The Agora
Godliness with Contentment - 1 Timothy

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V. Foundation Of Truth (3:14-16)

In this section (the pivotal point of the entire epistle) Paul expresses his purpose in writing to Timothy and he gives us a concise yet sublime definition of the Ecclesia. The Ecclesia is God's household, the support and light-stand of the Truth, the guardian of the "mystery of godliness".

A. 3:14-16: Foundation Of Truth

These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly:
But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

Paul was an old man by this time and doubtless in poor health, due to a life of difficult travels and innumerable stresses and strains. He knew very well that whatever he chose to do would be possible only if it were the Lord's will (James 4:13-15). He might never be able to come to Timothy. Even a man like Paul was little different from us in this respect (and in this is a basis for serious thought). He could not plan his future with certainty. He must work while it is called today, for the hour would soon come in which the time for labor was past (John 9:4).

That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself has the idea of 'that you may know how to conduct yourself and what to say to those who depend on you for leadership'.

Remember that Timothy had just been given the qualifications for those who "desire the office of a bishop"... or deacon. Timothy had a difficult work ahead of him. He was a young man with a great responsibility and there would be those who would despise his youth and zeal. These qualifications were for him also, that he might make the most of his ability and opportunity to "edify" the house of God.

The phrase in the house of God does not refer to any real structure, made with men's hands. When Solomon spoke at the dedication of the temple, he made this quite clear:

"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded" (1 Kings 8:27)?
But nevertheless this temple of Solomon's time, in which God's glory came to rest, was emblematic of a greater house, a house to which such allusions as Paul's statement here have their highest realization. The "House of God is in the greatest sense the household of God or the family of God. "House" in the Bible commonly means a family rather than a building. (The family of Israel was once called God's house: see Num 12:7 and many other references). Paul is still thinking of the same type of "house" when he writes in 5:1, 2 that Timothy should treat the saints as parents and brethren. Compare also Mat 12:50:

"For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother".
The real house of God was first of all Jesus Christ (John 2:13-22), a man which God Himself "built up" in a very unique sense. And each believer is in turn a "temple of the Holy Spirit" (1Co3:16; 6:19). [The Corinthians, to whom Paul spoke and other first-century believers were pre-eminently a Holy Spirit temple, in that many members possessed special gifts of the Spirit (1Co12). But in a broader sense they and we also possess the Holy Spirit in the word of God believed among us: (John 6:63; 1Jo 5:6; Eph 6:17)]. Finally, all the believers "fitly framed together" (Eph 2:21) are a "spiritual house" (1Pe 2:5) -- a living house built of "living stones". We are the "house of God" (Consider also 1Pe 4:17; Heb 3:6; 10:21) -- His "tabernacle" (Heb 8:2) or dwelling-place (for He dwells among us in our hearts and minds) built up around Jesus the chief cornerstone (Eph 2:20; Psa 118:22).

We are to be "bond-servants" in God's house to serve the brethren. Timothy is exhorted to be a willing servant in God's household just as Moses was (Heb 3:5).

The church of the living God is the "ecclesia" of God: the assembly of His "called-out" ones (cf. v 5). In our midst is the ever-living God, "Who only hath immortality" (6:16). This household or ecclesia is to be as alive and vibrant and joyful and energetic as the God Who dwells therein.

The pillar is a 'support to hold up an edifice'. God's "house" of Truth is supported by men of spiritual stature, strong in the faith, "pillars" such as James and Cephas and John (Gal 2:9). The ecclesia is the pillar of God's Truth. It is the only light-stand in a corrupt and pleasure-seeking world, a world groping in the darkness of the "god of the earth". The ecclesia is the "mainstay" or "bulwark" of the Truth having a duty to defend the gospel from attacks arising within and without, keeping in good repair the one foundation laid by Jesus Christ (1Co3:10, 11). As a light-stand the ecclesia has a duty to proclaim the Truth to others and to keep the light atop the pillar always shining before men (Mat 5:14-16).

Such men as James and John, who comprise the true ecclesia, will find eternal dwelling places as part of God's temple:

"Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out" (Rev 3:12).
The complete assembly of called-out ones will be fitted together around Christ ("the chief comer-stone": Eph2:20) at the "marriage of the Lamb" (Rev 19:7, 9). The whole purpose of the Truth is encompassed in God's Memorial Name, Yahweh Elohim, which means "He Who Shall Be Mighty Ones". God's purpose in Christ is to bring to perfection a special group of people, an "ecclesia" to show forth his transcending glory. From the one "Seed of the woman", by his strength in word and deed, comes the victory over the seed of the serpent. From the one "seed" comes the fruitful vine of the faithful ones. From the one "lamb without blemish" comes a great flock of spotless ones. From the one "captain of our salvation" comes a great army of mighty Spirit-beings.

In Gen 28:18, after witnessing the Almighty's power and receiving His promises, "Jacob rose up early in the morning", set up the pillar upon which he had rested, and anointed it. This upright and anointed pillar represented the resurrected and immortalized Jesus Christ. In this enactment Jacob showed his faith in the Messiah to come ("I have waited for Thy salvation, O Yahweh" -- Gen 49:18) and his own hope of partaking in this same reward.

When Moses read the words of the law to the nation of Israel about Yahweh making a blood-covenant with them and revealing His glory in a vision (Exod. 24), Moses erected an altar (symbolizing Christ: Heb 13:10) and surrounded it with twelve pillars, "according to the twelve tribes of Israel". No doubt this found its expression in Christ's promise to the twelve "apostle-pillars" that they would sit with him upon thrones, ruling over God's "house" in the Kingdom (Mat 19:28; Rev 21:14).

This same hope is foreshadowed in Joshua 4. As Joshua leads the tribes of Israel across Jordan to inherit the promised land (compare the eternal "rest of the sabbath" offered by the New Testament "Joshua" in Heb 4) he took twelve men, one from each tribe. These men brought with them twelve stones and erected them in the midst of Jordan as an altar and a pillar for a sign and a memorial. This typifies New Jerusalem, the city of the saints designated by God to rule the world, the "house of God" established upon its twelve foundation-pillars (Rev 21:12-21).

The Greek word hedraioma translated ground appears only once in Scripture and is difficult to translate exactly. It has been variously translated as mainstay, bulwark, foundation and anchor. A similar Greek word is translated "steadfast" in 1Co7:37 and 15:58, and "settled" in Col 1:23. John Thomas translates it as both foundation and support. (The technical meaning may be the arch-support which joins together and anchors pillars in most ancient architecture).

Finally, the word ground has a connection with the holy "place" or sanctuary in which Jacob rested:

"There is a sense in which Jacob's pillar of stone exists as a house of Elohim even now, and in intimate connection with the house he will see when he awakes from his present know-nothing state. Paul presents to us this sense in the saying, that "a House of Deity is an ecclesia of living Deity, a pillar and ground (material habitation, from "hedraioma", a habitation of gods) of the truth" -- 1Ti 3:15. This pillar and habitation is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Anointed being chief-corner" -- Eph2:20. As a monumental pillar, the inscription upon it is 'the exceeding great and precious promises' believed by each saint, or 'living stone', of which the pillar is composed -- 'promises' concerning the kingdom and name to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as narrated by Moses. This pillar was anointed on the top of it (Gen 28:18) on the Day of Pentecost, when the spirit was poured upon the apostles (Acts 2:1-4). That anointing was perpetuated in "the testimony for Jesus" which has reached even to us, and with which every true believer is anointed. An ecclesia, however, is not only a pillar inscribed with the truth, but is a 'ground' ('hedraioma') of the truth. It is a material thing made up of 'gods', as David styles them, or of 'children' of 'Deity', according to 1Jo 3:2; Psa 82:6. These are anointed with the truth, and therefore they are a god-habitation, or hedraioma, of the truth.

"In regard to this word hedraioma, it may be remarked here, that it occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, nor in any classical author. The word is derived from hedra, which signifies 'a seat, habitation, especially of gods, a temple, altar, and etc.' Hence, the expressiveness of the word, and its peculiar and exclusive application to a habitation of the truth constituted of gods, or children of Deity, who are, as represented in the Apocalypse, 'the Altar', 'the temple', 'the Holy city', or as Paul expresses it, 'an habitation of Deity by spirit' -- Eph 2:22." (Eureka, Vol. 1, pp. 391-392)
One should read carefully all our brother's comments in this section of his work entitled "A Pillar in the Temple". In these few pages he expounds a great number of Scriptures dealing with God's holy pillars.

It might be profitable to note the similarities between this V.15 and the experience of Jacob at Bethel (Gen 28), already briefly mentioned. Jacob was at that time fleeing from his brother Esau, whom he had cunningly betrayed and cheated of his privileges. Jacob, caught in a whirlwind of contradictory emotions, must have begun to wonder if God had not deserted him and forgotten the promises He had made. It was that night that Jacob came, frightened and tired and bewildered, to a certain "place". (The Hebrew word "place" is often used in the sense of a consecrated or special place, a place of worship, or an altar.)

It was here that Jacob saw his vision of a stairway from heaven, with the angels (God's ministering spirits -- Heb 1:14) ascending and descending upon the stone of Jacob's bed. By this he was reassured of God's promises to him personally, and to his seed to come:

"And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which 1 have spoken to thee of" (Gen 28:14, 15).
Jesus takes up the strain of thought here, by declaring in John 1:51 that the angels were to ascend and descend upon the Son of Man. Jesus thus was the stone upon which Jacob rested, and which he placed upright and anointed the following morning. In this pillar we see clearly the purpose of the Father and the mission of Christ in being at first as a stone of no repute (but upon which the faithful rested through the dark 'night', with only dreams to sustain them), and then set upright in the morning of resurrection and anointing with the greatest glory -- God's immortal Spirit power. "The stone which the builders [the chief priests and rulers] rejected, the same is become the head of the comer" (Psa 118:22).

In this chapter (Gen 28), almost every word leads us to 1Ti 3:15:

"That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the ecclesia of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
Of course, the most obvious features of connection between these two Scriptures are the "house of God" (which is the meaning of Beth El -- Gen 28:19) and pillars. (The pillar as we have seen represents Christ and his ecclesia: "And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house" -- Gen 28:22).

As Jacob says "How dreadful (wonderful, awe-inspiring) is this place: this is none other but the house of God (Gen 28:17) -- so Paul likewise exhorts Timothy to solemn reverence and careful behavior in such a grand place as God's household.

Also, "the Truth" (in v 15) is often an Old Testament equivalent for the covenants of promise to the fathers. And "the living God" probably has its counterpart at Bethel too, because in the Old Testament this phrase often means "the God of the living creatures" -- with obvious references to the cherubim and the angels. It is in God's house only that His angels minister to even the least of His saints, as they evidently did to Jacob:

"The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them" (Psa34:7).

"(God) Who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went" (Gen 35:3).
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

The word and indicates Paul is following up what he had begun in v 15: "So that you might comprehend the magnitude of that great Truth of which the ecclesia is custodian".

Without controversy is translated by the NIV as "beyond all question" and means 'undoubtedly', 'confessedly', or 'no one can dispute the fact that... '

This verse affords us an interesting and instructive example of a misapplication of Scripture. It is reported that a brother once justified contention and debate among Christadelphians by referring to these words and paraphrasing: "Unless we continually have controversy among ourselves we shall never arrive at the true interpretations of God's Word."

Timothy was a bishop at Ephesus, where many members of the ecclesia were once pagan worshippers of Diana represented by the stone or meteor that fell from heaven. But they had since "turned from idols to serve the living and true God" (1Th 1:10). And they now believed in Christ, the true Word made flesh, the bread of life that came down from heaven.

Some in Timothy's ecclesia had at one time been among the hordes of people who fervently cried, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians" (Acts 19:28). They had perhaps also participated in the "mystery cults" of Greece, with their secret rites and celebrations only for initiates. This shout is opposed by that of, "Great is the mystery of godliness." And far more wonderful than the colonnaded temple of Diana is the pillared "house of God, the ecclesia of the living God". Let us say with due reverence, then, "How dreadful (wonderful) is this place!"

Mystery is from the Greek musterion -- from which the English word "mystery" is derived. Christ is the revealed mystery of godliness -- a visible manifestation of Deity, testified before men, to offer God's salvation to all:

"The mystery... now made manifest ... the glory of this mystery... which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col 1:26,27).
"While God lightly esteems the wisdom of the reputed wise, there is a wisdom which He invites all men to embrace. This is styled 'the wisdom of God in a mystery'; it is also termed 'the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world, which none of the princes of this world knew' (1Co 2:7). It is said to be hidden in a mystery, because until the apostolic age, it was not clearly made known. This will appear from the following texts: 'Now to him that is of power to establish you according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret in the times of the ages, but now (in the time, or age, of the apostles) is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets made known to all nations for the obedience of faith' (Rom 16:25,26). 'By revelation God made known unto me, Paul, the mystery, which in other ages (former ages under the law of Moses) was not made known unto the sons of men as it is now revealed unto the holy apostles and prophets by the spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel' (Eph 3:3,5,6).

"Here is the 'knowledge of God,' in which are contained 'exceeding great and precious promises', the understanding of which is able to make a man wise, and 'a partaker of the divine nature'. Now, although these hidden things have been clearly made known, they still continued to be styled the mystery; not because of their unintelligibility, but because they were once secret. Hence, the things preached unto the Gentiles, and by them believed, are styled by Paul, 'the mystery of the faith', and 'the mystery of godliness', some of the items of which he enumerates: such as 'God manifest in the flesh, justified by the spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory'. Thus an intelligible mystery characterizes the once hidden wisdom of God, and becomes the subject matter of an enlightened faith." (Elpis Israel, pp. 3,4)
The remainder of this verse is a point-by-point development of that "mystery of godliness" -- the revelation of Christ to all men and man's step-by-step comprehension of the love of God directed toward his salvation. In the Greek original this section is rhythmic, much like the Hebrew poetry of the OT. Possibly Paul is quoting from some well-known Christian hymn of the first century, or an early "statement of faith". Notice how these several points form parallels with the very last part of Mark's Gospel (Mar 6:15,16), and with a section of Peter's first letter (1Pe 3:18-22) also.

(It almost seems as if these were well-memorized points in the early Christian's "statement of faith", so often are they reiterated in the New Testament writings. Possibly here is another of those "faithful sayings" scattered throughout the pastoral letters).

Such a parallel would be of value in demonstrating the true meaning of "the spirits in prison" (1Pe 3:19).

All modern editors reject the reading "God was manifest in the flesh" in favor of "Who was manifest... ", with obvious reference to Christ. Nevertheless, Christ was and is a manifestation of God, properly understood. The Word (Wisdom, Purpose, Message) of God was made flesh, and dwelt among men (John 1:14; 1Jo 4:2). Christ, although the Son of God, was also "born of a woman, made under the law" (Gal4:4) -- shaped in flesh (Psa 51:5; Rom 8:3; Eph 2:14) -- made in all points like his brethren (Heb 2:9, 14). Christ in his own self bore our sins in his own body (Isa 53:4; 1Pe 2:24). In other words, he suffered from the effects of Adam's sin in his mortal nature, just as all of Adam's other descendants. "Every spirit (teacher) that professes that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God" (1Jo 4:2).

But how could a mere man in any way be the "Word of God"? The Jews who heard Jesus speak asked how a mere man could speak as he did. They imagined that his words were only the utterance of a fleshly mind. John Thomas speaks of this:

"But he told them that this was not so; for he said, 'My teaching is not mine, but His who sent me', and John also testified that 'he whom the Deity has sent, spake the words of the Deity', as Moses predicted in Deut. 18:18, concerning the Christ, saying, 'I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall be, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.' And so when the Word became flesh, the Word-Flesh recalled attention to what Moses had written and said, 'He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words... the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last days. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father who sent me, he gave me a commandment what I should say, and what I should speak' -- John 12:47 -- 'the words of eternal life.'

"The words, then, that came out of the mouth of Jesus, are to be received as the direct teaching of the Eternal Spirit, and to be interpreted of him." (Eureka, Vol. 1, p. 103).
While Christ was like all other men in his nature and the temptations he had to undergo, he was different in that he never succumbed to the lusts of the flesh. By his whole life he condemned sin in the flesh (Rom 8:3), becoming "dead to sin". And when Christ died, death could have no more dominion over him: "He that is dead is freed from sin" (Rom 6:7). The grave had no more dominion over him and God, after declaring His own righteousness in condemning Jesus' body of sin (Rom 3:26), could demonstrate His mercy as well, in raising Christ from the dead to eternal life. Jesus was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead" (Rom 1:4). Jesus was "vindicated" or "endorsed" -- as the Greek word signifies (Mat 11:19; Luke 10:29). Jesus was justified (declared just or righteous) in the spirit by being "born of the spirit" through a resurrection to life (Roml:4; 1Pe 3:18):

"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36 ).
Christ's resurrection to life was a proof of his righteousness and an example and guarantee to those "in Christ" that they might similarly be accounted righteous through him (Rom4:25).

He was also seen of angels. This may be a simple reference to the angels who attended upon the events of the resurrection and shortly thereafter (Mark 16:5). When Jesus was elevated to his new immortal state he was able to say, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Mat 28:18). And with the mention of this new power, there seems always to be present the angels of God, as a witness of that newly-gained dominion:

"Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him" (1 Pet 3:22).
But a more satisfying explanation, in view of the context here in 1 Timothy, as well as the parallel in Mark 16, might be this: The "angels" (messengers) relate to the disciples who saw Jesus shortly after his resurrection to life:

"Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not. After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went, and told it to the residue: neither believed they them. Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen" (Mark 16:9-14).
These appearances (1Co15:5-8) were of more immediate importance than those to the angelic beings, as it was in this way that Jesus established the first-century ecclesia and instructed the early believers in the more complete principles of the gospel. Since this section of Paul's letter is concerned with the ecclesia, God's house and the "mystery of the faith", it would seem to be more appropriate to understand the term angels as referring to those mortal messengers who were to witness to the world the foundation of the faith -- Jesus, a living Messiah. (Compare such passages as Luke 24:34; Acts 9:17; 13:31; 26:16).

Christ was preached unto the Gentiles -- All the "mystery of Godliness" points to this, that God in His love wished all men to be saved (2:4) and that He has provided His son to be the Saviour of all men that believe (2:6). For this reason, Christ told His disciples: "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15; Mat 28:19; Rom 16:26). Paul especially would be inclined to emphasize this, being the special apostle to the Gentiles. In Eph 2:13, Paul tells these Ephesians, to whom Timothy ministered:

"Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ."
Even Peter saw this same thing, for he told the Jews at Pentecost:

"For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:39).
This was driven home to Peter even more forcibly when he saw the vision of all manner of animals, clean and unclean, after which he remarked:

"God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean" (Acts 10:28).
Of course God's plan, ultimately to offer salvation to the Gentiles, is foreshadowed a hundred times in the Old Testament and in many of Christ's parables too. Sometimes it is even stated in simple prophecy (Isa 49:6; 57:19).

Christ was believed on in the world. It is not necessary from this that Christ must be believed throughout the earth. It means only that he will be believed upon by a remnant, a mere handful called out of the various races and nations of mankind. This is the mystery of Godliness, that a few of the poor and humble of this world, who have made themselves nothing for Christ, may yet gain all things in the age to come. True Christianity never will be a popular religion of the masses in this present age; rather, it will always be the "sect everywhere spoken against" (Acts 28:22) or ignored by the majority.

And he was received up into glory, the consummation of God's mystery of revelation. This same Jesus who once walked and taught among other men was taken into heaven (Psa 110:4), but he will so return in like manner as he ascended into heaven (Acts 1:11). Until then he is the life of God, by anticipation, for all the saints. For our life is hid with him or in him now (Col 3:3), but it will soon be revealed to those of us who may be found worthy when hopefully "we shall be like him" (1Jo 3:2; 1Co13:12). Christ the high priest, having offered his own blood for an atonement, will return from the Most Holy to his waiting brethren "the second time without sin unto salvation" (Heb 9:28).

Thus the mystery of Godliness has its beginning in God's manifestation through Jesus alone and its conclusion in God's manifestation by Spirit in a multitude of sons -- "God all in all" (1Co15:28).

The mystery of Godliness is the greatest of all things: the development of the ecclesia, God's pillar and household, first by the preaching of Christ, in his life, and then the preaching of his disciples and the ecclesia today -- with the ultimate expectation of taking out a remnant, of preparing a people for their Lord.

"But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2Co 4:3-6).

Truly we may exclaim, with Paul: "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen." (Rom 11:33, 36).

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