Title: The Conduct of God’s House
Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Passage: 1 Tim 3:14-16
Why is TCCBC making changes to its bylaws to reflect the model of 1 Timothy 3 (elders and deacons)? It is because TCCBC does not belong to the people or to the pastors, it belongs wholly to God, and, ultimately, what God desires is that his gospel is proclaimed, protected, and projected. We are to speak the gospel in all we do, we are to exercise right conduct through order so that the gospel is not snuffed out by false teachers, and such conduct displays the attitude we possess as we live out our days as Christ’s bride. And so, we are making changes because we want to be faithful, as precisely as possible, to God’s Word. 1 Timothy 3 lays out that there are only two offices in the church: elder and deacon. More importantly, Paul writes to Timothy with instructions about how to orient the church because it will prolong and protect the influence of the gospel in the world. It is because of the gospel that proper conduct and order within the church is urgent, necessary, and a matter of godliness. It is urgent because Christ is coming back to judge us. It is necessary because God lives in us and makes us the protectors of truth. It is an issue of godliness because we reflect a willingness to obey and display the glory and desires of God who saved us through his Son.
- Why is it important to do things as God tells us to do them?
- Why doesn’t Paul just wait until he sees Timothy face-to-face before instructing him on how to order the church? What implications does this have for our church as those who have received these same instructions through Paul?
- The church of Ephesus was becoming too comfortable with allowing the influence of false teachers to continue. What was Paul’s instruction in 1 Timothy 2 and 3 in order to combat that issue?
- What in our lives threatens to choke out the gospel, and why don’t we seek to make immediate changes to snuff them out?
- In what ways do we compromise faithfulness for comfort or pleasure? In what ways do we say that the Bible applies strongly to this one area of my life, but not to this area?
- Is the Bible (and God) only for the bad parts of our lives? Or is its (and his) influence supposed to extend to every part?
- How have you ignored God’s instruction in your own life?
- In what ways have you forgotten what it means for the living God to live inside you?
- Why is it a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God?
- Why, for Christians, does that fear turn into joy?
- What is the significance of Paul’s hymn at the end of 1 Timothy 3:14-16, and what does it teach us about how we are to order not only our own lives but the church as a whole?
The Conduct of God’s House – 1 Timothy 3:14-16
I’m not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination. If you ask my wife about my ability to understand things scientifically, she’ll be the first one to tell you that I understand very little about how science works. There this one specific time where we were “arguing” about how I really do know things about science, and she said, “okay, prove it. Tell me something about science.” And my answer was, “THE SUN!” That’s my authority how things work. The Sun is often the answer, scientifically, to a lot of things. Despite my gaping inadequacy for scientific facts, I know that the body is made up of DNA, and that DNA is not only something that determines your external features, but that also determines your internal features—how you respond to certain illnesses, how you thrive in different conditions, how your personality exudes itself, etc. It is your DNA that often dictates your baseline health, intelligence, etc. If you have good DNA for the context you live in, then there’s a higher probability that you’ll have proclivities that make things easier in life, whereas if you have “bad” DNA, then there’s a higher probability that life may be harder. If you can’t tell I’m using very unspecific language for a very specific reason, but I’m using this analogy because today, and for the next couple of weeks, we’re going to talk about certain aspects that comprise the DNA of the church. Two weeks ago, we were in Ephesians 4:7-16, and we discussed God’s provision of diverse gifts through Christ for the unity and maturity of his people. Some of those gifts include appointing certain individuals to certain offices to act as examples and instructors. It’s these offices that I want to focus our attention on over the next few Sundays, and we’re going to look at two offices of the local church in particular: elders and deacons.
You might wonder why focus in on these offices now? The reason why I’m embarking on this mini-series is for two reasons: 1) to dig deeper into what it means to be the one family of God living in his house—these are significant themes in Ephesians, and we want to be very clear about how seriously God is about his possessions. Those who belong to him, he prizes in the highest possible way, because they identify as those saved by the righteousness of his Son. As God loves his Son, he loves those whom his Son has saved. So, we dig deeper to understand God’s household. 2) We’re undertaking this miniseries because this fall, we’ll be making official changes to our bylaws to reflect what we believe are biblical guidelines for the church’s structure. We will no longer have a “church council,” rather we’ll have deacons who function to serve in varying capacities within the church. Likewise, those who we currently call deacons will be called elders. And one of the ways that we ensure the smooth transition of these legal, as well as fundamentally ecclesiological, changes is by teaching you what it means to be an elder and a deacon.
So, the series will span about 3 to 4 weeks, and I want, in these weeks, to teach you about these offices, but I don’t want to teach them to you like a lecture. I want to show you the grounds for why we’re making these changes in Scripture. I don’t just want to explain to you what elders and deacons are, rather I want to open your eyes to who they are and how they fit within the DNA of a local church. What we’re doing here is essentially mapping the DNA—we want to answer why, who, and what. Why elders and deacons, who are these elders and deacons, and what do they do?
This morning, to begin our series, we want to answer that why question. We’ll actually talk very little about the specifics of elders and deacons. Instead, we’ll focus on the motivations—the reasons why we’re making these changes.
So, I invite you to open your Bibles with me to 1 Timothy 3:14-16, and we’ll spend our time in these verses to unpack the question of why make the change to elders and deacons. TWoL.
I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
Our proposition for this morning, the reason why we are striving to change our bylaws, is this: the truth of Christ prevails when we maintain order in God’s house. And if we are zealous for the truth of Christ then we have an obligation to react to this gospel in three specific ways:
- Maintain God’s Order because It’s Urgent
- Maintain God’s Order because It’s Necessary
- Maintain God’s Order because It’s Godly
1) Maintain God’s Order because It’s Urgent
See what Paul writes here in verse 14: I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long. The first thing to notice is his reference to “these things.” What is “these things”? And to answer that question, we have to look at the broader context of this letter. The apostle Paul is writing to his protégé, Timothy, who he has left in charge of the church of Ephesus. Now, this letter is written maybe a year or a couple of years after his first imprisonment when he wrote his letter to the Ephesians. So, there’s some background here that’s facilitating what Paul assumes about the people of Ephesus. He is assuming that they can recall part of his instruction. They know that they are the house of God. They know that they have been elected in God’s grace through faith and saved from wrath. They know that they are now one new body under Christ through his atoning sacrifice—Jew and Gentile. They know that the church is the instrument by which God displays his glorious plan of salvation to the universe. They know they are to be a people set apart as those who belong to the house of God.
But like the book of Ephesians reminds us, we, as humans, are prone to forget. In fact, there were people in the Ephesian church who were attempting to undo all that Paul had taught them in the first place. It’s possible that these false teachers wanted to enslave the people and restore the idea that even the church, Jews and Gentiles, is saved by the law and works. And so, in order to cause them to remember, Paul gives Timothy to Ephesus to remind them of the gospel and to put these false teachers in their place. See, what was likely happening is that some were misapprehending what gifts they had, or what their role was in the church, and without the proper structure in place, people were stepping up to do things when they shouldn’t have been stepping up to do them.
Paul wants to make sure that these people know their place. They either submit to the proper order and doctrine within God’s house, or they can leave God’s house, because what they teach is not from God. He wants the Ephesians to remember what and who purchased them, and what that means for their lives now, but that cannot happen if there is rampant chaos and opposite teaching. Thus, the apostle writes to his protégé, “I write these things to you,” namely, all that you read in chapters 1-3. I write to you about these false teachers, I write about the need to pray for peace, for proper submission, for proper division of labour. In other words, I am writing to you about how to best orient the church.
And I am writing this to you, despite the fact that I hope to come to you soon! Writing back then was an expensive thing to do. To get the papyrus, to have the proper writing tools, to take the time to scrawl over your words so that it’s legible, it was a tedious effort. YET, Paul is taking the time to write because he likely won’t make it there fast enough. The first part of verse 15 tells us this, “but in case I am delayed.” The words “in case” there note a sense of high probability or likelihood. It’s likely that he will not get there for a while, despite his trying to get there in haste. In other words, I’m writing about how to structure the church because it’s a desperately urgent issue. The urgency was so great that even though Paul had every expectation to eventually see Timothy again, he had to make sure his apprentice started to do this sooner rather than later.
TCCBC, there’s an urgency for why we are changing the bylaws. There’s an urgency in us in the same way that there was an urgency in Paul. Why? Because, ultimately, Timothy wasn’t changing things, or placing false teachers in the right place, for the sake of Paul. He was doing it for the sake of God, his glory, and the gospel. There’s an urgency because what bedevils the lives of the Ephesians is the risk of losing some who confess to believe if the church is improperly ordered or these false teachers are left unchecked. There’s a risk that Christ might return, and some of those who Paul has spent so much time investing in, they might be found to be unfaithful. TCCBC, we are urgent about making these changes in the way that God through Paul commands because we are zealous not to lose any of you. We do not know when Christ shall return to judge the living from the dead, but we want to do everything that we possibly can to make sure that on that day, when you stand before the Great White Throne that you do not stand there with any doubt. And this is why we seek to maintain order—because when there is proper order, when the right men are declaring the gospel, sifting out the false doctrines, and calling for peace, like Timothy was charged to do, then we all can know that whether Christ returns tomorrow or years from now, Christ’s testimony in you shall not be put to shame. There’s an urgency that we maintain God’s order because what’s at stake is the gospel—what’s at stake is the bride of Christ remaining faithful to her bridegroom.
2) Maintain God’s Order because It’s Necessary
Not only do we seek to maintain God’s directed order because it’s urgent, but we also do it because it’s necessary. Look with me at verse 15, “but in the case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”
The ordering of the church, the “these things” in verse 14, which refer to the previous chapters—all of it is a “must.” It is not to be questioned. It is of required conduct. Why? Because this house does not belong to you. You are children. Heirs, yes. But this is God’s house. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you think should be the case here. If what you think does not accord with what God requires, then heaven will be a sore disappointment for you. To reject God’s order here, is to reject his right to order the plans he has for you in eternity, and what a frightful thing, but we can’t force you to comply. We’re not in the business of making your membership with us a matter of coercion. The people of God called into the gospel is a voluntary people. You’re here, I hope, because Christ has so affected your heart and your desires that doing what God wants isn’t something you’re battling in your conscience. No, I hope that you want to do what pleases God because you have been pleased in God through Christ’s work on a cross.
But, I’m not standing here to water it down this morning. What God says we are to do, we will do, ultimately, whether you want to do it or not. What God says is good for us to believe, we will believe, because he is God, and we are his creatures. Who God says shall lead, they shall lead. What God requires us to cast out, we shall cast out. Why? Because this is the assembly of the living God. This is what Hebrews 10:26-31 has to say about this: For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has ignored the Law of Moses is put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. HOW MUCH MORE SEVERE PUNISHMENT do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And Again, “The Lord will judge his people.” IT IS A TERRIFYING THING TO FALL INTO THE HANDS OF THE LIVING GOD.
It is necessary to maintain God’s order because God commands it. In him and in his presence is no hint of what is false or sinful or contradictory to his nature. If we go on ignoring the commands of God, if we ignore the instructions given to us on how to order our church, then we put ourselves in jeopardy. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God when we refuse to conform ourselves to his image.
Furthermore, it is necessary to maintain God’s order because the church is a pillar and support of the truth. This word for “pillar” is the same word we find for the pillars that held up God’s temple built by Solomon—one of the names of those pillars was given to someone in our congregation as a namesake: Jachin, which means “he shall establish.” The other pillar’s name was Boaz, which means, “in him is strength.” As these pillars established and upheld the house of God, so too does the church establish and uphold the truth. The greater temple is here. It’s not made of gold, silver, and bronze. No, it’s made of clay and sand. It’s made of flesh and bone. We’re it. We’re the temple of the holy God, and inside us resides the truth. And how we present ourselves externally often characterizes how we are oriented internally. When our external is out of place or improperly ordered, it’s likely that our hearts, too—our motivations, inclinations, desires—are misplaced.
This is a terrifying thing. If you know anything about the temple and the process by which one must have had before entering into the presence of God, then you will know that our being the temple must not only contain the truth, but the very structure from the façade down to the holy of holies must be perfect and acceptable. Likewise, our demeanour must match our heart—if the truth is inside us, then it ought, also, to be outside of us. This ought to make us tremble because where we are slow in our urgency, where we are blind in our necessity to do things as God would have us do them, we display a willingness to offend the holy God of the universe.
Not only does the living God dwell in us, but he has appointed us to be the building blocks for his everlasting home by placing his truth in us. And unless we realize, first and foremost, that we are imperfect both as individuals and as a collective body in need a perfect Saviour to save us and call us to repentance and obedience, we face the threat of hell. It is necessary to do as God says because we have the fear of God in us—fear of what it means to stand before his holiness, his omnipotence, his requirement of justice. Where we have fallen short of the truth, that must be sloughed off—not just in our actions but in our very nature. At our very core, we are born into the world as children of wrath. The corruption of Adam, of our parents, that is also our corruption to bear, and then we add to it with the guilt of our own sinfulness. We are drenched totally and thoroughly in sin—corrupted and polluted by it. Paul writes to Timothy with instructions so that this corruption and pollution might be put to an end both from within and without, and one of the ways to do this is to make sure that the house of God is put in order both in our hearts and in our churches. We are called to have elders that expose sin in their preaching and teaching. We’re to have deacons that serve to upset the establishment of sin, and both elders and deacons are to match certain qualifications of holiness because the truth is at stake, and so we maintain God’s order urgently, and we maintain God’s order necessarily, but we also maintain God’s order because it’s godly for us to do so.
3) Maintain God’s Order because It’s Godly
Yes, it’s urgent that we conform to the instructions of Paul. Yes, it’s necessary that we conduct ourselves in a certain way. But, in our sin, we cannot truly do this unless we are made godly ourselves. This is what Paul is saying in verse 16. Why does the apostle have so much trust in Timothy and the church of Ephesus to put these things into action, even when he’s not there? It’s because of the truth of our Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, that we are not only compelled to do what is required of us, but to do so in undeniable freedom and joy. Paul’s literal language here in verse 16 is, “Indeed, the mystery of godliness is undeniably/resolutely great!”
Why is it so great? Because it’s no longer terrifying to fall into the hands of a living God if his Son has come to bring us into his loving embrace. Where God’s hands were once instruments of wrath, they are now a fountain of provision. Because Christ has come to die upon a cross for our sins, to make atonement for us where we could not, to give righteousness to us that we do not possess. By his dying, we not only get to live, but we get the living God himself who is with us. Now, in his hands, he holds us. He finds us. He gathers us to himself. His activity is no longer a threat to us but the very basis for our everlasting hope.
When we are confronted with our sin, it is a most terrible thing—there is no glory for us to comprehend, instead there is only fear, darkness, and judgment forever and ever. BUT when God saves us by grace through faith, when the truth is given to us, when the living God becomes our greatest hope and treasure, we are brought into something far more wonderful than words can describe. We long for it. We want to keep it and sustain it. We want that utmost joy to be our constant joy. And how do we do this? Paul says by doing these things, by ordering your house, that is how you sustain the presence of God—that is how the truth remains in you. The secret to persevering holiness and truthfulness is to be brought into godliness through the gospel—for your heart to be so constantly affected to want the things of God.
This is why Paul recites a hymn in the rest of verse 16: “He who was revealed in flesh, was vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” Here Paul is reflecting on the root of our godliness—our motivation for doing what is urgent and what is necessary. True godliness is seen in the Son of God who takes what we have to do and turns it into what we want to do.
Now, most people read this hymn as a chronology of events, and it almost seems that way until you get to the end where it says, “proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” And we’re forced to ask ourselves, “wasn’t Jesus taken up before the gospel was declared to the nations and believed by the world?” And we’d have to answer, Yes. So, what is Paul really doing here?
Well, what do we know of hymns in Paul’s day, especially among Jews? What did they normally recite in the assembly? For Jews, particularly, they recited Psalms, and what do we know about Psalms? We know that they’re often written repetitively two lines at a time. We call this pattern parallelisms or couplets. This was something the apostles, who were formerly Jews, would have known well, and they would have shown this in their own formulations of song writing or creeds.
So, what we have here in verse 16 is three sets of couplets to describe the mystery that propels our godliness. The first couplet describes Christ’s work accomplished in his incarnation in flesh and in his vindication by the Spirit. The second person of the Trinity was revealed to the world that did not know him, and he was revealed in human flesh. God with us, Immanuel. The Word made flesh to dwell among us. And not only did he come to dwell among us, but he was vindicated by the Spirit as the true Messiah through the cross! Peter confessed him to be the Christ, and as surely as God revealed that truth to him, it is made known now to all by the Spirit through his resurrection and ascension. He is revealed as the Son of God in the flesh, and he is testified to us by the Spirit that he is the Son of God through his coming, his dwelling, his dying, his rising, and his ascending. This first couplet emphasizes the work that Christ has accomplished.
The second couplet speaks to Christ’s work made known in the sight of the angels and in the preaching to the nations. The word for “seen” by the angels is a world that is only used to reference the resurrection. The angels were witness to the resurrection, namely, to the supremacy and glory of Christ as the heir of all things—his pre-eminence was made known in the heavens. Similarly, this message was preached to the nations—his pre-eminence is made known on the earth. Christ has risen and reigns, and that he is worthy of worship over all. This second couplet emphasizes the work of Christ made known throughout the universe.
Finally, the third couplet speaks to Christ’s work acknowledged or rewarded—he is rewarded in being believed by those who hear the gospel in the world and he is exalted in glory as King. He now sits as the one under whom all things have been placed. All things are summed up in Christ. Christ’s work accomplished, Christ’s work was made known, and Christ’s work has been acknowledged and rewarded! So, Paul here does provide us with a progression, but it’s a hymnal progression—couplets to show that Christ is supreme in the fullness of his ministry from incarnation to crucifixion to ascension to evangelization. .
Do you see? There’s an order to it. NOT only were the apostles interested in arranging the structure of the church in a certain way, but they arranged their hymns in a certain way to reflect and protect the truth of the gospel. Why? Because order accords with godliness—as the Son has come to do things in the way God has ordained, so too do we do things in the way God has ordained. God is a god of order. God has ordered the cosmos. God has ordered creation. God has ordered the gospel. There is even order in the Godhead itself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this way, God has also ordered the church. Things are ordered so that we do not forget who he is and what he has done for sinners like us through Jesus Christ—order not only helps speak the gospel, but it helps preserve the gospel. It is in order that God dwells. It is in order that the truth is sustained.
Just as Christ’s came in the urgency of our sin, we urgently forsake our sin by doing what God desires us to do. Just as Christ’s work was necessarily made known to the angels in heaven and the saints on earth, so too do we necessarily guard and proclaim what was made known to us in the right way. Just as Christ’s work is acknowledged as what is godly and glorious, so too, by following the instructions of God given to Paul and Timothy, are we brought into godliness and glory. We want the DNA of our church to match the DNA of God—what we confess internally ought to match how we look externally. We have been created as a newly defined people on the inside and the out—it starts with our hearts and it spreads out into our church. When we lose our way, when we give our lives up to chaos and falsehoods, we lose sight of God. And God doesn’t want us to lose sight of him. He doesn’t want us to make much of our own sinfulness, pride, greed, and works-righteousness. How do we avoid this? By fixing our eyes on him through what Jesus has accomplished on the cross. And practically speaking, the truth of Christ prevails when we maintain order in God’s House. This is why we’re changing the by-laws. We maintain God’s required order because it’s urgent. We maintain this order because it’s necessary, and we maintain this order because it reveals God’s glory in the gospel, which is our testament to our godliness and his grace.