Do you remember learning to sing “Tiptoe, tiptoe in God’s house”? The idea was that in the church building one should be very quiet and not make any disturbance. Is that what Paul meant when he told Timothy “These things I have written to you so that you may know how to conduct yourself in the house of God which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (I Timothy 3:15)?
If you look at the context of this statement Paul had just told Timothy to set apart additonal elders and deacons in the church in Ephesus and had given him the description of the kind of men to look for to serve as elders. The church at Ephesus had been established some years earlier by Paul and had reached enough maturity that elders had been set apart several years earlier. When Paul was on his way to Jerusalem to deliver the gift to the poor among the saints there from the gentile churches, he had met with the elders from Ephesus on the island of Malta. He warned them that after his departure savage wolves would enter in among them not sparing the flock and would draw away disciples after them. He told them that from among their own number there would be men arise who would teach perverse things.
By the time Paul wrote to Timothy to remain in Ephesus and fix the things that had problems there, the departure seems to have already happened or be in progress. Part of the answer from God was to put in more men to serve as elders so they could stem the tide of digression and do the job of shepherding the people in a better way.
If being an elder were basically just about being a board of directors who make decisions about what is to happen in the church you wouldn’t need more than two or three men to serve in any given church. The more you add to that number the more difficult it is to make decisions and be the guide for all the people. But when one looks at being an elder in terms of shepherding the flock of God among them, the more men you have serving as elders the easier it is on everyone.
It’s interesting that Paul didn’t give Timothy or Titus an exact means of putting in more elders and deacons. He just gave the qualities and talked about the job they were to do and left the details of how men were to be set apart up to the people in the church. One reminder that we ought to see is that it is common when God talks about the church and it’s leaders that he emphasizes the fact the elders are chosen by the Holy Spirit and the flock or members of the church belong to God not the elders. In Acts 20:28 Paul told those elders from Ephesus to “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock of God overwhich the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.”
It was the Holy Spirit that led Paul to give the qualities a man needed to be an elder. If we set men apart as shepherds in the body who don’t have the qualities described by God then they aren’t appointed by the Holy Spirit for the job. The result of such action is tremendous harm done to the church.
Focus on the idea that the flock is God’s flock and the church is God’s church. The ASV translation of Acts 20:28 translates this verse as “the church of the Lord which was purchaed with his own blood.” Whether one translates the word as “lord” or “God” makes little difference since either way it is modified by the statement, “which he has purchased with his own blood.” Since Jesus is the member of the Godhead who died on the cross pouring out his blood he has to be the one referred to here whether the word used is God or not.
It is the “house of God”. This is the family or household of God. It is the ones who have been added to his family and sees and calls him “Our Father who is in heaven.” In Ephesians 2:19 Paul said, “So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household.”
God’s household or family is “the church of the living God.” It is that community of disciples that gather to praise his name and build up one another in the faith.
The church is also the “Pillar and foundation of the truth.” What does that mean? Does the church determine what is the truth? Is the authority of God something that resides in the church or its leaders or is the church subject to the truth of God? The very fact that churches in the Bible are pictured as needed to be corrected in so many areas of life demands that the church not be the authority that decides truth but the ones who submit to the truth and proclaim it to others. The church is the foundation of the truth in that it is built on the truth of God and it proclaims the truth to all people.
When a church sets out on it’s own path and rejects the true message of God it ceases to be the church of God.
But what is this whole thing about how to behave in the church? It is that part of what makes a church grow and follow God’s truth is having men serve as elders and deacons who are devoted to God and His word and ready to follow the Lord into any area, at any time.
The truth of God’s will and word will make us free. Jesus said in John 8:31-32 “If you continue in my word then you are my disciples indeed and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”
The message of the church is determined by God. We must go out to “Preach the word. Persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2). Right behavior in the church isn’t about how we act in the church building so much as how we conduct the work of the church and how we choose the men who serve as leaders.