Upholding the Truth

I am writing these things to you so that…you may know how one ought to behave in…the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”  

- 1 Timothy 3:14-15

Today we return to Paul’s first letter to Timothy and pick up our study in 3:14–15. Young Timothy was appointed to take charge of the church at Ephesus because some teachers had introduced false doctrines there, promoting esoteric interpretations of the Law instead of using it to lead the believers into a deeper knowledge of God’s grace (chap. 1). Paul wrote 1 Timothy to help the young man fulfill his task, instructing him in proper church order. In ordaining qualified men to the two-fold ministry of elder and deacon, Timothy would end the heretics’ influence, governing the church according to God’s design (2:1–3:13).

We are informed in 3:14–15 that the apostle delivered these instructions in the form of a letter and not in person because he thought he might be delayed in coming to Ephesus to help Timothy put things back in order. But there could be no delay in addressing the Ephesian problem, and so Paul says explicitly that the letter was given to show Timothy and others “how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God.”

Paul then calls the church “the pillar and buttress of the truth” (v. 15). Other translations use the word foundation in place of buttress, suggesting that the truth finds its grounding in the church, which is the Roman Catholic position. Yet Paul cannot be saying that the church establishes truth, as elsewhere he says the Word of God — the apostolic and prophetic writings — is the church’s foundation, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:19–20). As the second-century church father Irenaeus reminds us, “the ‘pillar and ground’ of the church is the gospel and the spirit of life” (ACCNT, vol. 9, p. 178).

Buttress is a more appropriate term here because the apostle is emphasizing the way in which the church supports the truth. As the church faithfully obeys Scripture it lives out the truth and supports its claim that the gospel brings real change. When the church presents the gospel accurately it holds forth the truth to the world much as statues were displayed on pillars in the ancient world. The church is no afterthought but is established by the Father’s plan and Jesus’ work and used by the Holy Spirit to persuade the world of the love of God in Christ.

Coram Deo

John Calvin comments on the supporting function of the church of God: “Is not the Church the mother of all believers? Does she not regenerate them by the word of God, educate and nourish them through their whole life, strengthen, and bring them at length to absolute perfection?” The church supports the truth in presenting it faithfully to its members and holding them accountable to it. If we are not serving the church, we may find God’s truth less lovely.

Passages for Further Study

Deuteronomy 8
Daniel 6
1 Timothy 6:20–21
2 Peter 2:1–2

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