Way of Life Literature
Publisher of Bible Study Materials
Way of Life Literature
Publisher of Bible Study Materials
1 Timothy 3:15 - The New Testament Church
1 Timothy 3: 15 - “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
This is a foundational passage about the church with far-reaching implications. It teaches the pre-eminence of the church in God’s plan. It teaches that the church is the headquarters for Christ’s Great Commission.
The church is to be operated according to God’s Word (“that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God,” v. 15).
- The Greek word for “behave” (anastrepho) is also translated “conversation” (2 Co. 1:12; Eph. 2:3).
- The church, being God’s house, is to operate by God’s ordinances as revealed in Acts and the New Testament Epistles. If someone visits your house, he is expected to conduct himself by your rules and not do whatever he pleases. Man has never had the authority to make a different kind of church than the church that is revealed in Scripture. To operate the church by human thinking and tradition is a great evil; it is no small thing. But this rebellion began even in the first century and increased through the centuries, resulting in a steady stream of apostate “churches.”
- Church leaders are responsible to make sure that God’s will is done in the church, and they will give account to God for how things are conducted.
- Church members are responsible to conduct themselves according to God’s Word. Church membership is a serious business. It is not something to be taken casually. It is not like membership in a social club. Church membership is only for true disciples of Jesus Christ, and they stand accountable to Him. Christ addressed the churches’ members in Revelation 2-3, and He dealt sharply with those who were walking disorderly. See Re. 2:4-5, 14-16, 20-23; 3:2-3, 15-19. Church members who walk disorderly and do not repent are to be disfellowshipped (Mt. 18:15-20; 1 Co. 5; 2 Th. 3:6; 1 Ti. 6:3-5). They are in danger of sickness and death (1 Co. 11:27-32).
The church is “the house of God” (1 Ti. 3:15).
- Under the law of Moses, the house of God was the tabernacle (1 Ch. 6:48) and later the temple in Jerusalem (2 Ch. 3:3). Today the house of God is the church.
- In the context, this clearly refers to the assembly with pastors and deacons. It does not refer to a “universal church,” nor does it refer to a Bible study or prayer meeting. The difference between a New Testament church and a Bible study or prayer meeting is qualified leadership and biblical organization, meaning that it operates according to the rules set forth in the New Testament (e.g., discipline, 1 Co. 5) and it is devoted to the fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20). We see this in 1 Timothy and Titus, which were written to set in order the things that are lacking in the churches (Tit. 1:5).
- That the church is the house of God means the church belongs to God. It is God’s possession. This is emphasized by the repetition (“the house of God, the church of the living God”).
- That the church is the house of God means it is the most famous and important house on earth. Throughout the world, tourists clamor to see the houses of famous people both living and dead, such as George Washington and Bill Gates. But without doubt, God’s house is the most important! Recently a report was published listing the richest people in every country, but that is a short-sighted report. Actually, the richest people in every country are those who are joint heirs with the Son of God!
- That the church is the house of God means this is where God’s business is conducted. It is the headquarters of world evangelism, which is the great program that Christ commanded and emphasized after He rose from the dead (Mt. 28:18-20; Mr. 16:15; Lu. 24:44-48; Joh. 20:21; Ac. 1:8). In the book of Acts, it is the churches that fulfill this great work (Ac. 13-14). The church should, therefore, be at the center of every believer’s life. How can I say that I love and honor God, if I don’t love His house in the sense of being committed and engaged and faithful?
- The church as the house of God means that it is to be operated by His laws. When I visit a man’s house, I am expected to follow his rules. Men have no authority to act as they please in the church. Everything must be done according to God’s will as set down in Scripture, the sole authority for faith and practice in the church. We don’t want an American church or a British church or a Chinese church; we want a biblical church!
- The church as the house of God means that it is only for God’s children. It is necessary to be born again to be qualified to be a church member, as we see in the example of the first church (Ac. 2:41-42). Haste and carelessness about church membership turns God’s house into a mixed multitude, which is confusion. This is the most fundamental cause of apostasy. The church is always one generation away from spiritual destruction if the door is not guarded by the principle of a regenerate church membership.
- The church as the house of God describes the church as a family. The church is where the people of God are loved, protected, nurtured, educated, developed, disciplined. It is where they learn to know the Father through the Son. It is where they learn the will of the Father. It is the nursery for spiritual infants and the training school for spiritual warriors.
The church is “the church of the living God” (1 Ti. 3:15).
- He is the true and living God as opposed to dead gods. “Living” encompasses all that God is. The church is the possession of the God who is the source and sustainer of all life. He is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal, unchanging, unconquerable, utterly trustworthy.
The church is the “pillar and ground of the truth (1 Ti. 3:15).
- Truth is the church’s chief business. Nothing is more important and more valuable than truth in this dark world of lies. The truth is God’s Word (“thy word is truth,” Joh. 17:17). The truth is Christ (“I am the truth,” Joh. 14:6).
- Ground refers to the foundation, and pillar refers to the proclamation.
- Note that the pillar and ground of the truth is not a denomination or an interdenominational or parachurch organization or a university, etc. This great task is given to the New Testament church alone. “The Bible alone would not save the world. There must be an organization back of the Book, an organization that has in it the elements of perpetuity, otherwise the truth would go to pieces. If there was no competent body to exercise discipline, to insist upon the gospel elements of the truth in preaching, and to exercise jurisdiction over the preachers of that doctrine, then there would be all sorts of preaching, all sorts of doctrines, and there would be no conservation of the truth” (B.H. Carroll).
The church is “the ground of the truth.”
- Being the pillar is the chief business of the church, so it is mentioned first in this verse. What good is it for the church to be the foundation of the truth if it is not also the pillar of the truth to broadcast the truth to needy sinners? Bible study without evangelism is not God’s will.
- But since in practice the ground must precede the pillar, we will discuss the church as the ground first.
- The church is the ground of the truth by possessing the truth. God has delivered the truth to the New Testament churches, and this is where a man or woman must come if they want to find the truth. Christ promised that He would send the Spirit which would guide the apostles into all truth (Joh. 16:13). The apostles and prophets delivered the truth to the churches, and the churches received the truth (1 Th. 2:13). We see this process in 1 Co. 15:1-4, where Paul said he received the gospel from Christ, and he then delivered it to the churches. To possess the truth requires possessing the preserved Scripture, which shows the importance of the Bible text/version issue. We are convinced that the preserved truth is the Hebrew Masoretic and the Greek Received Text and accurate translations thereof. In English, the most perfect edition of truth is the King James Bible.
- The church is the ground of the truth by understanding the truth. It is not enough that the church possess the Word of God; it must understand it. The church should not merely have a Bible Institute; it should be a Bible Institute. It must train every believer to be an effectual Bible student and grow up every believer in the full knowledge of the truth. This begins with properly trained and qualified leaders who are the headmasters of God’s Bible Institutes. If the leaders are weak in doctrine and in knowledge of the Word of God, if they are not capable teachers, the church will not be the ground of the truth.
- The church is the ground of the truth by preserving the truth. The church preserves the Bible. The completed canon of Scripture has been placed into the hands of the churches to be kept. It is to be passed on from generation to generation by being committed to faithful men (2 Ti. 2:2). Each generation is to be taught to observe all things that Christ has commanded, which refers to the entire canon of Scripture (Mt. 28:20). The entire Book is the Word of Christ. The Old Testament was preserved by Israel (Ro. 3:2), particularly by the Levites (De. 17:9-13). The Jewish Masorete scribes kept every jot and tittle. They counted every letter on a page, and if they made a mistake they destroyed the whole page. The churches should care about God’s Word like this!
- The church is the ground of the truth by defending the truth. Compare Jude 1:3, “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.” Because there are many enemies of the truth, no position can be maintained without constant indoctrination and aggressive defense. It is said that “no position can be maintained with a campaign.” It is like a castle being attacked from every side. If the defenders do not watch one of the walls or towers, it will be taken from that side. The full New Testament faith is the church’s castle, and each doctrine of the faith is assailed by “doctrines of devils” (1 Ti. 4:1). The apostles give the example of defending the truth. We see them defending the truth against the Judaizers and false christs and false gospels and false spirits and gnostics and antinomians and many others. Again, this essential work of preserving the ground of the truth requires extensive and effectual Bible education. The church must be so well educated in Bible truth that it can maintain the truth against every error. Teaching, preserving, and defending truth are fundamentals. If the church does not hold onto the truth, if it is not zealous for the truth, and if the believers are not thoroughly grounded in the truth, if the truth is not defended against false teachers, none of the church’s other business can be accomplished.
- The church is the ground of the truth by good Christian living. Doctrinal orthodoxy is not enough. The truth must be demonstrated. Note in the following passage that blameless living is necessary to shining as lights in the world. “Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Php. 2:14-15). Verse 14 describes the church as the ground of the truth, and verse 15 describes the church as the pillar of the truth. This is the theme of Titus 2. The godly living described in that chapter is what “becomes sound doctrine” (Tit. 2:1). Every category of Christian is named: old men, old women, young women, young men, and servants. All are given their instructions about good Christian living, and it is this that causes the Word of God not to be blasphemed (Tit. 2:5). It is this that adorns the doctrine of God (Tit. 2:10).
- The church is the ground of the truth by discipline, which keeps the light of the gospel pure. We see this in 1 Co. 5:6-8. The church is to be a pure loaf of unleavened bread, and this requires discipline. If the church members live unrepentant wicked lives and aren’t disciplined, the church’s light becomes corrupt; the world cannot see the pure truth about Christ. I think of a church member who did not pay her debts, who did not pay her rent on time, and got into fistfights with unbelievers! She gave the church and the truth of Christ a bad name until she was disciplined for her sin.
- All of this is foundation work, groundwork. It is not a small task, and it is not something that can be done and then forgotten. It is a big and continual work. The church’s foundation must be deep and strong, and it must be maintained so that cracks do not appear and spread.
The church is also the pillar of the truth (1 Ti. 3:15).
- The church is the pillar of the truth to hold it up high before the world. The church is the pillar of truth by proclaiming God’s Word, by preaching the gospel. The church as the pillar of truth is the church as the candlestick of christ (Re. 1:20). To be the pillar of the truth is to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mr. 16:15). It is to “hold forth the word of life” (Php. 2:15). It is to be witnesses of Christ to all the earth (Ac. 1:8). It is to be “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Co. 5:20).
- The pillar is mentioned first, before the ground, though the ground or foundation is what upholds the pillar. The pillar is mentioned first by way of emphasis, and perhaps because often it is one of the first things to be left off of the church’s program.
- The church must be both the ground and pillar of the truth. As we have said, to be the ground of the truth is not enough. To know and love and preserve God’s Word is an essential business of the church, but it is not an end in itself. It is the foundation from which the Word of God is to be proclaimed to a needy world of lost and dying sinners. A church that focuses on Bible study for the saints but neglects the evangelization of the lost is a selfish and dying church. Likewise, it is not enough for a church to be the pillar of the truth while neglecting the ground. Some churches have emphasized evangelism and ignored serious Bible study and godly Christian living.
- In Paul’s day, the Romans built many great pillars as testimonies and memorials, such as Trajan’s Column in Rome which celebrated the Emperor Trajan’s victories in the Dacian Wars. It was 35 meters (115 feet or 11 stories) high. It featured relief carvings depicting various aspects of the wars, and it was topped by an image of Trajan. It was a proclamation, a witness, a message, an educational tool. Likewise, the church is to build a pillar proclaiming the glorious gospel to “whosoever will.” At the top of the church’s pillar is Jesus Christ. He is the one we are to hold up before the eyes of the world. The church’s main message is found in the verse following 1 Ti. 3:15 (“God was manifest in the flesh,” 1 Ti. 3:16).
- 1 Timothy 3:15 summarizes the church’s main business, which is Christ’s Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20). Churches must not get sidetracked to less important things, such as entertainment, sports, politics, and any type of social gospel. Other institutions in this world can do those things and do them better than the churches, but only sound churches can fulfill Christ’s Great Commission. Whenever churches get involved in social work in a big way, they compromise the truth. They accept the heresy of ecumenism and join hands with false teachers. They stop preaching the gospel. Consider World Vision. “In all World Vision projects, staff are ready to give a reason for their hope … WHENEVER APPROPRIATE AND DESIRED BY THE COMMUNITY. In many countries where we work, formal public evangelism is forbidden by government policy and we respect this.” We see that World Vision is committed to doing social work even apart from gospel preaching, which is nowhere supported by Scripture. We think, too, of the anti-abortion movement and how that it has often produced great compromise on the part of Bible believers when they have yoked together in ecumenical relationships with false teachers, which is forbidden by Scripture (e.g., Ro. 16:17-18; 2 Co. 6:14-18; 2 Ti. 3:5). In 1990, I heard Catholic priest Michael Scanlan, head of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Ohio, testify of being jailed for picketing an abortion clinic. He said the group of demonstrators--Catholics and Protestants--were placed in an armory and spent some days together. They had mass every morning; they said the rosary (which features prayers to Mary as Queen of Heaven) two or more times a day; they had a seminar on Marian theology and papal teaching. He said that some of the Protestant abortion protestors continued to say the rosary after they were released from incarceration. Ecumenical social work does not further the truth; it hinders it.