A Portrait for God's People
Passage: 1 Timothy 3:14–3:15
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A Portrait for God's People
I Timothy 3:14, 15; 5:1, 2
December 23rd, 2007
Way of Grace Church
D.T.R....When I was in college, girls and guys often talked with friends of the same sex about the right time to D.T.R.
When a relationship was getting beyond the "Hey I kind of like you and kind of like spending time with you stage", it was always a good idea to "Define The Relationship".
Was this a dating relationship, or merely a friendship, or were this young man and young woman squarely on the path to matrimonial bliss? What was the other person thinking? Who could tell? That's why it was important to DTR, Define The Relationship.
Of course, we do this all the time. Everyday we are either consciously or unconsciously defining those relationships that we encounter. For example, what is my relationship to the guy behind the register at the grocery store? Are we buddies, or are we merely retail associate and customer? The way I define that relationship determines how I behave toward this guy.
If I think we're buddies and we're not; if I am, in his eyes, just one more nameless customer he has to help before he clocks out, then my friendly small talk and joking around will probably seem misplaced.
Or, if I am currently and unconsciously defining my relationship with my spouse as more of a roommate situation, I will fail to give my spouse the affection and attention that relationship deserves.
This morning, I'd like to think more about the idea of defining the relationship as we go back to God's word together. Turn with me to I Timothy chapter 3.
During this advent season we have been thinking about a very fitting holiday topic: family. More specifically, we've been asking, "What does God tell us about family?"
In light of that question, we've discovered some beautiful portraits in God's word that speak to this topic. We saw the incredible picture of Abraham stepping out in faith with his family. We looked at the amazing picture of Christ and his Church and learned about God's heart for marriage. Last week, we studied the picture of God caring for his creation, especially his children, and were challenged to imitate God as parents.
And this morning, we are going to conclude this study by considering a portrait, not just for families, or spouses, or parents, but for all of God's people.
Let look together at I Timothy 4, verses 14 and 15.
II. The Passage: "...In the Household of God" (3:14, 15)
Listen to what the Apostle Paul tells his young co-laborer, Timothy, about his reason for writing"
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.
Chapter 1, verse 3 tells us that Timothy was serving in the city of Ephesus. And from the verses I just read, Paul is clear about his intentions for this letter. Even though he is hoping to come and minister in person to those in Ephesus, if he cannot, if he is delayed, then what he's written down should guide and direct Timothy and everyone in this church about the appropriate conduct for God's people.
We know from the first chapter that Timothy's primary mission in Ephesus was to keep the church on track in the face of certain men who were teaching strange ideas to these followers of Jesus, men who were trying to undo the good work that Paul and his team had already done.
But notice specifically in 3:14 and 15, notice how the church is described. It is described in three ways: 1) as the household of God, 2) as the church of the living God, and 3) as a pillar and buttress of truth.
But, if you look closely, the last two descriptions are giving two further describe the first. It is the first description that has the place of importance here.
What is the church? It is the household of God.
Now, someone may look at this and be thinking purely terms of a building. But a household is not a house, is it? A household are the people who live in a house; just like a church is not a building, but the people who meet inside a ‘church' building.
But why is this so important to what Paul's trying to communicate? Well, if you look again at verse 15, you'll see that what Paul understands about the right conduct is directly connected to what Paul understands about the relationships between those he's addressing.
What the Apostle Paul wants to do here is D.T.R. He wants to define the relationships both between the members of this church in Ephesus, and between them and their God.
So how does he define these relationships?
III. The Right Analogy
He describes the church as a family. A family.
How do you think about the church? What's the best analogy to describe a group of people like this?
There are many churches out there who seem to be saying, without directly saying it, that the church is something like a social club. People join up and come at their leisure to take advantage of this or that amenity. They pay their dues when asked and everyone leaves entertained or having got what they wanted.
Others seem to be communicating that the church is something like a business, that those who come are consumers, and so it's important to understand their needs and provide them with products that meet those needs. The pastor then is something like a CEO who oversees and tries to improve the workflow so that growth takes place for all to see.
But those are not analogies we find in the New Testament.
In the New Testament we find the church described in lots of different ways: it's like a temple; it's like field; it's like a human body; as we saw two weeks ago, the church is like a bride.
But do you know what the most common analogy is to describe the church, that community of disciples; do you know which one is used the most? The family.
The church is like a family. It's not simply that the word "family" is used all over the New Testament in connection with the church, but anytime the word brothers, or brethren, brothers and sisters, is used (and they are countless times), the analogy behind that is of the family.
Why is the church a family? Because of what we talked about last week, about the fact that if we have trusted in Jesus Christ as our only hope, then by grace, we have been born again and adopted by God; we can now call him Father. And if you and I have the same Father, what does that make us? It makes us brothers, or brother and sister. It makes us siblings.
IV. Family Matters
Now, some of you may be thinking, isn't this supposed to be a Christmas message? Well if you were hoping for a Christmas message, you need to come back tomorrow night.
But listen, this is extremely important for all of us, especially at this time of year when so many of us are thinking a lot about and spending a lot of time with family.
What Paul is trying to do here, what God is trying to do here is draw upon this basic understanding of family in order to more specifically define the relationship between people in this church. They are not merely fellow consumers, or fellow club members, or individuals in an audience...no followers of Jesus Christ are family.
Don't you see that everyone is looking for someplace to belong? We might have a family, to whom we are connected by DNA, but everyone is looking for something more, especially if that biological family doesn't seem like much a family.
People look for a family in their bowling team, with their neighbors, with fellow employees or fellow fantasy baseball buddies. We are all looking to belong. Why? Because God made us, he hard-wired us for family.
But that need is only met fully and finally in Jesus Christ and the new life that only he can give. Jesus offers us a new way to be human, and that new path supersedes everything else.
Think about this story in light of what we're talking about. This is from Mark chapter 3:
31 Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you." 33 "Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked.
34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."
Whoa, wait a minute. What is Jesus doing here? Talk about disrespectful, especially in this first century, Jewish setting. How can he say this about his family?
Well notice that he's not necessarily saying anything negative about his family; he's not saying what he's saying because his mom forgot to send him a Hanukah card. He's simply using the opportunity to point to the radical newness that he himself is bringing about. This new way to be human is redefining relationships.
No longer will flesh and blood connections be the most important ties in human existence. No, the bonds created by God's Spirit will be so much stronger because they are bonds that are redefined by and in God. They are bonds created in new life. Thus, they are bonds that will last for eternity.
It is this spiritual reality of family that Paul is pointing to in I Timothy 3:15. And if the church is the family of God, a family of families, then as Paul clearly states here, there is a way that we ought to behave. The reality of our relationship to one another determines how we ought to treat one another.
Let me give you an example of how Paul applies this with Timothy. Look over at chapter 5, verse 1. Here Paul talks specifically about behavior or conduct in God's household or family. Look at what he says:
[Timothy...] Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father. Treat younger men like brothers, older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.
Do you see how the reality of family should affect Timothy's relationships in the church? Look as well back at the beginning of chapter 3. As Paul describes the qualifications for an overseer or elder in the church, look at what he says in verse 5 about potential candidates:
He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?
Look at the parallel there. A man's ability to manage his own family is a crucial indication of how he might manage the church, that is, God's family.
And so leaders in the church are obviously called to care for the church in the same way they would their own families.
How do you view the church? How do you understand your relationship to those sitting around you?
God's word tells us very clearly that if we belong to Jesus Christ by grace through faith, then we are members of the same family. We are now defined by the same name. We are connected by a blood far greater than the stuff coursing through our veins.
And if that's true, than it should radically redefine how we treat one another.
This is why Paul says in Romans 12:10:
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
What would you give for your brother's good? What would you say or not say to someone else about your very own sister? If you were offended by a family member, how would you handle it? What commitments should family members have toward one another?
How do families work together? How do families talk about finances? How do families communicate? How are families strengthened?
Most of us know how to answer these questions in regard to our own flesh and blood, but shouldn't we also be asking these questions about the church?
And let me stress that all of these questions have to be answered in light of Jesus Christ. He is the one who defines the love we are to have for one another, the humility we are to exhibit, the service we are to render, the forgiveness we are to extend to our brothers and sisters.
Sadly, many today have a very warped view of what a family should be like. That's why we always have to come back to Jesus, and that newness of life that is defined by Christ's own character.
Way of Grace, if we are God's family, members of his own household, sons and daughters, together, then what steps should we be taking in order to nurture the family ties that already exist among us?
Shouldn't we be looking out for one another? Shouldn't we be serving one another? Should we be committed to one another and to spending time with one another: family gatherings? Shouldn't we be opening our homes up to one another? Family does that. Shouldn't we be talking with one another about what's going on in our lives?
God forbid that this ever becomes a group of people who just get together on Sundays to sing some uplifting songs and hear a semi-decent sermon.
No, whether we like it or not, we are a family. That means we need to act like a family should act.
When you DTR with those around you in light of what God has said, how does it change things?
V. A Family for God's Agenda
One of the most important things we can understand about God's agenda for this universe is that God has always used families to accomplish his purposes.
Noah and his family. Abraham and his family. Israel and his family. Jesus and his new family.
The work of God is so much bigger than any one of us, or any one family among us.
If we are to be families of faith, if we are to truly love and serve our spouse, if we are to be parents who point our children to Jesus Christ, then we absolutely, positively have to be growing in and with God's family.
You see, as we are loving one another, and serving one another, and in spite of our diversity, standing together in unity, this family will be a light to our community and to the world. But if we view one another as something less than family, then that too will be reflected in the way we treat one another.
This is why Paul goes on to describe the household of God as the church of the living God, the pillar and buttress (or support) of truth. When we do not behave in the way we should as God's family, the truth that should be seen in us is compromised.
But when we love one another as brothers and sisters, the truth of Jesus shines.
This Christmas, as you gather around the tree or the dinner table, take time to think about how your family relates to one another, about the obligations and commitments and joys and bonds that come with belonging to a family.
And as you consider this, consider what God wants to tell you about his family.
The church is so much more than a place to go on Sunday or Christmas Eve. It is a new family of which God himself is the Father. Through Jesus, are you a part of this family?
I pray you are. Let's pray and ask God to help us grow in this truth and truly love one another as family.