Pillar and Buttress of the Truth
In 1 Tim 3:14-16 we get to the heart of Paul’s letter to Timothy. The entire letter radiates out from the truth contained in this section. Here we see, more clearly and dramatically than anywhere else, what is at stake in Ephesus – and for us in our great city of Seattle. Paul clarifies that he is not merely going for a change of behavior within the church, but a realignment of the church around truth itself – after all it is the pillar and buttress of the truth.Audio | 1 Timothy 3:14-16
This morning we find ourselves in the heart of our study through First Timothy, a 2,000 year old letter from the Apostle Paul to his friend, traveling companion and partner-in-mission. It turns out the church(es) in Ephesus were in a state confusion due, in large part, to false teaching (i.e. false ideas about God, Jesus, the Gospel and more). This false teaching was marked by biblical creativity rather than biblical faithfulness. The church was wandering from the gospel of Jesus Christ and, instead, choosing to follow their own personal preferences and self-made ideas about God, which Paul refers to as “myths and genealogies, which promote speculations”. (1:4) The result was messy (e.g. forbidding marriage, angry prayers by the men, women flaunting their wealth and bodies, twisting of manhood and womanhood, leadership confusion and more). As we’ve seen, Paul loves the church in Ephesus, as he spent three years there helping to plant it, and it is breaking his heart to see the church torn apart. So, he writes this letter to Timothy and commissions him to begin putting the pieces back together.
Today, in 1 Tim 3:14-16, we get to the heart of Paul’s letter. In fact, it could be argued the entire letter radiates out from this section. Here we see, more clearly and dramatically than anywhere else, what is at stake in Ephesus – and for us in our great city of Seattle. Paul clarifies that he is not merely going for a change of behavior within the church, but a realignment of the church around truth itself. Up til now it is easy to look at this letter and think, “Woah, Paul, are you a control freak or what? Why all the details? Do you have to spell everything out to them – even telling the men what to do with their hands during prayer?!” The section today illustrates that Paul is not a control freak. In fact, he’s not interested in behavior for the sake of behavior. To be clear, he is interested in behavior, but he is ultimately interested in the truth that underlies and motivates that behavior.
It is hard to imagine a more profound topic with more consequences than the topic oftruth. We all live our lives based on a set of truths that inform our most basic presuppositions about how life works – we do this much more than we even realize. Truth informs how we view life, ourselves, God, values, decisions, meaning and more. What we hold to be true underlies our world-view – the grid through which we live our lives and make decisions about our lives. Even current day debates about abortion, same-sex marriage, cloning and more are all, in the end, disguised arguments regarding the nature oftruth.
All that said, one of the things we’ll see today is that Christianity is not some isolated hobby for personal enrichment or for those looking to have spiritual needs met. Rather, Christianity claims to be the truth of the universe and that changes everything about everything. This is why CS Lewis said…
Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
3:14 “I hope to come to you soon”
Clearly Paul senses that he will be delayed so he writes this letter to Timothy containing instructions for how to handle things in his absence. On a side note, tink about this, while we don’t know what delayed Paul, God in his providence used that delay to cause Paul to write these words down so that they would be preserved for the church for generations to come. Who knows what God is going to do with our perceived delays!
3:15 “I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave…”
Sometimes I’ll get asked, “Why does God care how we behave? It seems like that is all Christianity is about – behavior.” Even here, we can get that image, “Ok, now children, behave yourselves” When reading the Bible, we have to keep the context in mind. God is not concerned with our behavior for the sake of behavior. Here, Paul explains that our behavior is important because of what church is and what church is to do in world. Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Q: WHAT IS THE CHURCH?
3:15 “in the household of God” By faith in Jesus Christ, we become fellow members of the family of God, w/ God as father, one another as siblings. Despite our age, race, rank, gender, education we are all equally loved, equally family, w/ equal access to God. Don’t let this common truth just pass you by. In Christ, we have a new perfect Father, new brothers, new sisters, a new family with centered around the same Savior, same hope, same future. That is a stunning reality. We come into our biological family through physical birth and we come into God’s family through the new birth, in Jesus. These bonds are not merely genetic, but even more profound, they are bonds of the Holy Spirit. This makes every Sunday a family reunion.
1 Pe 2:9 “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people…”
Sometimes noting what a passage doesn’t say is just as important as what it does say. Not that this passage doesn’t say “once you didn’t go to church, now you do…once you didn’t have plans on Sunday, now you do…once you had fun, now you won’t…once you listened to good music, no more!” No. What does it say? We are a new family of God,called for the glory of God, sent to proclaim the excellencies of God.
Paul doesn’t stop there. It gets better.
3:15 “which is the church of the living God”
Paul adds that we’re not only the family of God, but the God we worship is a living God. This is the living God’s family. Here Paul calls the family the church, literally the assembly. The Bible frequently contrasts the living God with lifeless idols (anything we love, value, hope in, trust more than God himself).
Ps 84:2 “My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.”
Jer 10:10 “But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King.”
It’s fascinating to note that one of the ways the Bible describes becoming a Christian is turning “to God from idols and serving the living and true God.” (1 Thess 1:9) The author of Hebrews also warns us, “Take care…lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Heb 3:12).
The point? God is alive, not dead. The church, the local gathering of God’s people in Christ, is the family of the living God. We experience this most fully when we come together to read Scripture, sit under preaching of God’s Word, participate in the sacraments together, and enjoy one another.
In summary, the first reason Paul is concerned about our behavior – how we live our lives – is that we are a local expression of the living God’s family. We are responsible to him and to one another and our lives should reflect these great truths.
Q: WHAT IS THE CHURCH TO DO?
3:15 “a pillar and buttress of the truth” We have reached the heart of the letter. Paul refers to the church as a pillar and buttress of the truth; not “a” truth, but “the” truth. One commentator says of this phrase, “This is perhaps the most significant phrase in all of Pastoral Epistles.”
“pillar” held the roof up and set it high so that it could be clearly seen. The local church is intended by the living God to hold the truth high to be seen by world. The Ephesians who originally received this letter would have immediatley thought of the Temple Artemis in their home town. It was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, with over 100 columns 60ft high. Paul is saying, “You guys are like that, except of the truth” Its important to note that the Chrisitan church is still around and that temple in ruins.
“buttress” stabilize and protect the entire structure and everyone inside. In other words, the local church is intended by the living God to hold the truth steady and firm.
So, in sum, Paul is saying that the church – of family of the living God has a double responsibility. First, the local church is a pillar, intended by God to hold the truth high byproclaiming it. Second, the local church is also a buttress, intended by the living God to hold the truth firm by protecting it. Listen to what God is communicating here. The local church is the essential vehicle through which the living God protects and proclaims His truth. When he’s talking about the church, he’s talking about all of us, not merely one of us.
In summary, the second reason Paul is concerned about our behavior – how we live our lives – is that we are a local pillar and buttress of the truth, entrusted by God to protect and proclaim it. Our lives, therefore, should reflect that we are people of the truth, not merely a truth amonth many truths.
Q: What is the “truth”? What does the Bible tell us true things about? That leads us to the all important question. What is the truth that Paul has in view here? The truth that Paul is speaking of is the totality of God’s revelation to us in Bible, summed up in person and work of Jesus. Truth here is the truth; not a truth. The gospel here is the gospel; not agospel. The Gospel of Jesus is true whether you believe it or not. This is crucial to point out because we live in a time in which truth is self-determined – i.e. something is true as long as we believe it sincerely. In our city, truth is not something that is objectively truth that we discover and then believe. Rather, we are told that for something to be true, we need only to believe it. There couldn’t be anything more counter to how the Bible – and God – view the truth. It is not our believing the Bible or the Gospel that makes either truth. Rather they exist as autonomous, independent truths, as true truth.
Q: What are some things that the Bible tells us the truth about?
First, the Bible tells us true things about God. We can know true things about God b/c God has revealed them to us here and no where else. When God tells us what He is like in Bible, what He says about himself is not just relatively true or nearly true or frequently trut – but absolutely true, all the time, everywhere for everyone. Clearly, we don’t have exhaustive knowledge about him (after all, he is incomprehensible), but we do have truth about him revealed to us in His Word.
Second, the Bible tells us true things about nature. For example, God created all things to display his glory. Now, certainly, we don’t have exhaustive knowledge about nature for the Bible is not a scientific text book, but do have some truth.
Third, the Bible tells us true things about people. For example, the Bible tells us that each person is created in the image of God, equal in dignity, value and worth as a created being. This is the basis of the human rights movement. This explains why we have innate desire for significance, deep hunger for love, longing for beauty and basic understanding of morality. Why? Because we are all created in the image of God. Yet, we are also fallen, having rebelled, so we are also sinful and guilty before God. This explains why we can look at humanity and simultaneously see both greatness and cruelty – often in the same person.
Fourth, the Bible tells us true things about redemption, forgiveness of sin and life w/ the living God, in Jesus. The Bible explains our state of sin, our need for a Savior, God’s radical provision of that Savior and life that is truly life in relationship with him.
Fifth, the Bible explains how live works best (i.e. obedience, holiness, morals). The Bible isn’t a book of virtues – like Aesops Fables – rather in it God explains how his people are to live in alignment with how created us to be. Our obedience and character do not save us or earn us any favor before God – Christ took care of that with great climatic finality on the cross – however they do offer a way of life that is intended by God to lead to greatest fruitfulness and blessing, following our salvation. This is also why moral people, though not saved, are able to experience some of the same blessings that inevitably follow this pattern of life.
We do not invent this truth, rather we protect and proclaim it. As the truth, divinely revealed, it is our most precious possession on earth. Clearly it follows that if we are to protect and proclaim it, we must know+study+memorize+think about+obey so that, over time, it becomes part of who we are.
Yet, we live in time that denies this truth – and any ultimate, objective truth. To help us get a handleon some of the underlying philosophical presuppositions of our culture, lets look at six deaths of our postmodern age. If you remember nothing else, the essence of our age is that there is no such thing as objective reality, truth, morality, meaning; they are, in fact, all social constructs – matters of personal opinion. [Note: I was helped greatly by Al Mohler in his chapter in What happened to Truth?]
#1 Death of truth.
In past, there were always rival truths competing against one another. Our age is different in that it rejects the entire notion of fixed, universal, absolute truth entirely (though, this is a truth claim itself). Richard Rorty famously said, “Truth is made rather than found.” ie. Truth is not universal, according to Rorty, but made by each person and people group to best fit their setting and needs. This is a direct attack on Christianity. Why? Because the Bible does not claim to give us one truth/savior/gospel among many. It claims to give us the only truth/savior/gospel. In other words, the Gospel is not a social construct or personal wish fulfillment, but objective, historical, universal truth that sets sinners free.
#2 Death of the meta-narrative.
Meta-narrative? A meta-narrative is an over-arching story (or narrative) that claims to explain truth, meaning, and existence. Since, as we saw above, all claims to absolute, universal, fixed truth should be rejected, so should any meta-narratives that seek to explain such things. There are no meta-narratives, rather just a bunch of disconnected stories that are received as truth by various people and cultures. This too is a direct attackon Christianity which is the meta-narrative of all meta-narratives. e.g Creation » Fall » Redemption in Christ » Eternity). But, Christianity does not offer the gospel as one narrative among many true narratives – it is the true narrative of history and reality itself. It is for everyone, everywhere. Jesus, Bible, Christianity, the gospel story is universally and objectively true. Postmoderns hate this.
#3 Death of the text and the author.
Since truth and the meta-narrative is dead, it is therefore wrong to say there is objective meaning in anything written. Jacques Derrida (a leading French deconstructionist) said, “meaning is made, not found. Meaning is created by reader in act of reading.” So, what Derrida is saying is that the reader decides the meaning of the text, not anyone else – not even the author (!). This too is a direct attack on the Chrisitan claim that the Bible is the Word of God – and if the Word of God, we are not able to do what we want with it, but seek to carefully study and interpret it.
#4 Death of authority.
The death of texts, authors, meta-narratives, the Bible, and God as author ultimately results in the death of all authority. We become the ultimate authority, not God or anyone else. This too is a direct attack Christian claim that there is a personal, sovereign ruler of the universe to whom we’re all accountable and before whom we will all one day appear.
#5 Death of morality
If God is dead and meaning is self-created then everything is permissible and morality is ultimately based on personal preferences. If what we called “traditional” morality is a social construct, who is to say that we can’t recreate it now to better suit our day and age? After all, we’re a different society now – shouldn’t we adapt and create a socially constructed view of life and morality that is more fitting to modern sensibilities? This is also a direct attack on the Christian claim that there are universal, fixed, moral absolutes built into the very fabric of creation.
#6 Death of discomfort.
When truth is denied and we’re left on our own and we’re seeking to make sense of our lives and world – all we’re left with is therapy. “What is true?” shifts to “What makes me feel good?” Some have even called our day the “triumph of the therapeutic” In our world, everything revolves around me – what make me feel good and what makes me happy. Therefore, categories like sin and conviction are rejected and seen as harmful because “they don’t make me feel good.” What’s interesting is that people will still talk about how great it is to have spiritual experiences. But, think about that. How good can it actually feel to have a spiritual experience with a spirit about whom nothing can be obejctively, truly known?
The underlying framework of our day is rooted in the death of truth, meta-narrative, text, authority, morality and discomfort. (i.e. following person hunches) This is not spread primarily through philosophy, but through arts, movies, music, poetry, pop-culture. Ex. Modern Art.
“What’s good for you is good for you – what’s right for me is right for me.”
“Do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone.”
“Whose to say that a particular lifestyle is wrong over any other lifestyle?”
“Whose to say there’s only one way to heaven? Why not all ways?”
Here’s the thing: Our culture wants to avoid making a decision. Postmodernism is, in the end, a cowardly, intellectually lazy and inconsistent. After all, how could you say there is no such thing as objective truth? That is positioned as an objective truth. The realiyt is that no one wants a postmodern heart surgeon. No one wants a postmodern airplane pilot. No one wants a postmodern computer progammer.
Postmodernism is sheer humanism. We have placed ourselves fully in middle. We are at center. We are everything. That is why the world and our lives are broken. If you do not start with Jesus, you will go wrong. That is why the world has gone wrong. The Bible tells us that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. The world tells us the chief end of man is to glorify man and enjoy himself forever. You will base your life off of one of those.
So, why is Paul concerned with how we live? First because we are a local expression of the living God’s family. We are responsible to him and to one another. This truth should change how we live. Second, we are also a local pillar and buttress of truth, entrusted by God to protect and proclaim it.
Q: WHAT IS THE CHURCH TO BE ABOUT?
3:16 “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: Acts 19:24 “Great is Artemis of Ephesians”, commentators argue, is a common greeting. Some think that Paul is picking up on that here and saying, “You think that’s great, listen to this…” When Paul speaks about “mystery” it is referring to God’s great redemptive plan that was veiled, but not fully revealed in Jesus Christ. It it knowledge and trust in this play that produces godliness in our lives. Here, Paul quotes an early church hymn that he uses to give us a snapshot of the truth that the local church is to be the pillar and buttress of.
“He was manifested in the flesh” » Incarnation
Some will say, “Christianity just a bunch of stuff people made up to get a following.” Right. If we’re trying to get followers, we would have come up with something a bit more believable – not a triune God, not a virgin birth, not the creator of the universe coming a fetus, not a God-Man living a perfect life yet bearing the wrath of God on a cross. “What would man make up?” Answer “We are all there is. I am the center of the world. I can do whatever I want.” In fact, that’s exactly what man has done. But, no. The reality of the universe is this: The creator of all things, became part of his creation, to seek and save the lost.
“vindicated by the Spirit” » Vindication
To vindicate is to show or declare someone to be right and/or true. In Romans 1 we’re told that the Spirit did this of Jesus in the resurrection:
Ro1:4 “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead”
In other words the Spirit demonstrated Jesus is right, reasonable and true through thepower of his resurrection. If you are not a Christian and you’re wondering where to start – start with Jesus resurrection. Everything hinges on that.
“seen by angels” » Observation
Where is Jesus seen by angels? Throughout his life and ministry: @announcement, @birth, @temptation, @garden, @resurrection and @ascension. 1 Peter 1:12, speaking about the beauty of the gospel says that these are “things into which angels long to look”. That is a great verse. It is saying that the angels long to look into the things of the gospel – they’re watching these events unfold as though it were a made for TV mini-series.
“proclaimed among the nations” » Proclamation
In Jesus’ Great Commission (Mt 28) he commands us to, “Go therefore into all the nations” This means two things. First we are to go. Second, more importantly, Jesus is the Savior of the nations. He is not one savior among many saviors. Practically speaking this means that we do not exist for ourselves. God is a missionary God. He came into the world to create the gospel and now he sends us into the world with the gospel. That starts in our neighborhoods and extends to the nations. There are still over 7,000 unreached people groups in the world, accounting for just under 3billion people.
“believed on in the world” » Adoration
Mt 24:12 this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Rev 7:9 “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb”
Hab 2:14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
The gospel must not only be proclaimed in all nations, but will be believed upon in all nations. The good news of Jesus is for all nations, all people, everywhere. Jesus is the king of all nations. To believe is to give him your trust and loyalty.
“taken up in glory” » Exaltation
Jesus is now reigning as King of all Kings, Lord of all Lords, the one and only living God.
Rev22:3-5 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
Jesus, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6)
Jesus, “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (Jn 18:37)
Jesus, I am a “man who has told you the truth” (Jn 8:40)
Jesus describes God the Fathers word as “the truth” (Jn 17:17)
Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of truth” (14:17, 15:26; 16:13)
Holy Spirit will guide all believers into the truth (16:13)
Th angel in Revelation closes his conversation with John with, “These words are trustworthy and true.” Rev 22:6
All this is in contrast to Satan, who does not stand in the truth and in whom there is no truth; he is a liar and the father of of lies.
Point of all this: You must make decision about Jesus. Either you will live life on your terms or his terms. Your truth or his truth, but it cannot be both. Our culture wants to avoid making a decision, but we cannot forget that a neutral stance toward Jesus is a decision against Jesus. Biblical message of truth demands a commitment to truth. Our lives are not the result of impersonal + time + chance. Our lives are the result of an infinite and personal God who created all things and offers us redemption and eternal life, in Christ. God became man in Jesus to forgive sin, make us his people, and redeem us now and forever. It is this truth, this truth alone, that gives unity to all of life.
If you’re not a Christian, I’m sure you picked up on the fact that I didn’t make this a really easy talk for you today. I’m not trying to scare you or intimidate you. I did this because I respect you and I believe you need to know the truth and not some watered down version of it. I could say “Jesus is really nice. Need a little peace? Want a little esteem? Want a little pick me up? Want to feel better about yourself? Come to him.” No. Christianity is the truth of the universe b/c Jesus Christ is the King of the universe. He calls all people everywhere to repent and believe the good news of forgiveness of sin and life with God through him. What does that mean? Turn from a life lived for you, by you, around you and receive Jesus as your God, savior and King now – and begin to live your life for him, by him, and around him.
DCC: We are a local expression of the one true living God.
DCC: We are a pillar and buttress of the truth. Let’s be faithful to the great task entrusted to us.
No Place for Truth, David Wells
All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, Ken Myers
How then Should We Live? Francis Schaeffer
The Road Trip that Changed the Word, Mark Sayers