How God Marks His Assembly – 1 Timothy 3:14-158 min read
These things write I unto you, hoping to come unto you shortly: But if I tarry long, that you may know how one must behave himself in the house of God, which is the assembly of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
In the middle of his epistle which outlines the description of a man of God in an assembly, after describing the duties and characteristics of an elder, Paul brings Timothy a solemn reminder of why assembly truth is so vital. One might ask after seeing so many requirements for an overseer and deacon, “Why should we care about all these roles and requirements? Can’t we just do what works for us?” While these questions will vanish when God’s Word is given its proper place, we do have an answer as well. The answer is found in what the local assembly is marked by. If we understand what the assembly is, we will understand what to do in it.
A Place of Prescribed Behaviour
“That you may know how one must behave himself” – here we have Paul’s main motive for writing to Timothy. As a leader in Ephesus, it was incumbent upon him to instruct the believers that there is a distinctly right way to act in the assembly and a distinctly wrong way. Even before one knows what the difference between those ways are, the first thing is to understand this simple point: there is a clear difference between that which is fitting in daily life and that which is fitting in the assembly. Now, is this to say double-lives are supported in Scripture? Of course not. But the principle remains that when gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus that is no time to test our ideas or promote our preferences: we are there for the glory of God. How is the glory of God going to be accomplished? By obeying His pattern – nothing added, nothing taken away. That is really Paul’s point when he brings the three-fold description of the assembly to us: he wants to convey the idea that assembly living and functioning are not arbitrary. There are things consistent with it, but there are also things inconsistent with it. We need to be discerning as to what those things are. This kind of discernment comes with understanding both the purpose and nature of the local assembly in how God designed it.
A Place of His Residence
The first title we come to is “House of God,” which is really a characteristic of the assembly, rather than a title that sets it apart as the only house of God. (Technically, the house of God is now in the Body of Christ, for Ephesians says that the Body is the habitation of God through the Spirit.) What we learn from the description is this: the assembly operates on the basis of what is consistent with God’s dwelling place. Throughout Scripture, God emphasizes very clearly the nature of His House, whether we see that in the temples of the Old Testament, the Tabernacle, or Bethel in Genesis 28. In every single instance (which we can legitimately use as pictures of the assembly), those who occupied the house of God were marked by fear, awe, intelligence as to God’s Person and glory, and God’s favor. There was no need for entertainment. There was no pep-talk awaiting them. Why were they there, then? To give God what was His due in the place He demanded. To every sober mind, it was very much a privilege to meet God in His holy temple. Even then, they had no access to the Most Holy Place, as we do today. And yet today, if we don’t have something cute, light, and trendy “going to church” becomes boring. No more is there a realization of the solemnity of the occasion when we meet as an assembly; rather it becomes ordinary and even casual. While we do not take this to an extreme that is unwarranted, we can’t dismiss it either. God has chosen to dwell with us in a local gathering. How can this knowledge not demand a behaviour that does all to the glory of God?
A Place of Fearful and Holy Distinction
The second description given is this: “the assembly of the living God.” We could even read it like this: “the called-out company of the living God.” There are two things in this that should stagger our minds: (1) That our God is living; in other words, we are not part of a denomination or a philosophy or a dead religious leader’s moral teachings. The living God claims us as His and none else. (2) That the living God would invite us to Himself and call us out for His purposes. Ephesus (where Timothy lived) was full of so-called gods, but we know they were just wood and stone – maybe even just a worshiped and exalted concept. But Timothy could always know that while idolatry pervaded the city, there was a people that the living God loved and identified with. Jeremiah could say “But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.” All throughout Scripture this title “living God” is used in a very solemn tone, and for a good reason. It tells every listener that approaching Him is no light thing. And when that God graciously calls out the people He has invested precious blood in, we should marvel that we were ever such people. Surely this mentality will bring into greater focus just what kind of behaviour is fitting for God’s house. In it we approach a God of honor. We approach a God of power. We approach a God of glory. We approach a God of life. Will we take that for granted? Or do we need the “extra stuff,” like music and entertainment and tickled ears, to make our meetings more appealing? Let us be happy with the simplicity of God’s pattern. To take away from it would imply He cannot define the basis on which we meet Him, which would be a contempt to His holiness. To add to it would imply He is not enough for us in the simplicity of what He has laid out. Surely either is detrimental to the mind that has a proper reverence for the living God. So then, as the header of this section suggests, let’s be aware of our fearful and holy distinction in the assembly since we are marked out by the Most High and Living One. It is His and His by right. Let’s not treat it as if we have any authority to do other than what He says. It is then that He receives the glory which is His due.
A Place of Truth
We have seen that behaviour in the assembly is determined by a knowledge of God’s presence as well as knowing that we are the property of the living God. Now we see that a specific behaviour is appropriate because the assembly is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” This implies that when the assembly is not operated on the basis of God’s pattern, then truth in every level is at stake. If the instrument of passing down pure doctrine is not functioning right, somewhere along the line, the truth that needs to be passed down will be tainted also. If the pattern so clearly laid out in Scripture is discarded, why should we believe the other clear doctrines will be upheld? Isn’t all of Scripture the truth? Why, then, when we compromise one part would we think we are safe from compromising another part? It is a slow fade but a definite one when there is compromise. Just as a machine with missing parts will produce a mutated form of its product, so will the assembly pass down mutated truth when God’s pattern is traded for pragmatism. Proverbs says “Buy the truth and sell it not.” Is it for sale in our lives? Is it for sale in our assemblies? May we understand the value of an assembly that loves truth, for that will be the assembly that sees truth passed down to another generation. Clearly God holds this very highly: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” So then, whether it be truth concerning the Trinity, concerning end times, concerning God’s plan for Israel and the Church, concerning salvation, or even concerning the assembly, all truth is the assembly’s duty to uphold and hold forth. God marks it as a place of truth, and He values it as such. Should we not value it for the same reasons God does? In light of all these things, may we appreciate more and more just what God has called us to be part of as believers. May we learn the importance of behaving God’s way in God’s house. May we see the assembly as God sees it, for He is the One Who designed it.