The Family of Faith: Who We Are and What We Do
The Family of Faith: Who We Are and What We Do66
The Family of Faith: Who We Are and What We Do (1 Timothy 3:14-4:16)
Main Idea: The church is God's household, and it is charged with living in accord with and upholding the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- Who We Are (3:14-16)
- The significance of the church
- We are the expression of God's family.
- We are the dwelling place of God's presence.
- We are the guardians of God's Word.
- The awe-inspiring reality: God dwells among us!
- The supremacy of Christ
- He reveals the mystery of godliness.
- He displays the majesty of God.
- Manifested in the flesh
- Verified by the Spirit
- Praised among the heavens
- Proclaimed across the earth
- The Savior of all the world
- The King over all the universe
- The awe-inspiring reality: Christ lives within you!
- The significance of the church
- What We Do (4:1-16)
- We detect error in the church.
- The Source
- Demonic teachings
- Deceptive teachers
- The Substance
- They deny the goodness of God.
- They distort the Word of God.
- The Source
- We declare truth in the church.
- Teach with authority.
- Live with purity.
- Train for eternity.67
- We detect error in the church.
Despite the importance of the church in the New Testament, and especially in a passage like 1 Timothy 3:14-16, this crucial doctrine is sadly neglected today. In his book The Church: The Gospel Made Visible, pastor Mark Dever writes about this disturbing trend:
For too many Christians today, the doctrine of the church is like a decoration on the front of a building. Maybe it's pretty, maybe it's not, but finally it's unimportant because it bears no weight.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The doctrine of the church is of the utmost importance. It is the most visible part of Christian theology, and it is vitally connected with every other part. (Dever, The Church, ix)
Unfortunately, Dever's assessment seems all too accurate. The church appears to be irrelevant or optional for many professing Christians today. After all, why bother with the Sunday morning crowds? We can simply download the latest sermon from our favorite pastor or author and—voila!—we can have church in the comfort of our own home. But is this really what God intended?
Many professing Christians may be surprised to hear that Scripture gives us a much higher view of the church. Christ founded the church (Matt 16:18-19), He died for the church (Eph 5:25), and He identifies intimately with it (Acts 9:4-5). He even calls the church His own bride (John 3:29) or His body (Eph 5:30). Our current passage, 1 Timothy 3:14-16, also speaks to the high value God places on the church. God has given His people the privilege and responsibility of living in accord with and upholding the truth of the gospel.
Who We Are
Who We Are
1 Timothy 3:14-16
Here near the end of the third chapter, we come to the theme verse that frames the entire letter. Paul tells us explicitly the reason he is writing, and in the process he gives us a purpose statement supporting the significance of the church and a summary of the supremacy of Christ.
First, observe the significance of the church. Three descriptions of the church are given in this passage followed by one awe-inspiring reality. The first description of the church is this: we are the expression of God's family. We are His household, His family unit, His children.68 My own household includes a wife, three sons, and a daughter. And my household operates according to my rules, at least theoretically. Children go to bed at a certain time, they act a certain way at the dinner table, they treat their mother a certain way, they respond to me in a certain way, and on and on. So in verse 15 when Paul tells us we are God's household, he's letting us know we are to operate under God's rules and God's direction. The book of 1 Timothy should encourage us as the children of God to come before our Heavenly Father and say, "How should we behave?" We are, after all, His family.
Second, as the church, we are the dwelling place of God's presence. We are, according to verse 15, "the church of the living God." Language like this would have taken first-century Jewish Christians and those familiar with the Scriptures immediately back to Jacob's meeting with God at Bethel (which literally means "house of God"). After encountering God in a dream about a stairway to heaven, Jacob exclaimed, "Surely the Lord is in this place.... What an awesome place this is! This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven" (Gen 28:16-17; emphasis added). We hear something similar in God's instructions to Moses concerning the building of the tabernacle: "They are to make a sanctuary for Me so that I may dwell among them" (Exod 25:8). The same thing was also said about the temple built by Solomon (1 Kgs 6:13). God chose to dwell in a particular location.
When we turn to the New Testament, a change takes place. There is no special city, no tabernacle, and no temple (building) where God dwells. Instead, God now dwells with His people. Paul said to the church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 6:16, "For we are the sanctuary of the living God," and to the church at Ephesus he wrote, "You also are being built together for God's dwelling in the Spirit" (Eph 2:22). Did you catch that? We are the dwelling place for the living God!
The church, the corporate body of Christ followers, is the place where God lives and dwells and manifests His presence. Consider how significant this makes our weekly gatherings: the church gathers and the Lord, the living God, is among us. We are His house, worshiping in His presence, listening to His Word, and partaking of the elements at His table. How awesome is the privilege of being the dwelling place of God's presence!
A third significant aspect of the church emerges in verse 15: we are the guardians of God's Word. That's what Paul meant when he said that we are "the pillar and foundation of the truth." When you think69 of a pillar and a foundation, imagine the temple of Diana in Ephesus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It had a massive, shining, marble roof held high with one hundred strong columns all around it, each measuring over 18 meters high (Stott, Message, 105). The church at Ephesus to whom Paul wrote would have easily been able to picture this in their minds.
This rock-solid image should characterize the church's guardianship of the truth of God's Word. Consider two ways in which this should manifest itself. First, the church has the privilege and responsibility of preserving God's Word: we hold it firm. From age to age, from generation to generation, we have the responsibility of passing this Word on, holding it fast, and defending it against false teaching that would threaten it, from the first century to the twenty-first century. Our second responsibility is proclaiming God's Word: we hold it high. Like the columns of the temple, we lift high the truth of the Word. We want this Word to shine so that the world will see and hear and know the only true God. This truth also means that, as the church, there are some things we don't hold high—man's opinions, man's innovations, man's creativity, man's wisdom, and man's possessions. Instead, we lift up one thing: the Word of God. Let us magnify it, amplify it, spotlight it, and spread it—in the church and all over the world.
So we are the expression of God's family, the dwelling place of God's presence, and the guardians of God's Word. All of this points to the awe-inspiring reality that God dwells among us! This is the God who spoke and the world came into being, the God who has absolute authority and sovereign power over all things in creation, the God who calls the stars by name and holds the nations in His hand—the all-powerful, all-knowing, indescribably great, infinitely holy God of the universe. And He considers us, the church, to be His people, His gathering, His household. It's no wonder 1 Corinthians 14 describes the experience of an unbeliever entering a properly functioning assembly of believers as awe inspiring (vv. 23-25). After being convicted of his sin, the unbeliever in that passage cries out, "God is really among you." By the grace of God, may that be the case in all of our churches.
After discussing the significance of the church in verses 14-15, Paul moves on in verse 16 to talk about the supremacy of Christ. Paul refers to Christ's supremacy in relation to the "mystery of godliness." The word "godliness" is one of Paul's favorite words in this letter, as it is used nine different times. To have godliness is to have a God-consciousness,70 a God-centeredness that permeates everything you do. Whether you're awake or asleep, or whether you're thinking, dreaming, desiring, talking, eating, or drinking—whatever you're doing—having godliness means being centered around God. But what is the "mystery of godliness"? When Paul talks about a mystery, he is not talking about something unsolved or difficult to figure out. He is talking about something that was hidden for a time but now has been revealed (Ryken, 1 Timothy, 141).
In verse 16 we learn that the mystery of godliness has everything to do with Christ. Paul's desire to see the Ephesian Christians act the right way in the household of God (3:15) was not simply a call to good behavior. It was a call to act in accordance with the truth of who Christ is and what He has accomplished through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Those who have been saved by this gospel will live godly lives. Christ's supremacy is seen first of all, Paul says, in that He reveals the mystery of godliness. As verse 16 puts it, "He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory." Christ is the manifestation of God-centeredness, or to put it another way, godliness has been disclosed to us in Christ. But how does Jesus reveal the mystery of godliness? Answer: He displays the majesty of God. This is the second way in which we see the supremacy of Christ, and it is spelled out in six related truths in this passage.
First, the Son of God was "manifested in the flesh" (v. 16). To put it another way, Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. Second, He was verified by the Spirit. The HCSB says that Jesus was "vindicated" by the Spirit, and in this context it points us to the work of the Spirit in affirming that Christ was God's Son. Jesus' baptism in Matthew 3:16-17 is a good example of this truth, where we see the Spirit descending on Christ, affirming that He was indeed the Son of God. Christ's signs and wonders also bore witness to the Spirit's presence in His ministry. Ultimately, however, the resurrection was the decisive indication of Christ's vindication by the Spirit. Romans 1:4 says that Jesus was "declared to be the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness." Romans 8:11 confirms the Spirit's role in the resurrection as well: "And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you." This is how we are to understand what it means that Christ was verified, or vindicated, by the Spirit.71
Third, Christ was praised among the heavens. The Son of God was seen and savored by angels. Angels sang at His birth (Luke 2:13-14), they announced His resurrection (Matt 28:1-7), and they witnessed His ascension (Acts 1:9-11). The angels testify to Christ's glory. Fourth, Christ was proclaimed across the earth. As the HCSB puts it, He was "preached among the nations" (1 Tim 3:16). Beginning with the early disciples and continuing until today, Jesus Christ has been proclaimed among the peoples.
Fifth, we see that Christ is the Savior of all the world. He was "believed on in the world." Right now, among people in Asia and Africa and Europe and America, people are believing on His name and experiencing salvation from the penalty of their sins. So be encouraged in the morning as you get up to face another day, knowing that God is saving people all over the world and bringing them from death to life. A difficult Monday morning can turn into a really good day. Finally, the sixth way in which Jesus displays the majesty of God is by reigning as the King over all the universe. Jesus was "taken up in glory" to the Father's right hand. Behold the mystery of godliness!
In telling us these truths in verse 16, Paul was not only proclaiming who Jesus is, but he was also saying to the church, "Realize what this means for you, for godliness in your life and godliness in the church." This is the awe-inspiring reality that Christ lives within you! This Christ, the Son of God incarnate, the One who was verified by the Spirit, raised from the dead, praised among angels, proclaimed across the earth, believed on as Savior, and crowned as King over all the universe, lives in you. Let that soak in. The Son of God resides in you, giving you power, strength, and grace. Godliness, or the God-centered life, is nothing more than the overflow of Christ in you.
There is a powerful application here for all of us who follow Christ. Brother or sister in Christ, are you going through a difficult time? Christ lives within you. Are you struggling in weakness? Christ is strength in you. Are you bruised and battered? Christ is healing in you. Are you confused and not sure what to do? Christ is peace in you. Are you wondering if you can overcome the things you are dealing with right now? As 1 John says, "The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (4:4). He is life. He is strength. He is hope in you. He is "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col 1:27). Jesus has conquered sin, death, and the grave, and He now reigns from heaven as the ascended Lord. Because He lives in you, you have nothing to fear.72
The God-centered life is the Christ-empowered life. Returning to Paul's words in verses 14-15 concerning our identity as the household of God, we need to realize what these truths mean in the context of the church. These truths about Christ and the gospel should radically change the way we live and the way our churches function. There is nothing like the church in all the world, no other body more significant in all of history, nor will there ever be. Let us, then, pay close attention to God's instructions about the way we live and relate to one another in the body of Christ.
What We Do
What We Do
1 Timothy 4:1-16
As we move to chapter 4, we're going to look at Paul's instructions. We'll see that these verses have a twofold application. First, these verses are filled with personal instructions to Timothy, the young pastor of the church at Ephesus. At one level Paul's words apply directly to Timothy and the other elders. At the same time, as a second application, Paul is speaking about things that are important to all members of the church concerning what we need to do in these "later times" (1 Tim 4:1). That phrase later times is basically the New Testament's description of the period of time between Jesus' ascension into heaven and His second coming from heaven. Being vigilant in these "latter days" is something that should concern every follower of Christ.
The first thing we do, Paul says in verse 1, is we detect error in the church. There were apparently people in Ephesus who were questioning the true teaching of the Word and spreading false teaching that did not derive from the Word. Paul told Timothy and the church to watch out for these people. We would do well to consider the source of these errors.
Verse 1 clearly identifies false teachings as demonic teachings. Paul refers to people who had apparently paid "attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons." Don't be fooled: false teaching is demonic, straight from hell. And it comes to life through deceptive teachers. These teachers are "liars whose consciences are seared" (v. 2). They are men and women who have become numb to the truth and are spreading "irreverent and silly myths" (v. 7). Now don't misunderstand, these are not individuals who rise up in the church and announce, "My conscience is seared, and I'm here to spread lies and silliness." If only it were73 that simple. That's what makes false teaching deceptive—it often comes from people in the church who claim to be spreading the truth. We're reminded again of Paul's warning to the Ephesian elders in Acts: "Men will rise up from your own number with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them" (Acts 20:30). Remember, Paul was speaking to the elders, which implies that some of these false teachers were likely former elders in Ephesus.
False teaching was rampant in the first century, and it is rampant now. The world and the church are full of theology that is unbiblical. For example, prosperity theology says that if you trust Jesus, He will give you health and wealth. Cult theology, on the other hand, typically says that Jesus is not who you thought He was. An alternative is offered, which always turns out to be an unbiblical picture of the Son of God. And then there's what we might call popular theology, a theology consisting of ideas about life and possessions and heaven and the afterlife that comes more from best-selling books than from God's Word. Be on guard against such errors.
In light of Paul's warnings about false teachers, we should not be surprised by them. When you hear that a church member or a church leader has walked away from Christ and abandoned his or her faith, the Bible says not to be surprised. First John 2:19 talks about some people in the church who seemed to be Christians but who ultimately proved they were not by walking away from the fellowship of believers. Don't let that kind of apostasy throw your own faith into a tailspin. God has told us ahead of time that it will happen.
Even though we shouldn't be shocked by the presence of false teachers, we should always be saddened by them. The consequences of false teaching are eternally disastrous, so we should seek to keep more people from being deceived. Paul fully realized the danger of false teaching, for he began this letter by urging Timothy to confront men who were perverting the truth (1:3-4). Timothy needed to wield the Word to wage the good warfare. Likewise, all believers need to be able to detect error in the church. But how do we know when error is being taught?
In order to discern when error is being taught in the church, we need to consider the substance of what is being said. The way Paul addresses the specific false teachings in Ephesus applies to the church in all ages, including our own. Addressing the root of the false teaching, the apostle mentions two specific errors: they deny the goodness of74 God, and they distort the Word of God. When we put these two characteristics together, we're reminded of how sin entered the world. The serpent emphasized God's power and greatness, while minimizing His love and goodness. He tempted Eve to doubt that God had her best interests in mind. He asked, "Did God really say, 'You can't eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Gen 3:1). He was leading her to question God's goodness and distort God's Word, and Eve bought into the lie and sinned.
Something similar was happening in Ephesus in Paul's day. If you move forward from Genesis 3 to 1 Timothy 4, you see that some teachers were teaching that certain foods should not be eaten and that people should not get married (1 Tim 4:3). Paul countered these claims by saying marriage and food are both good gifts from God's hand, gifts to be received with gratitude to God in prayer (vv. 4-5). God's people need to watch out for teachers who deny the goodness of God and distort the Word of God, either by adding to it or by taking away from it. We in the church need to be able to detect this kind of error.
Along with detecting error, it is also crucial that we declare truth to the church. In verse 6 Paul said to Timothy, "If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus." In other words, put truth before the church. Let it permeate and saturate the church. We do this in several ways.
Paul reiterates three main themes in the last part of chapter 4 related to declaring truth and combating falsehood. First, in order to combat falsehood, we hold to the truth and teach with authority. In verse 13 the apostle says, "Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching," and in verse 16, "Pay close attention to your life and your teaching." This call to teach with authority is a consistent theme in 1 Timothy. When Paul told Timothy not to let others look down on him because of his youth, the antidote to this was to "be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." Notice the first thing he mentioned—speech. The Word of God should resound from the pastor's lips, and he is to speak with authority. Read the Bible. Explain the Bible. Exhort from the Bible. Teach the Bible. That's the charge. Demonstrate your submission to the authority of Scripture, and you will lead rightly in the church as you declare the truth.
The second way to combat falsehood is to live with purity. Purity is not only about doctrine but also about one's life. Defending Christian doctrine is dependent on modeling Christian living. Elders and all75 Christians must keep a close watch on their lives. Robert Murray M'Cheyne, a pastor who was used mightily by God in Scotland in the early 1800s, is a great example for us in this regard. M'Cheyne died when he was only 30, and his gravestone reads as follows:
Died in the 30th year of his age and the 7th year of his ministry, walking closely with God, an example for the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity, he ceased not day and night to labor and watch for souls.
M'Cheyne once said, "My people's greatest need is my personal holiness." These are humbling words, and they ought to lead pastors and all believers to spur one another on with lives of love and holiness. Sadly, however, this is not the testimony of many pastors. Consider the following statistics, which are nothing short of jaw-dropping:
- As many as 50 percent of pastors' marriages will end in divorce.
- Almost 40 percent of pastors admit they have had an extra-marital affair since the beginning of their ministry (Krejcer, "Statistics").
- More than 50 percent of pastors say they have visited pornographic sites on the Internet in the last year, and 30 percent admit to doing it in the last month (Rick Warren, pastors.com).
These statistics should cause pastors and all followers of Christ to tremble. We must watch our life and doctrine.
Third, we combat error and uphold truth as we train for eternity. Verses 7-8 are the key verses here: "Train yourself in godliness, for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." Scholars believe at this time the people of Ephesus spent a great deal of time and money training athletes for a variety of festivals and athletic contests. This may well have been in Paul's mind as he talked about the "training of the body" (Ryken, 1 Timothy, 174). Now physical training is certainly valuable, and we need to care for our bodies. After all, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, so we should eat well and exercise well. Nevertheless, that kind of physical training should pale in comparison to your training in godliness. Train in prayer, in the Word, in fasting, in worship, and in sharing the gospel. Spend76 your time in that kind of training. Your body will only last for a few years, but the gains from godliness will endure forever.
In light of the importance of training in godliness, we can make two final applications. First, work out your own salvation progressively and persistently. In verse 16 Paul says, "Persevere in these things," referring to the commands he has already given Timothy earlier in the letter. He wanted Timothy to persist in this kind of godly training in order to save himself, meaning that Timothy's salvation would come to completion as he was molded more and more into the image of Christ. This call for diligence applies to all Christians.
Second, work hard for others' salvation locally and globally. Paul told Timothy he would save not only himself but also his hearers. Now obviously Paul is not saying that we, in and of ourselves, can save people. Only Christ saves. That is obvious from Paul's writings and the Bible in general. But Christ has chosen to bring His salvation to people through the church—members and leaders of the body of Christ. Healthy churches mean healthy displays of the gospel to a lost world, which results in men and women coming to Christ.
When the goodness of Christ and the character of Christ and the Word of Christ are evident in the church, people in the world will be drawn to Him. This is why we guard the truth so people will be saved by it. This is why we live with purity so people see the difference Christ makes. This is why we train for godliness so people see in us the majesty of Christ. May everything we do draw people to our great Savior.
Reflect and Discuss
Reflect and Discuss
- How does the church function as the "pillar and foundation of the truth"? Does this mean the church is infallible? Explain.
- Would an unbeliever visiting your church be convinced that God dwells among you? Why?
- In what way did the resurrection verify or vindicate the supremacy of Jesus Christ?
- When do you most sense the power of Christ in you, enabling you to live a God-centered life? When do you most need that power?
- What false doctrine have you heard on radio, movies, TV, or the Internet? Have you ever noticed any of these errors being expressed by the people in your church? By the leaders?77
- Practically, how do you obey 1 Timothy 4:7 and "train yourself in godliness"?
- How can false teaching like that mentioned in 4:3 sound very "spiritual"? How does Paul combat these errors?
- From where does a Christian get the authority to teach or correct people? How do we use that authority rightly, without abusing it?
- What are the greatest areas of temptation today for Christians? What is the best way for Christians, especially leaders, to avoid falling into sin?
- Why is it so hard to keep eternity in mind in our day-to-day lives? How would you live differently if you were able to do so? How would it affect the urgency of pursuing a holy life and of telling others about Christ?