Sermon

God's Word Faithfully Preached from the Pulpit

“The Church as the Pillar and Ground of Truth” (Isaiah 52:7 and 1 Timothy 3:14-16)

We shall continue our series about the church. And in light of the crisis we are going through this day, what is the church and what is it called to be? Is the church still relevant today? Similar to our question in the previous sermon, “Why and how is the church essential?”

This morning, we will look into Paul’s message to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:14-16. In verses 14-15, it reads:

“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”

This passage comes right after Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding who should be the office-bearers—the elders and deacons—of the church. But we will not focus on the qualifications of elders and deacons. Rather, we see in this passage Paul stating his reason for “writing these things,” and it has something to do with the identity and mission of the church.

In verse 15, Paul gives important names or designations for the church. 

  • “Household of God” — His abiding presence is among his people
  • “The church of living God” — (ekklesia) Congregation, a people called by God to himself
  • “Pillar and buttress of the truth.”

The last designation for the church will be our focus this morning.

And we will have 2 questions to answer: “What does Paul mean that the church is the pillar and buttress of the truth?” and “What is the truth?”

1. The Pillar and Buttress of the Truth

The ESV renders it as, “the church… is a pillar and buttress of the truth.”

The Greek text has no article, but the English language requires an article before a noun. So interpreters have to decide to use either “a” or “the.” Other translations (NKJV, ASV, NIV) use “the,” and we will see in our study this morning why it is more consistent to designate the church as “the pillar and buttress of the truth.”

The word “pillar” in the Bible may refer to two things:

  • A stone or standing stones that serve as memorial of divine appearance in connection with worship of the true God (Gen. 28:18-22 [Jacob’s dream]) or idol worship (Deut. 7:5)
  • A foundational support by which a structure is fixed and stable (an upright, vertical column)
    • Pillars in the temple (e.g. Solomon)
    • Figurative: The apostles Peter, James, and John (Gal. 2:9). Pillars of the church who gave the right hand of fellowship to Paul. Similar with Ephesians 2:20 (the church built on the “foundation” of the apostles and prophets)

Given the context of the verse, the word “buttress” refers to the foundation of a structure as well. (Greek and other translations: “Base,” “ground”). In ancient structures, a “buttress” is something that supports a wall so that it does not fall.

So the “pillar” and the “buttress” refers to the foundational support for the truth.

Now, is Paul saying here that the “truth” stands and depends on the church? Can the truth cease from being the truth apart from the church?

The Roman Catholic church holds that in matters of doctrine and practice, it is the Word of God plus the traditions of the church (men). They define the truth. And we can witness this in other Christian denominations who think that they have the right to determine what is the truth.

But the Word of God itself affirms that the authority of the truth lies not on the church, but on the Scriptures alone (Sola Scriptura)

  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God…”
  • 2 Peter 1:20-21 – “… no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

And if the truth of Scriptures is from God himself, it stands true apart from any one of us. Whether a person believes in the Word of God or not, it does not change the truthfulness of God’s Word. Indeed, even if everything should fail, the Word of God “shall remain forever” (1 Peter 1:25).

And we confess with our Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 7:

Sumasampalataya kami 
na ang Banal na Kasulatan ay ganap na naglalaman 
ng kalooban ng Diyos, 
at anumang dapat paniwalaan ng tao 
upang siya’y maligtas 
ay sapat na itinuturo nito.

Sapagkat dahil ang buong paraan ng pagsamba
na hinihingi ng Diyos sa atin 
ay nakasulat na sa mga ito nang sobrang haba, 
walang sinuman—
     kahit pa apostol
     o isang anghel mula sa langit,
     gaya ng sinabi ni apostol Pablo—
ang maaring magturo ng kakaiba maliban sa
kung ano ang itinuro na sa atin
ng Banal na Kasulatan.

Sapagkat dahil ipinagbabawal 
ang magdagdag o magbawas mula sa Salita ng Diyos,
ito’y malinaw na nagpapatunay
na ang katuruang nakasulat dito ay perpekto
at kumpleto sa lahat ng aspeto.

Sa gayon, hindi dapat natin ituring ang mga sulat ng ibang tao—
     gaano man sila naging banal—
bilang kapantay ng Banal na Kasulatan.
Ni hindi dapat natin ituring ang mga tradisyon,
o ang pinanghahawakan ng karamihan,
o ang kasaysayan,
o ang paglipas ng mga panahon o tao,
o ang mga konseho, mga pasya, o mga opisyal na desisyon,
bilang higit pa sa katotohanan ng Diyos,
     sapagkat ang Kanyang katotohanan ay nakahihigit sa lahat.

Some may accuse us Reformed churches for having Creeds and Confessions. But we do not regard our creeds and confessions as a replacement or an equal to God’s Word. In fact, through them, we affirm that only God’s Word is the truth.

Because Christ is the head of the church, it is Christ that defines and rules the church—not man. The power of the Church is not in itself.

Only as the church proclaims the Word of God and uses it accordingly can it be said to have power and authority over us. (John Owen – “God speaks by the Church, but He speaks nothing by her but what He speaks in the Scriptures”). And when a pastor or preacher declares and explains to us the Scriptures, it is God himself speaking to us, not mere man. We must listen.

Now we have clearly clarified—we are saved by the preaching of God’s truth, and the church is gathered and established by the truth. Not the other way around.

So what then is Paul’s point in saying that the church is the “pillar and buttress of the truth?”

He expresses the fact that the Church is the proclaimer and the guardian of the truth that God has revealed to mankind. God does not come down to us himself, and he doesn’t daily send his angels to reveal his plan like he did to some in the past. Rather, he uses some from among his people as means by which he reveals his Word.

As Hebrews 1:1 said, in the Old Testament, God spoke to our fathers through the prophets until the time when God finally revealed himself through the Son, Jesus Christ. And as we read in Ephesians 2:20 and Ephesians 4:11, God provided the church with the apostles, prophets, and evangelists, until the canon of Scriptures is closed—and now we have in our hands what they witnessed about God. As John said, it is “what they have heard, seen, and touched” (1 John 1:1) that they proclaim to us in this written Scriptures.

That’s why it’s important for us, being Reformed, that we hold on to the biblical and apostolic faith. Not that there are still apostles among us, but that we make sure we don’t make up our doctrines. Rather, we always go back to the Scriptures, and together with the church throughout history, we hold the same confession that God proclaimed.

So it is through the church—by the ministry of the prophets, apostles, and ordained ministers—that God proclaimed and established his truth.

Even today, God has ordained the ministry of the Word through the qualified ministers and elders as instruments to continually proclaim and preserve the truth. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” And if the gospel should not be proclaimed by godly ministers, then falsehood, superstitions, and every form of corruption will reign.

Therefore pray for us, ministers and future ministers and elders of the church, that we will proclaim the truth and nothing but the truth.

As a church, we gather not because of political or social agendas. We gather because we believe and confess one truth. Take away the preaching of the pure gospel (1 mark of the true church) and Word of God from the church, then you have nothing more than a mere organization of a club (i.e. the church has ceased to be a church). 

God promised Abraham that through him and his children, other people from throughout the world shall also receive God’s blessing. How did God fulfill it? Through the church. The believers are the true children of Abraham and people of God by faith.

1 Peter 2:9:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

As a church, we are called to proclaim and preserve the truth we received from God.

2. What is the Truth?

We’re not talking about scientific, experimental or cultural truth (e.g. Red will always be red; Filipinos are Asian). We’re talking about the absolute and ultimate truth/reality.

We’ve been saying that the truth is the Word of God, but what is the message of the Word of God?

1 Timothy 3:16 continues:

“Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

‘He was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated by the Spirit,
          seen by the angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
          taken up in glory.’

Paul’s following statement here enhances our understanding of the truth, so that we do not esteem it less than we should. What he says follows a creedal form, and may be part of a Christian creed or confession in the early church. (Creeds are biblical!)

This is the truth that we confess, and it is indeed “great!” It is great, it is important. And there’s nothing we can compare with it.

And what is this “mystery of godliness?” It is the same “mystery of the faith” (1 Tim. 3:9). The “mystery once hidden” (Col. 1:26); the “mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3). This is the great mystery of God’s redemptive plan in Jesus Christ for his people.

And God’s redemptive work is a “mystery” not simply because only God knew what would happen, and when Christ the Messiah would come. But also because it is beyond any understanding of any creature in the universe.

As Paul says in Romans 11:33, after explaining the mystery of salvation:

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and his inscrutable his ways!”

And when we look at God’s saving work revealed in Scriptures, we better ask not mere skeptical questions, “How is it possible that God can become man?” or “How could a God die?” or “Why would God only choose and elect some unto salvation, while leave others to perish?”

Rather, we better ask, “How could a perfectly holy, righteous, just, and sovereign God still save sinners like you and me?”

As sinners against this glorious God, we all deserve to die!

In this world, many people and even churches have a very distorted view of God. Too many of us think that God is all about love and goodness. But the truth is, you and I can never truly understand and enjoy the greatness of the love and goodness of God… until we realize how terrible our sins are and the condemnation and death from which God redeems us.

And from what did God save us?

“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood (the death of Christ), much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”

Romans 5:9

God sent his Son not in order to save you from your financial problems, not to save you from the hardships of this fallen world… God sent his Son to save you from himself.

That is the truth the world needs to hear: God is a God of wrath.

Because he is our Creator, and because he made a covenant with us in Adam, yet we fail to obey him day after day after day—he has all the right to punish us for it. And the only way that we can be saved from his wrath is someone who will stand between us and God, and satisfy his justice and make us right with God.

We needed a Mediator.

And this Mediator cannot be nothing less than perfect. As Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 5, question 15 says:

TANONG: Kung gayon, anong uri ng tagapamagitan (mediator) at tagapagligtas ang dapat nating hanapin?

SAGOT: 

Dapat siya ay isang tunay at matuwid na tao,
    ngunit higit na mas makapangyarihan kaysa lahat ng mga nilalang, 
     yun ay, siya ay isa ring tunay na Diyos.

That’s why as Paul confessed, “He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit.”

The eternal Word (Logos), the Second Person of the Triune God, “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He was “made like his brothers (like us humans) in every respect” (Hebrews 2:17).

But he is not just a true human with a true human soul. He was “vindicated by the Spirit.” How?

  • Baptism (the Spirit of God dwells in him)
  • Good works and miracles (his works testify that he came from the Father)
  • Death and resurrection (his resurrection and ascension affirms his victory over death displayed before all including heavenly beings).

Dahil Siya ay ganap na tao, ganap Niyang tinanggap ang poot ng Diyos alang-alang sa atin. At dahil Siya ay ganap na Diyos, ayon sa Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 6, Question 17:

“… sa pamamagitan ng kapangyarihang taglay ng kanyang kalikasan bilang Diyos
ay mapasan Niya sa kanyang kalikasang tao
     ang tindi ng poot ng Diyos, 
at makamtam para sa atin
     at maibalik sa atin
ang katuwiran at buhay.”

And after satisfying God’s justice, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name above all name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-10).

Jesus Christ is indeed the Savior and Lord. It is the mystery that even the angels longed to see as 1 Peter 1:12 says. Yes, as Paul confessed, he was “seen by the angels.” The fallen angels shuddered in fear, while those who remained as faithful servants of God rejoiced in the great saving work of God.

This gospel, this good news of salvation, was not a secret. Indeed, Christ was “proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world.” The apostles and early disciples proclaimed both to the Jews and Gentiles, testifying that “there is no salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

And how is it that many people believed in Christ—even until today? 

It is not because the apostles have effective marketing strategies. It is not because they were experts in public speaking. It is because of the Holy Spirit working through them, convicting the hearts of men. Christ promised the disciples in Acts 1:8, 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Even today, even if the apostle and the miracles done through them are over, God by his grace continues to call people to faith through the ordinary means of grace—through the preaching of the gospel. And the Holy Spirit regenerates the elect, so that as we hear the gospel preached, we will understand, and repent, and believe, and follow Christ.

And the Spirit does not only create faith in us, but sustains and preserves it until the end. So that we grow in holiness and persevere even in the midst of the trials of this life, with our hearts and minds fixed upon the blessed hope of future glory.

How could we have such hope? As Paul confessed, he was “taken up in glory.”

Christ is now seated in heaven, at the right hand of the Father, having all authority in heaven and on earth. While he continues to intercede for us before the Father, that time will come when he shall come again in glory to gather all of us his people, to punish the wicked, and consummate his kingdom forever.

That is why, despite all the struggles with sin and troubles of this life, we can march onward because of the glorious hope and comfort we have in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Great indeed, is the mystery and the truth of God’s salvation!

Application

1.) To unbelievers, believe in this truth proclaimed by God through the church

Friends, this is the truth that God proclaims to us through the ministry of the church! DO YOU BELIEVE IN IT?

In our day and age, there are so many things that distract us from what is the most important. Even now in this COVID crisis, the government and the medical world have been promising us many good things—flatten the curve, a new normal, or a better normal. But the things of this world and this physical body shall never be our ultimate reality and satisfaction.

Vaccinated or not, COVID infected or not, going back to normal or not, however we die and however this world turns to be—the truth remains, “unless you repent and believe in Christ, you will likewise perish” (cf. Luke 13:5)

That is the first and foremost thing you must be concerned about.

Today, if you hear his voice—his gospel preached to you—do not harden your heart. God’s wrath is certain and your sins are terrible, but there is forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus Christ. Repent and believe in Christ, and according to the sure promise of God—you will be saved.

2.) To believers, do not neglect the church that proclaims the truth

We believe that it is by the preaching of the Word and the work of the Spirit that we have faith. Then let us not think for a moment that we can persevere in this faith apart from the continuous preaching of the gospel.

With this crisis turning the world and our lives upside down, we may be tempted to worry and look after material things at the expense of our souls. Because of the convenience of home, we may be tempted to spend more time for ourselves and our jobs, including the time meant for God.

But what will it profit you if you get 2 or 3 or 4 jobs, and be “secured” for any future crisis that may come—yet you can’t go to church and you deprive your soul of the spiritual nourishment of God?

My brothers and sisters in Christ, God will provide! David himself said in Psalm 37:25, 

“I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.”

Do not let the worries of this world draw you away from the Word of God. God’s curse is upon those who do not honor his Sabbath and would rather spend it for themselves, but to those who come into his presence every Lord’s Day, to hear the gospel preached, to partake of the Sacraments, and fellowship with his people—the Lord provides his blessing of true comfort and rest.

3.) Proclaim the God’s Word to this confused and dying world

We learned today that God divinely appointed the church, through the ministry of the Word, as the proclaimer and defender of truth. Hence, we cannot be silent.

It is not okay when businesses are open yet the churches are closed. It is not okay when adults and children can go to the park, market, or anywhere else, but they cannot come to church to hear the authoritative, inerrant, and infallible Word of God.

We’re not saying that the government should stop its work. But it cannot and should not work at the expense of the work of God’s kingdom. When the leaders tried to hinder the apostles from proclaiming Christ, Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:19)… We must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).”

We won’t discuss yet the relationship between the Church and the State here. But it is sufficient for now to remind ourselves that as believers, we are the “salt and the light” of this world (Matthew 5:13-16). There’s no one else.

  1. In this time of crisis, the world is confused. Some say the government is doing a great job, some say it is a medical tyranny. Some say the medical authorities are concerned, some say they are lying. Some claim the vaccines are safe, some claim it made them feel worse. Should we take the vaccine or not? Should we follow the government or is there a time we can resist? Can we trust today’s medical system or not?

Where do we find the answers?

The Bible may not explicitly teach about these things, but it is the only reliable truth that will guide us in understanding and responding to every issue or event or crisis around us—in a wise and godly way.

(Belgic Confession Article 7)

Walang ibang salita ng tao ang “…higit pa sa katotohanan ng Diyos,
sapagkat ang Kanyang katotohanan ay nakahihigit sa lahat.
Sapagkat ang lahat ng tao ay likas na sinungaling
at mas walang kabuluhan kaysa sa mismong kawalang-kabuluhan ng buhay.

When different worldviews and information around us clash against one another—this (THE BIBLE) is the only and most trustworthy source of truth and wisdom.

  1. In this time of crisis, the world is desperate for comfort and hope. Many are still poor and oppressed. Many are sick and dying. Many are afraid of the future. What will give them true comfort, peace, and hope? Money? Medical procedures? Politicians?

No. The Word of God and the good news of his great salvation in Jesus Christ is the only truth that will bring real hope and everlasting joy and life to dying people.

My brothers and sisters, the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” While Christian organizations may help the gospel ministry, such identity and responsibility is given to the church of Christ and the church alone. As the Lord provides us opportunities, let us continue to maintain, preserve, and proclaim his truth.

That is why #ChurchIsEssential

May God by His Spirit continue to grant us the wisdom and understanding that we may be filled with the truth of his Word, and may he continue to build and sustain the church as we witness to the eternal hope and life we have in Christ. Amen.

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