Church Matters, part two

14 Apr

As a local church we can be involved in lots of things.

Even at our church which is just at the beginning, we still have all kinds of activities that are constantly taking place.

People that meet on Mondays at the park.

Classes.

Ladies groups.

The Baby Home.

Trips to Malawi.

And there a million more activities we can get involved in the years ahead, but with all these different things we are doing and can be doing, it’s good sometimes to come back and ask ourselves what must we be doing?

What’s our fundamental purpose?

And I think we get just such a key insight into the church’s most vital mission in the last phrase at the end of 1 Timothy 3 verse 15.

It comes so quickly we might miss it.

Paul says he is writing so we can understand how we are to live in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, and here it is, a pillar and buttress of the truth.

And both those terms mean something pretty similar.

I think.

A pillar is something that holds up a building, and a buttress, is an unusual word, so there’s some discussion as to what it means, but most likely it’s just talking about a foundation.

 In Ephesus, which is actually the city where the church Timothy’s pastoring was located, there was this huge temple to this idol named Diana, and one of the things that made this temple stand out were these huge pillars, supporting the roof. And I think I’ve read there were something like 127 of these pillars, and the pillars were made of solid marble, and they were decorated with jewels and with gold.

Which is how unbelievers gathered together to worship, because obviously there was no goddess named Diana, that was a lie, and so they had to focus on externals, and build these huge buildings to make their religion look attractive, because they didn’t have any reality.

But we do.

As believers, the church is obviously, different.

Because our God is alive.

This whole thing we are doing, is actually something real.

It’s true.

God’s revealed Himself.

We have this message about God and how to have a relationship with God and what God’s doing in the world through Jesus that is not made up.

It actually comes from the mouth of God.

And so what kind of pillars does the living God actually use to make the truth look attractive.

What does He use to protect and promote it?

Paul says He uses His people, His family, the church.

Which is is in essence the mission of the church.

That’s a big part of why we are here.

The church exists to be like a pillar, holding up the truth of the gospel, putting the truth on display, making the truth look beautiful. And I don’t know but I guess I am so passionate we understand this, because there are just so many different things we as a church could be doing and that we as a church could be about.

I mean, it’s amazing if you think about.

The opportunity we have.

Here we’ve got this group of people who are committed to each other and who are gathering together on a regular basis, and we are all coming together to do something, and that’s great, because this world is filled with so many problems and issues and opportunities for us to really get involved, and so I am sure, if we wanted to get creative, there are like a million different things we could be doing together as a group, but we are not just a random group of people, we are the church, we belong to God, and so we have to be very careful that we don’t ever lose sight of the most basic and fundamental mission God’s given us, which has to do with the truth.

We’ve basically been brought into existence to hold up the truth of God as revealed in the Word of God.

That’s why we are here.

We don’t make up the truth. We just support it. God’s the one who revealed the truth and gave it to us, but it doesn’t belong to us.

The way the authors of Scripture describe it, it’s as if the message came down from above. And as a result, we have no authority to change it, to modify it, all we can do is protect it.

As someone’s explained, “It is a sacred treasure given to us for the glory of God, the good of men, and we must hold it as our most precious treasure.”

Which means, we have a very clear vision as to the meaning of our existence.

We uphold the truth of God’s Word. We uphold the truth about what God is doing through His Son.

That’s what we’re all about.

That’s central to everything we are trying to do.

As one of my former pastors has put it,

“When we sing songs, we sing songs that articulate the truth we believe.  When we teach classes, we teach the truth.  You come on Sundays and I preach to you and you hear the Word of God again. We have Bible Studies and classes going through different parts of the Word of God. We get together in Gospel Communities and discuss Scripture and how to apply it. We meet individually and we encourage one another with what we are learning about the gospel and about God, and why is there such an emphasis on the Scriptures like this, all this training and instruction?

It’s “because we are here to uphold the truth.”

And while ultimately we hope as a church to be involved in all sorts of different things, at the end of the day, everything we are involved in, at some level has to come back to this, ”the upholding, the instructing, the meditating, the learning, the proclaiming of the truth.

Because, that’s what Paul says we are to be all about.

Which is part of why honestly it’s sometimes hard to get as excited about some of the evangelism and movement we’ve seen towards Christianity in Africa, over the years.

Maybe to take a moment.

Because, there’s a lot of action here in Africa.

And there’s a lot of talk about Jesus and Christian and religion here in Africa. And there are a lot of people who would say they are Christians, and who are going to places called churches, but the question is, how many of these same people are serious about the truth How many of these churches are characterized by a passion for the study of God’s Word?

And this is not a minor issue, we are not just trying to be picky, because ultimately, the church is supposed to be the place where the truth is. Without the truth, we might be nice people, and we might be very active people, and we might be very religious people, but we won’t be the church, and we’ve totally missed one of our main reasons for even existing as a church.

If you start reading through Paul’s letters, you’ll see how absolutely urgent he was about all this.

Even here in 1 Timothy.

He says in 1 Timothy 1:3 that the reason he left Timothy in Ephesus was to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” Later on in chapter 4, he warns Timothy, verse 8. “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.” Verse 13. “Until I come devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have…Practice these things, immerse yourself in them. Keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching.” In chapter 6. Verse 2. He says,“Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.” He concludes the whole letter. In verse 20. “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.”

In 2 Timothy 2, he continues, “Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words which does no good but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness.”

I mean, I think you are getting the picture.

Chapter 4, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom, preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

It’s clear for Paul, there’s nothing more valuable in the universe than divine truth and as the church there’s nothing more important we can do than uphold it, protect it, promote it, and seek to live our lives together in a way that makes people see how attractive and powerful it really is. And I know practically, for those of you who are church members, or want to be church members, obviously, we are not all going to be teachers, we all have different roles to play but if we are going to be the pillar and buttress of the truth, we’ve all got to play our role and make a priority out of serving God by serving the truth.

We’re in trouble if the only ones in the church excited about the truth are the pastors and the teachers, we are missing it. And so it’s important no matter what gift God’s given you to see yourself as a vital part of this mission God’s given all of us, and maybe, very specifically, we need to all start by making it one of our main goals in life to really know the truth.

It’s hard as a church to support the truth, if you don’t know it.

And where is the truth found, it’s found in the Scriptures and so, looking at this mission of the church, maybe the place you have to begin is by making sure you are making a practice out of reading the Scriptures.

And then thinking about those Scriptures you have read.

And what you don’t understand, finding ways to understand, by talking about it with others, and reading books about the Scriptures.

This is why we have the resource center.

And Gospel community groups.

And discipleship relationships.

It’s all about helping you learn the truth so that you can be part of protecting the truth from error. If we as individual Christians can really know our Bibles and really understand the truth, we have a million opportunities every week as a church to be of help to people.

One of the things I love about our particular church is that we have so many different backgrounds and so many different cultures and languages, and so there are so many people that you are way more equipped to be able to speak to than I am, and imagine if you knew the truth so well, that you could speak to them, and you could identify some of the errors they might be believing, and actually proclaim the gospel to them.

You get to be part of that.

That’s our mission as a church.

And coming back to 1 Timothy 3, we find Paul emphasizing the importance of this mission of promoting and protecting the truth in two ways.

The first is verse 16.

Where he says,

“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness.”

Which is like a word of worship.

It’s not Paul saying oh man this is confusing. It’s Paul saying oh wow what a privilege we have as a church to promote the truth, because of the actual content of the truth that God’s given us to protect.

Great indeed we all as Christians confess is the mystery and the way Paul’s using that word there is different than how we would, he’s using it, as revelation. Great indeed is the revelation of godliness. And he quotes what a lot of people think was an early Christian hymn or even statement of faith, and it’s not all there is to what God’s revealed of course, but Paul seems to like to use these different summary statements to help us appreciate different facets of what God has revealed to us.

And I am not going to go very deep into all that Paul says here, but just looking at it briefly, you can see it’s what God has shown us about what He’s doing through His Son Jesus Christ.

He was manifested in the flesh.

That’s the incarnation, which is central to the whole Christian faith, we know who Jesus is, and if we don’t, we are not a church.

And He was vindicated by the Spirit. The Spirit of God in other words proved that He was who He claimed to be. Through miracles.

Obviously.

But ultimately, through the resurrection. Because while it looked like he’d been defeated, after He made all those claims about the kingdom of God, and what He was coming to do, on the cross, it looked like He’d lost, and yet, through His resurrection, Paul says, He was declared to be the Son of God in power.

Romans 1.

He was seen by angels. They were witnesses to His resurrection. And they worship Him even now after His ascension to the Father.

He was proclaimed among the nations. This gospel was taken out. At such a great cost.

If you want to think about the value of this message, we’ve been given, think about the men who died that we might have it.

And the response. The way this truth has changed and transformed people. The world would not be what it is today, if you could somehow take out the gospel.

I think it’s so easy for us to take for granted what we have as Christians, as the church in the truth, we have this message about God, this message that is the power of God unto salvation.

We’re not just going around sharing some ideas about how to have a nice life.

We actually have the truth about eternal realities. The incarnation of Christ, the defeat of sin and death, the transformation of sinners, the glorification of Jesus. We know stuff we couldn’t possibly know apart from God’s breaking into this world and speaking and telling us how things are.

I mean, we know who Jesus really was.

We know he wasn’t only this Jewish carpenter who lived and died, we actually have insights into what Jesus was, what He did, and even what He’s doing right now. For us as a church.

And Paul points out at the end, how He was taken into glory.

God’s given us a glimpse into the great reversal that took place, after Jesus rose again, and ascended into heaven, how He was seated at the right hand of God, and is now interceding and working on our behalf.

I know, there’s all kinds of things we wish God had told us, but if you slow down and think about the value of all that He has revealed to us, it’s actually pretty overwhelming.

He doesn’t have to tell us anything.

And yet He’s given a glimpse into His most important secrets, and He’s asked us as a church the privilege of protecting and proclaiming it.

And it’s absolutely vital we do, because it’s constantly coming under attack.

That’s where Paul goes in 1 Timothy 4. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…”

It’s like God’s given us this precious treasure to protect, and then warned us, very specifically, that there are going to be people who attempt to steal it.

And the question facing us as a church, is you know, are we going to be serious about guarding this great treasure God’s given us. I mean, this is always the greatest issue the church faces, the truth and authority of God’s Word is always coming under attack, and we see it all around us, and while we can sometimes become discouraged about all the lies we see people believing and telling, we also have to realize that is part of why we are here.

We’re not here to make a name for ourselves, and we are not here to be comfortable, and we are not here to have a nice building or whatever, we are here to exalt Christ by proclaiming and protecting and enjoying and standing for the truth.

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