The Ideal Church, Part 10



Do you love the church?  You should.  God does.  The church is the Body of Christ on earth, so how can a Christian not love the Body of Christ.  That’s not to say that churches always get things right; they don’t.  Churches frequently get things wrong.  But that’s not God’s fault.  The true church on earth is populated by human beings – redeemed human beings, mind you, but still human beings who are imperfect and still sinful.  The fact that the church frequently makes mistakes frustrates many of its members to the point where they just want to throw up their hands in defeat and just leave.  In fact, there’s a movement afoot in America called “the home church movement.”  It’s not new.  I’m at an age where I can recall this movement being popular a couple of decades ago.  But like most movements, every generation thinks they came up with the idea first, or they’ll succeed where others have failed.  


Is the answer to the church’s failings to just leave and start one in your basement?  Some would say so.  Others would say to stay and “bloom where you’re planted.”  Christians instinctively seem to know they should be involved in a church, but how do you know which church you should be involved in?  Most Christians today would answer that question like this:


·      We’re looking for a church with a good children’s program.  Translation: I can’t control my kids long enough to keep them quiet for an hour-long church service.

·      I want a church to meet my needs.  Translation: I heard other people say this, so I’m saying it too.  I really don’t really know what needs a can church meet.  

·      I want to experience the presence of God.  Translation: If your church doesn’t have a contemporary worship band or if I have to sing hymns, God won’t show up.  I need to feel Him in the music, man!

·      We want to be a church where the preacher preaches relevant sermons.  Translation:  Anything over 20 minutes is irrelevant.

·      I’d like to be a church that cares about me and my family.  Translation: I hope I can find free baby sitters among the church members; maybe some members can connect me with job opportunities out in the community; the church members should be mind readers and know automatically what my every need is, even if I seldom show up.

·      We’re looking for a church that supports people in need.  Translation: I have a gas/oil/electric bill to pay and no money.  Gimme a check!


Of course, that’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but after three decades in the ministry, believe me when I tell you, I’ve heard it all.  So, for all of you reading this wondering just how to find a church, let me give you helpful piece of advice.  The church isn’t here to give you what you think you need.  Yes, it’s hard to believe, but it’s a fact.  The church was never designed to do things for you.  The church is a place God created to help you grow and mature into the kind of Christian who goes out and does good work, both inside the church and out, in the name of God and for His glory.  In other words, the church is not here to do something for you, but for you to do something for it.  


So far, this is what the ideal church looks like:


·      It’s a church built on the foundation of Jesus Christ and His Word. It’s not built around the teachings of any man.  

·      The Blood of Christ was shed to purchase the church for God.  It is owned completely by Him.

·      The Holy Spirit is the administrator of the ideal church.  The church may have a board or a session, but the real leader of the church is God’s Spirit, through His gifts.

·      The ascended Christ is the Head of the ideal church.

·      Love is the motivating factor in everything the ideal church does and love for both God and His people is what moves the church.

·      Prayer is the empowering force behind everything the ideal church does.  

·      Worship of God is what characterizes the ideal church.

·      In the ideal church, its members edify and build one another up in the faith.

·      Unity of purpose is the responsibility of the each member of the ideal church.   


And that gets us to the tenth essential component of the ideal church, and it’s found in Paul’s first letter to his friend Timothy.


Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.  (1 Timothy 3:14, 15 | TNIV)


The ideal church, then, is “the pillar and foundation of the truth.”  And that’s the tenth essential component.  


Before we get too far along, we should define that word “truth.” Of what “truth” is the ideal church the pillar and foundation of?  All truth?  Political truth?  Cultural truth?  Academic truth?  As always, the Bible gives us the answer.  Near the end of our Lord’s time on earth, He was being interviewed by Pontius Pilate, who asked the question of the ages:


“What is truth?” retorted Pilate.  (John 18:38 | TNIV)


The statement that prompted that question was one made by Jesus:


Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”  “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”  (John 18:36, 37 | TNIV)


Our Lord was born for the sole purpose of proclaiming the truth of…what?  Again, the Bible helps us out with that answer.  


For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.  I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”  (John 12:49, 50 | TNIV)


As one Bible scholar put it, 


Jesus makes it plain that faith is not to finally rest in Him but in His Father who sent Him and commissioned Him.  We are not saved by forming a “Jesus cult,” but by believing in His Father.


All that Jesus did and all that He said during His earthly ministry were at the direction of the Father.  Jesus, as He said earlier in His ministry, came not to judge but to save, but His words, which came from His Father, bring judgment both in the this world and the next.  And that Word from the Father would ultimately be the final act of Jesus on the Cross; an act that would divide and condemn some, but also bless and heal others.  God’s Word is, as Paul put it to Timothy, the pillar and foundation of the truth.  The imperfect, irritating, often irrational church of Jesus Christ on the earth is the custodian of God’s Word as surely as Jesus was when He was on the earth.  Every single church, from the smallest and most remote congregation to the huge, sprawling American megachurches, is a pillar and a base from which the truth of God’s Word is proclaimed.  That’s a staggering thought.  If you’re part of a smaller congregation, it ought to make you feel good knowing that your small church is doing the same work, using the same tools as those big churches in the big cities.  That is, assuming you’re both preaching the true Word of God.


You may be thinking that I just stated the obvious.  And you’re right.  If you’re a Christian then so far these 1400 words haven’t told you nothing new.  If they have – if you never heard this before – then you should probably either start going to church or find a church that actually teaches God’s Word.  Obviously the church is the keeper of God’s Word on the earth.  What’s very interesting, though, is the context in which Paul wrote verses 14 and 15 in the third chapter his first letter to Timothy.  Let’s review what he wrote in those verses:


Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.  (1 Timothy 3:14, 15 | TNIV)


It’s late in Paul’s life and ministry, and the apostle knows it.  He surely hopes to see young Timothy, the pastor of the church in Ephesus and whom he mentored, one more time.  But he also knows that may not happen, so Paul wrote this, the first of two letters, to make sure Timothy knew some very important and urgent things.  Or, perhaps, to remind the young pastor of things he should know so well.  What Paul wanted Timothy to keep foremost on his mind is summed up in verse 16:


Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.  (1 Timothy 3:16 | TNIV)


Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.  (1 Timothy 3:16 | RSV)


And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.  (1 Timothy 3:16 | NKJV)


And great and important and weighty, we confess, is the hidden truth (the mystic secret) of godliness. He [God] was made visible in human flesh, justified and vindicated in the [Holy] Spirit, was seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, [and] taken up in glory.  (1 Timothy 3:16 | AMPC)


When different translations of the same verses differ so much, you know it was not an easy verse for the translators to put into our language.  So which is it?  The TNIV and the RSV differ so much, both probably are saying the same thing in a different way:


TNIV:  the mystery from which true godliness springs is great

RSV:  the mystery of our religion


If we combine both translations, I think we can see what Paul was getting at:


From our religion springs the secret of true godliness.


In other words, our “religion” as the RSV says, is really the Gospel; the very Word of God and from the Word of God springs the secret of true godliness:


He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.


The so-called secret of godliness – or, as the context of 1 Timothy demands, how “overseers” and “deacons” and “people” in the church ought to live – is revealed in the story of Jesus, summed up in verse 16. 


You see, if you read all of chapter 3, you’ll read Paul’s advice on how church leaders ought to conduct themselves; church leaders like overseers and deacons, but even women and members in general in the church were being given advice on how best to live right.  To you and I, living in the 21st century, having been influenced by the Bible and even by the teachings of puritans and living in a matriarchal society, how good people live has been drummed into our heads since childhood.  But that’s not the way it was in Paul’s world.  Paul’s world was a secular world; a man’s world; a world barely touched by the Word of God, and so converts living in Ephesus found Paul’s advice on living a godly life hard to take.  “How is it possible?”  “How can I do it?”  “It’s too hard.”  To these people, trying to figure it all out without the Bible and without the influence the Judeo-Christian ethic for 2000 years, Paul wrote about Jesus’ example, which is the secret to living a godly life.  


Everything Jesus did in verse 16 was done in complete obedience to His Father.  He came in the flesh because the Father wanted Him to.  His ministry on earth was empowered by the Holy Spirit and witnessed by the angels.  He preached His Father’s Word – not His own – in all the places and to all the people His Father wanted Him to.  He was resurrected from the dead and He ascended to Heaven in the power of the Father.  Every single movement in our Lord’s life was in fulfillment of His Father’s plan and will.  


The church on earth possesses all that Jesus possessed and its members ought to be taking their cue from Jesus.  There should be no doubt about how to live in the church and in the world.  













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