Calvary Road Baptist Church


First Timothy 3.15

I bring a message from God’s Word this morning about church. My goal and purpose for this morning’s sermon from the Bible is to persuade you to embrace the Scriptural notion that the Christian life is to be lived within the context of, embracing the corporate identity of, and practically manifesting a new life in Christ within the church congregation. To be sure, there is life in Christ outside the context of the congregation. My own conversion in March of 1974 came about apart from any influence of or involvement in a church congregation. The gospel message that eventually resulted in my conversion was not delivered by a preacher in a church service, I had not attended a church service in years, and the work of the Holy Spirit of God to convict me of my sins and draw me to Christ did not take place within the confines of a congregation or as a result of any church ministry known to me. However, Christian lives that begin outside the church congregation are, nevertheless, not to be lived outside the church congregation. To establish the validity of this assertion, several things need to be reviewed:

We know that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Triune Godhead, who left heaven’s glory to be born in Bethlehem of a virgin named Mary in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.[1] At the appointed time, He was crucified as a substitutionary sacrifice for sins, the Just for the unjust that He might bring us to God.[2] Reception of the benefits of His sacrificial work is by means of faith and not of works.[3] While contemporary Christians are in accord with everything I have just said, it is not at all uncommon for certain truths that are central to the Christian’s life and service to Christ to be tragically ignored or misunderstood. Allow me to enumerate them to you: First, the Lord Jesus Christ established His church during His earthly ministry and set up apostles in that church. In Matthew 16.18, Jesus said He would establish His church. In First Corinthians 12.28, the Apostle Paul explained, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles.” That is, those first set in Christ’s church, chronologically, were His apostles. Yet Jesus chose His twelve apostles in Matthew 10.2-4:

 2      Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;

3      Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus;

4      Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.

 Additionally, the Savior dictated the procedures for maintaining discipline and effecting reconciliation in His church in Matthew 18.15-22. Thus, we have Christ’s promise to build His church, the men who would initially comprise His church, and the steps for dealing with sin in His church. Add to this what the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5.25, that Christ gave Himself for the church, and you can see that the church is extremely important in God’s plan and purpose for every believer in Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 10.25, we are told, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” Then, in First Corinthians 3.9-17, the Apostle Paul reminds his readers that the church is God’s spiritual building, the church is the temple of God, and the Christian’s rewards at the judgment seat of Christ will be based upon his ministry involvement in his church. Add to that the Great Commission which our Lord Jesus Christ gave to His church, as well as the two ordinances of baptism and the communion of the Lord’s Supper being ordinances of the church (not given to Christians at large but to congregations), and you begin to see how important church and a Christian’s involvement in church really is.

One final note: First Corinthians, Second Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, First Thessalonians, Second Thessalonians, and Revelation chapters two and three were written specifically to churches. Is church important? Yes. Is church so important so as to be indispensable to the Christian life? Yes. Did Jesus found the church? Yes. Did Jesus die for the church? Is Jesus the head of the church, Colossians 1.18? Yes. How can anyone claim allegiance to Jesus Christ while ignoring His church, while refusing to faithfully attend His church, while refusing to submit to the authority of His church, and while refusing to bend his priorities and schedule to the ministry and needs of His church? I suppose allegiance to Christ can be claimed while refusing to engage in the outworking of the Christian life and the lordship of Jesus Christ through His church. However, neglect of the church, which is to say anything less than devotion to Christ exhibited by one’s commitment to Him through His church, is an empty claim.

These things said, my text for this morning is from one of the epistles that was not written to a church. First Timothy was written to the pastor of a church about his ministry in the church, the lives of those he provided spiritual leadership for in the church, and includes some remarkable statements about the church. First Timothy chapter one contains Paul’s testimony to Timothy, as well as a repudiation of two men guilty of blasphemy. Chapter two contains instructions about Christian men praying in the church, as well as Christian women’s place in the church. Chapter three begins with the qualifications for bishops (or what we typically call church pastors) and deacons.

We know from First Timothy 3.14 that Paul is hoping to come to Ephesus quickly, “But,” verse 15 (which is our text), “if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Before we focus our attention on Paul’s references to the church in First Timothy 3.15, let me settle for you the meaning of the phrase, “how thou oughtest to behave thyself.” It no longer seems very important to a lot of people these days, but when I was a kid my parents held obvious convictions about how I ought to behave myself in certain situations. In the grocery store, in a restaurant, at the park, in the living room when guests were in our home (Can you believe that some parents allow their kids to go to their rooms while guests are in their home?), and especially on those rare occasions when we went to church, how we behaved was very important indeed.

As important as church is seen to be from what I have already rehearsed with you, we see in our text how we ought to behave in light of what Paul further points out concerning the congregation where Timothy was serving. By obvious extension, our own behavior should mirror what Paul writes to Timothy, since what was true of the church in Ephesus, where Timothy was then serving, is also true of our church. The Greek word translated here is anastrefw, and has to do with conducting one’s self, with behaving one’s self. The word could well apply to the discharge of official duties and aptly covers conduct expected from, and the mutual relations of, all the groups Paul has discuss in his letter up to this point.[4] Thus, Paul is speaking to Timothy about Timothy, and about all the men, all the women, and the preachers, the deacons, and their respective wives. In short, this behavior is expected of everyone in the church.

Our concern at present is not the conduct that is insisted upon by the Apostle, but the place where this conduct is exhibited. If I may emphasize while I read the verse again: “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Three things Paul wanted Timothy (and by extension you and me) to know about the congregation where he served, this church you are assembled with this morning:


 Though you already know it, it bears repeating that Paul makes no reference here to the church being any physical structure, to any building of any sort. However, he does make an allusion to a physical entity, the Tabernacle in the wilderness and later the Temple in Jerusalem. The house of God is where God dwells, and in ancient times, God dwelt in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. It is also likely that the Apostle Paul was striking a contrast between the gathering of the saints in Ephesus and the great pagan temples that could be found in the city. Imagine the visual picture of the Apostle insisting that the small group of a couple of dozen believers who gathered to worship being what the magnificent and ornate pagan houses of worship only pretended to be, the house of God. You have to be brave to make that claim. You have to have faith to make that claim. You have to look with spiritual eyes to see the reality of that truth.

I mentioned it earlier, but the Apostle Paul specifically identified the Corinthian congregation as the temple of God in First Corinthians 3.16: “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” Then, in Ephesians 2.22, he says the same thing in so many words again: “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” The Apostle Peter also uses this metaphor in his epistle in relation to a Christian’s proper conduct. First Peter 4.17: “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?”

It is clear, then. When a group of Scripturally baptized Christians are joined together in common cause to worship and serve God by seeking to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ and by administering the ordinances of the church, that group of church members are the house of God. My, doesn’t that change your attitude to the church you are a part of, or should be a part of, or should listen to when the truth of God’s Word is proclaimed?


I have used the word church before, but it is appropriate to be a bit more concise about the word. The Greek word is ekklhsia. Ek is a preposition that means out of or from. Klesia has to do with calling. Thus, any group of people who are called out of or distinguished from a larger group is a church. The United States Senate is a church in that sense, as is a local Elks Club. People of Jesus and Paul’s day were very familiar with the word church. The term was used all the time. However, Jesus said that He would build His church. Therefore, the word church is frequently used in the New Testament in connection with Jesus Christ as identifying the uniqueness and peculiarity of the congregation. Sometimes, however, we find the phrase “the church of God which is at Corinth,” First Corinthians 1.2, or “the church of God which is at Corinth,” Second Corinthians 1.1.

It may be that Paul refers to the church of God, such as in First Timothy 3.5 and here in verse 15, as well as when writing to the Corinthians, to contrast their assembly with those groups of people who worshiped false gods. Keep in mind that those who worshiped the goddess Diana in Ephesus were a church, just not a church of, by, and for Jesus Christ. Likewise those in Athens who worshiped Athena. Those churches Paul wrote to, on the other hand, worshiped God and had Jesus as their head. Adding to the designation is Paul’s reference to the living God: “the church of the living God.” My friends, our congregation is the house of God. As well, we are the church of the living God, as opposed to those groups of people who genuflect to statues and worship that which is made of wood and stone by men’s hands. We do not worship at the feet of a cross-legged fat man with a ruby in his navel. Neither do we bow before statues of people long dead, no matter how wonderful they were in service to God. We are a called out body of believers in Jesus Christ, who have been baptized in obedience to Christ’s command, and our God is alive.

These facts should affect your consideration of your behavior and service when you are gathered with the church.


 At last we arrive at Paul’s description of what we do as a church as opposed to what we are as a church. Resorting to architectural terms, Paul declares that we are the pillar of the truth and we are the ground of the truth. Reflect on each with me:

First, a church of Jesus Christ, a congregation of believers such as the one where Timothy served, and such as the one meeting in this auditorium today, is the pillar of the truth. What is meant by this is no great mystery, since pillars are very simple structures that hold other components of a building up for all to see. Physical pillars are sometimes used to hold up components of a building, or perhaps support a roof. Pillars are also used to hold up for all to see a statue or an emblem. It is in this later sense that Paul refers to the pillar in his imagery, to show Timothy that one aspect of our description is that we, in a spiritual sense, lift up the truth as high as possible for all to see. We do this by proclaiming the gospel, by exalting Christ, and by holding up the truth of God’s Word. We must be careful not to take Paul’s imagery too far. By that, I mean that pillars do what they do passively, by simply standing under their load without moving. In the spiritual realm, however, churches are not pillars in the sense that they just are, that they stand for something apart from actually doing anything. No, in the spiritual realm being a pillar requires very hard work. What Paul seeks to convey here is our purpose of holding up the gospel high where it can be seen both near and far, exalting Jesus Christ in the eyes of men so they will consider and respond to the claims of Jesus Christ. Can individual Christians do that? Yes, we can and we should. However, like the threefold cord that is not quickly broken, a congregation working in concert can accomplish so much more than the same number of individuals working to the same end by themselves.[5]

As well, a church of Jesus Christ, a congregation of believers such as the one where Timothy served, and such as the one meeting in this auditorium today, is the ground of the truth. A mistake is made by misinterpreting the ground of the truth as a reference to some kind of a foundation. Jesus Christ is the solid rock upon which our church is founded. First Corinthians 3.11 reads, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” I think Paul is using the particular Greek word he chose to refer to a bulwark, to a buttress, rather than what is usually thought of as a foundation. Such devices are used in building construction to add stability, with the flying buttresses of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris being the most famous examples of buttresses uses to provide stability. In Ephesians 4.14, Paul warns of spiritually immature believers, “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” It is the height of arrogance for any professing Christian to think he can go it alone in the Christian life without the guidance, the stability, the nurture, and the accountability that is afforded in a church congregation context. Seducing spirits are far more intelligent and vastly more experienced than any professing Christian, and they will lure and entice the gullible and the unchurched with the doctrines of devils, causing them to depart from the faith, First Timothy 4.1. The Christian life can be like the torrent of a white water rapid, with unchurched professors like isolated little pebbles that are relentlessly pushed down stream with the force of its strong current. When pebbles are behind a strong boulder, however, the rush of water is diverted and the force of the fast moving water is shunted aside. In like manner does the Christian benefit from being in church.

How will you behave in the house of God, the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth? Are you dismissive of any faithful involvement in church? Do you see commitment to and submission to the body as an irrelevancy, as a distraction, as crimping your personal style? Be careful before you answer. The Apostle Paul wrote a number of inspired letters to congregations and to individuals precisely so Christians would understand how to live their Christian lives within the context of the church they ought to be a part of. As well, remember that Jesus Christ gave Himself for the church, set apostles in the church, provided instructions for the church, gave astonishing authority to the church, and installed gifted men to equip you for ministry in the church.

There can be no denying by an honest person that the church of Jesus Christ is very important, should be crucial in the life of every genuinely born again Christian, and that at the judgment seat of Jesus Christ rewards given by the Savior to believers will be based upon life and service in the congregation. We are the house of God. We are the church of the living God. We are the pillar and ground of the truth. What an awesome privilege for a congregation like ours. What a weighty responsibility we have.

Does your life reflect those declarations made by Paul? Perhaps you should speak with the person who watches for your soul, Hebrews 13.17. Perhaps those you would like to see converted to Christ will be saved from their sins once you are behaving yourself in the house of God.

[1] Isaiah 7.14; 9.6-7; Micah 5.2; John 1.1-3, 14; Luke 2.1-20

[2] Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Galatians 4.4; 1 Peter 3.18

[3] Genesis 15.6; Romans 4.1-6; 5.1-12

[4] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 624.

[5] Ecclesiastes 4.12

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