Lesson 8: "How. . .To Behave Thyself in the House of God, Which is the Church. . ." (I Timothy 3:15)
I Timothy 3:14--4:6
Paul's Letters To Preachers. This is lesson #8. Welcome again to our study. At the outset, let's do a little review. In I-Tim. ch. 1, we learned Paul was writing to Timothy, and this evangelist-missionary, Timothy, had been encouraged to go to Ephesus by Paul and that is where Timothy was when Paul wrote this letter. We learned in the first chapter that there were problems in the Ephesian congregation. Paul directed Timothy to charge some persons or some group of persons there at Ephesus to "teach no other doctrine" (I-Tim. 1:3). After Paul had given more warning concerning false teachers and false doctrines, he began (in ch. 2) with the words: "I exhort therefore..." Following that statement, the apostles first exhorted or pleaded that vast and extensive use be made of prayer. Men should pray every where, lifting up holy hands, i.e. honorably, appropriately; they should pray for kings, for public authorities, for all men, [why Paul?] that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life (I-Tim. 2:2). Then the apostle moved on to the conduct of women. This was followed by qualifications for elders, which we covered in lesson #6; this was followed by qualifications of deacons in our last lesson. That brings us to v.14 of ch.3, where this lesson (lesson #8), begins. That verse (v.14, please note) starts with the words: "these things." Embedded in the words "these things," the writer makes reference back to prayer, the dress and conduct of women, qualifications for elders and deacons. Paul said in effect, I write "these things," Timothy for an express purpose. Why Paul? He expressed the hope "to come unto thee shortly," i.e. Paul's intentions were to come to Ephesus in the near future to assist Timothy and to personally help with the problems at Ephesus. However, just in case Paul should be delayed or his plans should breakdown for some reason; Paul felt it was important to communicate this to Timothy and to encourage him to hang-in-there and continue to work with the Ephesians, even if Paul's plans should fail. So, we find embedded in these two words, i.e. "these things" the purpose of Paul's writing to Timothy. Let's read v.14-15-16. Are you ready? Please read with me! Beginning in I-Tim. 3:14, "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: 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. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory."
Alright, as we said, Paul elaborated upon his purpose for writing to Timothy. Whether Paul came to Timothy or not, we do not know, there is no evidence he did. However, just in case Paul was delayed, what did he write? "That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God." The KJV here uses, "that thou mayest know" i.e. Timothy; however, other translations including the ASV and NASB translate this into a more general statement. The ASV says: "how MEN ought to behave themselves..." The point is, this applies to everyone, not just Timothy. The "house of God" is here identified as "the church." "The church of the living God." Notice closely, it says; which is THE church...it does hot say: a church. There is only one church of God, not many churches as is so often asserted in the religious world of our day. Notice again, the church is "the house of God." The house of God is where God's children are, i.e. the family of God, if you will. This is not talking about a building. The church is God's family. What is this church? The church is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (v.15). A pillar is a great column, i.e. a great post that supports (in this case): "TRUTH." That is the picture presented. The church is the very ground or the very foundation of TRUTH. The church is based upon, supported and gives off the light of the gospel (Matt. 5:14) which preserves the world, actually. This is a very complex thought. So, Paul proceeded to say: "without controversy great is the mystery of godliness." It involves Jesus the Christ as God. He came to earth and dwelt in the flesh as a man (John 1:14). It involved Jesus being justified in the Spirit, being seen of angels, being preached to the Gentiles. This gospel is believed on in the world. AND, Jesus ascended back up into glory, i.e. back to heaven. Jesus said to the Heavenly Father as he was praying (John 17:17), "thy word is truth." Truth, as we have said before means very simply: that's the way it is. Truth is the reality of any situation. Many observations could be made with respect to v.15-16 (here in I-Tim. ch. 3). You may want to re-read this several times or perhaps even memorize it. You might compare what is said here with what Paul said to these same Ephesian people back in the last four verses of Eph. ch. two. Matthew quoted Jesus as saying: "I will build my church..." (Matt. 16:18) He said, "upon this rock I will build my church..." What rock Jesus? That rock statement that Peter had just said, that: "thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." That was the truth of the matter, you see. When we get this ingrained into our thinking as the reality of the situation, then many of our problems, like those problems at Ephesus simply dissolve away. These problems are corrected by the very reality of faith itself. When we have that faith, it is only natural to act accordingly. And, when that happens, the problems involved disappear naturally. Thus, in so many words, Paul was expressing to Timothy the formula for solving problems at Ephesus and there's a great residual lesson in this for us.
Now, if you and I understand what to expect and what attitudes exist; then, we can better anticipate how to cope with the situation at hand with greater success. I was a teacher in the public school system for more than twenty years. I taught Agriculture and later Chemistry for several years. Some students study simply because momma wants it and expects it. Other students DON'T STUDY for that same reason. Still others work hard because making good grades is a form of competition among their peers and they want to shine. Sometimes it's a combination of these things and there are still other reasons. However, if you can determine what motivates the student, you may be better able to coax him/her on to higher and higher levels. At least you have some idea where to put your pry-bar and where to spend your time. Paul in the first verses here, I-Tim. ch. 4, gives Timothy a preview of coming attractions, so-to-speak. Timothy, this is what you can expect. Here is prophesy from the Holy Spirit. Let's read it! We'll read the first six verses. Are you ready? Beginning in I-Tim. 4:1-6. V.I, let's read!
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou has attained."
Alright, "in the latter times," when is that? The Holy Spirit had made it clear, to Paul at least, to expect these thing in the latter times. Some take this phrase "in the latter times" eschatologically, i.e. as the very last things that will happen in this age. However, I am persuaded it refers to the Christian age, i.e. the church age which included even the time in which Paul wrote this. And the rudiments of these things had already begun to show even at Ephesus. In other words, this is associated at least to some degree with the false teachers (Paul made reference to back in I-Tim. 1:3). It may not all have been fulfilled then and there, I didn't say that; but, by implication there was association at Ephesus for Paul said (v.6) "If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things..." Now, what was the prophesy via the Holy Spirit? (#1) "in the latter times some shall depart from the faith." This was clearly happening at Ephesus in that some were teaching other doctrines (1:3). (#2) In the latter days, some shall give "heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils." Again this was clearly happening at Ephesus (1:3), at the time of this writing. And, may I ask: what is a "seducing spirit?" Of course, that is one that tempts, persuades and allures one away from the right way. In doing this (#3), they will be "speaking lies in hypocrisy," i.e. in pretense. The word hypocrisy comes from the Greek and means essentially our word "acting" as they do it in Hollywood, i.e. pretending to be something you are not. (#4) "Having their conscience seared with a hot iron," i.e. hardened and beyond feeling. They have lost their sensitivity to truth, justice and right. Up unto this point, Paul has described the nature of these false teachers, their character and their attitude. However, (#5) the next two points (in v.3) "forbidding to marry" and "commanding to abstain from meats," describe points of doctrine, i.e. tenets taught. And, it goes without saying this is contrary to sound doctrine, Paul implies. Apparently this doctrine, at least in some rudimentary form, was being taught at Ephesus, at that time. However, we know from history and even at the present time the doctrine of celibacy is still commonly taught by some religions of our day. In the centuries between Paul and us, it was apparently emphasized even more. Many spent their lifetime in monasteries, as monks, thinking they were doing some great celibate and religious thing. On the forbidding to marry tenet, Paul made no further comment. However, on the other: "commanding to abstain from meats," Paul added this: "which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer." Obviously, this related to the dietary laws associated with the Israelites in the O.T. (as discussed in Leviticus ch. 11) and this gives us a clue concerning the false teachers at Ephesus, who they were AND what they were pushing. Peter learned these laws were changed or repealed at the time of Cornelius (Acts ch. 10), and thus they are not binding upon us in the Christian age, contrary to what was being taught at Ephesus. What Peter learned on the rooftop of Simon the tanner's house is here, thus, verified (in I-Tim. 4:4).
Would you take just a minute and go back with me to Acts ch. 20 and those verses in which Paul prophesied by the Holy Spirit concerning the elders at Ephesus? Do you remember? Paul said: "after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock." (Acts 20:29). And then in the next verse, to the Ephesian elders, came that eye-opening, awesome and astonishing statement: "of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." Now, I'm not sure about this; but, I ask you the question: could these things that Paul is writing to Timothy (I-Tim. 4:1-5) be the same thing as Paul had prophesied to (and of) the Ephesian elders when they came down .to Miletus back some five or six years before? Were some of these false teachers that Paul and Timothy were grappling with among the very ranks of the Ephesian elders themselves? As I said, I'm not sure on this. However, it could have been. According to Rev. 2:2, (written perhaps 30 years after I-Tim. was written) some in the Ephesian congregation had been found liars and some had apparently falsely claimed to be apostles and had been exposed. Was this some of that "vain jangling" and "swerving" out of the road, Paul made mention of back in I-Tim. 1:6? Some, you will remember were "desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm." Whatever the case may have been, whoever the false teachers were; you can see that there were some real problems in the Ephesian congregation and they needed Paul and Timothy's help in untangling this mess. Whoever was involved.
This brings us to v.6, Paul said: Timothy, "if thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ." I.e. put the Ephesian brethren in remembrance: these things are wrong. In remembrance of what? "These things" in v.6 undoubtedly refers back to that "forbidding to marry" and "commanding to abstain from meats." And, of course, "these things" also included the negative attitudes Paul had mentioned, "speaking lies in hypocrisy" and "giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils," (etc.). You'll be a good minister of the Lord Jesus if you can do this, Timothy. That preacher, like every preacher, had his work cut out for him, didn't he? You can see why much prayer was needed as Paul recommended at the beginning I-Tim. ch. two and that it be handled "acceptably in the sight of God" (2:3). You can see why it was particularly important that everyone stay in their place, that the woman not try to teach and usurp authority over the godly men of the congregation that were trying to reconcile things, such that, everyone would know how they should behave themselves in the house of God, the church, and restore TRUTH to every soul. You can see why it was particularly important that elders (or bishops) meet the qualifications Paul had laid down. You can see why it was particularly important that the deacons also be grave and be good examples. An attempt to reconcile problems in a congregation can sometimes be the very force that splits that congregation and causes that chasm to widen and deepen and division to solidify. It is only when everyone stays in their proper place and acts responsibly, in truth and "nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine" (v.6), that even the simplest of problems can be worked out, with everyone edified and restored. A few misinformed and persuasive rogues in a congregation can do a lot of damage in a short span. It is no wonder that the denominational world thrives at the expense of truth. It is no wonder that the "doctrines of devils" (Paul's term for it) are so widely accepted and perpetuated in our land. It is no wonder the denominations all use different names, worship in diversity, teach error and the Lord God of heaven is not praised or glorified. Our God was manifest in the flesh of that man named Jesus. He was believed on in the world and received up into glory (3:16). "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." (Rom. 1:16) We are saved by the gospel (I-Cor. 15:2), the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He will take vengeance on them that know not God and obey not the gospel (II-Thess. 1:8). Have a good day!