Instructions for the Church

September 3, 2023 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: First Timothy

Topic: English

Not very long ago, I told some of the members here about an instance when I felt a very distinct awareness of my responsibility to protect this church as one of its pastors. It was a few years ago when a couple men came to visit the church building.

These men represented an organization, and prior to the meeting, I had received multiple visits and phone calls asking to meet with me. They were very persistent, and I finally agreed to sit down with them for about 20 minutes.

The men who came represented an international Christian ministry. They had professional, colorful handouts and seemed very devoted to their organization.

They spoke about connecting with me and with the church. One opportunity they presented was for me to become a part of a pastoral network of theirs. This network, I was told, was intended to help train pastors and help them in ministry. They showed me photos of famous pastors in the country whose teachings were being showcased in the training. Those photos included pastors from various backgrounds. Some I would agree with, others I would not.

Now, before this meeting, I had done some research and had some conversations, and I began to grow very suspicious of the group. They used biblical language, but some of what they were saying about sin and repentance didn’t line up with the way the Bible presents those realities.

Again, the people I talked to were extraordinarily persistent, and as we talked, they kept asking about my contact information, which I wasn’t willing to share at the time. And they asked me a lot of questions concerning what we teach here at our church.

For every answer I gave, they were very affirming. They wanted me to be confident that we taught the same message. After talking about the pastoral network, they asked me if we had any mid-week services. And I said, “No. We don’t have those right now, but we do have groups that meet in our member’s homes throughout the week.”

And one of them said something like, “Oh, that’s wonderful. We would love to be able to help them. We could even send teachers to each of the groups to support them.”

That was a huge red flag for me. I felt very territorial, and rightfully so, I believe. I knew I wasn’t going to give them any information about our home groups. What kind of people would come from an outside group, and in the first meeting begin to pressure me to allow them to visit the homes of our members and teach?

 Well, there may have been a strong desire to help weary pastors and underdeveloped saints, but that’s not how I saw it. Our time ended very shortly after, and they left. I had no intention of reaching out again to them, but that hasn’t stopped them from calling the church occasionally to continue pushing the programs they offer.

My interaction with them only strengthened my conviction that we elders have a duty as your shepherds to guard the flock God has placed in our care. That is an essential aspect of spiritual leadership. We are to give spiritual protection.

In Acts 20, we read about a time when the Apostle Paul sat down with the elders from the church of Ephesus. I’d like you to turn there with me. Acts chapter 20. Paul’s message to the elders of Ephesus came about 5 years before his letter to the entire church; that’s the book of Ephesians. Paul was headed to Jerusalem where he would be arrested, and this was his final interaction with those leaders.

Look at Acts 20, verse 25. Here’s part of what Paul said to them—[25] And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. [26] Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, [27] for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. [28] Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. [29] I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; [30] and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. [31] Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 

As much as Paul poured his life and the teachings of Jesus into these men, he understood that there would always be a threat to the church. There would always be the possibility of false teachers attacking the church. So, what was Paul’s strategy for protecting the church? It was to develop a group of qualified and trained men who would lead the church.

The better organized the church was, the more protected it would be. Like I said, 5 years after speaking with the elders of the church, Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians. And in that letter, you see the same desire to clarify the truth and to call people to live in light of it.

Well, about four or five years after writing the letter, Paul wrote another letter to the church, but he wrote it to the man who had been left there as his apostolic representative. That letter is known as First Timothy. I’d like you to turn there with me—the first letter of Paul to Timothy.

For the next few weeks, we are going to be looking at this letter as we talk about various topics related to a church’s structure or organization. We are not going to dig into every verse, the way we did with Thessalonians; instead, I’m going to highlight some specific passages that I think are important for us. One specific passage has to do with some changes we elders would like to implement, but we’ll talk about that when we get there.

For today, all I want to do underscore the idea that a well-structured church serves as a blessing to the church for its protection and for its health. A well-structured church protects and strengthens the church.

The key passage in First Timothy comes to us in chapter 3, verses 14 and 15. I want you to turn there so you can see it for yourself. First Timothy 3:14-15. This is the purpose statement of the letter. This is Paul’s motivation for writing. Verse 14, he says to Timothy—I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, [15] 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 the truth.

Paul can’t be in Ephesus physically, but Timothy is there helping to lead the church. As Paul’s representative, Timothy is charged with making sure the church lives up to its nature. To use Paul’s own words from verse 15, the people need to know how to behave, how to conduct themselves. Individually, the people should know how to live, and corporately, the church should know how to structure itself.

Now, here in verse 15, Paul gives Timothy two illustrations or metaphors concerning the church. And these illustrations are important because they confront something that can be very subtle in our heart, but it’s dangerous—and that is the aversion to orderliness and organization.

Some of you know you’re not a neat person, and you’re not afraid to admit it. Others of you are more organized and neater than the rest of us. But even in those cases, you need to recognize that you probably didn’t come into the world like that. Ask most parents, and they will confirm that kids need to be taught to be organized and structured.

Well, the first illustration Paul gives concerning the church is that the church is the household of God. The word there is oikos, which literally means house, but here it’s a reference to a family. Every family needs structure. There are assignments, there are roles, there is authority, and there are responsibilities and expectations. That’s the way it is with the church as well.

There are people in this world who claim to follow Christ but have no connection to a local church. John Stott referred to that as “a grotesque anomaly.” That is not God’s design.

Many, many people have said, “I believe in Jesus, but I don’t like organized religion.” Well, there’s a problem with that because God is a God of order and structure. If you read the Old Testament, you see it very clearly. God has a very organized way of laying out the tribes of Israel as they travel, and there’s an organized way that the Tabernacle was supposed to be made.

Coming to the New Testament, we don’t see the same amount of detail, but we do see some important features and structures and guidelines for a local church. Those are some of the topics we’ll be talking about in the weeks to come.

But again, recognize that our natural bent is to push against structure and order. We like rules and responsibilities when they are theoretical. But because of our sinful nature, we are not always going to easily accept them.

We will be tempted either not to fulfill the responsibility we’ve been given, or to do things that are outside that responsibility.

This is what we saw happen in the very first family. Adam was given instruction by God before Eve was created. He would have been responsible to communicate and to lead and protect her, but instead, we find that the entire time Eve was talking to Satan, Adam was right there with her, but he didn’t say or do anything. He was an absentee husband. He did not do what he was supposed to be doing.

Later, when God pronounces curses on the man and the woman, we find that the woman is also going to push against God’s design. Instead of a heart of submission, she would have a desire that is contrary to her husband. She would want to rule over him. She wants to step outside the boundaries and the design God set in place.

The same kinds of things will happen in a church. People get lazy. Leaders get lazy. And those who should not be in leadership will want to usurp that position. Working against orderliness and structure is our personal desire for freedom and independence. We want to do our own things in our own way.

Therefore, it’s always important to remember that God has set up some house rules. He wants his household to be run in a certain way.

Now, those features aren’t arbitrary. God has a purpose for them. The church is supposed to reflect the character of God and be effective in its mission of reaching and sanctifying people with the truth of Jesus Christ.

And this leads us to the second metaphor Paul uses in verse 15. The church is not only a household, or a family, it is, as Paul says, a pillar and support of the truth.

Greek architecture at that time including many pillars or columns. If you’ve ever seen illustrations or images of Greek architecture, you have a sense of how impressive it was.

At the top of the pillars there might have been ornate capitals or pediments, which are those triangular shapes. You see that kind of design, for example, on the White House.

Well, just like those pillars help hold up the decorative roof, the church of God is meant to hold something up. We are here to put something on display. We are the pillar and support of the truth. We’re holding up and holding out the truth. We are here to guard the truth and to proclaim it. That’s what the church does. And the church will be helped in that function as it honors the structure God has put in place.

Go back now to chapter 1 of this letter. Again, I’m not digging too deep, but I just want you to see that Paul’s heart as he writes to Timothy is for the protection of the church. Look at verse 3.

Verses 1 and 2 are Paul’s introduction, but the body of the letter starts in verse 3. He says—As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine

Those words indicate that the false teachers are already there. And Paul probably knows them by name. In fact, down in verse 20, Paul names 2 of the men who have abandoned the teaching of Christ.

Paul’s heart and Timothy’s responsibility was to defend the church from error. Why? What happens when false teaching creeps into a church? Verse 4 answers that for us.

Paul says that the different doctrines—the teachings that stray from Scripture—promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God. They detract from and hinder God’s plan for the church. God has an order and a purpose for His household, and false teaching works against it.

Down in verse 6, Paul says that the false teaching leads to “vain discussion.” They are a waste of time. They lead to nothing productive.

We don’t know exactly what the false teaching, but we know that they were working against God’s purposes and God’s heart.

In verse 5, Paul says” The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Where false teaching begins to take root, you will not see the love of Christ on display; you will not see the purity and the holiness of Christ; and you will not see sincere faith being lived out. In other words, the church will misrepresent God, and it will be powerless in its mission. This is why doctrine matters, and this is why God wants His church structured according to the guidelines He has given.

Having a well-structured and a well-ordered church is how we fight against Satan and his demons. If we honor God’s design, we are working for His purpose. If we dishonor His design, we are being used by Satan.

I don’t say that as an exaggeration or a scare tactic. This is what Paul teaches. Jump down to verse 18 and notice what he says to Timothy. Verse 18—This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, [19] holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, [20] among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Paul names two of the men who have wandered from the truth, and he says they have been handed over to Satan.

Skip over to chapter 4, and we see Paul mention demonic activity once again. First Timothy 4, verse 1—Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons

Halloween is coming soon, and sometimes that gets people talking about Satan and demons. And while there is definitely demonic activity in the occult like psychics and speaking to the dead, we do not want to limit demonic activity just to those things. The primary work of Satan and the demons is the promotion of lies.

The church holds up the truth and holiness. Satan holds up lies and sin. And the worst kind of lie will be the lies that the church permits and eventually begins to promote thinking they are doing the Lord’s work.

For example, what does it do when a church that belongs to Jesus Christ begins to tolerate or affirm sin? What’s the result of that? At a minimum, people’s spiritual growth is going to be hampered, but worse, you are going to get people claiming Christ and being affirmed in salvation while they are headed for judgment.

That’s what happens in the churches that try to merge the mission of Christ with a political agenda. People get sidetracked. That’s what happens when a church or a denomination think they are being loving and being to affirm the LGBT agenda and lifestyle. That’s not loving; that is to set people up for eternal condemnation.

If we don’t declare sin as sin, then people don’t see the need to repent. And if people don’t repent from sin, they will not be saved.

So, what’s the solution? What is a church supposed to do to stay strong and useful for Christ? The answer is simple; cling to the word of God. Teach the word of God. We have everything we need right here; we just need to keep coming back to it.

Look at chapter 4, verse 6. This is Paul’s command to Timothy as he works to protect the church—If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. [7] Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness.

“Timothy,” Paul is saying, “You need to train yourself and train the people. You all need to train for battle.” It’s not a physical training only; it is a spiritual training.

In verse 11, Paul says: Command and teach these things. [12] Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. [13] Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.

“Timothy, it doesn’t matter if you’re younger than those guys; it doesn’t matter if you’re not as polished in your speaking; it doesn’t matter if you have a more gentle disposition—lead the people and teach them the word of God.”

Paul continues in verse 14: Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. [15] Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. [16] Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

“People’s eternal destiny is at stake Timothy! Do your job! Give the people the word of God! Model it for them and teach it to them! That’s how the church will be protected! This is your sacred duty!”

This is the message of First Timothy—the church is the household of God, and it needs to be put in order in accordance with the word of God. If that happens, the church will be strengthened, and it will be made effective in it purpose.

As we discuss God’s design for the church form this letter, we are going to cover issues that other churches disagree with. Sometimes, disagreements are rooted in tradition. A church might never have been exposed to what the Bible says, and so they simply do things the way they’ve seen it done before. That’s unfortunate.

At other times, there are churches who start to bend what the Bible teaches or adjust what it says so that it seems more acceptable to the culture. A church like that might think that adjusting to the culture is a better way to go, but really it doesn’t honor Christ, and it works against His mission.

The worst case is when a church simply chooses to not to obey what the Bible says. That sets the church onto a dangerous trajectory. If that is not corrected soon, the church will eventually fall away from Christ. It will be a church that leads people to hell.

That is why Paul uses very strong language in this letter regarding the false teachers. They are a cancer to the church. They threaten its very life.

Jump over with me to chapter 6. First Timothy chapter 6, verse 3. The final sentence in verse 2 says: Teach and urge these things. Then in verse 3, Paul says: If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, [4] he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, [5] and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.

Those who reject the guidelines and the structure God has put in place are arrogant, foolish, dangerous, evil, depraved and ignorant. They warp the beautiful picture and function God has created.

Whenever I’m tempted to think, “What’s the big deal about some of our doctrinal disagreements?” I can remind myself about the seriousness with which Paul speaks. To stray from God’s design is to set a church on the trajectory to its death in God’s eyes. It doesn’t matter how large a church gets, or how much praise from the world, if it doesn’t honor Christ, it is not being faithful and it is not being successful.

As we wrap up our time today, I want to direct our attention to Christ’s final message directly for the Ephesians. Paul preached there in the city at first. Some time later, he spoke to the elders. After that, Paul wrote them the letter of Ephesians. And then after that, he wrote two more letters to Timothy who was in Ephesus.

But Christ’s final recorded message to the church in Ephesus came about 30 years after his letters to Timothy. By God’s grace, the church still existed, but the battle was never finished. There were always enemies and there was always the temptation to do nothing about it. There will always be a tendency toward laziness and a drift away from Christ.

Christ’s final message to the church of Ephesus comes in Revelation chapter 2, communicated through the Apostle John. You can turn there if you want. I will read it for you. Revelation chapter 2, verses 1-7.

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. [2] “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. [3] I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. [4] But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. [5] Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. [6] Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. [7] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

What does that message remind us about? It reminds us that Christ is always watching over his churches. He sees what we are doing well, and He sees where we have compromised. He sees how we are drifting away from Him.

In the mercy of Christ, He calls us to repentance so that we can be restored to joy and effectiveness.

But we are also reminded that there is no church that is indispensable to what Christ is doing in the world—even the church that Paul planted and where Timothy served. When a church stops honoring Christ, when a church begins to compromise the design God has clearly laid out, Christ will no longer extend His blessing. Eventually, that church will no longer be used to shing the light of Christ in a dark world.

May God keep that from happening here at First Bilingual, and may He use us in our community until Christ returns.

More in First Timothy

September 24, 2023

Addressing Disorder in the Church

September 17, 2023

Modesty for the Church

September 10, 2023

The Priority of Prayer in the Church