Have you gotten to see any of the Olympic Games over the last couple of weeks? To me the very most impressive part of the Games is the parade of the nations at the beginning and the end. Athletes from the various nations who are participating will come out in a group. The speaker will announce "The United States of America" and then one will carry the flag and lead the group around the stadium. It's quite a sight!
But it's nothing compared to the company Paul calls forth in our text. Rather than it being a certain nation from this earth, he refers to "the church of the living God." It is an amazing statement. Notice I Timothy 3:14-16. The apostle says, "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 truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory."
Focus in to start with that statement in verse 15 which refers to "the church of the living God." With that impressive statement, Paul calls attention to people, a certain group of people. We find out in Acts 2 that as the gospel of Jesus was proclaimed to people, and as they gladly received that good news of what God had done for us through his Son, they became obedient to that news by repenting and being baptized in the name of Christ. The Lord then added those people to his people and he continued to add to them day by day those who were being saved. These people are brought forth under this banner - church of the living God. These people are the church, the assembly of people that God purposed from eternity, according to Ephesians 3. He has purchased them at the tremendous price of the blood of his own son, according to Acts 20:28. These people are precious to him. And they are not merely the people of some dead idol. They are not merely a group of religious people. These people belong to the one Paul refers to as "the living God." What an impressive thought!
This passage then proceeds to describe for us some key facts about the church of the living God. It calls our attention to the nature of the church, and then it describes what must be the life of the church. Then it focuses our attention on the mission of the church - the church of the living God.
Think first of the nature of the church as it is described in this passage. Paul says that the church of the living God is "the household of God." The word that is translated "household" here is also, of course, one that is sometimes translated "house." There are two possible ways of taking the term - both of them true and both of them meaningful. On the one hand, the word can refer to the dwelling, to the structure, or to the building. It certainly is true that in the New Testament the church is thought of as the temple of God - the sanctuary of God. He dwells in his people, and that, of course, is a fact that causes us to respect the holiness of the church.
But the same term "house" may also refer to those who dwell within the structure, to the members of the household. In this passage, because the same word is used in verses 4 and 5 of this chapter to refer to an elder's household, and in verse 12 of the chapter to refer to a deacon's household, it seems best to take the word here as referring to the family, to the members of the household, to those who are a part of God's house. Again, this is a key thought in the New Testament with regard to the nature of the church. The church is God's family. In Hebrews 3:6 we discover that we are his household if we hold firm to our hope. In I Peter 4:17, the Bible describes the household of God as being us who obey the gospel of Christ. In Ephesians 2:19, those who are no longer strangers or aliens from the covenant people of God are now made to be members of God's household and fellow citizens with the saints. In Galatians 6:10, the church is the household of faith. In other words, those who share a common faith become a family in Christ Jesus, and they are, in fact, God's family.
That picture of the nature of the church is one which is so lovely that it thrills us with the privilege of being in the family. Stop and think about the implications of this picture. It is saying here that the church is people who stand in a father/child relationship with the living God. Our heavenly Father is the living God, the God of heaven - the one is immortal and unchangeable. That means that because we are his children we have the privilege of access into his presence where we can address him, "Abba Father" in just the way Jesus did. It means that we have the promise of living under his provision knowing that he will be a better provider for us than any earthly father could ever be. We know that we are subject to his rule. In fact, our purpose is to do his will. As God's children, we may come under his discipline. He may decide that for our good and for the development of our holiness, he will let us endure some things that are not easy for us. But we have the privilege of living as God's household.
The church as the household of God is a place where life is lived in a family setting. A congregation, a local church, is the household of God. Here in I Timothy 3 it is envisioned as a place where mature spiritual men oversee the household as stewards of God. It is a place where faithful men with diligence and zeal serve for the well being of God's household. There is no thought in this passage of claiming to be a child of God and not being involved as an active member of a local church.
And in this text we are reminded that life in the church involves family relationships, family-type relationships. In fact, in chapter 5, verses 1 and 2, Paul tells Timothy, "Do not rebuke an older man (Timothy was a younger man) but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters in all purity." That is the kind of interaction and the kind of fellowship that God requires in a congregation of his people. That is the way the Christian life is meant to be lived. The nature of the church is family, household.
That means that as a Christian I have to think of myself in relation to God's household. And there are some questions that I might ask of myself: If I were as involved in my own family, as I am in God's family, would my family survive? Does my family require more involvement from me or less involvement from me than God's family does? Sometimes we have to be confronted with that thought that our interests, our feeling of family and brotherhood in a congregation, is determined by our investment of time and self within that congregation.
Charles Hodge wrote sometime ago an article which is so challenging along this line. He said, "Interest is determined by investment. This is one of the obvious facts of life. You only save pictures involving self, friends, family. The reason is simple - investment. We don't go to PTA anymore, unless our grand kids invite us. Little league baseball was our Spring for years, but not anymore. Interest has always been determined by investment." What he is saying is that we went to these meetings, participated in these games when we had our kids invested in them. Now they don't mean much. And then he says, "The local church - this is all God knows and has! It is a blessing. This is why we have a congregational role. This is why we meet, have a budget, a program of work and service. Read Acts chapter 2 or Acts 4 or Acts 6. "Members have a primary accountability to the local church." Bro. Hodge says, "Weekending is killing the church. Some families are gone two or three Sundays every single month. They go to church. They run in and out but they are not responsible anywhere for teaching or giving or visiting or building up the attendance there..." Bro. Hodge observes, "Too many of us are investing too much in jobs, hobbies, recreation, and stuff. Then we wonder why we have little interest in the church. God will not accept crumbs, leftovers. So you drop out this service, then another, then you drop out of a work responsibility, then you cut your contribution, then you wonder why you have little or no interest. Spectators may have momentary excitement but never profound interest. The more time, money, effort you invest in the local church, the more interest you will have. I guarantee it." Now he is only calling attention to a basic fact of human nature. How then would my family do if I were as involved in it as I am in God's family?
A second question: "Would I say the things about my own family that I say about God's household?" It is astonishing at times how easily faithful Christians will say derogatory things about their own family of brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes statements made about one's own individual family indicate problems lying under the surface in that family, and they become self-fulfilling prophecies. We have seen too many families when couples have gotten to that "I don't care anymore" place, it shows first in what we say.
And then another question: "Would I show the kind of attitude toward my own family that I show toward God's family?" Those questions are drawn out by what Paul says about the nature of the church here.
A second theme that comes up in our text has to do with how one ought to behave in God's household. This has to do with the Christian life, with our conduct, with the way we live our lives. Paul says in verse 14 that he is writing this epistle so Timothy could know how one ought to behave in God's house. Again, he is not just talking about how we ought to walk around or how loud we should talk in the church building. He is talking about our behavior in God's family. The idea here seems to be that Paul knows that he has given Timothy quite a big job. He left Timothy at Ephesus, according to chapter 1, verse 4, in order to charge certain men not to teach a different doctrine. Timothy is a young man. There are opponents. There are difficulties. And Paul writes so that Timothy then can draw on the authority of the apostle Paul and what Paul had written to say to people, "This is how we are supposeD to live." In other words, Timothy is being given here the same responsibility that we have toward each other. That is, we can only take the authority of the Lord's word to find out how we ought to be behaving now. We take it; we read it; we compare ourselves to it, and hopefully we make the necessary corrections in our lives, or we receive strong encouragement to keep doing what it is it says to do in the text like this.
There is, then, a family way of life in the church of the living God. It is God's house, and he has exercised his right to say how we ought to behave in his house. There is, therefore, a behavior which should be found among members of God's family, and there is behavior which should not even be named in the church. In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul shows that our conduct as Christians is based on the nature of God, and it comes from submitting to the will of God. Listen to what he says: "Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children. And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us; a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness or foolish talk or crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving; for you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure or who is covetous (that is an idolater) has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." He calls on us then to walk as children of light in this passage.
In I Timothy this "how we ought to behave" has an even broader application. Paul writes in this great letter about what we are to teach, about what it is we believe, about what goes on in worship, about how the church should be organized, about what kind of ministry we should engage in, about the godliness that should be the main object and goal of our lives, and about the hope that we are trying to lay hold of. All of those things have to do with the life of the church.
Now if it is God's house and if he has the right to say how we ought to behave in his house, and if Paul wrote what he wrote here so we could know how God wants us to behave, there are certain implications again that I call your attention to. The first is that the church does not have the authority itself to say how one should conduct himself in God's house. If Paul the apostle is saying "I am writing so you can know how to behave in God's house," then the church is not the origin or the source of truth. The church does not decree or authorize anything. The church instead listens to truth that has been made known by the apostles and prophets of God who have written it down so that all of us can know how we ought to behave.
A second implication is that the individual Christian does not have the right to say what is right for him in the household of God. A political leader, a governor of one state, recently announced what was "true for him." If how God wants us to behave in his house is written and that is how we ought to behave, then none of us have the right to say "I feel this is how I should do," or "I feel this is my truth." We are still obligated to what the Lord has said.
And if this is written so that we can know how we ought to behave, then none of us should approach what has been written with the "it doesn't say not to" spirit. Paul doesn't say here, "I am writing so you will know what not to do." He says, "I am writing so you will know what to do, how you ought to behave." That is a very important difference in approach to the authority of the Lord's word. Here is the nature of the church - it is a family. Here is the life of the church - it's lived under the rule of God's will.
And then third, there is the mission of the church - the purpose of it. The church is the pillar and the ground of truth. Think of these three terms here. A "pillar" was a prop. In the great temple of Diana at Ephesus there were 127 amazing marble columns. Each column was a gift of a king, and many of these marble columns were studded with jewels or gems or precious metal. Pillars in that temple. Paul says you and I as members of the household of God are to work together to hold up the truth in that way.
Second, he says you are "the buttress" or "the ground" of truth. The American Standard footnote says "the stay" of the truth. Some suggest that the thought here is the foundation which keeps the building standing four square and intact. In other words, the church is not the origin of the truth but it supports it and it displays the truth and it holds it up. It is said that sometimes statues of people were set up on top of these columns to be displayed. That is the function of the church.
And "the truth" here in this passage is what is summarized in verse 16. It has to do with Jesus coming into the world with his victory over death, with his being preached in the nations, his being believed on, his present rule and glory. And all the implications of those great truths have been entrusted to us. Paul refers to "the faith" in this letter, to that which has been "deposited" to God's people for us to be good stewards of.
So here is the function of the church. One man wrote, "The church's duty is to hold up the truth in such a way that all men can see it. It is the church's duty to display and to demonstrate the truth." I go back to that great temple of Diana in Ephesus as an illustration of this. There is the time in Acts 19 when people who lived in that city could see that there hope of material profit was being lessened by the preaching of the gospel. So they seized what Christians they could, and then they all gathered together out in the middle of the city and for two solid hours they shouted at the top of their voice, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." That's how they held up their belief in Diana.
Paul is saying that you and I, the church, are to be the pillar and the support of the truth of Christ. How? Well, I Timothy says that we are to do it in teaching sound doctrine in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God (1:10-11). We are to do it by constant prayer for all people - people that God wants to be saved (2:1f). We are to do it by public worship in assemblies led by godly men and supported by gentle women who are adorned with good works. We are to do it in congregations that are overseen by spiritual men and are served by faithful deacons. We are to do it in relationships which are fitting for the household of God. We are to do it with godliness, with contentment in the lives of individuals who have their hope set on the living God. We are to do that by holding to that course for all of our days.
There is the nature, the conduct and the purpose of the church of the living God. The other night late I saw the ending of one of these races in the Olympics. This one fellow, an American runner, was not expected to get a medal, but he got right to the end of it and he stretched out and leaned forward, crossing the line inches ahead of two or three guys right next to him. That "laying hold" of the finish line, running all the way through is the way the church should approach things. In I Timothy 4:10 Paul said, "For to this end we toll and strive because we have our hope set on the living God who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe." In chapter 6:12, he tells Timothy, "Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you have made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses." And in chapter 6:19, "thus storing up treasure for themselves is a good foundation for the future so that they make take hold of that which is truly life." We want to urge you this morning to take hold of life, lay hold of it, keep hold of it all of your days.