By Peter Thompson B.Theo Grad Dip Theology
In 1 Timothy 1:3-7, Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to address the problems in the church there brought about by false teachers, a problem Paul himself interestingly pre-empted (prophetically) in Acts 20:28-30. In the process of guiding Timothy in this task, Paul used a fascinating mixture of two metaphors in 1 Timothy 3:14-15 to reveal an intriguing dimension of what the church of the living God should be like.
We will explore this imagery in five parts. In Part 1, we will look at the two metaphors Paul used, namely God’s household and the temple of the living God, in some detail. In Part 2, we will explore Paul’s use of this temple/household combination of metaphors in two other passages. Then, in Part 3, we will look at a third passage in some detail where a similar but slightly different combination of metaphors occurs, namely cultivated-field-vineyard/temple. Finally, in Parts 4-5, we will consider the significance of all this temple/household/cultivated-field-vineyard imagery to provide some insights into how we should structure churches today to enable us to dwell properly together as God’s immediate family while at the same time being God’s spiritual dwelling place.
The Household of God
1 Timothy 3:15 speaks of the need for believers to know how to conduct/behave themselves as part of God’s household. This means that while we as believers all live together in God’s house as members of His family, being children of God carries with it certain privileges and responsibilities:
- We all, Jews and Gentiles alike, as members of God’s one household together, have access to the same Father through the Son in the one Spirit (Ephesians 2:18-19; compare Matthew 23:8-9; John 14:6-7);
- The Father has blessed us all together with every spiritual blessing by predestining us in love for adoption through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3-5; compare James 1:17);
- The Father faithfully meets the physical needs of His children (Matthew 6:31-33; Luke 12:29-31; compare Matthew 6:8; 7:11; John 15:16; 16:23);
- Membership in God’s household is dependent upon continually holding firmly, boldly to the authentic Christian confidence and hope concerning Jesus (Hebrews 3:6; compare Matthew 10:32-33);
- God’s children should walk in the truth (2 John 4);
- Belonging to God’s household requires active submission to the Father’s will (Matthew 7:21-23; 12:49-50);
- As God’s children, we need to submit to the discipline of the Father in order to yield the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:7-11);
- Practising righteousness and loving one another are essential qualities of being children of God (1 John 3:10);
- Children of God must not live according to the lustful passions/desires of who we were in Adam before conversion, but must put to death the deeds of the body and be led by the Spirit who opposes all community-destroying behaviour (Romans 8:12-15; compare Galatians 5:16-24; Ephesians 4:17-32; Colossians 3:2-17);
- The status of being children of the Father is completed/fully developed when the Christian community imitates their Father by loving their enemies and doing good expecting nothing in return, being merciful and kind to ungrateful and wicked persons (Matthew 5:44-48; Luke 6:35-36; Ephesians 5:1-2; compare Galatians 6:10);
- The children of God must do all things without complaining/grumbling or disputes/controversies in order to be blameless and innocent without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, holding fast to the word of life (Philippians 2:14-15); and
- Judgment must begin with the household of God to discipline and purify us through trials, persecution and suffering (1 Peter 4:17; compare 1 Corinthians 11:32; Romans 8:18-19, 23-24; 1 John 3:1-3; Ezekiel 9:3-10; Malachi 3:1-5; Matthew 10:16-23).
Make no mistake, being a part of God’s household has many extraordinarily wonderful benefits, because the Father is gracious, lovingly kind, loyal, merciful, and slow to anger (Exodus 34:6-7; Numbers 14:17-19; Nehemiah 9:16-21; Psalm 86:5, 15; 111:2-6; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). Yet, there is a very sobering side to being part of this household, something which is not respected enough in contemporary Western Christianity today.
The Foundation and Pillar of the Truth
1 Timothy 3:15 also speaks in temple imagery of the church of the living God being the firm (i.e. stable, immovable) foundation and the pillar of the truth. The church then is the temple, the dwelling place, of the living God which also carries with it certain privileges and responsibilities:
- God walks among us as His people, and will be a Father to us (2 Corinthians 6:16-18);
- The church becomes a holy, royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:5-6; 5:9-10; compare Exodus 19:6; Revelation 20:6; Isaiah 56:6-8; 66:18-21);
- Spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God must be offered in this temple, which includes practical, loving service to one another (1 Peter 2:4-5; Romans 12:1; Philippians 4:14-18; compare Ephesians 5:1-2; Romans 12:9-21);
- The church must continually cleanse itself from every defilement of body and spirit, such as sexual promiscuity, to bring holiness to completion in reverence for God (2 Corinthians 7:1); and
- Members of the church and budding leaders have to submit to leadership structures which uphold and keep the truth of the Gospel pure (Galatians 2:1-6; compare Acts 15:22-26; Galatians 1:6-11; 2 Corinthians 11:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).
What is “Truth”
Truth in the context of 1 Timothy 3:15 is, in the very least, the truth of the Gospel entrusted to the church in contrast to the distortions of the false teachers who have abandoned the truth (1 Timothy 1:6-7, 19-20; 4:1-3; 6:3-5; compare 2 Timothy 2:17-18; 3:6-9; 4:3-4), but it is more than that. Truth is also referring to the manifestation/unveiling/revelation of the risen Jesus because:
- the truth mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:15 is further articulated in the following hymn (verse 16) with Jesus as the central and essential content of the mystery or revealed truth of godliness, noting that the first 3 lines of the hymn refer to Christ’s earthly ministry, while lines 4-5 refer to the ongoing ministry of Christ through the church (compare 1 Corinthians 2:1-2; 15:1-8; 2 Corinthians 4:4-5; Ephesians 3:7-8; Romans 16:25; Philippians 1:15-18);
- the Gospel itself, centred around Jesus, is the message of truth (Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5; compare 2 Timothy 2:15; James 1:18);
- all words/messages spoken by the Father (through Jesus by the Spirit) comprise the truth, which is clearly not just restricted to the written Scriptures (John 17:17; compare John 1:17; 8:31-32; Psalm 119:160);
- the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth not only bears witness to Jesus, but will lead those He indwells into all the truth which comprises all things the Father has, declaring the truth about the risen Jesus (John 14:17; 15:26-27; 16:13-15; compare 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; 1 John 5:6);
- Jesus as the Word, coming from the Father’s side narrating the only God, Himself embodies truth because the very fullness of the one true God dwells in Him bodily (John 1:1-3, 18; 14:6; Colossians 2:9; compare Revelation 19:13);
- the truth is in Jesus which is not surprising, considering that Jesus embodies truth, and therefore the truth cannot exist apart from Him because all things, past present and future, are summed up in Him (Ephesians 1:10; 4:21); and
- Jesus is called Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11; compare 1 John 5:20; Revelation 3:14).
This truth is portrayed as the roof of the building metaphor, because it is upheld by the foundation and pillar. The church of the living God therefore reveals the risen Jesus, the content of the Gospel and embodiment of truth, who becomes evident to those outside of the building i.e. the world.
Hence, this combination of metaphors has a particular relevance to the effect that behaviour within the church of a particular city or region has upon the surrounding non-Christian communities. Proper conduct that befits God’s household, and facilitates the indwelling presence of a holy God, will make the risen Jesus obvious and evident to the outside world (compare Acts 5:12-16, 42).
The Church as the Household and Temple of God
This means then that we all as Christians dwell together in God’s house as members of His family, yet at the same time we are a spiritual building together in which God dwells. God’s household where the members of His family reside is also the place where God Himself resides. Hence:
- the Holy Spirit dwells in the church as God’s holy temple, and must not be grieved by community-destroying divisive behaviour, for He is the indwelling seal of God’s ownership within us until the final day of redemption when our bodies will be resurrected, implying that persistence in such behaviour will eventually result in the Spirit’s indwelling presence departing just like God’s presence departed the first temple (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:22; 4:30; compare Isaiah 63:7-19; Ezekiel 10:1-22; 43:1-5);
- the truth of the Gospel has to be obeyed, which has considerable impact upon our behaviour as Spirit-led people (2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17; compare Romans 15:18-19; Galatians 5:7); and
- in the context of building upon the foundation of Christ, those who destroy/ruin/corrupt God’s temple will in turn be destroyed/ruined/corrupted by God (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, 17).
Consequently, being actively involved in the church, especially as leaders, carries a serious responsibility to live according to the privileges provided if Christ is to be made evident to the world.
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Peter “Thommo” Thompson was born in 1958 in the bulldust of south-western Queensland in the region around the township of Mitchell. He was converted outside of the church through a supernatural encounter with the living God in Mackay, North Queensland, in February 1979, and embarked upon a long and arduous journey of God dealing with the figurative bulldust in his life. In 2012, he completed a Bachelor of Ministry & Theology double degree, and in 2013, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Theology, all at Tabor Adelaide. He currently lives with his two adult daughters in Ipswich, Queensland, and is writing a series of academic novels with the intent of hopefully helping to facilitate a church unifying movement through an unbranded form of Christianity in Australia.
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