Someone put an updated twist on an old
Backward Christian soldiers, fleeing from the fight,
With the cross of Jesus, nearly out of sight.
Christ our rightful Master stands against the foe
Onward into battle, we seem afraid to go!
Like a might tortoise moves the church of God.
Brothers we are treading, where we've often trod.
We are much divided, many cliques you see,
Having different opinions, and not much charity.
Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the cross of Jesus hidden does remain.
Gates of hell should never 'gainst the church prevail,
We have Christ's own promise, but we think that it will
Sit here then ye people, with our sleeping throng.
Blend with ours, your voices in a feeble song.
Blessings, ease, and comfort ask from Christ the King,
Yes, with our modern thinking, we won't do a thing!
Backward Christian soldiers, fleeing from the fight,
With the cross of Jesus, nearly out of sight.
We've seen in previous sermons that the church at Ephesus
was in chaos. Paul’s earlier prediction that there would be
elders who would lead others away from the Gospel to follow
false teaching and to gain a following has come true.
Church leaders like Hymenaeus and Alexander had shipwrecked
their faith, and they were twisting Old Testament texts to
lead others astray. We've seen how Paul skips his
usual prayer and gets right down to business ordering
Timothy to tell members not to teach another gospel and not
to get caught up in the heretics' falsehoods and idle talk
(1:3-11). Then we saw how Paul uses himself as Exhibit
A to say that if Jesus could save him, He could save
everybody who repents. The heretic's are claiming that they
really have the 'inside story' and it involves a special
knowledge that only a few can possess (6:20-21). Then
Timothy was urged to wage the good warfare as he lived up to
his appointed task to be the evangelist and to avoid the
heretics. In chapter 2, Paul instructs the members to
combat the heretics with a peaceful, evangelistic, and
spiritual lifestyle. Paul then explains how Christian
women can contribute both negatively and positively to the
church. Another safeguard for the church in Ephesus against
the false teachers will be having good church leadership, so
Paul spells out in detail the qualifications of both elders
and deacons in the first part of chapter 3. How could
Timothy work to continue to strengthen the church?
Let's look at a four aspects to answer that question.
The first aspect might be called behaviors within the
church. Let's read 1 Timothy 3:14-15: "These things I
write you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am
delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to
conduct yourself ..." Have you ever read a letter and
then asked yourself: "What is the point of this writing?
What is the main point that's being communicated?" The
apostle Paul does us a great service here because he
explains the purpose of why he wrote to Timothy. You
see how Paul says that he hopes to come to Timothy shortly,
but Paul was realistic enough to know that sometimes his
plans did not always work out like he envisioned.
Hindrances often occurred which delayed departures and
changed plans. So Paul decides to do what he can to
help Timothy in case of delay: "I write so that you may know
how you ought to conduct yourself ...” You see, there are
definite behaviors that Paul wants to see taking place in
the congregation at Ephesus. They have been through a
difficult time with the heretics and the divisions that they
have caused. So Paul is writing to Timothy with
specific instructions in mind to help the church there get
back on its feet and to take a stand lest the heretics gain
further ground. We summarized the instructions given
before this passage in our introduction, and we're going to
see further instructions in subsequent chapters. The
church has a great mission to accomplish, and Paul wants
Timothy and the members at Ephesus to learn that they need
to practice certain behaviors in order to achieve that
mission. One commentator rightly observed: "Paul's
sole concern is to emphasize that the members of each local
community should be a strong bulwark of the gospel against
the assaults of false teachers" (Kelly). You see, we
too have the same responsibility as those early Christians:
we must love the truth, live the truth, and stand up against
those who would destroy the truth! It's like Paul
wrote to these same brethren in Ephesians 6:14ff: "Stand
therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put
on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your
feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace [have you
prepared yourself to share the gospel of peace if someone
asks you how to be saved?], above all, taking the shield of
faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery
darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of
salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of
God." Let's keep learning more about how we should
conduct ourselves as members of Christ's church. From
this great letter, behaviors within the church are clearly
The next aspect might be called images of the church.
Paul gives us three powerful images. Let's begin
reading again in verse 15: "I write so that you may know how
you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is
the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the
truth." First of all, Paul calls the church the house,
household, or family of God. Our physical family
provides each of us a sense of identity (we have family
names that have a history), a sense of belonging (our
parents, relatives, and siblings contribute to this), a
sense of acceptance (despite our wrongs and mistakes, family
members forgive and continue to love us), a sense of
security (we feel safe among those we know), and a sense of
closeness (our family has its own unique events, struggles,
and ways of doing things). Now if all this is true for
our physical family, shouldn't all these things exist as
well in our spiritual family? In Christ's church, we
should also experience a sense of spiritual identity, a
sense of spiritual belonging, a sense of spiritual
acceptance, a sense of spiritual security, and a sense of
spiritual closeness! At one congregation, there was a
small house trailer that was right behind the church
building. A visiting preacher asked if the trailer was
being used for additional classrooms. "No," said a member,
"That trailer is for our widow. She's been having
trouble lately making ends meet. She asked the
congregation if we could help her, but she made it clear
that she didn't want charity. So we asked her if we
could provide her housing if she would become our janitor
and groundskeeper. She was delighted, and we were
benefited." And the preacher quickly added, "And God
was glorified!" This is a beautiful example that
should be multiplied a thousand times over in various
congregations where we care for one another as Christ
family! Next, Paul describes the church as the
assembly of the living God. The word "church" in Paul's day
referred to a group of people that met for a specific
purpose. So the congregation in Ephesus was a group of
people that assembled to worship and to serve the living
God. This was in contrast to those in Ephesus who
assembled to worship and to serve pagan gods and goddesses,
especially the goddess Diana, whose large temple was one of
seven wonders of the ancient world! But who is Diana
of the Ephesians in comparison to the living God and the
resurrected Jesus? If today we serve the living God,
the risen Savior, and an active Holy Spirit, then why have
we become such an anemic church? Have we forgotten a
simple truth: "If God is for us, who can be against us?"
(Romans 8:31). Christ can defeat all our spiritual
enemies! We are the assembly formed by Christ and
shaped by the Spirit to worship and to serve the living God.
It is a unique cooperative society that exists to bless
others, and especially those who aren't its members
(Temple). And then comes the third image: The church
is the pillar and ground of truth. A newer version
has: “The church is the pillar and buttress of the truth.”
A commentator correctly explains: "What Paul is saying is
that it is the function and responsibility of each
congregation to support, bolster up, and thus safeguard the
true teaching by its continuous witness" (Kelly).
Pillars and buttresses were part of ancient temples, and
temples were holy places, dwelling places, worship places,
and meeting places. Christ's church is also a holy place, a
dwelling place, a worship place, and a meeting place.
And our congregation should be a place which promotes truth,
the whole divine truth, and nothing but that truth! As
Christians, we should be pointing others to the truths that
Jesus taught. Why? Because when they know the
truth, the truth will make them free from Satan, from sin,
and from the world! Have we forgotten that the truth
can be liberating? Paul states that by means of the
truth, people can come to their senses and escape the snare
of the devil (2 Timothy 2:26). What powerful images of
the church—the family of God, the assembly of the living
God, and the pillar and buttress of the truth!
The next aspect might be called the essential truths from
the church. Now let's read verse 16: "And without
controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was
manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by
angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the
world, received up in glory." Without controversy
means that the following truths can't be compromised; all
Christians should believe these. Great is the mystery
of godliness! Does that phrase remind you of anything
that happened in Ephesus when the city was in an uproar?
Yes, the people shouted for two solid hours: "Great is Diana
of the Ephesians!" Paul states the liberating truth:
Great is the mystery of godliness! And that secret is
Jesus Christ! This is the point of all these truths.
There are various interpretations of verse 16, but the
following chronological approach is my favorite. God
was manifested in the flesh. This refers to the
incarnation when Jesus came into this world miraculously.
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld
His glory" (John 1:14). "Justified in the Spirit" means that
Jesus was shown to be authentic by the Spirit's bringing Him
back to life. "... declared to be the Son of God with
power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the
resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4). "Seen by
angels" refers to Jesus' ascension. Remember the two angels
that stood by the apostles as Jesus ascended mentioned in
Acts 1:10-11? "Preached among the Gentiles or among
the nations." This is exactly what Paul had been
called by Jesus to do. "Depart for I am sending you far from
here to the Gentiles" (Acts 22:21)! "Believed on in the
world" means that because the Gospel has been preached and
obeyed, there are believers in Jesus on all parts of the
globe. "Received up in glory" means that Jesus now
sits exalted and enthroned at God's right hand. One
commentator rightly observed: “The [passage] could not close
more suitably than with the humiliated Messiah's exalted
entry into His heavenly sphere” (Gutherie). The
mystery of godliness or the mystery of the gospel (Eph.
6:19) is composed of six great truths: Jesus' incarnation,
His resurrection, His ascension, His gospel, His church, and
His glorification. These are truths that we also must
ever defend against those who would pervert them!
These are the essential truths from the church.
Next, Paul shares what might be called dangers against the
church. Let's now read from chapter 4: “Now the Spirit
expressly says that in the latter times some will depart
from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and
doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having
their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to
marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God
created to be received with thanksgiving by those who
believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is
good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with
thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and
prayer.” You see, where truth flourishes, error is often
sure to follow. Paul specifies more about the false
teachers and their false teaching which is against some of
the truths that he has just mentioned. The Spirit's
revelation shows that what Paul writes is divinely inspired.
Some members will depart, or abandon, or fall away from the
faith. One commentator correctly notes: “Indeed, as
often in prophetical utterances, what is predicted of the
future is conceived of as already operative in the present,
so the words have a contemporary significance” (Gutherie).
We already saw in chapter 1 how church leaders such as
Hymenaeus and Alexander have shipwrecked their faith.
These members no longer follow Christ and His teaching.
Instead, they listen to false teachers who get their
messages from Satan's deceiving spirits and demons.
These false teachers have become so calloused to the truth
that their consciences have become seared by the hellish
teachings that they have embraced and are now preaching.
One commentator noted: “In the OT, the evil spirit who stood
before the Lord said, 'I will be a lying spirit in the mouth
of all his prophets' (1 Kings 22:22); and the same evil
power would be able also to corrupt Christian elders, change
them into hardened hypocrites, speaking the most glaring
falsehood, with no reproach whatever from their dead
consciences” (Coffman). But the brethren at Ephesus
should not be deceived by their lies nor by their hypocrisy.
And what is the false teaching that these heretics are
prompting? They forbid marriage and tell others to
abstain from eating certain foods. We know that being
married is not sinful. Paul has just pointed out in
the qualifications for elders and deacons that both of these
leaders must be married to one wife, must have children, and
rule over their own families well. What a good Creator
creates is to be viewed as good, and not as evil. So
marriage should be viewed as good since God was its author.
Jesus purified all foods by showing that no specific foods
can condemn people (Mark 7:19), and God showed that all
foods should now be viewed as clean in his vision to Peter
in Acts 10. No foods are taboo for a Christian.
One commentator noted that prayer and God's pronouncements
in the Scriptures set marriage and food in their true
perspectives and in a way that enables us to regard them as
sacred (Kelly). You see, this passage very clearly
shows that those religious leaders today who forbid priests,
monks, and nuns to marry and also command their members to
abstain from certain foods on certain days are not teaching
God's will! In fact, they are teaching a doctrine
which comes from demons, and they have departed from the
true faith! Brethren, there are still many who are teaching
lies in hypocrisy, and we must ever be on our guard!
Paul exposes the false teachers in Ephesus in order to help
the church get back on its feet and defend the truth.
Those who believe and know the truth should be able to
recognize and to oppose error. False teachings from
heretics are the dangers against the church.
In the Greek Islands, one can seek out the home of
Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. In the
area, one can also find an olive tree, supposedly dating
from his time, some 2400 years old. The trunk of this
tree is very large but completely hollow. The tree is
little more than thick bark, and it might produce a few
olives each year. In the fields around, however, are
olive groves in many directions. The strong, healthy,
young trees with narrow trunks produce masses of olives each
year. The tree of Hippocrates can still be called an
olive by nature, in that it still shows the essential unique
characteristics, but it has long since ceased to fulfill an
olive's function. Tourists file up to inspect this
ancient relic, having some link to a dim history, but the
job of the olive tree passed long ago to many successions of
replanted trees. Do you know any churches or even
church people who are like the tree of Hippocrates?
The form is there, but the function is not. They have
stopped reproducing and are satisfied just being big, or
having a noble past, or holding their ground. Are your
strengthening the church through your behaviors within, your
making the images become realities, your upholding its
essential truths, and your opposition to error? If you
are not a Christians, become part of the assembly of the
living God through baptism. If you are an unproductive
Christian, confession and prayer can be the first steps
toward changing that. Make Christ's church your