By Peter Thompson B.Theo Grad Dip Theology
In Part 1, we looked at how Paul used an interesting mixture of two metaphors in 1 Timothy 3:15 to describe how the church dwells in God’s house while at the same time being the place where God Himself dwells, all for the sake of the world’s perception of the risen Jesus as truth. What is unique in the 1 Timothy 3:15 metaphor mixture is how Paul describes the whole church itself as the foundation of this metaphorical building.
The effect of this combination of metaphors emphasises the influence correct behaviour in the church has on the outside world. The fact that the secular world is no longer challenged by Jesus as a source of truth is in itself evidence that something is seriously wrong with how we conduct ourselves in the Western church today.
Paul uses a similar mixture of household/temple metaphors for different effects twice more in the New Testament which provides further insight into how the church can be properly structured to fulfil their responsibilities and facilitate the revealing of the risen Jesus who embodies all truth.
Apostles & Prophets as the Foundation for God’s New Holy Temple
In Ephesians 2:19-22, the apostles and prophets form the foundation of the building metaphor, with Jesus as the cornerstone. Here, both Jews and Gentiles as members of God’s one household are being built upon that foundation so that in Christ, they can grow together as one family into a holy temple of the Lord.
The emphasis in this passage is how the whole structure of God’s household as a holy temple both grows organically and is being built together by the Spirit into a dwelling place for God where Gentiles as well as Jews serve as priests and leaders. The source of growth though is not the leaders, not even the apostles and prophets who form the foundation, but how Jesus Himself is allowed to function spiritually and supernaturally within this household/temple structure, because:
- the grammatical significance of the participle “built upon” in verse 20 referring to the foundation of apostles and prophets is that this foundation has already been formed in this metaphor, and the Gentiles as fellow citizens with Israel and members of God’s household were built upon that foundation by God Himself (compare Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-35; 6:1-4; Ephesians 3:4-6; Matthew 16:18; Revelation 21:14);
- the grammatical significance of the verb “grows” in verse 21 is that this growth occurring “in Christ Jesus” is continuous and hence incomplete;
- the grammatical significance of the participle “built together” in verse 22 is that this building activity “in Christ Jesus” is occurring at the same time the growth “in Christ Jesus” is occurring, and hence is also continuous and incomplete;
- the contingent nature of this growth “in Christ” is confirmed later in the epistle where Paul, in the context of urging the Ephesians to attain maturity in order that they will not be carried away and deceived by wrong teaching, exhorts the Christian communities to grow up into Christ in all things, “truthing” in love (i.e. being faithfully loyal to others in love with realism and truthfulness — John 3:21; 1 John 1:6), drawing all the resources necessary for the church to build itself up in love from their union to Christ and from the sustenance that comes solely from Him (Ephesians 4:15-16);
- this contingent nature of growth is made even more explicit in Colossians where the church is only able to grow the growth God produces when the whole community is nourished through maintaining their union to Christ rather than holding onto false teaching (Colossians 2:19); and
- Paul quotes from Isaiah in a context where the Gentiles will not only join God’s people, but will minister as priests in His new temple if they maintain a living relationship with God (by joining themselves to Him in order to serve Him), and want what He wants, transforming their behaviour accordingly (Isaiah 56:3-8; 57:13-15, 19; 66:18-21).
Again, as in 1 Timothy 3:15, truth is important, for it keeps the Christian community in proper union with Christ who is the sole source of their growth towards maturity. Leaders are to facilitate this growth rather than be the actual source of it.
The significance of Jesus being the cornerstone is that, as the primary load-bearing stone in the foundation which determined the alignment of the rest of the building, everything depends upon proper relationship with Him, noting that:
- the foundation stones of Solomon’s temple were huge and costly (1 Kings 7:10-12);
- Jesus the Messiah, as the foundation laid in Zion, is a cornerstone of sure foundation where justice is made a line and righteousness a plumbline, in contrast to the foundations made by Israel’s leaders in their political manoeuvring with Egypt which were cheap stones shoddily laid so that the nation had no chance of surviving the coming judgment (Isaiah 28:16-17; compare Psalm 118:22; Acts 4:11-12; 1 Peter 2:6-7; Matthew 7:24-27);
- Jesus as the cornerstone is also a stone of stumbling, a stone of testing, for those who refuse to reverence Him and allow Him to be their sanctuary, their place of refuge, their source of empowerment and fruitful behaviour (Romans 9:31-33; Isaiah 8:11-15; 28:16; 1 Peter 2:7-8; compare Matthew 21:42-44; Luke 2:34-35); and
- whoever believes in/puts their trust in Him will not be put to shame (Romans 10:11; Isaiah 28:16; 49:23).
Adopting the worldly systems of hierarchical government lays the wrong foundation in God’s holy temple, the church. The risen Christ is the only source of growth for the Christian community, and this is a supernatural phenomenon, for only He is the true source of life and nourishment.
The Enduring Structure of the Christian Church & Its Leadership
What is particularly significant here with the foundation comprising apostles and prophets is not that the Bible as the written record of their teaching is now the end and ultimate authority, a view expressed by many scholars with vested interests to uphold the church leadership status quo, making them susceptible to bibliolatry (more on this another day). Rather, the structures for this holy temple have already been put in place, and should not be tampered with. The revelatory insight by the original apostles and prophets on the organic nature of church structure, which has been fully aligned with Jesus as the load-bearing cornerstone, has been permanently set in place. This completely disarms the false argument that returning to biblical leadership patterns is primitive.
Our modern hierarchical structures, especially those based on the senior pastor model, are therefore alien and inappropriate for the church, for the biblical structure of the household/people of God, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Spirit, within which the supernatural gifts of the Spirit and the ministries of apostle/prophet/evangelist/shepherd-teacher freely operate under the headship/lordship of Christ as the sole source of growth, was always meant to be an enduring one.
Useful Vessels in the Master’s House
The second combination of household/temple metaphors occurs in 2 Timothy 2:14-26. Here, Paul encourages Timothy to be cleansed of the bad teaching/false theology rampant in Ephesus so that he might be a vessel of honour in the Master’s house, ready for every good work. It is quite possible to also see all the bad/false teachers in the Ephesian church as vessels of dishonour in the Master’s house, a topic for another day.
The emphasis is on the image of God’s solid foundation with the cornerstone containing an inscription of ownership on it, and thus God’s house will stand firm because it is based upon God’s knowledge of us, His children, the faithful remnant of the church who turn away from wickedness (verses 19-20). Thankfully, the foundation of God’s household is not dependent upon our knowledge of Him.
Here, the metaphor of God’s household includes temple imagery, and speaks of proper leadership within His house, noting that:
- the image of a firm foundation, containing an inscription of ownership which strongly suggests the existence of an important cornerstone upon which such seals were inscribed, alludes again to Isaiah 28:16;
- the gold and silver vessels in the house which are set apart and holy point to the utensils used in Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:40-51; 2 Chronicles 4:16-22; 5:1; compare Exodus 38:21-28);
- Paul exhorts Timothy to keep himself cleansed from the bad teaching so that Timothy might be one of the holy vessels in God’s household/temple (compare 1 Corinthians 5:6-13);
- as this holy vessel, Timothy might then be available for any good/honourable purpose, signifying that the initiative for service in God’s house is the Father’s prerogative alone; and
- verses 22-26 clearly demonstrate that a leader’s role as a servant of the Lord is gentle persuasion, not authoritative directives/injunctions imposed upon the Christian community, for it is God who grants repentance which leads to a knowledge of the truth (compare 1 Corinthians 4:18-21; Isaiah 42:1-4; Matthew 12:15-21; Galatians 6:1-2; Hebrews 13:7, 17).
Once again in these two passages, truth and behaviour in God’s household are significant, with the emphasis on church leaders being available to be used by the Father for the benefit of His children so that God is the sole source of all growth. The emphasis is completely on Christ and the Father, not on the leadership.
To review the studies included in the Framework and find out why we have concluded these things you can download the Framework and Notes here, free of charge.
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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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