Members of the United States Congress.
Does it make you cringe to read that list? There is a reputation tied to each of those professions that ranks them at the bottom of the ladder of public trust. That reputation is not unearned.
For some, the church is every bit as cringeworthy as those in the list above, and again, that black-eye is not entirely unearned.
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. – Proverbs 22:1, ESV
When my eldest son was in his mid-to-late teens, in one of those “Dad moments” I told him, “Never forget that you are Sheridan Gray.” It was not that I was afraid he would forget his name, but rather that he needed to know that his name carries a meaning. As we move through life, attributes and representational elements become attached to our names. It is personal branding, and we do not want to do or say anything to sully that brand.
When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, he taught them the phrase, “hallowed be your name.” This phrase is not a call for us to make the name of God holy, or hallowed. It already is. God’s name is glorified, and it will be glorified. We are to be a holy people who wear that name – brand ambassadors. Seemingly the church at large forgets that reality and it results in us waking up each day wondering if another scandal will hit the church of God, blackening her eye yet again.
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. – 1 Timothy 3:14-15, ESV
The church of Christ at large needs to be reminded who and what she is. Here, in just two verses, the apostle Paul painted three pictures of the church. If we can grasp these three images and embrace them, perhaps we can add some healing balm to the church’s black eye.
The Household of God – Family
The first image Paul gives Timothy (and us) is that the church is a family, a household. We are brothers and sisters in that family. Repeatedly, the apostle Paul characterizes the body of Christ as “the brethren” (see 1 Timothy 4:6).
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1: 12-13, NASB
Paul has instructed Timothy to view the members of his local assembly the same way he does the members of his own family. Sometimes families disagree. Sometimes there is loving discipline. But it is always family and we will do well to regain that awareness.
The Church of the Living God – Assembly
The term ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) is not a religious term. The best English rendering of ekklesia is probably “assembly” rather than “church.” While it is true that in scripture ekklesia does most often refer to the church, occasionally it refers to more general assemblies, even political gatherings, and in Acts 19:29-41 is used repeatedly to describe a riotous mob.
With that understanding of ekklesia, we can read Matthew 16:18b with a different emphasis. The statement from Jesus is almost always read with the emphasis on “church” rather than “my.” By moving that emphasis, we indicate whose assembly we are. “… and upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
We are the blood-bought assembly of the living God (Acts 20:28), and we ought to conduct ourselves in light of that reality, as servants of the highest king.
The Pillar and Support of Truth – Upholder
When we consider where Timothy pastored (Ephesus), and the architecture of that city, characterizing the church as the pillar and support of truth is a deeply meaningful statement.
Ephesus was home to the Temple of Diana, a massive structure built atop Aventine Hill in the 6th century BC under the direction of the Roman king Servius Tullius. It was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. The temple was supported by 127 enormous stone pillars, each sixty feet in height.
Imagine living in that city and reading these words from the apostle Paul, that the church is the pillar and support of truth! The church is a bulwark, built by the one who is truth. Just as the columns in the Temple of Diana uphold the roof of a pagan temple, we, the church of Jesus Christ, uphold the truth. We shun compromise, taking bold stands against sin and apostasy, and giving honor to the name of Yahweh and Yeshua.
The columns/pillars make certain the truth doesn’t fall, “for truth is fallen in the street” (Isaiah 59:14). In contrast to that, Christ-followers live out truth, putting truth on display in much the same way Roman pagan statues were displayed on columns for all to see. Rather than falling in the streets, through our witness, truth is walking the streets.
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. – John 17:17, ESV