Pillar of the Truth

Why did Paul write this letter? Why does everything we’ve heard so far matter so much? This passage tells us why.

Chris Hutchison on November 24, 2019
Pillar of the Truth
November 24, 2019

Pillar of the Truth

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Passage: 1 Timothy 3:14-16
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“Because I said so.” I used to really dislike hearing those words when I was a child. Like most children, I would ask the question “why” about absolutely everything. And it just drove me nuts when a parent or teacher would say, “Because I said so.” It just didn’t seem like an answer to me. It didn’t do anything to satisfy my curiosity.

Now as a parent I now understand that there are times to say “Because I told you so.” Children need to learn that you don’t obey only if and when it makes sense to you. God says to obey your parents and that’s reason enough.

But as a child grows older, it’s really important that we teach them to obey from the heart. We want to help them obey not just because they have to, but because they actually desire to. And we want to prepare them to do the right thing even when we’re not around to guide them.

And so as a child grows older, a wise parent will rely less and less on “I told you so,” and more and more they’ll explain their reasons why even before they are asked.

As adults, move of us understand that doing something is way easier when we know the reason why. This applies in all kinds of areas in life—even advertising and marketing. When a company tries to sell you a product by saying “here’s what it does,” that doesn’t really connect with us. But when a company says “here’s why you need this product,” that connects.

Whether it’s how we act or how we spend our money, it’s not enough to just know what. We need to know why.

Over the last few weeks in 1 Timothy we’ve heard a lot of what. Here’s what a church should look like. Here’s what the roles of men and women are. Here’s what the requirements for elders and deacons need to be. But the Apostle Paul understands that Timothy needs more than just what. If he’s really going to get this, and if he’s going to be able to help others get this, he needs to know why.

And so that’s where our passage today comes in. Verses 14-16 explain to Timothy the reasons for all of this instruction—and beyond that, the reasons for this letter as a whole. Here we’ll discover why everything we’ve read in the last few weeks, and why everything we’ve still yet to read, matters so much.

Great is the Mystery

Now the way we’re going to approach verses 14-16 is actually to start with verse 16 and then work backwards. Verse 16 is where we really find the beating heart at the centre of this passage and even this whole letter. This is ultimately why everything else matters. So we’re going to start there and work backwards, and I think doing so will really help us see how it all fits together.

So, according to verse 16, the reason for this letter and the reason for why all of this instruction matters is ultimately because the “mystery of godliness” is “great indeed.”

We saw a few weeks ago that the word “mystery” refers to the plan of God which was hidden for so long but has now been revealed by God to us. The word “godliness” refers to the whole of our Christian experience, including our faith and the behaviour which that faith produces. And so the “mystery of godliness” is God’s whole plan which reveals what He expects us to believe and to do.

And this plan, this mystery of godliness, is great indeed, as the rest of verse 16 shows us. You can see how these lines are broken out in your Bible and that’s because they have the ring of being ancient poem or creed or even hymn. And they tell us what this mystery of godliness is.

And what we find here is that this mystery of godliness, God’s revealed plan, is simply the truth about Jesus. It’s the gospel story.

It begins with “He was manifested in the flesh.”  This speaks about the incarnation of Jesus, when He, the eternal son of God, took on flesh and was born as a human. It’s appropriate for us to be considering these words just before our advent season begins. The eternal Son of God, God’s agent in Creation and the praise of Angels, took up residence in a womb. And then a manger. And then, a cross. The Son of God was manifested in the flesh. How great is that.

And next we read that He was “vindicated by the Spirit.” This phrase most likely speaks about His resurrection. As He died all of the religious leaders heaped insults on Jesus and said that He was dying as a sinner and a criminal. But Romans 1:4 says that He “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.”

The resurrection overturned the “guilty” verdict and proved that Jesus was the innocent and holy Son of God. By the power of the Spirit He was vindicated.

The third line to this poem or hymn says that He was “seen by angels.” This is likely a reference to the angels at the tomb when He was resurrected (Luke 24:4). They were the first to witness that He had risen.

It could also be speaking about His ascension into heaven, where all the angels saw and worshipped Him (Hebrews 1:3–4, 1 Peter 3:22, Revelation 5:8–14). Like we sang earlier today, “the angels roar for Christ the King.”

The fourth and fifth lines of this poem or hymn shift our focus form the death and resurrection of Jesus to the fruit of those events. Because they were not kept a secret. Christianity is not a private religion. Jesus was “proclaimed among the nations” by His people. And when that message was proclaimed, it didn’t just fall to the ground. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was “believed on in the world.”

Even at this early date, when Paul wrote these words to Timothy, they could recognize that this was happening. The church in Ephesus itself was proof that the Gentile nations were beginning to turn to the Messiah, just like the prophets had long foretold.

Finally, this poem or hymn ends by saying that Jesus was “taken up in glory.” This line might seem a little out of order in the flow of this hymn, but we should understand it as a general statement about Jesus today. He was taken up in glory and that is where He is today. While He is being proclaimed and believed on in the world, He Himself is in glory, being worshipped by heaven’s hosts.

This is the mystery of godliness—the story of the gospel. And like we’ve sang this morning, it is a wondrous mystery. Like verse 16 says, it is great indeed. No other message or story can rival the glory of the gospel of Jesus.

Pillar and Buttress

So we have to have that truth fixed in our minds before we keep going. The truth of the gospel is magnificently great.

So now let’s take a step backwards to verse 15 which tells us that the church has been entrusted with this magnificently great gospel truth. And we see this in that last phrase in verse 15, where the church is called a “pillar and buttress of the truth.”

This phrase here in verse 15 is where the title of our sermon series has come from. And I think we understand, just like you’ve seen every week in the graphic here, what pillars do. They support and hold things up. They give something structure. They also displayed objects and held them up to be seen.

“Buttress” is a word we’re probably less familiar with. It can be translated as “foundation” and speaks about firmness and steadfastness and even defence.

The idea behind both of these words that the church has been entrusted with the role of holding up the truth. We make it visible and we give it structure and we support it and we protect it from attack.

And the truth that we hold up is defined in verse 16. It’s the great message of the gospel. That’s the truth that the church is a pillar and buttress of.

How One Ought to Behave

And that brings us to the big idea. Because the church has the calling to be a pillar and buttress of the truth, and because that truth is so great, how we behave in the church really matters.

That’s what verses 14 and 15 say. “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).

Before we go any further, I just hope we feel the urgency here. Paul was hoping to come to Timothy soon but he knew these instructions couldn’t wait. Silencing the false teachers and praying for all peoples and the roles of men and women and the qualifications for elders—this was all how people “ought to behave” in the church, and they couldn’t wait until later to find out.

That word for “ought” is really important. It’s the same word used in chapter 3 verse 2: “An overseer must be above reproach.” Or verse 7: “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders.” It’s a word that gets used 8 times in total in the Pastoral Epistles. And it tells us that these things are not options.

How Christians behave really matters. How the church is organized and structured really matters. How we understand the roles of men and women really matter. How and who we pray for really matters. These are not optional and they can’t wait for later. This is how we must behave.

And we must behave in these ways because we are a pillar and a buttress of the truth. We have the responsibility to display and defend and declare the great revealed truth of the gospel. And a pillar can only hold anything up if it’s strong and holding together itself. Think about a highway ramp, like in the graphic here. Would you really trust yourself to drive on it if you looked underneath and saw that the pillars were all crumbling and falling apart?

Or, even if they were just surrounded by garbage and covered in spray paint, what would that tell you about how important this stretch of road was? And this is why all these instructions matter. Because we have the great responsibility to hold up the truth of the gospel for the world to see.

And the only church that will be able to successfully uphold the truth of the gospel without wavering or crumbling to pressure is a church that is rightly ordered, led by qualified elders and served by qualified deacons, where men and women know their proper roles and live them out joyfully, where false teaching is dealt with properly, and where God’s people together pray and work for the salvation of the nations.

Without those things in place, it’s going to crumble. And that’s why it’s so foolish to hear people say, “Really? In 2019, with so much stuff going on in our world, the gospel under attack, you think it’s important for us to talk about the roles of men and women, let alone be so firm on a traditional position?”

And the answer is yes. Because if we budge on that issue, if the pillar starts to crumble at that spot, we will no longer be able to bear the weight of the gospel.

Think of it this way. The Bible’s teaching on the roles of men and women might be offensive to some people in our world today, but it’s not nearly as offensive as the message that Jesus Christ is the only truth, every other religion in the world is wrong, and that all people—no matter how good or religious they think they’ve been—are headed for an eternity under God’s judgement in hell unless they repent and believe in King Jesus.

So if a church can’t stand firm on the roles of men and women, there’s no way it’s going to be able to stand firm on the gospel, long term. Because it’s like we’re allowing the world to chip away at the pillar with their hammers and pickaxes. Eventually the pillar is going to crumble. And history proves this point again and again. If the lighter stuff makes you crumble, the heavier stuff will make you collapse.

So that’s why all of this matters. We’re a pillar of the truth. And the only church that will be able to take the pressure of displaying, declaring and defending the gospel is a well-ordered church that heeds and obeys the instructions we’ve been studying here in 1 Timothy.

A Well-Run Household

Now that could be the message right there. But there’s actually two more descriptions for the church contained here in verse 15. Each one carries with it another set of reasons for why our behaviour in the church matters. So if that first reason, of being a pillar of the truth, doesn’t cut it for you, here’s two more.

Verse 15 tells us that the church is “the household of God.” We’ve heard a bit about households already in this chapter—how elders and deacons had a responsibility to keep their households in order (1 Timothy 3:4, 5, 12). And here we discover that the church is God’s household.

And the implication is that God wants His household to be kept in order. To be well-run and well-managed. For His children to be submissive and follow His instruction on these matters.

We can never forget that God has chosen us and saved us and made us a part of His household by grace and grace alone. But once we are in this household, we should not expect it to be a free-for all. There are standards and expectations and order in His household. And this is a second reason for why our behaviour matters in the church. We’re the household of God. And we should listen to our Dad.

Assembly of the Living God

Finally, verse 15 tells us that the church is “the church of the living God.” This phrase is really interesting, because it’s actually only one of two times that the word “church” itself is used in the Pastoral Epistles.

So let’s pause for a moment and consider what this word “church” even means. It’s translated from the Greek word ἐκκλησία, which means “assembly.” A congregation or group of people who have assembled together.

This word “church” or “assembly” would have been very familiar to many in the Ephesian church, because it’s used 75 times in the Greek Old Testament, very often to describe the gathering or assembling of God’s people. It’s used in our call to worship passage this morning, where we read “congregation.”

So it really helps to know that this is what the word “church” means. And this is actually one of the reasons why even though we’re a little tight for space on many Sundays, we’re talking about expanding our building instead of going to two services. Because if we were to have two services, what we’d really have is two gatherings. Two different assemblies. Which seems to be, by definition, two churches, because that’s just what the word means.

And we’re not all that interested in becoming Emmanuel Baptist Churches. And as a Baptist who believes in the autonomy of the local church, I have questions about just how biblical that approach really even is, especially long-term.

But “church” just means “assembly.” And we are the assembly of the “living God.” This phrase would have been meaningful to the Ephesians, who had a big temple to the goddess Artemis in their city. And unlike Artemis and all of her idols, our God is the living God who actually works and moves among His gathered people.

And this again speaks to the importance of how the church is structured and ordered. These are not about rules and traditions. They are about divine mandates coming from the God who is alive and among us. The stakes are high and so should be our standards.

Some Reflections

So as we step back and reflect on this rich and deep truth, I want to encourage us with three applications for us as a church. If all of this is true, then I want to suggest three characteristics that we need to pursue in order to keep and fulfill our mission as a church

1) First, we must be faithful to our mission. We need to stay true. Pillars and buttresses only do their jobs when they don’t move.

Here in the Western world we place a high value on the latest thing. And in the church we tend to get really excited about things that are new and fresh. But if we understand our role as a pillar and foundation of the truth, we should see that faithfulness is far more important than creativity.

I’m not suggesting that creativity is automatically bad, or that we should try to be boring or stuck in tradition. But we must stay faithful to our mission and the truths we’ve been instructed to uphold. We have to be rock-solid when it comes to the truth. We can’t budge on our core commitments, no matter how difficult that becomes. We can’t afford to loose focus on our central mission. We must be faithful to the truth of the gospel.

2) Two, we have to take responsibility for our mission. And here’s what I mean by that. This passage tells us that the organization on planet earth responsible to declare and display and defend the gospel is not Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. Or the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. It’s the local church. It’s us. And we’re not allowed to give that job away to others.

Now I’m not knocking guys like Ravi Zacharias. He is such a gift to the church. But that’s just it. He’s not there to defend the truth for us. He’s a gift from God to help us fulfill our mission.

This really ties back into last week’s message, doesn’t it? Ministry has been given to all of us. And it’s my job as a pastor to equip you to display and defend and declare the gospel in your life and with the people that you know.

One small way I’ve done that recently is with our website. I’ve put a permanent link on the home page to something that walks you through the gospel message step by step. It’s a place you can point people towards as you talk to them about the gospel. Or even better yet, it’s a great way to be equipped to tell them the gospel yourself.

Promoting and protecting the gospel is a responsibility we all share.

3) There’s a third idea here that might not be so obvious as the first two, but it’s this. We must pursue excellence in our life together as a church.

Another way of putting it it this: if we’re the household of God, if we’re the assembly of the living God, if we’re a pillar and buttress of the truth, we have no excuse for sloppiness or laziness or carelessness.

We see this repeatedly in the Old Testament. God detests careless, sloppy worship. (See Malachi 1:6-14, for example.) He has high standards. And this didn’t change when Jesus died on the cross for us. Hebrews chapter 12 says, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28–29).

“Acceptable worship” has nothing to do with a slick, professional, concert-style Sunday service. But is also has nothing to do with a careless, sloppy approach either.

We are a pillar of the most glorious truth in the universe. We are the household of God. It is the living God who walks among us as we gather. And He is a consuming fire and, we should bring Him acceptable worship with reverence and awe.

I know many people in recent years who have left Evangelical churches to join Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches because they were so fed up with how casual everything was and they were so drawn to the majesty and the awe and the reverence they encountered in those churches.

And it’s so sad, because so many of those people have gone to a place where the pillar looks beautiful but there’s no gospel truth on top.

But we do know and believe in the gospel. And so let’s heed the words of Hebrews 12 and bear witness to the majesty of the gospel with worship that is full of reverence and awe. And this is about so much more than our Sunday service. It’s about everything we do as a church. It’s about our whole lives being lived out with the serious joy of God’s presence and glory.

Once again, this is not about being perfect. We have lots of grace for messy people. But we want to be a place where messy and broken people have an encounter with the living God and His great gospel. We don’t want to distract from that by our own carelessness.

So we’re going to end by singing that song again. “Come, Behold the Wondrous Mystery.” This is the truth we are a pillar of. This is the message we must declare and defend and display. Let’s ask the Lord to help us love and cherish this wondrous mystery today and always so that we might do this well.

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