A meditation on 1 Timothy 3:14-15a
In establishing a new congregation that is Biblical, you need a manual on how to start and nurture a church. I tell you there are books on church planting out there but none of those is as comprehensive and Scriptural compared with the letters of Paul to Timothy and Titus. So if you want to start right on target, these letters serve as faithful guide or manual on church planting.
These letters of Paul tell us not so much on what kind of strategies work. But they help in selecting the right leaders who would serve as officers of the church and in teaching the people the things they ought to know and the things they ought to do in the church.
When we started the Reformed congregation in Davao City back in 2000, we also didn’t know what to do. Thank God that we have His Word to guide us, especially the three letters of Paul to his young fellow ministers who served as pastors in two new different congregations. These letters, known as Pastoral Epistles, served as manual for new inexperienced leaders in fulfilling their task of setting the new congregation in order.
1 Timothy is especially relevant because Paul wrote this letter to a young and less experienced co-worker whom he left in Ephesus with a mandate to promote order to the Ephesian church. Though the circumstances surrounding the letter were different from the situation we are in, the instructions of Paul here are very insightful and relevant to us. We can learn from these epistles what the church is and how church people should conduct themselves.
The verses we're focusing on is considered by some scholars to be the very heart of this letter. So as we look at these verses, we're right at the center of this epistle. What Paul writes in this letter are basic teachings on the doctrine and life of the church. We need to be reminded with these essential things ourselves.
In this section, Paul particularly reminds Timothy why believers ought to behave in a certain way in the church. He tells us that our conduct ought to match with our identity as the church.
If we have a low view or even a wrong view, of the church, we won't care how people conduct themselves in the church. We won't care about its office-bearers, its worship, or its doctrines. But if you and I have a Scriptural view of the church, as Paul presents here, then we will be very concerned about the conduct of the people and the organization of the church.
So what is the church according to Paul in 1 Timothy 3:14-16? Paul presents three pictures of the church here, and I'd like to unfold these pictures as we try to develop an understanding of why Paul even cares about the church. We are given here three related descriptions. First, the church is the household of God; second, the church is of the living God; and third, the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth.
My focus in this article is to show that the church is THE HOUSEHOLD OF GOD (vv.14-15a).
The church in Ephesus, where Paul left Timothy, was far from being perfect. Not only that, Timothy, the young pastor of the church and Paul's representative, didn't always have the boldness necessary to confront those who needed confronting. There were false teachers within the church. It was far from the place it should have been, and yet it still was the church.
Paul says in vv.14-15a, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing you these things so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.” Here we see not only the reason for the letter, but it also gives the theological basis for it. Its basic message is that order is necessary for the church, precisely because of what the church is.
Now I want you to note that Paul is especially thinking of the local assembly of Christians in Ephesus when he uses the word church here. What he says, of course, applies to every Christian church, and in some measure applies to the universal church. But he's especially thinking of the gathered people of God. So God's church is first of all the household of God.
Before we try to understand the meaning of the phrase “household of God” note also what Paul is saying. He says, “I am writing you these things.” What are “these things”? Well, it seems that “these things” could be referring to the things he's just written about in chapter 3, about office bearers of the church, i.e., elders and deacons, and their qualifications (vv.1-13).
However, Paul could also be referring to the entire epistle. And it seems likely that here Paul is speaking of the entire purpose of his letter. And what is that purpose? That you and I will know how to act or behave in the local church. At the heart of Paul's concern in writing about all these things is that the local church would live in light of a wondrous truth.
And what is that truth? He tells you right here in v.15. It is the truth that the local church is the household of God. Now “household” is translated by some Bible versions as being a house, or as referring to a building. That is possible, especially in light of what Paul is about to say about the church being a pillar and foundation (v.15).
In that case, the church is portrayed as the place where the living God dwells. So let us be reminded that every time we gather together for worship, God is among us. That tells us a lot how we should conduct ourselves in the presence of God. I ask you, how would you behave if our president is among us? For sure children would sit straight and listen to him when he speaks. How much more when the King of all kings, is among us! And indeed He is with us, or should we say, we are in His presence in worship. We are in His presence and He speaks to us in His Word. So we better pay attention.
But it seems that the idea of the church as the household of God, that is, as a family of God, is also in mind here, especially that Paul is talking about behavior, which entails relation-ship. So we may say that the church is both the house of God and the household of God.
Do you realize how important it is to bear in mind that we are God's household, that we are His family? Each of us is a member with God's family – children and adult, we are part of God’s family. You and I are God's children by faith in Jesus Christ. And because of that, you and I belong to each other. We need one another as believers. We can't live as “Lone Ranger” Christians. We need one another's encouragement. We need to correct each other and we need to learn to resolve our conflicts together in Christian love. We need to be committed to each other even if sometimes we disagree on certain issue. Commitment to remain faithful to the Lord and each other is necessary as members of God’s household.
So how involved are you in the lives of the other family members? Do you even know their names? How much time do you spend in knowing each other, in praying for one another, in studying the Word together, in serving one another and in praising God together?
God wants you to appreciate the glory of the local fellowship of believers. And so dear brothers and sisters, it's so important that we pause and think. Because in the fellowship of believers, just like in any family, we get irritated with one another and we get irritated about things with our church. And that irritation or frustration with other family members, if not properly dealt with, sidetracks our attention from the essential things that the local church does.
And it causes us to undervalue the glory of what we have together as the assembled saints of God – things like meeting with God, experiencing His presence, giving Him praise, hearing His word, growing in grace under the means of grace together.
Paul is saying we need to appreciate the fellowship and communion of the saints. He is saying that all of “these things,” may they be qualifications of the church leaders or the practical instructions in this letter, won’t make sense, won’t grip our heart until we realize we are the place where God meets. We are the dwelling place, the house and the household of God.
We are God's family. Everywhere Bible-believing and Christ-exalting Christians gather Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, committed to one another in membership in a local congregation, there God dwells. And Paul wants us to realize that this local church is glorious in ways that we seldom appreciate. But once we do, we learn to live and act as the house and household of God.