I was asked to study 1 Timothy chapter three and give a 15-minute teaching on it. I figured it wouldn’t hurt putting my thoughts on my blog as well…
Chapter three of 1 Timothy is the familiar and famous chapter listing the qualifications of an elder and a deacon. Complete libraries have been written on this topic and so it seemed like a daunting task to actually do some exegesis on this text which was not done before, and at the same time making sure I don’t fall into the category of people discussed in 1 Timothy chapter 1 (if you get my point). I don’t know how often I read this chapter before, but for some reason I never really noticed the last couple of verses. Maybe because the focus of the chapter is so evidently on the qualifications that these go unnoticed. Yet Paul is never accidental in his writings and so I believe that the fact these verses directly follow the qualifications is deliberate and intentional.
“I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long; but in 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” (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
Keeping in mind that Paul did not write this letter with chapters in mind, we could still say that Paul gives the outline for the qualifications without tell why these qualifications are important. Yet he does so at the end. In verse 14-15 Paul he tells us that these instructions for qualifying elders are so that we will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God. In other words, how you should behave in church. What I think is interesting is that Paul then gives a description of the household of God nowhere else mentioned in Scripture, and in a way that emphasizes his previous point. He says that the household of God is the church of the living God is the pillar and support of the truth. Paul is making a direct relation between the qualifications of an elders and deacons (church leadership) and the fact that the church is the pillar and support of the truth. I think this is interesting. And so it seems worthwhile to further explore the theme of the church being a pillar.
The pillar and the foundation of the church is truth. It isn’t that the church is the foundation of the truth, but that the church holds up the truth so that the world can see it. In ancient days pillars where often used to fasten upon edicts or declarations for all the public to see. In the Bible pillars are mentioned on a couple of times.
The Pillars of Solomon’s Temple
In 1 Kings 7:15-21 we read about the two pillars on the porch of Solomon’s temple. These enormous pillars (8.3 meters tall, 5.5 meters in circumference, with a 2.3 meters high bronze capitals) were named Jachin, which means “he establishes,” and Boaz, which means “in him is strength.” Some believe that these pillars were to remind Israel of the twin pillars from the Exodus, the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Constant reminders and God’s presence. You could also say that the house of God itself was Jachin and Boaz. The temple was established by God and built by the strength of God, or “In strength shall My House be established.” You could also say that in the temple, the house of God, people experienced what the pillars were all about: people were established in their relationship with God, and people were given strength from God.
Jeremiah was made like a pillar by God
In Jeremiah 1:17-19 we read that God says to Jeremiah to prepare for action, to go out and proclaim the truth. In order to do that God makes Jeremiah strong like a fortified city and like an iron pillar. “‘Get up and prepare for action. Go out and tell them everything I tell you to say. Do not be afraid of them, or I will make you look foolish in front of them. For see, today I have made you strong like a fortified city that cannot be captured, like an iron pillar or a bronze wall. You will stand against the whole land – the kings, officials, priests, and people of Judah. They will fight you, but they will fail. For I am with you, and I will take care of you. I, the Lord, have spoken!'” (Jeremiah 1:17-19). In order for Jeremiah to hold up the truth, God made him like an iron pillar.
Peter, James and John were known as the pillars of the church
In Galatians 2:9 we read that the inner circle of Jesus, Peter, James and John, were known as the pillars of the church, meaning not only that they were the pillars on which the church was built, but also that they held up the truth for all the world to see. They were, in a way, like Jeremiah, made like a pillar by God.
Here is where the qualifications of an elder come in, because in order to be a pillar, to be like a fortified city that cannot be captured, to hold up the truth, you have to be above reproach. Being above reproach (blameless, well-thought-of, give no grounds for accusations, to be without any character defect) is in a sense the only qualification of an elder. Paul does the same thing here as he does in Galatians 5:22-23 when discussing the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, and an elder must be above reproach. In both cases Paul is so kind to give us some more insight into what this means practically, and he does so in four ways: First, his relation to God (he has to be a man, he has to be able to teach, he cannot be a recent convert); second, his relation to his family (he has to be faithful to his wife, he has to have respectful and obeying children, he has to be a good steward of his household); third, his relation to himself (he has to be self-controlled, he has to live wisely, he cannot have additions, he has to be able to handle money well); and fourth, his relation to others (he has to be gentle, he has to be not quarrelsome, he has to have a good reputation outside church, he has to be hospitable, he cannot be violent)
All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of God
The last reference to pillars can be found in Revelation 3:12, where Jesus says: “‘He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.’” I think this is very interesting. Revelation 3:12 is part of Jesus’ letter to the church of Philadelphia. Historically this ancient city suffered often from earthquakes as it was situated in a highly volcanic region. When a building collapsed in an earthquake often all that remained were the huge pillars. Jesus offers us this same strength, to remain standing in Him when everything around us crumbles. Of all of the churches in Revelation that Jesus sent a letter to, the church of Philadelphia together with the church of Smyrna are the only ones for which Jesus has no concerns. Interestingly enough, the church of Philadelphia is the only church out of the seven which is promised to be kept out of the Great Tribulation (Revelation 3:10) and with the church of Smyrna the only two churches still alive today! It is said to represent the missional church model and era. In any case, it is interesting that it is this church in particular (the missional church with no concerns that is still alive today) that is promised to become pillars in the temple of God.
Pillars are what hold up the building. The only thing supporting the pillar is the foundation. Elders are to be pillars in the church, who support the church, and they should look to Jesus as their support foundation. And so it is of the utmost importance that the church appoints elders (identified by the Holy Spirit) who are above reproach, in order for the church to hold up the truth so the world can see it. The question then remains is how does one become above reproach? And my answer would be to keep Psalm 86:11 close to heart and mind, which says: “Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.” A proper fear of the LORD will unite your heart with His, because it will convict you of sin you didn’t realize you had, because it will create a desire to see the full glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:4-6) which will keep you on a straight and humble path of desiring to be above reproach. Yet if you think you’re there you are not above reproach anymore.