Theme: Making the Truth Known
In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means that the church is the pillar and foundation of God’s truth, and how we are to live as a result.
Scripture: 1 Timothy 3:14-16
It is also important to point out that when we talk about the church acting as a pillar of the truth by holding it up for the world to see, we’re not talking about the ministers only. They ought to try to do that, of course; that’s part of their responsibility. But the ministers aren’t the church. The people are the church. Christians are the church, and that includes everyone who confesses the name of Christ. Thus, if the truth is to be held up, it must be the people of God—all of them, from the youngest to the oldest, from the least to the greatest. Everyone is to take this Word and share it, and teach other men and women the good news of God’s grace in Jesus.
This is what made the church effective in the early days of its ministry. In those early days, after the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the church spread rapidly throughout the world. Historians talk about this in an interesting way. Edward Gibbon, who wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was no sympathizer to Christianity. He thought that Christianity destroyed the Roman Empire and gave him an occasion to write his book. But he did recognize that the Christians were effective in their witness, and in his book he wrote that Christianity had reached the shores of India by A.D. 49. Now Jesus died about A.D. 30, which means that less than 20 years later the church was established as far away as India. Moreover, Gibbon says that Christianity reached even the borders of China by A.D. 61. Tertullian, who lived about the year 200, when the church had been expanding for many decades, wrote, “We are but of yesterday, and we have filled every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum,–we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods.”1
How did this happen? Adolf Harnack, the influential church historian, has an interesting analysis of it in his book, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity. He said that the most numerous and successful missionaries were not the formal teachers but regular Christians, what he calls “informal missionaries.” He added that their success came by virtue of their loyalty and courage. Everyone who took their confession of faith seriously demonstrated it by their service. Not every Christian is called to the mission field as an actual missionary who comes under a mission agency and raises support. But every Christian is a missionary in the informal sense Harnack is describing because it’s every Christian’s responsibility to tell others about Jesus. The people of God recognize that if the world is to hear the truth of God, it has to be by their proclamation.
For my third point, I want to take you to another text. In the third chapter of Ephesians, Paul is writing in verses 7-11 what I think are probably more illuminating as to what we are to be and what we are to do than anything else in his writings. Regarding this idea of the church being the pillar and foundation of the truth, we have already said that it means that the church has the truth given to it in Scripture, and that it is to propagate the truth. What I think this passage in Ephesians adds is that the church is also the verifying data of the truth. In other words, we are the ones who prove that it’s really true. Paul writes:
I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul says that it is through the church that the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. When he talks about the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, he’s not talking about the rulers of this world. He’s talking about spirit beings. He is saying that God, in his infinite wisdom, has ordained that his truth, the wisdom of the gospel, might be made known to the heavenly beings through the church.
1Tertullian, Apology, chapter XXXVII, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995, reprint), 45. Original edition, 1885.
What made the church so effective in the early years and decades of its ministry?
What does it mean for every Christian to be an “informal missionary”?
What is another of the church’s functions according to Ephesians 3:7-11?
Application: What are some ways your church can hold up the truth for the world to see?