The key verse of the first Epistle to Timothy, and indeed one of the basic statements of the New Testament concerning the local church, is found in chapter 3. 15. Paul says that he is writing these things to Timothy so that men might know how they ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground (stay, buttress) of the truth; (see R.V.). Here he makes four great statements concerning a local company of believers.
This is a term which occurs frequently throughout the Scriptures. The first reference to it is in Genesis 28. 17. After Jacob’s dream of the ladder set up and reaching from earth to heaven, and the divine confirmation of the covenant made with Abraham and Isaac, he says “How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven”. He called this sacred spot Bethel, meaning “the house of God”. There he raised his pillar and it was to Bethel that he returned after his twenty years of discipline in Padan-Aram. We believe that this is the passage that Paul has in mind; he mentions the house, the pillar and the angels in 1 Timothy 3. 15-16.
The house of God is where God dwells. In the Old Testament He dwelt among His people in the tabernacle. The overshadowing Shekinah cloud of glory was the visible evidence of the presence of God among His people. Moses was the servant in this house, Heb. 3. 1-5. It was built according to divine instructions and followed a divine pattern. Such also was the case with the temple built by Solomon centuries later. But the house of God today is the local church, 1 Cor. 3.16-17. Over this house Christ is both Son and Head; He is the Master of the house.
The two chief characteristics of the house are discipline and love. In 1 Corinthians especially Paul gives detailed instructions as to the order and discipline in the house of God. The reasons he gives for this are twofold. First of all the temple of God is holy, 1 Cor. 3. 17; the house must be clean. Secondly sin is like leaven; it works in the dark and has the tendency to spread, 1 Cor. 5. 6-8. Its activity can only be arrested by the counteraction of salt and fire. Then again, on the human level, a man builds a house as a haven of rest where his affections and love are given expression. Discipline can be difficult and painful but love must be all pervading and the very atmosphere of the house. It is the air conditioning which keeps all things sweet and happy, cf. 1 Cor. 13.
The expression “the church of the living God” is reminiscent of Matthew 16. 16-18. Peter’s confession was “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Then he was given the tremendous revelation of the church, the ecclesia. Granted that in Matthew 16 the reference goes far beyond the local church, but in Matthew 18 where the church is mentioned twice it obviously refers to the local church, 18. 17. But some might say that local churches were not in existence when our Lord spoke. Like the institution of the Lord’s supper recorded in Matthew 26. 26-30, the instructions were given in anticipation of the church age commencing at Pentecost. If the question be asked “what is a local church?”, the simplest answer would be one definition given by the Lord Himself in the context where He first mentions it. He said “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”, 18. 20. The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles generally describe the foundation and features of these local churches. They often met in private homes, carried out the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper, and had a recognised eldership. In their worship and service they gave room for the exercise of the priesthood of all believers and the use of divinely given gifts. As colonies of heaven they used every opportunity to spread the Gospel where they lived, Phil. 1. 27.
Paul uses the word “church” three times in 1 Timothy. In chapter 3. 5 we are taught that one of the functions of an elder is to take care of the church of God. In chapter 3. 15 we learn that the instructions Paul has written to Timothy are related to behaviour in the house of God, which is the church of the living God. In chapter 5. 16 the apostle speaks of the responsibility of the believers to care for widows in their own family, a practical evidence of godliness, so that the church could devote its resources to the widows who had no one to provide for them. It is clear that in each case he is referring to the local gathering of believers. It has been suggested that “the house of God” emphasises what we have been brought into whilst “the church of God” also indicates that we have been called out from the world to gather to His Name.
This is an obvious reference to Jacob’s pillar. The stone on which he had rested his weary head as a pillow, he finally raised up as a pillar. Four times in his life, of which this is the first occasion, he did this. Sometimes he poured oil upon the pillar. It was a testimony to God’s grace and faithfulness. The local church is a pillar of the truth. It is both a golden lampstand, Rev. 1. 20, and a pillar of testimony.
The tabernacle had 69 pillars supporting the court, the door and the veil. They all speak of Christ in His mediatorial glory. The temple of Solomon had two pillars, Jachin and Boaz, situated at the porch. In Ephesus where Timothy was living, was the temple of Artemis, said to be one of the seven wonders of the world. It was reputed to have 127 pillars, every one the gift of a king. All were made of marble, some were studded with jewels and overlaid with gold.
A pillar has at least four functions in modern life.
The church has all these functions in relation to the truth.
Here we have the base of the pillar. The word hedraioma means “a stay, support or buttress”. A pillar often has three parts; the base, the column and the capital on the top. On the base there is sometimes an inscription and inside a receptacle where documents are placed for posterity. The church is not only the testimony to the truth for all to see, but it is also the stay, support and depository of the truth.