October 25: 1 Tim 3

Martin Downes
By the time that we reach the close of the third chapter of 1 Timothy, Paul makes it clear that the letter is intended to teach people how to behave in Church.  

Paul knows that his arrival may well be delayed and is not prepared for the life of the Church to be left in a vacuum, hence the letter (3:14-15).  Neither our own wisdom, nor what our culture thinks is normative, can be an authentic guide for essential Church practices. There is no substitute for apostolic doctrine.  

The previous chapters lay out the roles and responsibilities of men and women, the relationship of the Church to the world, the need to pray for those in authority, and the priority of proclaiming the atoning work of the only mediator, the man Christ Jesus.  As a friend of mine once put it, Paul deals with "preaching, prayer and doing your hair."  After this Paul moves on to the essential qualifications needed in the men who are to serve in the Church as elders and deacons.

Why does all of this matter?  Quite simply because of the unique identity of the Church, the unique role of the Church, and the uniqueness of the truth proclaimed by the Church.

The Church is the "household of God, which is the Church of the living God."  The Church is both a building inhabited by God and a family belonging to God.  Our God is no mental concept, nor is he represented by dumb idols and graven images.  He is the living God.  There is no greater privilege that we can possess in life than in belonging to the family of God, and of course there is no greater incentive to godliness than to know that the Church belongs to the Trinity.

Even though the Church has been formed by the Word there is a right and proper sense in which the Church can also be described as the pillar and ground, or foundation, of the truth.  The Church is to hold up and to hold out the truth of God.  The truth of the gospel is to be believed, confessed, preserved, protected and proclaimed; this will not happen without the deliberate activity of pastors and people so thrilled with soul enriching doctrine that they confess it and live by it.

This unique institution that is being built by God, with its unique role of holding up and holding out the truth, has a unique message.  It is the message about the one sent from the deepest recesses of eternity, as Sinclair Ferguson so helpfully puts it, who became in the womb of the virgin Mary smaller than the full stop at the end of this sentence.  

This Christ who humbled himself to save us by his cross has been vindicated, seen by angels, proclaimed to the nations, believed on in the world and taken up in glory (3:16).  Great indeed is the mystery of godliness.  Without these immensities and infinities the Church could not exist.

Consider how the fourth century church father Hilary of Poitiers was struck by these truths:

A virgin bears; her child is of God.
An infant wails; angels are heard in praise.
There are coarse swaddling clothes; God is being worshipped. 

The glory of his majesty is not forfeited when he assumes the lowliness of flesh.

He who upholds the universe, within whom and through whom are all things, was brought forth by common childbirth; 
He at whose voice Archangels and Angels tremble, and heaven and earth and all the elements of this world are melted, was heard in childish wailing.

The Invisible and Incomprehensible, whom sight and feeling and touch cannot gauge, was wrapped in a cradle...He by whom man was made had nothing to gain by becoming man; it was to our gain that God was incarnate and dwelt among us.

Do I think of the Church as Paul does?  Am I eager to behave in Church as God intends me to?  Am I passionately believing, confessing and proclaiming the One who was incarnate, crucified, risen and reigning for me?