makes this very point when he compares the local church body to a physical body (1 Cor. 12). Sadly, rather than trying to find our role within the local church we instead compare ourselves with others who have a more ‘prominent’ or public role.
If I can’t do what he/she is doing, we reason, I don’t have a part to play. Or in the words of Paul, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body” (1 Cor. 12:16). This flies in the face of logic: “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” (1 Cor. 12:17-20)
If you are reading this and feel like you don’t belong allow me to ask a few questions:
When it is announced someone is sick, do you:
Or do you:
When you think we don’t get together enough, do you:
Or do you:
When a soul is saved, do you:
Or do you:
When the church doesn’t seem friendly, do you:
Or do you:
When Bible classes seem dull & unimportant, do you:
- Make sure you are attending each class?
- Come prepared to discuss God’s word?
- Dig into the lesson to make the very most of it?
Or do you:
- Not show up for class?
- Come to class but never contribute with questions or comments?
- Complain that the class is uninteresting and not challenging?
When a member misses the assembly, do you:
- Find out what is going on?
- Check up on him regularly?
- Make sure he has a ride to the assembly?
Or do you:
- Complain about his weak faith?
- Gossip about him to others?
- Even notice he is missing?
If you are feeling left out of the congregation, perhaps the first thing you should do is “examine yourself” instead of examining others (2 Cor. 13:5; Mt. 7:1ff). If you feel you don’t have a part to play in the work at Danville what exactly are you doing about it? If you notice things are not the way they should be then take it upon yourself to be the agent of change. Jesus came not to be served but to serve and we are to follow His example (Phil. 2:3-4ff). Waiting for someone else to do something about it only perpetuates the problem. Complaining behind closed doors or bickering to other members will make things even worse.
If you feel left out at Danville then get to work and you will quickly find your place. There are Bible studies to be had. There are souls that need saved. There are classes that need taught. There are events that need planned. There are sick who need visited. There are members who need encouraged. There are prayers that need led. There are hurting members who need comforted. (see 1 Cor. 12:21-26; Rom. 12:3-8)
There is work to be done and we all have our part (Eph. 4:15-16). We each find our place by working together in love.
“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
During Jesus’ ministry He had been indicating to His followers for some time that His “hour” had not yet come (Jn. 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20). This climactic, divinely appointed “hour” was, of course, the hour of His death, the “hour” to which God’s redemptive efforts had been pointing since Genesis 3. This was the hour of the Son’s glorification (12:23), the hour for Him to be “lifted up” to “draw all men” to Himself (12:32).
Jesus would “depart out of this world” to return to the Father. John’s use of the word “world” refers to the mass of lost humanity (1:10), the very “world” the Father loved so much that He would ransom it with the life of His only Son (3:16-17; Mk. 10:45). God’s love for the world is manifest in His aim to draw the lost out of it and unto Himself.
Those who are drawn out of the world become something new and distinct from the world. The world has its “own” and Jesus has His “own” (15:19). Those who belong to the world are those who hate and reject Jesus (15:18-25). Those who belong to Jesus are His disciples, the people of God, what would become the church of Christ. He prayed for our protection and unity and future glory (17:9-26). For though He left the world and went to the Father, we who believe in Him must remain until the “hour” of our departure comes (2 Tim. 4:6).
Jesus had loved His own all along but in John 13, in these final moments of His life, John says, “He loved them to the end.”
There are a few different ways to understand John’s wording here. The ESV, NASB, RSV and NKJV all render John 13:1, “he loved them to the end.” If “to the end” [eis telos] is to be understood temporally, we might say, “He continued to love them to the very end of His life.” But “to the end” could also mean “utterly” or “to the uttermost,” hence the NIV’s paraphrase, “He showed them the full extent of His love.”
Either way, Jesus’ love for His own is such that it extends beyond the very limits of our imagination. In John 13, He exhibits His ultimate, self-sacrificing love by washing the feet of His disciples, which was really done in anticipation of His greatest act of love, His sacrificial death on the cross. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn. 15:13)
Jesus loves us to the very end and to the uttermost. In the cross, we see the full extent of love and it cannot be calculated. God gives us the full measure of that fathomless love in His Son. We can never experience a more soul-satisfying love than what we have in Christ.
Grounded firmly in the rich soil of this love we could seek to explore its every dimension for 10,000 years and not exhaust it in the least. God’s love can be known but its infinite nature is such that it surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:17-19). Even though we can’t fully appreciate the depth of God’s love let us make it our aim to try with thanksgiving.
In last week’s article we noted the emphasis in Christians preaching “the Lord Jesus” in Antioch (Acts 11:20). Those who responded in faith to the message about the Lord “turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21) to become members of the church of the Lord (Acts 2:47). Then, Barnabas exhorted these new converts to remain “faithful to the Lord” (Acts 11:23). We don’t know the details of his teaching but Luke’s summary in the book of Acts clearly emphasizes the centrality of “the Lord” Himself.
If we want people to be “faithful to the Lord” then we must “preach the Lord.” Jesus must be front and center in our teaching. When anything else becomes central to our teaching we cease to “preach the Lord Jesus.”
However, some have gone to an extreme by ignoring some very important issues connected with the Lord. They say, “Preach the Man, not the plan” or “Preach the Man, not the church.” This may sound pious on the surface but ignoring the Lord’s teaching on how to become part of His kingdom or the Lord’s teaching on the kingdom itself is actually preaching something OTHER than Jesus and will result in something other than salvation.
Preaching “The Man” includes preaching “The Plan”
How can one preach Jesus while ignoring what Jesus said about entering His kingdom? To ignore Jesus’ teaching on faith and repentance is to preach something other than “the Lord.” Remember when Jesus commissioned His apostles to go out into the world and “make disciples of all nations” they were to also baptize them and teach them His doctrine (Mt. 28:19-20; cf. Mk. 16:16). In other words, preaching Jesus must include instruction on how one ought to respond to Him in faith.
In preaching “The Man” one will inevitably be teaching “The Plan.” One must surely explain that His public ministry began with baptism when He was anointed with the Holy Spirit and declared to be the Son of God (Mt. 3:15-17). Beginning with a symbolic death, burial and resurrection and ending with a literal death, burial and resurrection Jesus “fulfilled all righteousness” (Mt. 3:15). Neglecting the command to be baptized (Acts 10:47-48) turns “preaching Jesus” into telling a nice story: “Wow, Jesus sounds like an amazing guy!” We will learn some great morals but in the end we are still left dead in our sins and transgressions (Eph. 2:1-2).
The clearest example of this is found in Acts 8:26-40. Philip came upon a man reading a prophecy about Jesus in the scroll of Isaiah. Confused, the man asked for some help understanding this mysterious text. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35). We are not given any detail about their study together but we do know Philip preached the gospel from Isaiah 53 and that his teaching included instruction on how to respond to the gospel in faith. They came across some water and the man said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:37)
Evidently, in “preaching Jesus,” Philip taught the man the necessity of having his sins washed away in baptism. Clearly, we are not “preaching Jesus” if we leave out how to respond to Him in faith. The Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene, along with Barnabas, were doing the same thing in Antioch. In “preaching the Lord Jesus,” they were teaching their audience the plan of salvation to which they responded in faith having “turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:20-23).
Preaching “The Man” includes preaching “The Church”
In preaching Jesus there must also be by necessity some teaching about His church, especially in the confused religious climate in which we live today. In preaching the Lord Jesus, how can one ignore teaching what He purchased with His blood that was shed on the cross? (Acts 20:28) His beloved bride He died to sanctify? (Eph. 5:22-33) His body of which He is the head? (Eph. 1:22-23) His kingdom of which He is King? (Col. 1:13-14)
The list could go on but suffice it to say, to “preach the Lord Jesus” requires teaching about the kingdom family of His redeemed people. To leave out the church in our instruction in making disciples is to leave out a great deal of Christ’s teaching. He came to build His church (Mt. 16:18), a distinct group of people called out from the world to live lives of holiness. This was His mission! In coming to seek and save the lost He was building a holy habitation for God to dwell (Eph. 2:19-22).
One cannot preach the King by leaving out how to enter His kingdom or what being part of His kingdom is all about. Some are baptized into Christ without understanding the responsibilities of discipleship. They want to have their sins forgiven but have no interest in working in the kingdom. Well, it doesn’t work that way. One cannot have citizenship without discipleship. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
When we “turn to the Lord” we receive all of the attendant blessings (Eph. 1:3) but we also agree to take on the weighty responsibility of discipleship (Lk. 14:25-33). We are told to “renounce all that [we have]” to take up our cross and follow Jesus wherever He goes, even unto death (Rev. 2:10).
If you want to be baptized to receive the forgiveness of sins but are not willing to work for the Master then you haven’t really “turned to the Lord” at all. Remember, the Lord Himself said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 7:21) And it is said of Jesus that He is “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (Heb. 5:9). Let us be sure to preach the Man, the plan and the church (cf. Acts 20:27).
The prophet Isaiah said the “law” & the “word of the LORD” would “go forth” from Jerusalem (Isa. 2:1-3). In that “word” the Lord would teach us “his ways” and “paths”. I believe Peter spoke this “word” on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem after the death and resurrection of Jesus. And “those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41)
What “word” goes forth from us? I sometimes wonder if our “word” is more centered around the church than the Lord of the church. Do we preach an institution that saves or the Savior? Clearly, Peter’s words in Acts 2 were all about the Lord Himself, how Jesus was the Messiah foretold in the prophets and how He was resurrected from the dead and made Lord of all. This is the only “word,” Jesus and His ways and paths, that can effect salvation in the lives of our neighbors.
When the “word of the LORD” is received by faith it causes the Lord to “add” one to His universal church (Acts 2:47). The church grows by preaching the “the Lord Jesus,” like Barnabas had done in Antioch (Acts 11:20). When those who heard responded in faith they “turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21), thus, becoming part of the Lord’s church, and were exhorted to remain “faithful to the Lord” (Acts 11:23). Notice, he preached “the Lord” not the church; they “turned to the Lord” not the church; and were to “remain faithful to the Lord” not the church.
So the universal church is the product of God’s work of salvation and the vehicle through which He continues His work of salvation. Jesus the Savior saves through Christians sharing the word about Him. We deviate from this pattern when we put more emphasis on the “church” than in the “Lord” in the “word” we share with others.
In fact, it was emphasis laid on the institutional aspect of the church that eventually led to apostasy. The universal body of people was seen as a corporate “society” that took precedence over “the word of the LORD,” His “ways” and “paths.” Soon, this church with all its councils and synods was regarded as the authority rather than the word itself. But what will judge us on the last day: the Lord’s “word” or the “church”? Let us be sure “the word of the LORD” is going forth from us!
“The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”