A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 3:14-16. 3c). the pillar and foundation of the truth.
Having considered our duty to each other as the household of God, and to God as his dwelling place, we come to our duty to the truth as its pillar and foundation.
The *hedraioma* of a building is its mainstay. It may refer either to its foundation or to a buttress or bulwark which supports it. In either case the *hedraioma* stabilizes the building. Just so, the church is responsible to hold the truth steady against the storms of heresy and unbelief.
The word *stylos*, however, means a pillar or column. The purpose of pillars is not only to hold the roof firm, but to thrust it high so that it can be clearly seen even from a distance. The inhabitants of Ephesus had a vivid illustration of this in their temple of Diana or Artemis. Regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world, it boasted 100 Ionic columns, each over 18 metres high, which together lifted its massive, shining, marble roof. Just so, the church holds the truth aloft, so that it is seen and admired by the world. Indeed, as pillars lift a building high while remaining themselves unseen, so the church’s function is not to advertise itself but to advertise and display the truth.
Here then is the double responsibility of the church *vis-a-vis* the truth. First, as its foundation it is to hold it firm, so that it does not collapse under the weight of false teaching. Secondly, as its pillar it is to hold it high, so that it is not hidden from the world. To hold the truth firm is the defence and confirmation of the gospel; to hold it high is the proclamation of the gospel. The church is called to both these ministries.
Some Christians, however, are confused about the relation between the church and the truth. Is it really so that the church is the foundation of the truth? Is it not rather the case that the truth is the foundation of the church? It is probably this concern which led Chrysostom to make a slip of the tongue and say ‘for the truth is the pillar and ground of the church’. Besides, Paul himself had earlier described the church as ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets [sc. their teaching], with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone’ (Eph. 2:20). So is the truth the foundation of the church, or is the church the foundation of the truth? The answer is ‘Both’. When Paul taught that the truth is the foundation of the church (Eph.2:20), he was referring to the church’s life and health: the church rests on the truth, depends on it, cannot exist without it. But when he taught that the church is the foundation of the truth (3:15), he was referring to the church’s mission: the church is called to serve the truth, to hold it fast and make it known. So then, the church and the truth need each other. The church depends on the truth for its existence; the truth depends on the church for its defence and proclamation.
What then is the truth which the church must both guard against every distortion and falsification, and proclaim without fear or compromise throughout the world? It concerns Jesus Christ, to whom Paul now bears witness by quoting from an early hymn or creed. He introduces it with the following words: *Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great* (16a). First, it is a mystery’, a cluster of truths which are now known only because God has been pleased to reveal them. Secondly, it is a ‘mystery of godliness’ as he has previously called it a ‘mystery of the faith’ (9), JB). It is the latter because it stimulates faith and is faith’s object. It is the former because it stimulates our worship, our humility and reverence before God, as all truth does (Tit.1:1). Thirdly, this divine godliness-promoting revelation is ‘great beyond all question’ (REB) or ‘by common consent’, ‘undeniably’ great (BAGD) or ‘demonstrably’ great. And fourthly, it focuses on the person and work of Jesus Christ, since ‘the mystery’ is essentially ‘the mystery of Christ’ (Col.1:26-27; 2:2-3; 4:3).Tomorrow: 1 Timothy 3:14-16. 3c The pillar and foundation of the truth (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.