1 Timothy

The character of the church, 3:14-16


Before continuing with his instructions on the ordering of Christian life, Paul explains why he has written this letter to Timothy. He writes so that if he is delayed in visiting Ephesus, Timothy will be able to explain to the congregation how they aught to behave in church. Having explained the purpose of the letter, Paul goes on to define the church as the community which the living God has called into being and entrusted with divine truth. This truth, this mystery, is then defined in six poetic clauses which serve to form a foundational Christological creed.

The passage

v14. In this, the first letter of Paul to Timothy, Paul thinks he is going to be able to visit Timothy at Ephesus in the near future. Of course, this was not to be, as we learn from his second letter to Timothy. So, although Paul hopes to visit Timothy soon, he writes to make sure that Timothy is equipped for ministry.

v15. The purpose of Paul's instruction is to help Timothy understand the appropriate conduct to expect from those who are members of his Christian fellowship; "the household of God", the community of God's people, the church. The church, or assembly of believers, is God's divinely appointed institution which serves to preserve, uphold and communicate God's revealed truth. Of course, there is no idea in the New Testament of church in the terms of an institutional denomination. For the New Testament writers, the church is the local assembly of believers, an assembly which mirrors the heavenly assembly of all believers gathered with Christ in the last day.

v16. As for God's revealed truth, that which guides the appropriate conduct of God's people, it is a divine "mystery". The word "mystery" is somewhat confusing since it's not so much a mystery, but rather a divine secret, a secret once hidden now revealed. This secret, now revealed to broken humanity, is the gospel, the important news concerning the salvation wrought in the person of Jesus Christ, his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Paul provides us with a summary of the news, much in the form of a creed:

i] Jesus broke into our world as a flesh and blood person, fully human.

ii] Evil humanity may have condemned Jesus, but he was vindicated in his resurrection through the power of the Holy Spirit - no grave could hold the righteous one.

iii] The heavenly host watched on in amazement as Jesus miraculously shattered the bonds of death.

iv] Jesus' resurrection heralded the world-wide proclamation of God's once-hidden secret, the message of God's divine grace for broken humanity.

v] Throughout the world people have heard and believed, they have committed their lives to Jesus.

vi] Jesus, the ascended one, the one "taken up in glory", is now Lord, the ruler of all.

Like a light on a hill

Australia, just like most other Western countries, is no longer nominally Christian. The majority would claim to believe in God, even Jesus gets recognized by some 60% of the population, but increasingly nominal Christian affiliation is fading fast. As a consequence, the church buildings which dot every town or village are slowly being sold off as private homes. Even the smallest village had its church, often multiple church buildings. In Australia where many communities sprang up around gold mines, there may be nothing left of the community except a little timber church. Sadly, its all fading away - "moth and rust doth corrupt.



What is most concerning is that these little buildings usually have their one or two in attendance. Often they are lovingly cared for by the attendees: cleaned, painted and grounds mowed. And strangely, the wider community of non-attenders love their little church building; its an integral part of their community. Yet, church officials, bean-counters, through to the local minister who believes in centralization and amalgamation, are closing down the little village churches, or branch churches, and selling them off.

In our passage today Paul tells Timothy that the church, not the building, but the community that meets in the building, is God's household, the pillar and buttress of divine truth. We, the Christian fellowship, are a fortress of truth, a bastion of truth. The local fellowship, the two or three who meet with Jesus, have the honor of preserving, studying and then communicating a divine "mystery". Mystery is probably not the right word; "secret" would be better. God's little people, often found in a little building, possess a secret once hidden but now revealed. The secret is, of course, the gospel, the news of God's grace realized in the person of Jesus Christ. We possess the whispered hopes of God's Ancient people.

The importance of the little building is that it houses this reality. It stands in the midst of an increasingly secular and hostile world, its cross displayed for all to see and its doors wide open to those who search for truth. It may even have a message board out the front - "Jesus Saves, and it's not with a bank!" To retreat and abandon our presence in the world is next to stupid.

To reinforce the importance of "the truth", the "mystery", Paul gives Timothy a quick summary of its content. It's not a complete exposition of the gospel, just some of the salient points. I well remember an evangelist speaking of an address he gave to a gathering of unbelievers. There was a believer present who, after the address, pointedly asked, "where is the blood?" To which he responded, "whose blood and where?" We could ask Paul the same question because he doesn't mention Jesus' crucifixion in v15, but so what?

God's news to humanity - I could say good news, but it's not good news if you don't believe it, is it? - God's news to humanity is totally tied up in the person and work of Jesus Christ: his life, death, resurrection, ascension and present rule as Lord. Because of who Jesus is and what he has done, that is, through his faithfulness and our faith in his faithfulness, we possess life in all its fullness, now and forever.

It's a sad truth, but sometimes the secular world sees something that we believers and too close to see. They don't like to see their little village church flogged off because there is something special about the building - it's like a light on a hill. We, of all people, should know why it's special; it serves as a sanctuary of truth. Sure, the Vikings may burn it down, but we shouldn't.


1. A church is a gathering of God's people with Christ, serving as a fortress of truth. Discuss the notion that the church building has value because it serves as a sanctuary of truth.

2. In v16 we are provided with a summary of gospel truth. Use it to shape a gospel presentation. Discuss the different models you come up with.

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