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The Shocking Focus of the Church
The HOUSE RULES for Faith Bible Church, 1 Timothy 3:14-16
Have you ever seen rules posted in a house? Like the rules posted for three young, active boys (all age five and under)—can you guess what they were?
1 Be kind to each other
2 Listen to the grown-up in charge
3 No hitting, kicking, or throwing
4 Say please and thank you
5 Don’t grab things from others
Those make sense, don’t they? In today’s increasingly toxic political and social environment, where personal insults and character assassination often win out over intelligent discussion and sharing ideas, there is a sweet strain of common sense wisdom saturating those house rules.
Every house has its rules. What was a rule at your house? Take your shoes off at the door. Or no yelling. Only eat in the dining room or kitchen. Keep your feet off the furniture. Morgan’s house–do not touch the remote. Shirts on at the dinner table. Don’t take or use Dad’s socks.
Patrick’s house–when Mom calls for dinner, you come. No video games until homework is done. Don’t go into Dad’s office when he’s on a call. Nigel’s house–if you’re gonna talk to someone, do it face-to-face. Don’t yell from the other room. Fun comes only after work is completed.
Every house has its rules. Just like your house, God’s house, His Church has rules in order to function the way God designed. It’s not merely beliefs, but function, which God designed according to God’s will. One of the major issues in the aftermath of the reformation was determining how the Church was going to function, now that the Scriptures made it clear that God never intended priests or a pope. How do we function as a Church body?
Sadly, many somewhat biblically accurate churches today act as if they can function any way they want–that order is an option. But from the beginning, as the Church was established under the apostles, the Apostle Paul wrote Timothy and said, “This is the way you set things up.” Paul said it to Titus in Titus 1:5, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.”
And Paul will say it again this morning to Timothy in 3:14 to 16–turn there. The greater any church follows the biblical ordering of its family determines the greater the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in and through that church. Part of the reason some of you have left a church is because you struggled with their light approach to the Word.
They had women pastors, a lack of concern for the next generation, the church under the leadership of one man, the absence of shepherding, too many secrets, lack of genuineness, wimpy theology, no confrontation of sin, no church discipline, too much legalism or no discipleship. Part of the reason some of you have come to FBC is because of church order.
Some of our house rules come closer to what you read in the New Testament and you realized just how important it is for the Church to function biblically. Some of you decided you had to come to a church which teaches only the author’s intended meaning of each verse. Others come because of genuine fellowship in community group or there is an alive student ministry reaching out to young men and women.
Others come because you’re free to minister the way God designed you to serve. Some come because you don’t have to submit to one man, but can trust a team of godly men. Others attend FBC because the elders unashamedly uphold a detailed doctrinal statement. Some attend because the leadership doesn’t allow preferences to become principles or issues. And finally, a few come occasionally because there is always a free lunch at baptisms.
Regardless of your reasons–God has designed a plan for conduct in the Church. The HOUSE RULES are pointed, direct and simple. In 1 Timothy, Paul has been giving his best apostolic assistant and the proud intellectual church of Ephesus Church order.
Chapter 1 was about rejecting false doctrine then embracing true doctrine
Chapter 2 was about how men, then women, behave when the church gathers for worship
Chapter 3 was about what men can serve as elders, then what men can be deacons.
Why? You need to know how God expects you to behave in the Church. As Paul is out ministering in the New Testament world, he writes Timothy, who is slugging it out in Ephesus. And in verses 14 to16, Paul tells Timothy why he writes.
Read aloud verse 14, “I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; 15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. 16 By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”
The Church needs order and focus. So Paul clarifies why you are here. Most of the reasons you attend FBC and the rest of you function at FBC really don’t matter. You are all here for only one reason, and that reason is Jesus Christ. Paul is clear and convicting–what he says here breaks down into four major points.
#1 The MENTORING of Timothy for IMMEDIATE ORDER
Read verses 14 and 15 again, “I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; 15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself.” Paul is free. His first imprisonment in Rome is over and he is back doing what he loves–preaching the Gospel to new fields and church planting.
Paul kept moving, but Ephesus needed help–so Paul left Timothy behind in Ephesus. Paul wants to get back to Ephesus, but realizes ministry demands, travel problems–like shipwrecks, opposition, jail time, and a hundred other possibilities could delay his return. But Timothy had immediate ministry needs.
Heresy was heavy, error prevalent, opposition intense, and Timothy had reached his young-man-ability limits. So Paul writes to Timothy in case he can’t get back immediately, giving his general reason for this letter. That reason–to instruct believers how to behave in the church. Church order, house rules, your conduct as the Church.
These verses tell us that conduct is to be godly. And this passage affirms, only Christ can make that happen. What is Paul referring to when he says, “church conduct” in verse 15–some have asserted Paul is limiting his focus to deacons and elders of chapter 3, or men and women of chapter 2, or good and bad doctrine of chapter 1.
But because there is nothing in these verses which places a limit on the purpose, and because Paul tells us conduct is the reason why he writes this letter—it’s best to view these verses as the theme of the entire letter of 1 Timothy, encompassing all six chapters. Verses 14 to 16 give us the theme of 1 Timothy.
It appears Paul would be unable to come as soon as he had originally wished–so he writes Timothy a personal note in order to strengthen him in leading the church. These verses are personal–man to man. All the second person you’s are singular. Paul is only speaking to Timothy–look at verses 14 and 15 again. “I am writing these things to you [Timothy], hoping to come to you [Timothy] before long; 15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you [Timothy] will know how one [anyone, all those in Ephesus] ought to conduct himself.”
Timothy is being instructed and personally encouraged by Paul on Church behavior, and the church of Ephesus will read these words and understand correct Church conduct. We don’t know if Paul made it back to Ephesus before he was arrested for the last time, so Paul makes certain Timothy knows.
The Greek word know (oida) is the factual truths and practical wisdom necessary for the church to function biblically. We know that’s Paul intention, because the Greek word conduct speaks of a consistent pattern of life. Conduct means to live or to behave in a certain manner. God expects men, women, elders and deacons—and later widows and the wealthy, to behave in a certain way.
Paul broadens the last phrase, “know how one ought to conduct himself” truths, so that the entire Church is in view and applied to their conduct. Why? Living according to God’s design in the Church brings blessing to the church family. When the Ephesian church reads this, they’ll be expected to do what Paul writes here. There was an expectation of behavioral conduct change. But to do so, they must embrace and apply certain crucial truths—and one is to trust.
#2 The MASTER of the CHURCH is the LIVING GOD
In verse 15, “in the household of God, which is the church of the living God,” the Church belongs to God. This is not your church or my church, it’s His Church. The Church is not a human institution. It’s a divine institution. It is God’s Church.
One of my cardinal ministry principles to live by is this—never mess with the sheep. Never abuse God’s people. Never use God’s people for your purposes. Why? Because they’re God’s sheep–they are the people Christ died for. Ephesus and FBC are God’s Church.
What does verse 15 say? The Church is called ”the household of God.” The Greek word oikos, “household”, can be translated house, and can even refer to a building. But here the meaning is God’s building. This is the place where God is at home. You and I together are the place where God dwells. The Church is God’s family and God is the Father of this family.
For some that’s a blessing, and for others it’s a trauma. Like the poem, “To live above with saints we love, Oh, that will be glory. But to live below, with saints we know, Well, that’s another story.” God the Father is the tuning fork–when we’re in tune with Him, we will play in harmony with each other.
Paul’s metaphor is of a family. Every believer here is a member of God’s household. And in describing the Church as a family, God is expecting each part of God’s family to conduct themselves in a manner which would honor the head of the family. If I belong to the Shackelford family, I better act like it. The Dodsons–I better be fun.
Now that you belong to God’s family, you are to act in a manner which would please God. You are a part of his household. Ephesians 2:19, “You are … of God’s household.” In verse 15, Paul also calls this assembly of believers the church of the living God. But in the Greek, there is no article, no “the” which emphasizes the character of the church–it is literally, “Living God’s Church.”
The Church by its very nature belongs to the living God. The New Testament tells us, the Church is purchased with His own blood. The Church is God’s own possession. The Living God created an alive Church. The Church is not a business, but His body. When we function properly, we see Him clearly.
The Church is not a dead organization, but a living organism. We watch God work through us. The Church is not a carved idol, but Christ incarnate through His people. Paul uses living God’s Church, in contrast to the false dead idols of Ephesus. In contrast to the giant temple in Ephesus, which is full of dead idols–genuine believers are a part of the living God’s Church. The alive God Church.
Is this why you are a part of FBC? Is this why you attend? The Church is where God’s genuine family worships the living God. Ephesus was full of dead worship, but now in Ephesus the best thing that can happen to any city had happened. The Church of the Living God was birthed in their city.
Now there is a body of people in Ephesus who all prove God is alive, active, saving and life changing. This is why believers attend church. This is why you give and minister. This is the living God’s Church. The Church is for Him and He’s shown alive and real here. And this alive Church did, and still does, have a crucial mission.
#3 The MISSION of the CHURCH is to proclaim GOD’S WORD
At the end of verse 15, “the pillar and support of the truth.” In our world, we do not really understand pillar and support of the truth. But if you lived in Ephesus, you would immediately make a clear connection. In Ephesus, there was an impressive temple of the goddess Diana–sometimes that demon was called Artemis. This temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was located in the city.
William Barclay says this. “One of its features was its pillars. It contained one hundred and twenty-seven pillars, every one of them the gift of a king. All were made of marble, and some were studded with jewels and overlaid with gold. The people of Ephesus knew well how beautiful a thing a pillar could be. It may well be that the idea of the word pillar here is not so much support…as display. [Barclay says this, because the next word, SUPPORT (‘pillar and support’) communicates buttressing or holding up. So if pillar is about support, then Paul is saying, ‘support and support of the truth,’ which is redundant.]
Barclay continues, “Often the statue of a famous man is set on the top of a pillar that it may stand out above all ordinary things and so be clearly seen, even from a distance. The idea here is that the Church’s duty is to hold up the truth in such a way that all men may see it.”
The pillars Paul refers to here were given by kings to honor themselves. But the Church is a pillar to honor the one King, the Great King, the only King. The Church is about Jesus Christ and to proclaim His Words–His truth.
The Greek word support is a hopozlogomina–it appears only here in the New Testament, and refers to the foundation on which a structure rests. The Church is the support or buttress of the truth. In a world that does not wish to face the truth, the Church holds it up for all to see. In a world that would gladly eliminate unwelcome truths, the Church supports God’s truth against all who would seek to destroy it.
In Paul’s metaphor, the Church is the foundation and pillar that holds up the truth. As the foundation and pillars of the Temple of Diana were a testimony to the error of false religion, so the Church is to be a testimony to God’s truth. That is our mission in the world. That is our reason for being. That is our priority.
John MacArthur says it this way. “The truth is the divine revelation, including the truth of the Gospel, the content of the Christian faith. It is the solemn responsibility of every church to unwaveringly uphold the truth of God’s Word. The Church does not invent the truth, and never alters the truth–only at the cost of judgment. The Church is to support and safeguard the truth.
“The truth of God’s Word is the sacred treasure given to sinners for their salvation, and to believers for their sanctification, that they might live for the glory of God. The Church has the stewardship of Scripture, the duty to guard it as the most precious possession on earth. Churches that tamper with, misrepresent, depreciate, relegate to secondary place, or abandon biblical truth destroy their only reason for existing–all the while they experience impotence and judgment.”
How do you uphold the truth? Check yourself.
Hearing and heeding the Word–Matthew 13:9, “He who has ears, let him hear.”
Handling the Word accurately–2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
Hiding the Word in your heart–Psalm 119:11, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.”
Holding the Word forth as the Word of life–Philippians 2:16, “Holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”
And believing the truth, meditating on truth, studying the truth, defending the truth and proclaiming the truth. And who is the truth? Who does the truth point to? What’s the goal of the truth?
#4 The MESSAGE of the CHURCH is JESUS CHRIST
Look carefully at verse 16. What you are about to read is an early church hymn, a poem to be sung, theology put to music. Verse 16, “By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”
This verse is obviously about Christ. Paul reminds Timothy and the church of Ephesus that the purpose of their church is Christ Jesus. If your house was burning down and you had only one opportunity to pull one to three items from the fire, what would you grab? Computer, pictures or memorabilia? What is the most important?
When it comes to the Church, what is most important? Not the building, not the programs, not the leadership, not your friends here–what’s most important is Jesus Christ. The Church exists to exalt, proclaim, worship and live like Christ.
As you look at the 66 books of the Bible, the most essential truth found in the entire Scriptures is the person of Jesus Christ. The most important truth of the Scriptures is the message of Jesus Christ. He is our first love. First Corinthians 1:23, “We preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness.”
First Corinthians 2:2, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Second Corinthians 4:5, “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake.” Galatians 6:14, “May it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ is our priority, our focus, our first love, our Lord and our great passion.
Remember who Jesus Christ really is–He is…
- bolder than Luther
- more eloquent than Calvin
- more feared than Knox
- more theological than Owen
- more earnest than Brainerd
- more brilliant than Edwards
- more evangelistic than Whitefield
- more dynamic than Spurgeon
- more revered than Lloyd-Jones
Christ is worthy. This is why Paul includes this six-line hymn–it rehearses the glories of our Lord. Look at how the song begins—“by common confession.” It means “to say the same thing.” This is a truth upon which everyone agrees–a unanimous conviction of all believers. What do we agree upon? Verse 16a, “By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness.”
The mystery of godliness describes the great truth of salvation–that only on the basis of what Christ did, God becoming man, then bearing our sin and covering his children in His righteousness can anyone ever be godly or ever live godly. You don’t earn it, God gifts salvation. But when Christ saves, He also transforms.
When Christ lives within you, Christ lives through you–and because Christ is God, you can live godlikeness, godliness. No one is truly godly, unless they know Christ personally–because you can’t be godly unless God lives through you. Mother Teresa is not godly. Mohammed was not godly, Joseph Smith was not godly. Only those in Christ, where Christ dwells in you and lives through you can be godly.
What did it take for Christ to accomplish salvation, resulting in godliness? The first century church actually sang this truth with verse 16–six verbs, all third person singular aorist, in rhyme, in chiastic parallelism written in three couplets. Verse 16, “He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”
The ability to conduct yourself properly in the Church is based upon the sacrificial work of Christ on your behalf, stated in three couplets.
First The first couplet is how Christ was REVEALED
Verse 16b, “He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit.” Revealed in the flesh is Christ’s incarnation and birth. The eternal Son, one with the Father and the Spirit, the architect of creation and judge of the universe, the One who is without beginning and who is without end was born as a baby. In the flesh here means bodily. Revealed means to make visible.
Pastor and commentator Kent Hughes says, “Christ stood at the rim of the universe and dove headlong past a billion stars, through the Milky Way and into the womb of the Virgin Mary, where he grew until his birth… on that cold winters night.” God took on human flesh, the God-man. God was born in a body. God in a bod, Jesus Christ.
The second half of the couplet says Christ “was vindicated in the Spirit,” refers to the corresponding bookend of Christ’s earthly life–His resurrection. We know this because of Romans 1:4 and Romans 8:11. “Was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness” (1:4). “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you” (8:11). Was vindicated in the Spirit.
This first couplet sings of the supernatural incarnation and resurrection of Christ that revealed Him as the Christ, the Messiah, the second person of the Trinity. This is the Jesus the Church must confess, sing about and follow. This is the Christ who can forgive sin, transform your inner person and live through you–causing you to live godly, thus fulfilling your purpose of putting Christ on display.
Second The second couplet sings of the WITNESS of Christ
Verse 16c, “Seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations.” This pair contrasts the witnesses–heavenly angels and earthly nations. One is supernatural and the other is natural. One is superhuman, the other human. The angels saw everything. The Greek word seen means to observe. Angels foretold the birth of Christ to Mary, then Joseph.
At His birth, the sky was filled with angelic witnesses who sang Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” After Christ’s temptation, “the devil left him, and angels came and attended him” (Matthew 4:11). In Gethsemane, as He sweat great drops of blood, “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22:43).
Angels witnessed the resurrection and sat by his empty tomb (Luke 24:4, 23). And presently, Jesus is adored in glory by vast angelic hosts who sing, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain” (Revelation 5:12). Christ was definitely “seen by angels.” They couldn’t get enough of Christ, and they never will.
Then the next half, “proclaimed among the nations” is obvious. Before His ascension, Christ commanded the disciples to “go and make disciples of all the nations.” Then Christ told his men, “you will be my witnesses to the remotest part of the world.” Christ was witnessed by angels and proclaimed by men among the nations. A heavenly affirmation and an earthly affirmation, leading us to . . .
Third The third couplet sings of the RECEPTION given to Christ
Verse 16d, “Believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” See it? Two separate geographies are in view here–Earth and Heaven. On Earth, most people reject Christ. But often the most sinful, most desperate, most rebellious, even most unlikely respond. Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”
Are you not thankful, Christian? God chose you, Christ died for you and the Spirit called you–so you can sing verse 14, “Christ was believed on in the world” and Christ was also “taken up in glory.” Christ ascended into Heaven–Christ rules now as Lord of lords, returns as King. And only if He is your Lord now do you escape his condemnation as the final Judge later. Are you in Christ?
Christ is what the Church is all about. Paul tells Timothy what the conduct of Christians must be in the Church. A godly conduct. But godliness can only happen if you’ve submitted to Christ, who did all the work to save you. Christ must be fully embraced by faith as you turn from your sin in repentance and rely on Christ alone for new life now and eternal life forever.
You are the Church, FBC–God’s family, His household. God is your Father and you are brothers and sisters. You joyfully follow and worship the only living God. Our God lives in you, so together you are the pillar upholding the truth of God’s Word through your accurate truth proclamation and by your Godly lifestyle demonstration.
But genuine godliness is only made possible by the work of Christ on your behalf and His Spirit who empowers you and lives through you. That is why, like verse 16, you sing. Christ is worthy of all your songs of praise. Amen?
1. Is Christ your FIRST love?
First Timothy is directed at Ephesus. But years later John wrote to this same church these words in Revelation 2:4 and 5, “I have this against you, … you have left your first love. 5 ‘Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.’”
The Christians at Ephesus blew it. They lost Christ in the midst of their Christianity. They loved Christian people, truth, church, programs, but lost their love for Christ. Some of you are the same. The Spirit is speaking to you right now. Revelation 2:5 says remember where you were at. Repent of your sin. Repeat what you used to do. Do not remain distant from your Lord–Christianity without Christ is empty.
2. Is your life marked by INDIFFERENCE or by intention?
One reaction the church should never create in a community is indifference. You and I can never allow our hearts to be indifferent to Christ, to His Word, to His mission calling us to proclaim the Gospel, to adore Christ above all. Plus Christian friend, our obedience to His Word, pursuit of holiness, purity, integrity and witness should never be dismissed or belittled in our hearts.
3. Are you FEEDING on God’s Word?
Are you reading it every day? You can fast from food and it is good for you–but you can’t fast from God’s Word, even a day, and have that be healthy. First Peter 2:2, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Are you digesting the Word, defending the Word, disseminating the Word, demonstrating the power of the Word by your life, changing little by little to be like Christ?
4. Are you coming here for HIM?
Make certain you come every week–stop all lame excuses. But when you come, come for Him, to worship Him–by responding with your life as a living sacrifice, by giving sacrificially so you feel it, by loving others in a way it demonstrates Christ is alive through you, by adoring Him in song, by thanking Him in communion, by celebrating Him through healthy believing relationships, by never forgetting what a privilege it is to be His child and to participate in such a sweet community together. Let’s pray.