1 Timothy 3:14-16
Life in the Local Church
The Purpose of the Local Church
Good Morning! Please grab your Bibles with me and turn to 1 Timothy chapter 3. IF you do not have a Bible, there are some on the back table designed to be our gift to you. We are continuing our series through 1 & 2 Timothy that we are calling, “Life in the Local Church.”
Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, who was pastoring the early church in Ephesus. And he wrote to encourage, challenge and instruct Timothy on how to deal with some of the issues in the local church. These letters ended up being Gods inspired Word about what the local church should look like.
As we finish up Chapter 3 here, Paul has, for now, finished talking about prayer, worship, and church offices and what those things look like in the local church. And for these couple of verses he is turning his attention to three very interconnected things. First, he will address why he is writing this letter to Timothy. Second, he will the purpose and mission of the local church. Last, he will give a poetic summation of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.
So, we will read this week’s text before we go any further. We will be reading 1 Timothy 3, verses 14-16. Ill be reading out if the English Standard Version though I encourage you to follow along in your preferred translation that you should have in your hands. Once again, 1 Timothy 3:14-16. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God Himself, writes holy scripture, telling Timothy:
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 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. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He[e] was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated[f] by the Spirit,[g]
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
And all his church says Amen!
You know what’s interesting to me? Gods perfect timing. Paul is writing a letter to Timothy. A letter that survived many, many years. A letter that was inspired by God to be the very Word of God. A letter that we now have written and copied in the Bibles you are holding in your hands. And he tells here why he wrote that letter.
Paul wanted to come and talk to Timothy in person. He was trying to come to him, but what Paul was telling Timothy was much too time critical to wait for Paul to physically get there. And in that time, there were no phones. Paul and Timothy couldn’t just call each other and talk about what’s going on. There was no email, no skype, no way at all of communicating except through face to face contact or via letter.
And this is what I want to point out here. If Paul had access to any of those other forms of communication, we would not have these letters in the Bible. We would have an incomplete scripture. There would have been no record of what Paul wrote to Timothy and we would not have Gods entire word to us today.
But God knew what he was doing, God had his perfect timing and orchestrated it so that Paul wrote this letter to Timothy and we know have the full council of God’s Word, infallible, inerrant, immutable, sufficient.
This is not todays big point, but someone may need not hear this. God orchestrates life in a way that brings glory to himself 2000 years later. You may think you should be doing something that you think would benefit the kingdom of God and bring glory to God, but he is closing that door and you can’t understand why. Trust him anyway. Paul wanted to go see Timothy but had to write this letter instead so that we could read it all these years later.
But, back to the text, the reason that Paul wants to go see Timothy is to share “how one ought to behave in the household of God.” This is the same idea that is behind the title of our series, “Life in the Local Church.” Paul has already mentioned prayer, worship, Church offices, the Glorious Gospel, church leaders, along with authority and submission.
Paul is going to transition back into talking about combatting the false teaching that is pervasive in the early churches back then, and in our churches today. But first, notice something else.
What is the church? Now, we all know the saying, “The church is the people, not the building.” And there is truth to that. The point is that the building is not something to be worshiped. The goal with that saying is that we don’t shirk our responsibility to live out the Gospel when we leave the church after Sunday mornings.
But Paul makes it clear here that the Church is the household of God. The Church is the local body of Christ, gathering, and fellowshipping, equipping the saints, teaching the Word of God, worshipping the one true Eternal God. Is there more than that as well? Of course. But it is never less than what Paul is saying. The church is the equal mixture and additions of the body itself, where we meet and us doing what God has called us to.
Now, of course, where we meet is not important. In church buildings, in local granges, community centers and halls, in houses across the world, in wide open spaces, in campgrounds, in parking lots, in big stadiums, wherever. Where we meet, as the body of Christ is the household of God, the church of the living God.
And the household of God, the church of the living God, is to be a pillar and a buttress of truth. Those words mean literally to provide support. The church is Gods chosen instrument to fight against the False Teaching in this world and to share and spread and teach the truth of the Gospel. RC Sproul writes that, “the truth of the Gospel is found in and sustained by Gods Church.”
So, Paul is doing two things here. He is showing us how important it is to know how to live and how to act in the local church, the household of God. And that’s why we see these instructions on what prayer and worship should look like. That’s why we see the restrictions and qualifications on who is to lead and have authority in the local church. Paul is not trying to be a micromanager. He is not trying to be a control freak. He is saying, this is important because this is how God designed it and this is His house!
That’s why Paul will always teach and affirm justification by grace through faith in Christ alone. That works play no part in our salvation in any way shape or form. But he will also in his letters, often talk about the way to live rightly, follow the commands and directions of God, to live by the moral law that God has passed down. Because that is how we are to live and act in the household of God. It’s a respect thing. It’s a part of our worship. Our entire lives, everything we do, think and speak are, whether we want them to be or not, an act of worship. It may be worship to the living God, or it may be worship to the gods of this world, but it is worship.
Second, Paul is showing us how important it is to have right teaching, right doctrine, right understanding of the Word of God. He is showing where that truth comes from and what our role in it is. We are to provide support for the truth that goes out from amongst us. This is why Paul started out so strong against the false teaching that is going on in Ephesus. And this is why he will be talking against the false teaching again coming up.
One of the things we can take from this is that we need to be in a local church for us to be able to stand against the false teaching. The church body, the local church, is a pillar and buttress of the truth. If we are not a part of a local church, we are isolated from the truth.
Watching preachers on TV or listening to them online or on the radio, if they are biblically solid, can be a great resource for growing our knowledge in the LORD. I will caution you that many who are on TV or on the radio are indeed NOT biblically sound. But ones that are can be a great resource. However, if that is the extent of your “Church participation,” you are in grave danger of being led astray from the truth.
The same thing is the case if you are a part of a church that is to far away. I’ve heard of pastors and their families who “pastor” churches that are over 50 miles away from where they live. If you live that far away, you can’t shepherd the flock. You are a weekly guest speaker at that point. And the congregation doesn’t have any one they can go to when they need to.
This is, of course, not to say that you have to go to whatever church is the closest to you geographically. First off, that would be incredibly legalistic and second, its not practical. Just because a church is closest, doesn’t mean its is a Bible believing, Gospel preaching church. They might differ from you on important things. Sadly, they may differ from you on core things as well. But you should be a part of a local church, where you can be involved and a part of the body.
Being a part of the local church helps people know you, see your life, see your wins and your struggles, and help to stay out of the crevices of sin that temptation brings. And the Local church helps people know you so that they can help guard against the influence of false teaching. If all your biblical input is coming from the guys on TV, you will be susceptible to falling for false teaching and for allowing false teachers to define your theology. With no one to correct and counteract false teaching we are all able to be deceived.
The local church, providing discipleship, fellowship, protection against false teaching and teaching truth is, second only to the Bible itself, the most important thing we can actively do to mature and grow in Christ Jesus.
Listen to what Ligon Duncan says about the local church from this passage:
Paul is saying that the local church is the place that God has appointed to be essential to the propagation and protection of the truth in the world. Paul’s saying there can be no “Lone Ranger Christianity.” You can’t be off on your own–you Jesus, and your Bible–and expect for the truth to prosper in your life. We need one another as believers. We need one another as encouragement, we need to see one another’s lives. We need to see the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of other believers, to encourage us to love and good deeds. We need to be saying the word to one another, memorizing the word with one another, hearing the word of God together, serving the word of God together. Together the church serves as the pillar and support of the truth, in the sense that it is essential, it is God’s essential vehicle for evangelism, for discipleship, for missions, for the defense of the faith. Paul is just pointing out that the church is absolutely crucial. It is vital in preserving and propagating the gospel. It is the local church, Paul is saying, where God meets especially with His people in the New Covenant era, and it is the local church which is the essential instrument through which God propagates His truth.
So many people today miss the importance of the local church. Of sitting under sound teaching and authority, of the accountability, of the understanding and proclaiming of the Truth!
And Paul shares with us that very truth that we are to proclaim as he writes to Timothy:
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He[e] was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated[f] by the Spirit,[g]
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.
This is the truth that the local church is to stand and to proclaim and to protect. The mystery of Godliness. The mystery of the gospel. This mystery that I mentioned last week. The mystery that we heard during the scripture reading early from Ephesians 3.
God shared the Gospel all the way back in Genesis 4, right after the fall. The people of the Old Testament knew that there was a savior, a messiah coming. God promised it. And they had some insight, through the Prophets who spoke the Word of God, what that savior would look like, who that messiah would be. But overall it was a mystery to them.
When Christ arrived, it was no longer a mystery, but was revealed. At first, it was revealed in part, during Jesus’ earthly ministry, then revealed in full after his resurrection and ascension.
Paul writes to the Colossians, chapter 1, verses 25-28:
I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Paul has said that the mission of the local church is to stand for and protect the truth. And he says in that passage in Colossians his mission is to the local churches, to make sure that they know and make known the full Word of God and that they known and share the revealed mystery, Christ in you.
And that’s how Paul ends this section with the revel of what that mystery was and what the truth is that we are to stand firm on. Many speculate that this poetic waxing of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ is an early Christian hymn.
Paul lists 6 truths about Christ that we are to proclaim and protect. First, Christ was manifested in the flesh. This is his incarnation. Jesus, eternally God from eternity past, 2nd part of the trinity, was made man, put on flesh and is fully God and fully man.
Second, he was vindicated by the Spirit. I’ve seen this taken to refer to either the resurrection, where as the Holt Spirit, fully God, vindicated Jesus, declaring him righteous, innocent and not guilty of any sin, or about his baptism, where the Holy spirit, in the form of a dove descended upon him and vindicated the start of his earthly ministry.
Third, Jesus was seen by the Angels. This is in reference to his ascension. Jesus Christ physically, literally died on the cross and was buried. He was physically, literally brought back to life. He was dead, then he was alive. After that, we see recorded in the beginning of the book of Acts that Jesus, back alive again, did not die again, instead he ascended into Heaven, and where He is now, we will see in the last statement.
Fourth, after his ascension, we see that Jesus disciples went out into the world and proclaimed this very truth. The same truth that we are tasked and blessed with continuing to spread throughout the world. The book of Acts is a record of how the Apostles first began spreading the Gospel.
Fifth, the Gospel was believed throughout the world. And that is one of Gods promises. We spread the seed; he will give the growth. Where the pure, simple Gospel is preached, people will be believing. Paul writes in Romans that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. That is how God has chosen to pour out his grace.
Lastly, Jesus was taken up in glory. When he ascended, he was then seated at the right hand of the Father. Christ is reigning in Heaven and is waiting for his return. He is exalted and worshipped and exactly where he is deserved to be.
One of Paul’s points is that we would do well to remember theses things. These are truths that false teachers will deny or twist. These are the truths that we are to protect. These are the truths that will guide us in how to behave in the household of God.
When we have trouble dealing with stuff, or getting frustrated with certain situations or circumstances, when we want to throw in the towel or take things into our own hands, we would do well to remember these things.
And when we hear something go against these things, we would do well to speak up. Paul will pick back up with the false teachers next week, but right now, here today. This is the truth. This is Christ. This is the mystery revealed. Let us remember and rest in that. Let us remember and rest in Him.
I leave you with the very words of Jesus himself, from Matthew 11:25-30:
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.[g] 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”