Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

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The Indispensable Church – Keeping It Alive

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

In my last note I wrote about the life-cycle of a church, how that, inevitably, it will die. But no one should read those words as if that truth is inconsequential. When a church dies, it is very consequential.

When a church dies, because it is the presence of Christ in a community (remember, the church is the “body of Christ”), it means that Christ no longer has a presence there or, if the congregation is one of several, the presence of Christ is diminished. It is through the work of the church that the knowledge of God and salvation through Jesus Christ is to be made known in a community (see Ephesians 3:10-11). When a church dies the means of this knowledge is also diminished.

Note our text: The church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” The phrase is significant. The church does not “originate” truth. Truth comes from God and is found in His word. But that truth is supported by and rests on the church – the family of God. Without the church, God’s truth is but an idea – perhaps an ideal. But in the church, that idea comes to life, is seen to be real and seen how it can be real in the lives of people. God’s truth is lived, proclaimed, encouraged, and supported by the church and when a church dies, that fleshed out image of God’s truth dies too.

It is a truth, churches die. But it is important that they not die, that they be kept alive (but not on life support), vibrant, healthy, growing as long as possible that the truth of God might not just be proclaimed, but seen in a world that desperately needs it. By the way, none of that happens unless those members who make up the church actively, intentionally, and faithfully, make it so.
Mike Tune

The Indispensable Church – 2

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

In a previous blog (see #1 in this series) I pointed out the indispensable nature of the Church to a relationship with God. You should, however, keep in mind that in no sense is the Church is simply an idea or notion without concrete existence.

The word translated “church” in our Bibles is a Greek word for “assembly.” But it was not, in the ancient world, just any assembly. It was specifically the assembly of free voting citizens (always a minority) in a (non-Jewish) city which met to determine the course of that community. Can you imagine then how non-Christians felt when they heard Christians (many of them poor and some even slaves) speak of themselves as the Church? But with their terminology, the Christians were making a not so subtle point: It is God’s people who are the truly free, and as God’s servants, we are the real deciding factors of a community’s future.

Theologians refer to the Church (capital “C”) as the “great church” or the “universal church.” Local churches (congregations) get a small “c” church designation. In this thinking, churches everywhere make up the Great Church. But the Apostle Paul never uses such terminology. The Church is the physical fellowship of God’s people that assembles together in every community.  The congregation is the Church.

Individually, the movers and shakers of ancient communities may have been free, land owning, citizens, but they were not seen as “the assembly” until they gathered. In the same way, disciples of Jesus are seen to be the Church when they gather – which is why the local church (congregation or assembly) is so important, and why being a part of one is indispensable to being a part of the Church. You can’t be a part of the Church if you are apart from the church. Or, stated another way, you can’t be a part of the household of God if you are apart from the household of God.
Mike Tune

The Indispensable Church – 1

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15)

If the Gospels are any indication, Jesus didn’t have much to say about the Church – the word occurs only twice and both times in Matthew (16:18; 18:17). But that doesn’t mean he thought it was unimportant. In fact, Jesus made it plain that the Church was an integral part of His mission. He came to build it. In fact, it is the only thing Jesus ever said he was going to build.

New Testament writers advanced the understanding of the Church in a variety of ways: It is, as our text says, the “household of God” (or God’s family). It belongs to God (a point made explicitly seven times in the New Testament). It is called the “body of Christ” (Ephesians 1:22-23) and “God’s temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

So what’s the point?

There is no relationship with God apart from the family of God. There is no connection with God without belonging to God. There is no relationship with Christ without belonging to His body. There is no indwelling of God’s Spirit without God’s temple, and no temple without the Church. Altogether, the Church is an indispensable part of a relationship with God.
Mike Tune

Thursday, November 14. 1 Timothy 4 – 6

Money has been the ruin of many a person – both male and female. If you have too much, you tend to disown God. If you have too little, you tend to dishonor God with your conduct. Middle ground is hard to maintain.

Money is no less a concern for those who serve God full-time. The Lord made provision for those who ministered in the Old Testament to be supported by those they served. Paul used this provision in 1 Corinthians 9:11-14 to support the paying of church servants in the New Testament. But just as Jews in the Old Testament refused to do this properly, it became equally neglected in the New Testament church.

But it wasn’t just being poorly paid that beset ministers in the first century. It was also the allure of money itself, and concern for a more secure future. If you are poorly paid, it’s hard to set aside money for retirement, and when you see others in secular work accomplishing what you cannot, it leads to envy. Some preachers talk about all the good they could do if they were “rich.” Paul warns Timothy, who seems to be struggling with some aspect of this temptation: “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” and “those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction” (6:6-10).

Though these words were written for Timothy, they are no less applicable to us all. Faith requires that we work, and work hard. That we be submissive and respectful to those for whom we work. That we save all we can. That we give to help others, and that we give to God in proportion to our thankfulness for his blessings. It also requires that we, having done all these things, trust our future to God.

Wednesday, November 13. 1 Timothy 1 – 3

The official leaders of churches in the New Testament were “Elders.” These were exclusively men and they were known by several titles. They are called “overseers” in 1 Timothy 3:1,2. They are called “elders” in Titus 1:5,6. Their task is to “shepherd.” All three of these terms are used of the same individuals in Acts 20. Paul sent for the “elders” of the church in Ephesus. He told them that the Holy Spirit had appointed them to be “overseers” and they were to “shepherd” the church of God.

The Ephesian church was going through a period of difficulty and most of that difficulty centered on a struggle for power. Since the offices of Elder and Deacon were the main offices in a local church, a struggle for power would involve competition for those offices. When Paul writes in chapter three that a man who “desires” to be an overseer desires a noble task, he is not giving a qualification for the office. He is admitting what is going on: lots of people desire that office.


The office could only be held by men who met specific qualifications, which Paul lists. One of the controversies about these qualifications has to do with the phrase “husband of but one wife” (verses 2 and 12). The phrase had nothing to do with “how many” wives the elder or deacon had, for polygamy was not practiced in Greek and Roman societies and not often in Jewish society. The phrase means “faithful to his wife.”

Another controversy has to do with the “wives” of verse eleven. The Greek word translated “wives” also means “women.” Context determines meaning and in this case, context helps very little. Those who see it as “women” (and therefore authorizing women deacons) are usually inconsistent, for they would translate the word as “wives” in 2:9ff. It seems to me, in absence of contextual restraint, the word ought to be translated “women.” That might lead us to the conclusion that female deacons were a part of the New Testament church. It’s worth noticing that Phoebe (a woman) is called a deacon in Romans 16:1. A conclusive case for female deacons cannot be made, nor can it be ruled out.

Tuesday, November 20. 1 Timothy 4 – 6

    I thought Jesus told us to “deny” ourselves (Matthew 16:24).

    That being true, what is the problem with the teaching Paul opposes in chapter four?  After all, even Paul in his letter to the Corinthians says it is better not to marry and the Jerusalem church council in Acts 15 recommended staying away from certain foods.

    So why is Paul upset?

    The difference is context.

    Jesus was urging restraint in life and self-discipline.  Paul’s recommendation against marriage was for a particular reason, but even he counseled in favor of it – in the same passage where he recommends against it.  And the advice of the Elders in Jerusalem on dietary matters was not a blanket prohibition, but given for specific reasons and circumstances.

    Paul is upset here because false teachers are promising heightened spirituality through asceticism (even Timothy seems to have “bought in” to their teaching – see 5:23). But their behavior does not create godliness, and depending on that behavior for spirituality focuses on their own works, rather than the work of God.  In some cases, it even depreciates God’s work (see verse 3). Our hope must be solely in Him.

    How young was Timothy?

    We must be careful not to read too much into the statement “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young.”  A man’s “youth” in the ancient world lasted for as long as he was old enough to go to war.  When Timothy joined Paul on the second missionary journey (cir. 49 AD), he was old enough to travel alone, old enough to be respected by fledgling churches, and wise enough to lead and instruct new Christians in matters of teaching and polity.  It is now fourteen years later.  Though to Paul, Timothy will always be his “child,” he is far far from being a “kid.”

Monday, November 19. 1 Timothy 1 – 3

    After at least two years under house arrest in Rome, Paul was released and he began to travel once more.  His ministry took him to Ephesus where he encountered some opposition from Christian ministers preaching an aberrant gospel.  This wasn’t the first time he had encountered such people and he mentions two of them (that he had already dealt with) in chapter one.

    Either Paul had pressing matters elsewhere in Greece, or he believed the situation did not merit his personal attention, but for whatever reason, Paul left Timothy in charge to deal with the problem Christians in that church.

    Given the serious nature of the task he had given Timothy, perhaps we are surprised that Paul’s advice about dealing with this apostasy was to call Timothy and the whole Ephesian church to prayer (chapter 2).

    This is a troubled church with many problems, not the least of which was a struggle for control.  Paul reminds them that their focus should be on things that make for peace, quiet, and holiness.  Their uplifted hands in prayer should be “holy hands,” not hands of divisiveness and violence and rancor.

    He addresses the Christian women too, who likewise, are engaging in a conflict for power.  Power is not, Paul writes, something they should aspire to..  Their behavior rather should befit women who worship God, lives that exhibit modesty, decency, propriety, faith, love and holiness.

    It is amazing that a passage, written to promote peace, has all too often been used to do little more than cause trouble in the Church.  While we may all be one in Christ, that doesn’t do away with sexual distinction.  Men have their roles.  Women have theirs.  Both should pay attention to their own roles.  When they don’t, trouble is quickly afoot.

Reading Through the Bible, Friday, December 9. 1 Timothy 5 – 2 Timothy 1

    “Put your religion into practice?”

    What’s that all about?

    The word for “religion” here is the Greek word so often translated “worship.”  We think about worship as something we do on Sunday when we gather as the Church.  How does that relate to taking care of our family?

    Our Sunday worship is a time to give praise, honor, and glory to God.  But that time is but a reminder that the rest of our week is to be spent also doing precisely that with every hour of our lives.

    God is not honored when we neglect our family.  Mom may be forgetful and hard of hearing, Dad may be irascible, money may be tight and time may be in short supply, but if our needy family members are neglected and aren’t being cared for, the very basics of our faith have been denied and the guilty become worse than unbelievers.

    The early church was careful that none of her members went without, but that led some Christians to leave their family members in want and neglect, assuming the burden could and should be shared by the body of Christ.  Paul’s words are designed to rebuke that behavior.  Family is responsible for doing what they can.  If the need goes beyond that, the church family can step in.

    And incidently, it is entirely within the realm of responsibility for church leaders to take guilty Christians to task for irresponsible and neglectful behavior toward family members.

Reading Through the Bible, Thursday, December 8. 1 Timothy 1 – 4.

    The book of Acts ends with a mention of Paul’s two year house arrest in Rome.  From what we can tell from Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, he was released from prison after that time and allowed to travel once again.  He returned to Ephesus where he preached for a while before going on to Greece and then to Crete.  He spent at least a winter at the Greek resort town of Nicopolis, and returned to Asia Minor before being arrested once again and sent back to Rome.

    At some point during these travels, Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to help that church (1 Timothy 1:3).

    Timothy was no newcomer to helping churches through difficult times.  It had been his ministry virtually from the beginning.  When we are first introduced to him (48 AD – Acts 16), Timothy is already highly respected by churches in the cities of Derbe and Lystra.  Not long after meeting Paul, one of his first assignments was to help the fledgling Thessalonian congregation.  On Paul’s third journey, Timothy was sent to deal with the division in Corinth.  Paul had asked Apollos to go, but Apollos had refused (1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:12). Just after Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, he sent Timothy to deal with the division of the Philippian church.  Paul wrote: “I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that  Timothy  has proved himself . . .” 

    First and Second Timothy are letters written twenty years after Paul first met Timothy.  In the first one, we find a power struggle in the Ephesian church, and Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to deal with the issues, and to cultivate purity of heart, a sincere faith, and a clean conscience among the brethren.

    Perhaps it was a mid-life crisis, or just discouragement at the enormity of his task, but for whatever reason, Timothy became a part of the problem rather than the solution.  He took sides with the brethren’s quarrels and by the time of the first letter, he’d begun thinking in some fairly materialistic terms.  Note the following instructions to him in the first letter: “  Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight,  holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. . . I write these things to you hoping to come to you quickly, but if I am delayed, that you will know how to behave in the house of God . . . Stop neglecting your gift . . . Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them . . . Stop listening to accusations against Elders . . .   keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism . . . do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. . .   flee [the desire to get rich] and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. . . Turn away from godless chatter . . .    

    The letter to Timothy is a reminder to us all that Satan is alive and well, and even the most faithful among us is not immune to his attacks.