Another meditation on 1 Timothy 3:15-16

The Apostle Paul says, “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, the pillar and [foundation] of the truth.” After saying that the church is the household of God and of the living God, Paul concludes that the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth.

You know what, right at the heart of Ephesus was the place of the temple to the goddess Artemis (or Diana), which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (cf. Acts 19:26-27). It had 127 pillars around it. Each pillar, about 18 meters tall, was a gift of a king. All of them were made of marble, and some were covered with jewels and overlaid with gold. The function of the pillars was not just decoration but also to hold up the immense roof.

Most probably Paul is alluding to these pillars of Artemis' temple when he says that the church is the pillar and foundation which holds up God’s truth. Let's deal with this, by noting first of all what this description of the church cannot mean.

The church as the pillar of truth cannot mean that the church creates truth. The church is a gathering of people called and saved by God out of the world. Even though saved, the people of God do not have the power or authority to create truth. So we do not create or produce the truth; we hear it, and by the Spirit's power we obey it, defend it and preach it. The church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” not in the production of truth, but in the proclamation and presentation of truth.

The expression “pillar and foundation” is also suggestive of strength – and the Lord's church, as it ought to be, should be strong in the presentation and proclamation of truth. No institution; no group of people should be stronger than the church in the matter of proclaiming and presenting the truth.

And what is this truth? Or better, who is this truth? No other than our Lord Jesus Christ who said, “I am the way, THE TRUTH, and the life.” He is the Lord of the church and the head of the church, as Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians.

As God's church you vigorously preach the truth, especially in this pulpit. You preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. As members of the Lord's church you also proclaim the truth, defend it, and support those who proclaim it ... You proclaim the truth as you teach the truth in your respective home, in the Bible study and Sunday school classes, and as you worship according to the truth. There is this strength so significant and intense, it can be said the church is the “Pillar and Foundation” of the truth.

Every church, Paul is saying, is responsible to support and bolster up the teaching that has been delivered to us. Every church is to be a strong bulwark of the gospel against the assaults of false teachers. And Timothy was dealing some of these false teachers in the Ephesian church.

It has been observed that Christian doctrines are not very popular in many churches these days. But Bible doctrines are what we as the church are called to proclaim and defend. It’s the deposit that’s been given to us for safeguarding.

John MacArthur writes, “Churches that tamper with, misrepresent, depreciate, relegate to secondary place, or abandon biblical truth destroy their only reason for existing and experience impotence and judgment.”

And what is the truth we’re called to proclaim and guard? What should be our focus? Nothing but the apostolic doctrine – the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In verse 16, we have what scholars call an early Christian creed or hymn that contains the gospel in a nutshell. It’s not the whole gospel but it tells us who Jesus Christ is. It contains six truths about Jesus Christ.

By the way, Paul emphasizes the person and work of Christ a lot in 1 and 2 Timothy. You know why? Probably because it was a doctrine under great attack.

You’ll notice in verse 16 that what is about to be said is “the mystery of godliness” which is great and is commonly confessed. “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness...” In other words, it's a common creed, a common confession of faith, of the early believers. Every point of this creed is true. They’re beyond dispute.

It is called “the mystery of godliness” not because it is something that is mysterious in the sense that no one knows it or understands it or because it is mystical. Rather, it really means something that was once hidden and has now been revealed. And the question is not “what is this mystery?” but “WHO is this mystery?” Verse 16 tells us that it is Jesus Christ, the true revelation of godliness – and He has been revealed to us in the pages of the Holy Scripture.


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