Originally published May 21, 2020
1 Timothy 3:15 says that the church is “a pillar and buttress of the truth.” In what way does the church “uphold” or “support” the truth? Does this mean that the church maintains truth? What is the responsibility of the church regarding the truth?
1 Timothy 3:14-15 reads,
“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.”
The meaning of this passage is certainly mysterious if we look at the condition of the Church as it exists in the world today. We can only understand the significance of this passage if we look at this passage in the context of both of the epistles to Timothy and the other epistles of Paul. If we look around us at what professes to be Christian, we assuredly find a variety of assertions of what is true. Everywhere there is confusion and conflicting opinions. Certainly, this cannot be the “pillar and buttress of truth.” Certainly, what we see around us today cannot be what the apostle is referring to as the “church of the living God.”
To understand how the church is the “pillar and buttress of truth” and at the same time displays such a strange mixture of truth and error we must compare four pairs of epistles. When we compare 1 Timothy with 2 Timothy, 1 Thessalonians with 2 Thessalonians, 1 Peter with 2 Peter, and 1 John with 2 and 3 John, we see a uniform pattern of declension. This is most striking in the two epistles we are concerned with here, 1 and 2 Timothy. Notice here the difference between the verse we are looking at and 2 Timothy 2:19-22. There are four things to notice.
- First, the phrase “the Lord knows those that are his” tells us of the difficulty of even knowing who is a true disciple.
- Second, we are no longer looking at the “household of God” but rather we are looking at “a great house”. That this is not simply a growth of Christianity is shown by the fact it contains a mixture of vessels some of “wood and clay” and that some are for “dishonorable [use].” This condition is emphasized by the descriptions in the following two chapters as well as the warning the apostle gives to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29, 30.
- Third, there is the exhortation to “cleanse” ourselves from what is dishonorable. The force of this is given by J N Darby when he translates verse 21 as “If therefore one shall have purified himself from these, in separating himself from them.” The phrase in italic is added (shown by being given in italic) to give the force of the expression in the original Greek text.
- Fourth, we have the admonition to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart.” The distinction is being made between those who have a pure (undivided) heart and those who are a part of the mixed company making up the “great house.”
The sad fact is that even though there may be much commendable activity and much preaching of the gospel, from the very beginning there has been a turning away from the display of what the “church of the living God” should look like. The end of this trend will, of course, be the removal of the church from being the testimony for God on the earth. (See Rom. 11:21; Rev. 2:5; etc.) Nevertheless, where will someone find any truth in the present world? Remarkably, by God’s grace, the truth is still only found in the “church of the living God.”
Only by Christians is the gospel preached. No one else has any kind of “good news.” Only by Christians is the judgment of this world preached, in spite of the fact that various errors in detail come in to cloud the message. If, however, we want to know what the “church of the living God” looks like, we must find “those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart.” This is not a heart that seeks a prominent place in the world, great accomplishments, or fabulous buildings. Such a heart must first and above all seek the truth in Scripture as to what God says the true “church of the living God” really is.
Notice we are not talking about truth in general. We are specifically looking at how “one ought to behave in the household of God.” So, in this sense the only place we can find this is among those who are in fact acting upon the truth given in Scripture as to what the “church of the living God” is. It is here alone that we find a pillar (display) and buttress (support) of truth (regarding behavior in the household of God). Yet, thank God there is still much work that is truly for the Lord in the gospel and in various kinds of service throughout the Christian profession. The apostle Paul’s word to the Colossians is certainly a model for us in these last days: “Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (See Phil. 1:15-18)