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9. God’s Mission for the Church (1 Timothy 3:14-16)

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I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you in case I am delayed, to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, because it is the church of the living God, the support and bulwark of the truth. And we all agree, our religion contains amazing revelation: He was revealed in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 3:14-16 (NET)

What is God’s mission for the church?

For some the church is a social network—a place to meet like-minded people. For others, it’s a place to help raise their children. For others, it is a place for social justice—helping the poor, the trafficked, and the unborn. How we view something affects how we treat it. What is God’s view of the church and, therefore, God’s mission for it?

In 1 Timothy, Paul writes a letter about God’s expectations for church conduct. In fact, in 1 Timothy 3:15, he gives three metaphors of the church—three ways God views it. The church is a family, the assembly of God, and the support (pillar) and bulwark (foundation) of the truth.

What do these metaphors teach us about God’s mission for the church? How can we, as individuals and congregations, help the “Church” fulfill God’s directives?

Big Question: What does Paul’s three metaphors teach us about God’s mission for the church?

The Church Should Function as God’s Family

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you in case I am delayed, to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God …

1 Timothy 3:14-15

The word “household” can also be translated “house”—referring to a building. However, most likely this is metaphorical language for a family or household since it is translated this way three times in verses 4, 5, and 12. Paul said this in Ephesians 3:14-15: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (NIV 1984). The church is God’s family. It is full of brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers (cf. Matt 12:48-49). In fact, even though Christ is our God, he is called our brother in Romans 8:29. It says, “because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Therefore, the reality that the church is God’s family should affect how we treat each other.

Application Question: How should we apply the fact that we are God’s family?

1. Because the church is God’s family, we should show familial love to each other.

First Timothy 5:1-2 says, “Do not address an older man harshly but appeal to him as a father. Speak to younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters—with complete purity.” Paul taught Timothy to treat older men and women with respect, as we would our parents. We must encourage and challenge younger men as brothers. We must guard younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.

This should specifically be applied to how people treat the opposite sex in a dating or courting relationship. They should be treated as natural brothers or sisters with absolute purity. This means if a guy wouldn’t do it with his natural sister, he shouldn’t do it with his spiritual sister. Paul establishes strict sexual boundaries when he says, “complete purity.” If couples handle their pre-marriage relationships this way, they do well.

Are you showing familial love to the members of your church? This also implies openly sharing problems and hardships. It means bearing the burdens of others. It means working hard to reconcile when conflicts arise. It means always seeking the best for others, as one would with a mother, father, brother, sister, son, or daughter. In fact, it is a good practice to refer to each other with familial terms, as was common in the New Testament. Paul called Timothy his son in the faith (1 Tim 1:2). He writes to congregations calling them brothers (Rom 12:1). Since, we are family, we should display familial love towards one another.

2. Because the church is God’s family, we should prioritize one another.

Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.” Here in this text, Paul calls for believers to prioritize the body of Christ over others. In a natural family, the members feel a responsibility to participate in family gatherings such as dinners, outings, or vacations. This should be true with church family as well. If they are gathering for Sunday worship, mid-week Bible study, prayer, a retreat, a mission trip, etc., members should feel a responsibility to be involved. Church must be our priority.

Sadly, for many, church is not a priority. It is something occasionally attended with little to no commitment. It is family in name only.

Is the church and its members your priority? This priority is particularly revealed when there are opportunities to serve. Paul says that we should do good to all, but especially to the family of believers. Is there a need? Is someone struggling physically, emotionally, or financially? Let us take on that burden, as we would with our natural family.

3. Because the church is God’s family, we gain closer fellowship by knowing God more.

In 1 John 1:3, John said, “What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ).” The apostles taught of their experience with Christ so that others might have fellowship with them and God. The implication of this is that the more we know God, the more we have genuine fellowship with one another. Our relationships with God and the church are like a triangle; God is at the top and the individual and other church members are on opposite sides. The closer we get to God, the closer we get to one another, and consequently, the more fellowship we have with the body of Christ.

Therefore, if we are growing in Christ—knowing him and his Word more—we will naturally grow in fellowship with one another. This is why so many in the church never really get involved or get to know people in the church; it’s because they are not growing spiritually. Knowing God naturally leads to knowing and being intimate with his family.

Essentially, our horizontal relationships reflect our vertical relationship, and our vertical relationship reflects our horizontal relationships. If we are in discord with others, we can be sure we are in discord with God. Christ said if we don’t forgive one another, God will not forgive us (Matt 6:15), and if we forgive others, God will forgive us (Matt 6:14). Our horizontal reflects our vertical.

What do your relationships with others say about your relationship with God? Are you growing in fellowship with God and therefore in fellowship with others? This is an important principle for friendships, marriages, and church relationships. The more we know God, the more fellowship we will have with one another.

Application Question: How have you experienced your horizontal relationships reflecting your vertical relationship and vice versa? Are there any relationships God is calling you to make right so you can be closer to him (Matt 5:23-24)?

The Church Should Function as the Assembly of the Living God

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you in case I am delayed, to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, because it is the church of the living God …

1 Timothy 3:14-15

Next, Paul calls believers the “church of the living God.” “Church” or “assembly” was actually “a non-religious word for a group of people called together for a purpose.”1 It actually means “those called out”2 and was used of political assemblies (cf. Acts 19:29, 32). Believers are called together for worshiping and obeying the living God.

“Living God” was a commonly used phrase in the Old Testament that emphasized the difference between the pagan religions and Judaism. David said this about Goliath, “For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he defies the armies of the living God?’” (1 Sam 17:26). The Jews worshiped the living God, while the other nations worshiped dead idols. This was certainly true in Timothy’s context, where the pagans in Ephesus worshiped the goddess Diana. In Ephesus, a tiny congregation worshiped the living God while everybody else worshiped dead idols.

Application Question: What applications can we take from the fact that believers are the assembly of the living God?

1. Being the assembly of the living God, reminds us that God meets with the church in a special way when believers gather together.

Consider the following verses,

For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them.”

Matthew 18:20

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?

1 Corinthians 3:16

When the church gathers together, God meets with them. Martin Luther said, “At home in my own house there is no warmth or vigor in me, but in the church when the multitude is gathered together, a fire is kindled in my heart and it breaks its way through.”3 John Stott said,

When the members of the congregation are scattered during most of the week it is difficult to remain aware of this reality. But when we come together as the church (ekklēsia, ‘assembly’) of the living God, every aspect of our common life is enriched by the knowledge of his presence in our midst. In our worship we bow down before the living God. Through the reading and exposition of his Word we hear his voice addressing us. We meet him at his table, when he makes himself known to us through the breaking of bread. In our fellowship we love each other as he has loved us. And our witness becomes bolder and more urgent. Indeed, unbelievers coming in may confess that ‘God is really among you’.4

2. Being the assembly of the living God, reminds us of our calling to be holy.

It is interesting to consider the applications of God dwelling among Israel in the OT. Because God dwelled among them (Ex 29:45), they were constantly reminded to be holy, even in how they used the bathroom. Consider Deuteronomy 23:12-14,

You are to have a place outside the camp to serve as a latrine. You must have a spade among your other equipment and when you relieve yourself outside you must dig a hole with the spade and then turn and cover your excrement. For the Lord your God walks about in the middle of your camp to deliver you and defeat your enemies for you. Therefore your camp should be holy, so that he does not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.

It is no different for us. Just as God moved about Israel’s camp in the Old Testament, he moves among us when we gather to worship. We must remember that we are God’s temple—the assembly of the living God who is among us. Therefore, let us get rid of sin and everything that might dishonor him, so that he won’t remove his blessing from us (cf. 2 Cor 6:14-7:1). Is there discord in our relationships? Let us seek unity. Is there bitterness in our hearts? Let us repent and give thanks. Our God is among us in worship. Our God is a holy God, and therefore, we must be holy and reverent (cf. 1 Peter 1:16).

3. Being the assembly of the living God, reminds us of our need to constantly avail ourselves of corporate worship.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says,

And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near.

If God is really among us, how much more should we seek to gather together, especially as the day of his return approaches. We should not neglect the assembly but constantly gather together to spur one another towards love and good deeds.

We are the assembly of the living God. Those who have forgotten this show up to worship without a sense of reverence or neglect it all together. They have forgotten their calling. God called them out of the world so he could meet with them in a special way in the public gathering. If we don’t know God’s mission, we won’t fulfill it.

Application Question: What are your thoughts and feelings about the reality of the living God being among us in corporate worship? How would this affect individual believers if they really had a concept of this?

The Church Should Function as the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you in case I am delayed, to let you know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, because it is the church of the living God, the support and bulwark of the truth. And we all agree, our religion contains amazing revelation: He was revealed in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

1 Timothy 3:14-16

Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by calling the church the pillar of the truth?

Finally, Paul calls the church the “support and bulwark of the truth.” It can also be translated as “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” What does he mean by this? We will first consider what a pillar is. Pillars served three primary functions in those days: (1) They supported statues and roofs. (2) They thrusted them high so all could see.5 (3) In addition, they were set up in marketplaces so notices could be published on them.6 The Ephesians would relate to this since the Temple of Diana had over 127 pillars.7 However, they also would be challenged since being a pillar of the truth is a function of the church. The church is not primarily to be seen but to support, lift up, and publish the truth so that all can see and know. Philippians 2:14-16 says,

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world by holding on to the word of life…

It can also be translated “hold forth” the word of life (KJV). This is the job of the church. We are called to hold forth the truth in a day when people don’t want truth—a day when people are content to follow the lies of the enemy.

Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by calling the church the foundation of the truth?

How is the church the foundation of the truth? Foundations hold buildings firm so they don’t collapse, especially when storms come. In a similar way, the church holds the truth firmly—keeping it from decay or being lost.

Paul calling the church the foundation of the truth is particularly interesting, since he calls the truth the foundation of the church in Ephesians 2:20. It says, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” The church is built on the doctrinal foundation of the apostles and prophets. How can these both be true? John Stott gives an apt answer to this question. He says,

When Paul taught that the truth is the foundation of the church,75 he was referring to the church’s life and health: the church rests on the truth, depends on it, cannot exist without it. But when he taught that the church is the foundation of the truth (3:15), he was referring to the church’s mission: the church is called to serve the truth, to hold it fast and make it known. So then, the church and the truth need each other. The church depends on the truth for its existence; the truth depends on the church for its defence and proclamation.8

Application Question: How can churches and individual Christians fulfill God’s call to be the pillar and foundation of the truth?

1. Churches and individual Christians must believe God’s Word.

This should not need to be said, but sadly, it does. Many Christians don’t believe the Bible anymore. They don’t believe what it teaches about creation, salvation, men’s and women’s roles, or eternity. We are raising a generation of Christians that don’t believe the Bible. Of those who do, many pick and choose what to believe. Paul said this, “Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17). He didn’t say “SOME” Scripture but “EVERY” Scripture. Jesus said this in Matthew 4:4, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Again, it’s not “SOME” words but “EVERY” word.

If the church is going to be the pillar and foundation of the truth, we must believe every word of Scripture and not just some of it. Do you believe God’s Word?

2. Churches and individual Christians must study the Word.

Second Timothy 2:15 (KJV) says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” One of the reasons many Christians have wrong doctrine is because they don’t work hard at studying Scripture. They simply accept what their parents and pastors told them, instead of affirming it themselves. The Bereans were called noble because they tested Paul’s teaching to see if it was true (Acts 17:11). If we don’t diligently study Scripture, instead of upholding truth, we will uphold, live by, and possibly teach false doctrine and therefore won’t be approved by God (cf. Matt 5:19, 2 Tim 2:15).

3. Churches and individual Christians must live the Word.

James 1:22 says, “But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves.” If the church is going to be the pillar and foundation of the truth, it must not only have orthodoxy but orthopraxy. It must hold to sound doctrine and live it out. Sadly, many people are pushed away from God, the church, and the truth because so many Christians don’t practice what they preach. When living in sin, instead of affirming the truth, we discredit it. First Timothy 4:16 says, “Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”

Are you affirming the truth by practicing it?

4. Churches and individual Christians must teach the truth.

Matthew 28:19-20 says,

Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Each one of us is called to make disciples by teaching them everything Christ commanded, which includes all of Scripture. When Christians cease to teach the Word of God because it is unpopular, because people don’t want to hear it, or for fear of consequences, they fail to be pillars and foundations of truth. Sadly, that is exactly what the church is doing today. They hide the lamp of God’s Word and condemn themselves and the world in the process (cf. Matt 5:15). When this happens, those seeking for truth can’t find it in the world or in the church.

Will you teach the truth—publishing it for all to see? As in all periods of history, the truth is under attack today. The foundations of society are crumbling because most people no longer believe in objective truth. Therefore, one can choose whatever gender they want to be, they can redefine marriage, they can murder innocents, and anyone who proclaims absolute truth is scorned. Here is a time that the church must again hold forth the truth and publish it for all to see, even though it’s unpopular. We must proclaim the truth in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2)—when it’s popular and when it’s not. Will you proclaim it?

Interpretation Question: Why does Paul talk about the mystery of godliness after referring to the church as the pillar and foundation of the truth in verse 16?

After talking about the church’s duty to the truth, Paul describes the primary content of that truth in verse 16 (NIV). He says,

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

It seems that Paul is quoting an early church hymn with six stanzas.9 The hymn is Christological and gospel-centered. Christ is the truth that the church must teach, and he is the mystery from which true godliness springs.

Observation Question: What are the six parts of the hymn and what do they refer to?

  1. He appeared in the flesh refers to Christ’s incarnation. He was not created—he appeared. He pre-existed as God the Son. However, he became human so he could die for humans and save them from their sins.
  2. He was vindicated by the Spirit refers to how the Holy Spirit declared him righteous throughout his life. The Spirit empowered Christ to live a holy life. He declared him righteous at his baptism, as he descended upon him as a dove (Matt 3:16-17). He declared him the righteous Son of God through many miracles throughout his life (John 14:11). And ultimately, he declared him righteous through the resurrection. Romans 1:4 says, “who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” The Spirit declared Christ righteous to all through the resurrection—death could not hold him because he was perfect. If Christ had sin, he would not have been resurrected. Finally, those today who accept Christ, do so through the work of the Holy Spirit. He convicts the world of sin and righteousness (John 16:8). He affirms the perfect worthiness of the Lamb.
  3. He was seen by angels refers to their special interest and ministry to Christ throughout his life. They announced his coming to Mary and Joseph. They announced his birth to shepherds. They strengthened him while he fasted in the wilderness and during his temptation right before his death. They appeared at his tomb during the resurrection, and they watched him ascend into the heavens.
  4. He was preached among the nations refers to the apostolic and missionary ministry right after his ascension. The gospel was proclaimed in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8).
  5. He was believed on in the world refers to his acceptance. After Christ’s ascension, there were only 120 followers praying in an upper room waiting for the Holy Spirit. However, after the Spirit came, Peter preached the gospel and 3,000 were saved and soon after thousands more. Since then, the gospel has been accepted by many throughout the world.
  6. He was taken up to glory seems to refer to the ascension, as he ascended to the right hand of the Father. However, some believe this might refer to Christ’s second coming in glory—allowing the hymn to continue chronologically.10 Either way, Christ’s ascension in glory parallels his coming in glory.

This is the historical truth that the church must never lose and proclaim to all. Christ—the Son of God—was a real historical person. He was empowered by the Holy Spirit from birth. He lived a perfect life and died for the sins of the world, so that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

He must be the truth that the church proclaims and protects. Are you still proclaiming Christ? Are you proclaiming him through your life? That is the mission of the church.

Application Question: In what ways is truth being attacked by governments and education systems throughout the world? How can the church remain faithful in cultures who hate truth? In what specific ways is God challenging you to stand firm as a pillar and foundation to the truth?

Conclusion

If we don’t know the purpose of something, it is prone to abuse. The church is God’s called out ones. He assembled the church with a plan—a mission—and it is good for us to consider his directives repeatedly so that we don’t neglect or forget them.

Are you helping the church fulfill its mission?

  1. Do you treat the members of the church as family?
  2. Do you still have a sense of reverence for God’s presence when gathering with the church?
  3. Are you striving to hold firm to the truth and publish it to all who will listen?

1 Guzik, D. (2013). 1 Timothy (1 Ti 3:14–15). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 223). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

3 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 91). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

4 Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (pp. 104–105). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

5 Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (p. 105). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

6 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2090). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

7 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy (p. 135). Chicago: Moody Press.

8 Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (pp. 105–106). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

9 Hughes, R. K., & Chapell, B. (2000). 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: to guard the deposit (p. 93). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

10 Stott, J. R. W. (1996). Guard the truth: the message of 1 Timothy & Titus (p. 107). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

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