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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Inbox: Truth Leaves the Stage Entirely

A friend from up north forwards a few thoughts from 1 Timothy 3 well worth considering.

The apostle Paul, he says, is concerned that Timothy would know how to conduct himself in the church:

“In encouraging Timothy in this regard, Paul has three phrases to describe the church that bear consideration:

 The Household of God

Family.  Household isn’t a term describing a building or geography. It’s describing — well — family, really. When we talk about the household of Cornelius or the household of Noah, we’re talking about family groups, not geography or edifice. We think instead of families that would have the same structure and character whether they were in a tent or a palace, in Toronto or Tibet. Place is irrelevant, family is the key.

Authority.  Additionally, “household” denotes authority. For instance, Cornelius and Noah were heads of families and thus in a position of authority and responsibility. God deals with entire families through Noah or through Cornelius — they are the authority and identifying figures.

Provision.  Finally, “household” implies that the authority figure is responsible for provision — we see that just a few verses later in 1 Timothy 5:8: You’re worse than an unbeliever if you don’t provide for your own “household”. Galatians 6:10 is instructive as far as personal application goes and Philippians 4:19 shows God’s attitude toward providing for his church “household”.

 The Living God

I take the adjectival modifier “living” — the “disambiguator” — to mean that there are loads of gods one might opt to enjoy or worship but there is only one who could fairly be described and recognized as the “living” One.

I think this has three senses:

First, the notion of “living” speaks to the past and to Christ and the empty tomb. You might be fooled into believing, as Gretta Vosper does, that Christ never rose. But that would be wrong, for we serve not a dead God, but a living One.

Second, the modifier speaks not solely of the past but also of the future — we have a “living” hope of his return. Just as sure as his rising is his return and so we anticipate meeting our God and Savior personally in a day yet to come.

Finally, “living” speaks not solely of the past and not only of the future; it speaks of imminence and intimacy. Christ is living and present today: he walks amongst the lampstands of his church and he notices the smallest of details. The church of the “living” God is bracketed by yesterday’s empty tomb, tomorrow’s morning star and lives now in the warmth of today’s very real presence.

 The Pillar and Ground

Ground.  If you were seeking different imagery, you might just as well speak of the conclusion and the premise; the seen and the unseen, the public and the private. A foundation — the ground — is hidden but vital. It is not easily measured or seen but a lack of proper grounding beneath the surface will doom whatever you have built above to a rapid collapse.

Pillar.  By contrast, the pillar rises above ground and is entirely public — it can be seen and appreciated by any; even by those who have no knowledge or appreciation of the foundation beneath. So too, there is a hidden but vital structure to a local church (something Timothy is being encouraged to follow in the preceding verses!) without which God’s truth simply cannot be publicly displayed for very long. A public display of God’s truth absolutely requires a solid foundation built to his specifications.

To what sort of truth are the pillar and ground related? I could go into much more detail, but the kind of truth being talked about here clearly isn’t scientific fact like the periodic table or mathematical calculation, instead it’s truth about what truly matters — truth about eternal things, truth about meaning and destiny and purpose, truth about the eternal nature of man and the possibility of being lost or being saved.

Broadcasting Eternal Truth ... But Not Eternally

The church and the sort of truth — eternal truth — that is under consideration for Timothy are intimately related. Notice that the verse does NOT say (as you might expect) that truth is the foundation of the church, as if the church sits atop a body of truth (though it surely does). It says exactly the inverse — that the church is the foundation of truth — that the very existence of eternal truth requires the church.

This is what God has called the church to: a unique role as the bearer of truth in a lost world.

This is why Timothy is encouraged to build the foundation carefully and thoughtfully: the work that will result ‘above ground’ is so vital and the role unique to the church alone.

This is also why the loss of the church in a day to come allows the world to so readily believe a lie: truth is absent and the vacuum its absence creates is filled by any sort of nonsense at all.

Truth has left the stage entirely.

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