In our “Discovering The Ridge” class for those who are joining our church, I often tell the story of the group in our home town which was starting a new church, and for some time they met in the home of one of their members. But one of the group’s little girls just couldn’t see it as a “church.” She said, “This is not a chu’ch. This is Twoy’s house! A chu’ch doesn’t have a bedwoom; a chu’ch doesn’t have a couch!” That little girl had made the classic error of mistaking the BUILDING that houses the church, for the reality of the church itself. And many adults make that same mistake. The church is not a building. As Paul writes here, a church is “the household of God.”
More than anything else, this book of I Timothy is about The Church. There is much more here about the church than we can cover in one morning, but let’s look at some of the important things this great book teaches us about “The Household of God,” His church:
I. The Gospel of the Church
As I said, when people speak of “the church,” they often think of the BUILDING. But this is wrong thinking on our part. Do you realize that the early church in the Book of Acts didn’t even HAVE a building — of any kind? Acts 2 tells us they met “in the temple and from house to house.” When you are a persecuted minority, you can’t really go around building buildings and putting up signs to advertise!
No, the church was not in the 1st Century — and IS not now — a building. We at Pleasant Ridge have blessed with some beautiful facilities, but these buildings are not “the church.” The church is the body of people here who have received the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which Paul describes for us in his testimony here in I Timothy:
— Paul wrote in 1:13, “I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and violent aggressor” — but he said in :14 “But the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.” And then he crowns his testimony by saying in :15, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.”
Here Paul shares the Gospel which is the foundation of God’s church:
— HE was a sinner: “a blasphemer and a persecutor,” etc.
— But GOD had grace towards Him (grace is when God has mercy on us and treats us better than we deserve)
— And God SAVED him, the sinner, through what Jesus did (dying for him on the cross, as 2:6 says, “He gave Himself as a ransom for all.”
THAT is the gospel: that we are sinners, but that God has grace for us, and sent Jesus to die on the cross to save us from our sins if we would repent and trust Him and commit our lives to Him.
This is so important: the Gospel message is NOT “be good and you’ll get to go to heaven.” SO many people mistakenly think that.
Many of us have been using our prayer bookmarks to ask God in the morning to open up opportunities for us to share the gospel each day. I have been amazed several times at how God HAS indeed opened up opportunities for me — even on days when I would not have expected to have a chance to share. For example, I got up last Tuesday morning and I had been at the hospital most of the day Monday so I knew I needed to spend most of Tuesday studying. So I thought, “I probably won’t have a chance to share with anyone today” — but I still prayed, “God, give me an opportunity share the gospel today: give me the wisdom to see it, and the courage to share it.” But I didn’t see how I would.
Well, most mornings, Cheryl & I will walk through our neighborhood before I leave for the office, both to get some exercise in, and to spend some quality time together. While we were walking Tuesday morning, one of our neighbors (whom I don’t think I have ever seen out at that hour before!) came driving down the street, and all of the sudden he stopped and rolled his window down. And he started talking to us, and he was telling us about some people who had not been nice to him recently, and he said something like, “You have to be careful; you can’t get to heaven living like that!” And I was really proud of Cheryl, she jumped right in and said, “We are ALL sinners, and none of us are going to get to heaven by being good.” And then I got to add that it is only Jesus dying on the cross that can get us to heaven, NOT how good we live. Well I don’t know how deeply all that sunk in; but at least we had the opportunity to plant the seed. And I was amazed how God gave us an opportunity when we asked, even when I didn’t see how it could happen with my schedule that day.
But the main point we were trying to get across to our neighbor is really what the Gospel is about; and what SO many people just do not understand. It’s what Paul was saying here: the church is NOT a group of “really good people” who get to go to heaven as a reward for their goodness. PLEASE get over that idea! The church is a group of people who are ALL SINNERS, but who have found God’s mercy in Jesus Christ.
And the most important question of your life is, has this ever happened to you? If it hasn’t, it can today. Admit that you are a sinner; and be willing to turn away from your sins as God helps you; Believe that Jesus died on the cross to forgive your sins; and Commit your life to Him in repentance and faith. Turn away from your sins and turn and follow Jesus as your Lord & Savior from this day forward, and you will be a part of “The Household of God” as you receive “The Gospel of the Church.”
II. The Rule of the Church
So once we are in the church then, how do we determine what we are going to do in it? People have all kinds of ideas of what the church should do — and often it is based on what they see the world outside the church doing. But this is a big mistake.
It reminds me of what we read in II Kings 16 last week, when King Ahaz of Judah went to Damascus to visit Tilgath-Pilezer the King of Assyria. And :10 says King Ahaz saw the altar these pagans had in Damascus, and evidently he really thought it was really sharp, and so he sent the description of this pagan altar to Urijah the priest in Jerusalem and they made one just like it for the Temple in Jerusalem. He moved God’s altar, and put the one that was modeled from the world there instead.
And when I read that I thought, that is JUST what we do so often in the church: we see things that people are doing out in the world, and think, “Oh, that’s really neat; we ought to do that in the church. We need to bring that in the church.” But we need to pay attention to what II Kings teaches; Israel did not last long after they started bringing the world into God’s house. And in the same way, a church will not last long once they start compromising with the world.
— We are NOT as God’s people just to imitate whatever trends and practices we see in the world.
— We are NOT to be like the people in Judges, and just do “whatever is right in our own eyes”
— WHERE are we supposed to get the direction for what we do in the church, and how things are to be done? We are to get it from the word of God. Look at what Paul wrote at the end of I Timothy 2:14-15:
“I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but ill 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.”
This is SUCH an important statement:
— First of all, this is where Paul tells us that the Church is the household of God.
— Second, he tells us there that THIS is the theme of this book. This is why he is writing. He says, “I am writing these things to you …” so here is the THEME VERSE of this book of I Timothy. You ought to underline this. If you want to know the theme of I Timothy, here it is.
— And then he tells us what that theme IS: that this book was written FOR THE PURPOSE of knowing how things are to be done in the Church of God. NO OTHER BOOK in the Bible specifically indicates that as its theme. Paul specifically says here: if you want to know how things are supposed to be done in God’s church, that is what I am writing for. That is what this book is all about; that is its theme. Other books of the Bible may say some things that apply to the church; you may glean some things from them. In Acts you can see what they DID do in the early church, good or bad; in I Corinthians a number of problems in the church are addressed and corrected; but in THIS book he says, I am writing this specifically for the purpose that you might know how things are to be done in the church, the Household of God.
So we need to receive this book for what it is. I Timothy is the “handbook” for God’s household, the church. If we want to know how things are to be done in the church, look at I Timothy. God gave us this book to be our rule and guide in the church, for organization, leadership, and practice.
And there are other scriptures in God’s word that direct us as well. But this reminds us that God’s word is to be the rule of the church.
— It is not what “we want to do” that should guide the church;
— It is not what is most popular with the world, or even with our own people that should guide us
— it is not what other groups or businesses or organizations are doing that should guide us.
The church is to be committed to do whatever GOD says for His Household. Obeying the word of God is THE fundamental commitment of the church. The church is where God’s word rules. And if any group calling itself a “church” turns away from the word of God, it ceases at that point to BE a church of the living God. God’s word is the rule of the church.
III. The Offices of the Church
Then one might ask, what leadership or offices should a church have? Well, we don’t just make up whatever positions we want; as we saw, God’s word is the rule for the church, so we should establish the leaders that God’s word commands us to have. This Book of I Timothy says it was written to tell us how we are to conduct ourselves in the household of the living God, so if we are a church of the Living God, we should have whatever leadership God describes here. And here in I Timothy 3, God gives us TWO categories of offices for His church: Pastors & Deacons.
First, in 3:1 we see, “It is a trustworthy statement, if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” Here we find the first category of leader in God’s church: what he calls here the “overseer.”
“Overseer” here is the Greek word “episkopos”, meaning one who has supervision or oversight. We get our word “episcopal” and “bishop” from this word. It indicates one who oversees the church. This word is referring to what many of us would call the “pastor” of the church. In fact, Acts 20 helps to clarify a lot of misunderstandings about the words “pastor,” “bishop,” and “elder,” which many people believe are different positions. But look at Acts 20:
— :17 says “From Miletus (Paul) sent to Ephesus and called to him the ELDERS of the church.” So the people he is addressing later in this chapter are “elders.”
— THEN look at :28. It says Paul told these “elders,” “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you OVERSEERS (the same word episkopos, or “bishop” we just saw in I Timothy 3) , to SHEPHERD the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Significantly, that word “shepherd” is the Greek word “poimen”, which we get our word “PASTOR” from.
SO ALL THREE of these terms, “elder,” “bishop,” and “pastor,” are used of the SAME group of people by the Apostle Paul here in Acts 28. So “elder,” “bishop,” and “pastor,” are NOT three different offices; they are the SAME office. They all describe what most of us here would call the office of PASTOR. Pastors are the first office of the church God gives us here.
So back to I Timothy 3, Paul spends the next 6 verses describing the qualifications for the office of “overseer” or “pastor.” Most of these qualifications are moral; about his life and practices. Only ONE specifically denotes an ABILITY: verse 2 says he must be “able to teach,” — evidently this is the primary thing a pastor is supposed to do: he is to teach the word of God to the household of God.
Then after he outlines the qualifications for pastor in :2-7, a SECOND OFFICER is introduced in :8, DEACONS. It says “Deacons, likewise …”. SO here is a second scriptural officer of the church, the “deacon.”
We get the word “deacon” from the Greek Bible word “diaconos,” which means “servant”; one who waits on tables. In fact, we probably ought to just translate the word “servants” instead of deacons, and it would help us to remember what the scriptural role of the deacon was intended to be.
We see an example of the role of deacon in what is generally considered to be the story of their origin in Acts 6:
— It says while the church was increasing in number in those early days, “a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews (“Hellenistic” means “Greek”, the Greeks who had become Christians in the early church) because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food.”
So they had a problem in the church: they wanted to take care of their widows with a kind of “meals on wheels” program, taking them food, because they didn’t have Social Security checks and government programs back then; God’s people took care of their own (which we should still do today too!). But some were being overlooked.
So :2 says “the 12” (the Apostles, Peter and James and John, etc.) told the congregation, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.” We just saw that the primary role of the pastor is to teach the word of God. They said, we shouldn’t neglect our most important ministry in God’s word, running around to every house making sure that no widow is being overlooked. So they said in :3, “Therefore brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” And they did. And :5 lists the men they chose.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, the word “deacon” is never specifically used in this passage. However, most Christians agree that this does describe the origin of the deacon ministry, for one, because its origin is not described anywhere else — AND secondly, the phrase “wait on tables” is used by the apostles, which is just what the word “deacon” means — a servant who “waits on tables.” So Acts 6 is almost certainly the description of the origin and nature of the deacon ministry: they are to be men of good Christian Spirit and wisdom, who are to serve the individuals and families of the church, and free the pastors to minister the word of God.
So back to I Timothy 3: Paul gives qualifications for deacons in :8-13 of this chapter. Basically, he says in :8, “Deacons LIKEWISE …” — that is an important statement: he had just finished talking about the qualifications for the kind of man who could be pastor of the church, and he says, “Deacons LIKEWISE …” — in other words, they are to be the SAME kind of man morally and spiritually as you would consider for the office of pastor, with the one difference being that nowhere does it say that the deacon must be able to teach. The pastor, due to his primary role being the teaching of the word, must be able to teach. The deacon, whose primary role is to minister to people’s needs, does not HAVE to be “able to teach.” He may, but it is not a requirement. But other than that, the pastor and the deacon are to be the same kind of man, morally and spiritually.
Now, it is totally in the Providence of God that today “just so happens” to be the day that we put out our deacon ballots for the upcoming year. I didn’t plan that we would be reading I Timothy 3 this week, but it is an amazing orchestration of the Spirit of God, which will be helpful for us as we consider our deacon ballots this year. I’ve given you a brief overview of some of the deacon qualifications this morning. I hope you will take a ballot, and pray over it, and turn it in considering the kind of person I have described to you this morning. If you’re ready, you can do that this morning, and turn those in the offering plate. But we will also spend some more time this Wednesday night, going a little more in-depth on the qualifications for deacons, and we will spend some time in prayer, and then we will also collect ballots Wednesday night, as well as for the next couple of weeks. (And remember you need to be 16 to cast a ballot!)
But as we have seen, we are not just to vote for whoever we happen to “like,” or who other people might find popular, or whatever — but for the kind of man whom GOD’S WORD says we are to have for this office; for as we have seen, God’s word sets the rule for the leadership of His church.
IV. The Challenge to the Church
The leaders that we select for our churches are SO important — especially in light of the challenges that the church faces in today’s world. ONE of those challenges is highlighted at the beginning of Chapter 4: listen to it, because it is speaking right to us today:
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons …”.
He says, listen: it is going to be hard for us to stay “on track” in our churches, because Satan is going to come against the churches with “doctrines of demons” — false teachings that men who are inspired by demons are going to try to compromise the churches with — and he says if you’re not careful, your churches will be corrupted by them.
So he says, you have GOT to be on the alert:
— He says in :6 constantly nourish yourself on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.” In other words, keep “feeding” on the “milk” and “bread” and “meat” of the word of God every day — just like we have been doing in our daily Bible readings. THE best thing you can do to guard yourself from error is to know the word of God — NOT what other people TELL you it means, but what YOU KNOW it means, because you are nourishing yourself in it every day on your own.
— Then he says in :11, “Prescribe and teach these things” as God’s pastor to these people. God’s pastors are to keep His people straight in the word.
— And he adds in :13 “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation and teaching.” He says, emphasize these things in the church there at Ephesus: read the word of God in public (which is why we do that every week here!) And exhort and teach people in it (that is preaching) — to help keep them in the truth, and to keep them from falling into error.
People, we have GOT to understand the challenges we face in guarding ourselves, our families, and our churches from false teaching. Satan is always trying to corrupt God’s churches with false teaching; he is relentless at it; he never stops. And God said here it is going to be even more so in the last times, and we do see that everywhere. But unfortunately there is kind of a “naive Christian spirit” that just wants to give everybody the benefit of the doubt; that just wants to believe that anybody who has a Bible in their hand is a good person, and has something good to say. But we cannot be that naive:
— God specifically says here that deceiving spirits ARE going to come teaching error. We have to guard against them in His church.
— In that Acts 28 passage we read a bit ago, when Paul addressed the “elders—overseers—pastors” he said your job is to guard the church because “wolves” are going to come, speaking perverse things that are not in accord with the word of God.
— And I John 4 specifically commands us: “Beloved, DO NOT believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because MANY false prophets have gone out into the world.” Not “a few;” not “some;” “MANY”! He says “MANY” false prophets have gone out into the world, so we must continually be on guard against them in the church:
— not every speaker who stands behind a pulpit is truly a man of God
— not every book even in Christian bookstores is a scriptural book
— not every song even on the Christian radio station has scriptural lyrics.
So we have to guard. We have to test. And as Paul said here, it starts with us, “nourishing ourselves” on the word of God every day, so we know what His word really teaches; as well as being committed to hear God’s word read and proclaimed every week from the spiritual leaders He has given us in His church. It’s so important. Because this is not just “some group” we have going here. This is the household of God. This is the church of God. And the household of God is worth guarding with everything we have!
C.S. Lewis wrote of Athanasius, the Egyptian pastor who lived about 300 years after the time of Christ:
“His epitaph is ‘Athanasius contra mundum’, (which in Latin means) ‘Athanasius against the world.’ (Lewis wrote) We are proud that our own country has more than once stood against the world. Athanasius did the same. He stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, ‘whole and undefiled’ when it looked as if all the civilized world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius — into one of those ‘sensible’ synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away.’”
I love those words of Lewis: “It is his glory that he did not move with the times.” Folks, our “times” are moving. And many are saying we’ve got to change everything in the church or we’re gonna be left behind — including what we believe about marriage, and gender roles, and morality, and drinking, and Jesus as the only way to God. But may it be said of us that it was our glory that we did not move with the times — but that we stayed faithful to the word of God, because we loved His church. Because we knew that this congregation was so much more than just some gathering of people, or a social club; but the very “household of God.”