Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Pillar and Pattern of the Truth

My first staff ministry opportunity was to serve as an interim youth pastor. I thought I needed to be cool, but knew that I wasn’t. Among my cool attempts that flopped: the creation of a new ministry theme and logo. I wanted to somehow illustrate the importance of the church being the “pillar and support of the truth,” as Paul calls it, in 1 Timothy 3.15. And what logo did I choose?

A pillar.

Nothing generates enthusiasm, stirs excitement and wells up emotion in young people quite like a pillar.

So I tried. But at least I got the content right: The truth about God in the gospel, as demonstrated through the church, is vitally important to everything that we are and everything that we do as individuals and families in a community of Christian faith.

The picture of the church being the pillar and support (or foundation) of the truth helps us to see the main point of Paul’s letter, and should be understood by churches still today as the central focus of who we are and why we do what we do. We are to be the ones who the broader culture can look to as those who uphold the truth.

In 1 Timothy 3.14-16, Paul explains his reasons for writing this letter, and in the process gives the gospel as the pattern for living.  What does it mean to be the pillar of the truth, and the pattern of the gospel?

First, we—as the church of the living God—are to uphold and support the truth (v. 15). The Word of God is very clear. Paul writes this letter so that if he can’t see them soon, he wants to go ahead and share with them what he would say in person if he were there: We’re about upholding the truth in society. In a very literal sense, Christian church buildings ought to be able to be seen in the larger community as a place of truth (and love and care). The church can and should be a respite from all the ills in the broader culture. We have to ask ourselves: Does my church look like that?

But of course, it’s not about the building. The regular worship gatherings and smaller group settings can and should serve as an example of the truth for nonbelievers. As the “household” and family of God, as Paul puts it, we have the opportunity to show the truth when we gather. But it’s more than just on Sundays.

How we conduct ourselves shows a pattern of life (v. 15). Precisely because the church is to be the pillar and support of the truth, it needs to be on display in how we as church members live and go about our daily activities. Paul in v. 15 says it matters how we behave and conduct ourselves. So it matters, not just that we as the church are the pillar of the truth; we are to be the pattern of truth.

That pattern of life must be transformed by and then point to the gospel of Jesus Christ (v. 16). People ought to be able to understand more about the truth by how we live out the gospel. Once again the gospel is shown as not merely the path to salvation, but also the way of life after we begin believing, and a pattern to be followed and displayed until God calls us home.

The ultimate pattern of godliness? Jesus. So Paul lays out the “mystery of godliness” that has now been revealed in Jesus, and essentially presents the gospel in a nutshell in one verse (16).

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, HCSB)

In this beautiful hymn about Jesus, it is clear from the context that how we conduct ourselves as the church reflects the gospel. But not just the pillar of the truth about how to get us into heaven. As the “mystery of godliness” it is also the pattern of life to be lived.

Wearing a pillar logo might not be too hip, but young and old alike in the church have a far greater privilege: actually being the pillar and pattern of truth.

[This is part of a larger series on 1 Timothy called The Community of Truth.]