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Sermon #2219 — Miscellaneous Sermons
Title: What should the Church be?
Text: 1 Timothy 3:14-15
Subject: The Purpose of the Local Church
Date: Saturday Morning — May 2, 2015
Sovereign Grace Assembly
Cornelius, North Carolina
Ordination Services for Pastor Frank Hall
What a great day this is! What a momentous occasion! — We’ve come together for the public ordination of your pastor, Bro. Frank Hall. I am honored to be here for these services.
In a few minutes Bro. Linwood Campbell, pastor of Covenant of Grace Baptist Church in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina will bring a message to your pastor. I want to address this local church. My message is to you, the saints of God at Cornelius, North Carolina, Sovereign Grace Assembly.
Let’s open our Bibles to the book of 1st Timothy — 1st Timothy 3. The title of my message is — What should the Church be? Our text will be 1 Timothy 3:14-15. — 1 Timothy 3:14-15.
“These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
What should the church be? — That is my subject. I have been praying with you that our God would be pleased to give you a pastor after his own heart to feed you with knowledge and understanding. The Lord has graciously answered our prayers. I cannot tell you how excited I am for you! Bro. Frank Hall is a faithful, gifted man. He will be a great pastor for you. I cannot commend him to you highly enough.
I believe the Lord has given me three messages for you that will be helpful to you now and for years to come, as you serve the cause of Christ together with your pastor. This morning we will look into the Word of God and seek the answer God the Holy Ghost gives us to this question. — What should the church be?
Our Lord has established two institutions in this world for the happiness and holiness of his people. First, he established the home. Before sin entered into the world, the Lord God saw that it was not good for man to dwell alone, so he made Adam a wife, a helpmeet for him, to be his companion (Genesis 2:18-24). God himself brought Adam and Eve together as husband and wife, and the first home was formed. Therefore it is written, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4).
Marriage is honorable among all people, and in marriage the bed is undefiled. Marriage is ordained of God for the happiness of men, the moral stability of society, and the propagation of the race. Among men in this world nothing is sweeter, happier, and more comforting than home. Home is not the house in which a family lives. Home is the family itself. Home is not a geographical location, but the people who live there and make up the household. Whenever they are together, that is home. I pity the man who does not enjoy the blessedness of a happy, peaceful, loving home!
Second, the Lord established his church, “the church of the living God.” When Peter had made his confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” our Lord said, “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:16, 18). This second institution, “the church of the living God,” is even more precious, more needful, and more important than the first. That may seem strange, even offensive to some. But the family of God is more important than our personal families. Our Lord Jesus gave the church this priority by his own example (Mark 3:31-35).
(Mark 3:31-35) “There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.”
Church More Important
I repeat — This spiritual family is more important than our physical families. The house of God must be preferred to our own households. The cares and needs of God’s church must take priority over the cares and needs of our own families.
Why is the church of God more important to a believer than his own family? It is because Christ loved the church, chose the church, redeemed the church, builds the church, honors the church, and preserves the church. The church, the family of God, is an everlasting family. Our earthly families are only temporary. Our spiritual family is eternal; and that which is eternal is more important than that which is temporal.
Think about the church, the family of God. Particularly, think about this local church of which you are a member. That is the subject of our text. Paul’s purpose in 1 Timothy was to instruct the young pastor, Timothy, and us, in the affairs of the church.
· He tells Timothy how to discharge honorably his office as a preacher, evangelist, pastor, and teacher in the house of God.
· He is teaching us how we are to behave in the house of God, as members of the family of God.
· And he is telling us what every local church should be.
Every local church is “the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” The church of God is a spiritual kingdom, a royal family, whose one purpose and design in this world is to uphold, maintain, and set forth the truth of God.
Divisions: In answering this question, “What should the church be?” I will first make a practical observation, second, explain Paul’s doctrine in the text and, third, issue a challenge to you who hear my voice this hour.
1. A Practical Observation
I draw this observation both from the Word of God and from personal experience. It is an observation which both pastors and church members need to learn and remember: —— There never has been a perfect church upon this earth, nor will there ever be.
Frequently, I see people going from one church to another, seeking a church which measures up to their ideas of a perfect church. But their pursuit is vain. Pastors are often frustrated and depressed, and often move from one church to another, because the church does not measure up to their expectations. Churches are made up of sinful human beings, just like you and me. Therefore they have many faults.
In the kingdom of heaven tares and wheat grow together. Wherever the Lord sows wheat, Satan plants tares. Wherever the Lord gathers sheep, Satan herds his goats. Wherever you find grain in the field, you will find some chaff. God in his wisdom has ordained that it be so, for as long as time shall stand, and our Lord commands us to make no effort to separate the goats from the sheep, the tares from the wheat, or the chaff from the grain (Matthew 13:30). That is his job; and he is the only one capable of doing it. Any time pastors, elders, deacons, and churches take it upon themselves to “purge” the church, they do far more harm than good. Our judgment is so poor that we beat the sheep and pet the goats, pull up the wheat and leave the tares, and burn the grain and save the chaff.
We must not ignore the need for church discipline when it arises, but discipline is not for the purging of the church. Discipline is for the correction and restoration of the Lord’s children, and the discipline of God’s house is primarily carried out by the preaching of the gospel.
The churches of the New Testament had many, many problems, just like churches have today. When people talk about returning to “New Testament Christianity,” as though the churches then were better than the churches of today, they reveal great ignorance.
· The first church had Judas for its treasurer.
· The church at Jerusalem was racially prejudiced.
· The church at Corinth was plagued with strife, division, incest, disorderly worship, and drunkenness at the Lord’s Table!
· The church in Galatia was nearly destroyed by legalism.
· And all the early churches of the New Testament era were assailed constantly by false brethren, false prophets, and false doctrine from within.
Every local church today will experience the same kind of troubles from time to time. If the church of which you are a member is blessed of God with doctrinal stability, unity of the Spirit, and brotherly love, if God has given spiritual peace and prosperity through the preaching of the gospel and keeps his people from shameful, outward acts of gross sin, you are truly blessed of God. You have much for which to be thankful. There are few such churches in this world. But if Satan should disrupt the church for a while, do not be shocked, and when trouble comes do not forsake your family. —— Faithful brethren will not forsake their family in time of need.
2. Paul’s Doctrine In This Text
I want us to see what Paul says in this text about the church.
Look at the name Paul gives to the church. He calls it “the church of the living God.” What is the church?
· It is a congregation of believing people, gathered in the name of Christ, by the power and grace of God the Holy Ghost, to worship God, and obey his will.
· The church is a spiritual family, not a denominational organization.
The church belongs to God. It is not my church, your church, or our church. It is the Lord’s church. He chose it. He bought it. He saved it. He owns it (Ephesians 5:25-27).
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” (Ephesians 5:25-30)
The church belongs to Christ. It is the church of the living God. The church is the living body of Christ, her living Head. No one is truly a part of the church who is not united in a living relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. The very worst thing that can happen to any local church is the decay of life. We must earnestly strive to avoid formalism, coldness, and death. Spiritual life depends upon the Spirit of God. We must have more than a sound creed. We must have more than a proper form of worship. We must have the Spirit of God. A local church without the Spirit of God is like a body without a soul — dead, useless, decaying, and obnoxious. The sooner it is buried the better.
The church is called “the house of God.” What does Paul mean by such language? John Gill suggests that he means three things.
1st. The church is a spiritual house. It is built of living stones, men and women who are born of God. It is built upon a sure foundation, the Lord Jesus Christ himself (1 Corinthians 3:11). It is a house with one Door of entrance, which is Christ, and two windows, the ordinances of the gospel — baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And the pillars of this house are those men God has chosen, gifted, and called to preach the gospel in it.
2nd. The church is a family, the family of God, the household of faith. This family is called by the name of Christ, the Master of the household. Within the family there are fathers, young men, and children. The servants of Christ, the servants of God, are the stewards of the family, and the family is regulated by the law of Christ, love and trust.
· Stewards are men trusted with the Master’s treasures.
· Our only Law, our only Rule of faith and practice is the Word of God.
3rd. The church is the house of God, the house which he builds, for which he provides, which he protects, in which he dwells. When men and women come together in the name of Christ, trusting his blood and righteousness, seeking his glory, seeking his will, to worship God, the triune God meets with them (Matthew 18:20). If the church of which you are a member is a true, New Testament church, that church, when you are gathered, you are the house and temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
(1 Corinthians 3:16-17) “16 ¶ Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? 17 If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.”
The local church is the place where God is worshipped, wherever it is. It is the place of God’s abode, the place where God reveals himself in Christ, the place of God’s rule, and the object of all his purposes and works. The church of the living God needs no priests, altars, rituals, and none of the outward symbols of religion, but only God himself.
Are we of the house of God? If so, then let us be an obedient, reverent, grateful, worshipping, loving people. Let us honor our Father in all things!
Next, Paul tells us that the church is “the pillar and ground of the truth.”
· The church, the local church, is the pillar which upholds, maintains, and sets forth the truth.
· The church, the local church, is the ground which is the undergirding, stabilizing force of the truth.
The whole church, not just the pastor, elders, deacons, and teachers, but the whole church and every member of it, is the pillar and ground of the truth. In the church of the living God the truth is constantly uplifted as a light in the midst of darkness. The church of God is the lighthouse of truth in this world. The one purpose and business of the church is to uphold, maintain, and spread abroad the truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. All her strength, all her talents, all her resources are to be given to and used for this one glorious work. Whatever God puts in your hands, whatever doors of opportunity are opened before you, all are to be used for the preaching of the gospel. Nothing is to be wasted upon any other cause.
There are other important causes in the world. But in God’s providence, he raises up other people and organizations to take care of those causes. The church must not be turned aside from her far more important work. Members of political parties will support their politicians. Let God’s church support gospel preachers. Doctors build hospitals and practice medicine. Let the church of Christ build churches and practice missions. Moralists will struggle for moral issues. Let the church struggle for the furtherance of the gospel. Educators will teach children the “three Rs” of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Let the church teach sinners the “three Rs” of gospel truth — Ruin by the Fall, Redemption by the Blood, and Regeneration by the Holy Ghost. We have no other work. Let us uphold, proclaim, and defend the truth of God with all our might.
· Truth is what we have received from our forefathers.
· Truth is what we must maintain.
· And truth is the legacy we must leave to the generations to come.
· 3. A Challenge To You
If you are privileged to be a member of the house of God, a part of the church of the living God, which is the pillar and ground of the truth, then make it your business to maintain, defend, and publish abroad the truth of God with every fiber of your being. See to it that the church to which you belong is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” — Any church which ceases to be a pedestal of the truth ceases to be a church.
Every believer must be engaged in this noble cause. The church of Christ must not tolerate in her pulpit any man who is opposed to, or indifferent to the truth.
We must not tolerate any attack upon, violation of, or compromise of the Word of God. The Bible alone is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. It is our only rule of faith and practice (Isaiah 8:20; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
(Isaiah 8:20) To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
(1 Timothy 3:15-16) But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. (16) And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
(2 Timothy 3:16) All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (17) That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
The Word of God alone is our creed, confession of faith, and rule. We must bow to the authority of God’s Book, but only to the authority of God’s Book.
We must not tolerate any departure from the old paths of gospel truth (Jeremiah 6:16; 2 Timothy 1:8-13).
(Jeremiah 6:16) “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.”
(2 Timothy 1:8-13) “8 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; 9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, 10 But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: 11 Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. 12 For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. 13 Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”
Without hesitation or apology, we must sound out the glorious message of God’s free, sovereign, eternal grace in Christ. We do not need to clarify the gospel, reform the gospel, or modernize the gospel. We need only to proclaim it. Let us proclaim the naked gospel, with all its barbs and rough edges. It is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe. We must especially proclaim those points of gospel truth against which men most naturally and constantly rebel. Lest anyone mistake my meaning, I will state plainly, though briefly, what those points of gospel truth are which the church of God is responsible to proclaim in every generation.
Divine Sovereignty (Romans 9:11-24). — If there is a God in heaven, he is absolutely sovereign over all things in creation, in providence, and especially in salvation.
Total Depravity (Romans 5:12; Ephesians 2:1-3). — Unless man is totally depraved by nature and utterly incapable of doing anything towards his own salvation, the death of Christ and the gospel of his grace are vain and useless.
Unconditional Election (Ephesians 1:3-6; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). — If God has a people in this world whom he loves and to whom he is gracious, he loved them and determined to be gracious to them in eternal election, before the world was made. The immutable God changes not!
Limited Atonement (Isaiah 53:8; Hebrews 2:17; 9:12). — If the Lord Jesus Christ died to redeem sinners, then those sinners for whom he died are effectually and eternally redeemed. He cannot fail! Both the justice of God and the merits of Christ demand the everlasting salvation of every blood-bought soul.
Irresistible Grace (Psalm 65:4). — If God the Holy Ghost sets out to save a sinner, that sinner will be saved by omnipotent, irresistible, effectual grace. When he draws, he fetches. When he calls, sinners come. His will cannot be thwarted. His grace cannot be resisted. His power cannot be defeated.
Perseverance of the Saints (John 10:27-30). — Every believing sinner will be preserved unto eternal glory, kept by the power of God. Not one of those chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and called by God the Holy Ghost can be lost.
And we must not tolerate any distortion of the ordinances of the gospel. Let us be sure that the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are observed according to the teaching of Scripture and that we do not substitute any practice which in the slightest degree casts doubt on the perfect holiness of Christ’s person or the necessity of atonement by his death, burial, and resurrection as our substitute.
Make certain, my friends, that Sovereign Grace Assembly stands in this place as “the pillar and ground of the truth.” Being a part of such a church, give yourself entirely to the blessed work of upholding, maintaining, and proclaiming the truth of God, for the glory of God. Use everything God puts in your hand for this glorious work, and you will serve God, his church, and your generation well.