“The Pillar & Ground of the Truth”

“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.”


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.