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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Pillar and Buttress of Truth


 

“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth”. 1 Timothy 3:14-15


Last time, we saw that the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ has, Jesus as its chief cornerstone, the apostles and prophets as its foundation and the declaration of the Messiah, the Son of the Living God as its keys.

Keys which have the power to shut up Hades and open the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven.


In other words as the true church of Jesus Christ - built on the work of Jesus at the cross of Calvary, and resting on the Word of God delivered once for all time to it through the apostles and prophets - it is equipped to make a powerful declaration about Jesus unto the salvation of people from Hades and the translation of them into the kingdom of heaven.

That’s how important the church is – it has an eternal function in this age, and every age until Jesus returns.


Function of the church

And now 1 Tim 3:15 introduces another function of the church. It says the church is the ‘pillar and foundation of the truth’. The purpose of pillars is to sit underneath roofs and hold them up so the roof doesn’t fall down. And the pillars Paul would have seen in his day in Ephesus and Rome and Corinth would have been impressive pillars. They would have been tall, elegant and ornate columns. They would have been really appealing to the eye.


Foundations on the other hand - some translations have buttress or support - are less sightly. Usually they are underground - although a buttress can be above ground at the base of the building – but their purpose is not to show themselves, their purpose is do a fundamental job. They are essential to the building. A building could have the most beautiful columns, but without foundations the columns and the roof will fall into the ground.


So Paul seems to be saying to Timothy – his young delegate in Ephesus – that the church has a function to perform as both, the beautiful column that supports the Truth, and the less sightly but equally vital buttress that supports the Truth. That’s what the church is designed to do, and if it fails in its supporting job then the roof can fall to the ground; the truth can be eroded. And if it does its job well, the truth stands.

So it’s a serious and a high calling that Paul is highlighting that the church has here in 1 Timothy.



Truth

Last week Paul Cottington (not Paul the apostle) drew our attention to Jesus’ saying about himself: Jesus said, ‘I am the way the Truth and the life’, and here’s something Paul said about Jesus’ saying:

“In the titles that God’s Spirit has, he is both the ‘Spirit of Christ’ and the ‘Spirit of truth’. ‘Christ’ and ‘truth’ are interchangeable. We can swap one for the other and still be referring to exactly the same thing! This is because Jesus Christ is the truth. In him there is the very essence of truth. The substance of his character was truth. That is why he can make this substantial claim, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’


That is a very astute observation and it dovetails exactly with what we have here in 1 Timothy 3.

In John 17, Jesus praying, said to his Father, ‘your word is truth’. Notice he doesn’t say your word is true, he says your word is truth. In other words the final measure of what truth is, is found in the word of God. And not insignificantly, John 1 has Jesus designated as the Word. That means that God’s word is truth and Jesus as the living embodiment of that word is therefore the living embodiment of truth. Exactly as Paul pointed out last week.


And here in 1 Timothy the apostle Paul is going one step further and saying that the declaration about Jesus - the declaration we referred to last time as the keys to the kingdom – is the true declaration about the Truth. We can see that in verse 16. The truth about Jesus is summed up as a mystery. ‘Mystery’ doesn’t mean it can’t be understood, it means that unless the Spirit of God shows us the truth of it we won’t believe it. The reason we won’t believe it is because it’s so outlandish.

Here’s the truth about Jesus:

He appeared in the flesh – God in a human body (John 1:14).

He was vindicated by the Spirit as the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead – something no human being has ever achieved on their own (Romans 1:4).

He was seen by angels after his resurrection – they testified to his being alive to some of the women who went to the tomb (Luke 24:23).

He was taken up into heaven in glory – those who were with him testified to this happening (Acts 1:9).

He was preached among the nations – the good news about Jesus’ death and resurrection spread to other nations (Acts 8:4).

And He was believed on in the world – people who had never seen Jesus, but who had heard the testimony about him believed on him and were saved (Acts 13:48).

These are all events, and they are all true events – mysterious events from our human perspective, but events, the record of which, testify to the truth about Jesus.


One commentator said, ‘All truth is God’s truth’ and that’s true. There is no such thing as truth that doesn’t find its origin in God. If there is anything that claims to be truth, that is at odds with who God is and what he has said and the account about Jesus, then it is an imposter and it is not truth at all.


So we shouldn’t think the Apostle Paul is saying that the truth can cease to be truth if the church doesn’t fulfil its function – truth will always be truth - he’s saying the truth can cease to be seen as truth if the church fails to do its job as the pillar and support of the truth.

But we should ask an even more basic question. And it’s this: why does the truth matter?

The answer is that God’s glory is tightly bound to the reality that Jesus is truth. John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

In other words, Jesus is so full of grace and truth that those realities about him can be seen with the eyes of our hearts, and when they are seen they look glorious. So when Jesus says I am the truth, he’s acknowledging his glory.


Here’s John 7:18 for more clarity, “Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who speaks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth, there is nothing false about him”. The person who speaks the glory of God (the one who sent Jesus) is a man of truth. Therefore the man of truth, when he speaks truth, speaks to the glory of God.


The reason the truth must not fall - or we might say, must be seen – is that the truth testifies to the glory of God.


Conduct & Creed

But in what way is the church like a pillar underneath the truth and a support of the truth? I think a clue to the answer is found in chapter 4 verse 16. Remember the Apostle Paul is writing to Timothy, instructions about how to guide the church. So in verse 15 of chapter 4 he says, ‘Timothy, be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone – that is everyone in the church -may see your progress’. Timothy is meant to practice what he preaches. He’s meant to set an example in these things that can be followed by the church.


So when Paul says in verse 16, ‘Watch your life and doctrine closely’, he’s telling Timothy to do that so that the church will do the same. And here’s why I think this is a clue as to how the church is meant to function as a pillar and support of the truth: Life – like the ornate pillar – is visible to the world, and Doctrine – like the buttress – is hidden, but absolutely essential.


The church does its job of upholding the truth when it has both a life of Godliness, and a teaching of Godliness. When it has conduct that testifies to the truth of God, and when it has creed that accords with the truth of God.

Or we might say it like this: the church fulfils its function to uphold the truth when it loves the truth about God, and when it shows the truth about God. It must be both.


Watch how we can see that this is the case. Verse 14 of chapter 3, Paul is saying to Timothy that he hopes to visit him soon, but he anticipates that he might be delayed (v.15), and therefore he’s anxious that the church might fail to uphold the truth – that it might hinder the glory of God being seen in the heralding of the truth. He doesn’t want that and that’s why he’s writing to Timothy.


Life

He’s writing instructions to him about how the church’s conduct should look. He wants an ornate Corinthian column-type beauty about the church which the world can see. The reason he wants that is because the good news about Jesus is that the lives of people are transformed. In Paul’s understanding of the gospel, a person is not only given a new legal standing – though they are given that – they are given new inclinations to be conformed to the likeness of Christ. And that looks like something.

He wants their lives to speak truth about the work of Jesus in their hearts. So he’s looking for the church to demonstrate a conduct that will conform with the truth about the power of Jesus in their lives, and not lie about it!


Here’s an example: in chapter 5, Paul counsels younger windows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes, with the aim that they will give the enemy ‘no opportunity for slander’ (v.15).

In verse 25 of the same chapter, he says that ‘good deeds are obvious’ and even the ones that aren’t obvious ‘cannot remain hidden for ever’.

And in chapter 6 he directs slaves to consider their masters worthy of ‘full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered’.


So Paul’s concern is that Christians – even those in the most difficult circumstances; widows and slaves for example – should conduct themselves in a way that wouldn’t cause the name of the Lord to be slandered, and to conduct themselves with good deeds that would be obvious, and so commend the Lord and his gospel to outsiders.


In that way - by their conduct - Christians tell the truth about the radical nature of the gospel in their lives. And when all those in the church behave in those ways, they become a support for the truth about God and for the truth of the gospel in Christ Jesus.


Every Christian in the church can do this. Children at school: behave like the Lord Jesus so that your friends can see it. Teenagers: don’t fall in with the latest trends when you know they conflict with the conduct of Jesus – be willing to be different for his sake. Parents: conduct yourselves consistently at home as well as at church, in a manner that commends the gospel. Work colleagues for Christ, don’t fall in with work lies, but stand for the truth. Spouses: Tell the truth about the relationship between Christ and his church in your marriages.


Doctrine

But, Paul also wants the church to be zealous for true doctrine about God. Chapter 2, verse 4, God wants ‘all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth’. Chapter 4, verse 3, food and marriage ‘God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth’. Indeed the Christian is one who is nourished by the ‘truths of the faith’ (chapter 4, verse 6).


And Paul is crystal clear at the end of chapter 4, Timothy must persevere not only in Christian conduct but also in doctrine, because by them he will save both himself and his hearers. That means that the perseverance through life, unto death and so unto final salvation is a perseverance in faith that is reliant at least in part on true doctrine about God.


And it’s not in the least bit surprising that Paul should say that, because he’s already pointed out in chapter 1 that Hymenaeus and Alexander had suffered the shipwreck of their faith and were no longer holding to the faith they had once professed (v.19-20).


And in chapter 4, verse 1, he notes that the Spirit of God had said that in these times ‘some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons’.


So, doctrine is vital. When people have a loose grip on the word of God they have a loose grip on their faith, and the prospect of shipwreck is real.


If enough of the church is weak doctrinally then the church can crumble and its witness can crumble and so the truth can crumble, so far as it is viewed by the world.


Therefore, the church must take heed both to its conduct and to its creed. Nothing less than the truth is at stake if it does not. If the pillar is not looked after it begins to crumble and the truth with it.

If the buttress is not added to and strengthened continually it can crumble and the truth with it.


Elders

Paul has a strategy for underpinning the church in these ways. His aim is to ensure that those who have oversight of the church are exemplary in both their conduct and creed such that the notion of ‘pillar and support of the truth’ works its way into the spiritual DNA of the people.


I’ll let you read in chapter 3 what aspects of conduct Paul expects of the leaders of the church and use the time now to focus on the doctrine.


In chapter 1, Paul urges Timothy to command the teachers in the church not to teach false doctrine. In chapter 3, he gives qualifications for overseers in the church, and one of them is that they must be able to teach. Given the prominence he gives to ‘truth’ in the letter, it seems obvious that he means they must be able to teach the truth about God. Even the deacons whose task is not to teach but to assist or serve in practical ways, are only qualified to do so if they keep hold of the ‘deep truths of the faith’ (3:9).


Therefore the church must learn to embrace and cherish sound teaching. If the church gets used to only hearing the gospel message rehashed week after week, not only will it switch off but it will be weak. The gospel is the foundation of every truth in the bible and the basis from which it must grow.


The church must come ready to be shown how to handle the scriptures; it must come ready to receive training and rebuke and correction. It must come with a desire to know what God intends for us to understand from the passage of scripture being taught.


We’re not to be a people content with only a cursory understanding of the truth of God’s word. We’re to be those who want to know him more deeply, and understand his ways more completely, and grasp his meaning more fully.


If we are not like this, we run a grave risk of having such a loose grip on the truths of the faith that we don’t recognise that we are taking a firm hold on false doctrines taught by demons. And if enough of the church goes down that route, then the church can crumble and the truth can fall.


Those tasked with teaching the church must be able to rightly handle the truth and teach it consistently. And by God’s grace, not only will the truth trickle down into the lives of the members of the church, but the principle and practice of unpacking the word of God will trickle down into the lives of the people. And they will learn increasingly how to handle the scriptures themselves and they will teach others to do the same – like Aquilla and Priscilla did with Apollos.


The truth of the gospel message and indeed all truth – truth about the creation of the world; truth about sexuality; truth about sin; truth about God’s glory; truth about the bible; truth about Jesus; truth about heaven and hell, whatever truth you can think of – so far as it is seen and known in the world, depends on the church, because God has ordained it that way. And therefore, Paul is telling us, it depends on the conduct and the creed of the church. It depends on the behaviour and the doctrine of the church.


So now we see the church has another crucial function – last time it was opening the kingdom of heaven and closing the gates if Hades with the declaration about Jesus. This time it is underpinning the truth of that declaration with a conduct worthy of it and a creed consistent with it.


Neither function is dispensable; both are crucial. The church must be taught by qualified elders who love the truth and the people must have a desire to be taught so that they are watchful over their lives and doctrine, that the truth of God may stand and his glory be seen in the world.

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