By Adam Brown –
Most Christians carry the assumption that every church-goer instinctively knows how we are supposed to behave in the church. Tragically, this very assumption has devastated many churches and forever ruptured the bonds of Christian fellowship. Different expectations and presumptions about the church, laced with varied personal preferences that are often distanced from a careful study of God’s Word, are potent ingredients that lead to a perfect storm in the local church.
It is for this reason that the apostle Paul penned a letter to Timothy, his representative in Ephesus, in the early second half of the first century:
3:14 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 (1 Timothy 3:14-15).
Though these verses are found in the very middle of 1 Timothy, they establish the dominant reason that Paul wrote the letter. In addition to this purpose statement, we read in 1 Timothy 1:3-5 that Paul is writing to Timothy to encourage him to confront false teachers.
Notice what Paul says here: “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.” This is a remarkable thing to write to Timothy for the simple reason that Paul did not assume that Timothy, his long time companion and protégé, should know how one ought to behave in the local church! Of course, Paul was writing to a much broader audience, knowing that this letter would be read aloud to the whole congregation. Nevertheless, Paul is presuming nothing.
Being a Christian does not naturally translate into a knowledge of how the church ought to operate. This being so, how are Christians supposed to come to this knowledge? Is it supernaturally downloaded? Is it dependent on personal preference? Does it emerge from strong feelings?
No, none of these are the primary means by which God gives instruction to His church. Rather, God has written instructions down for us, that we should read them, learn them, and implement them.
Where do we find these instructions? As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Therefore, there is a sense in which, an increasing knowledge of the whole Bible will help us to learn how we ought to behave in the church.
In his great kindness toward us, however, God has concentrated timeless and universal instructions in three very short books, which have often been called the Pastoral Epistles: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. Since God has given us books for the very purpose of showing us His non-negotiable expectations for His household, the local church, it is crucial that every local church read, learn, and then implement them.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not self-evident how one ought to behave in the household of God. Fortunately, God has written us very specific instructions about the non-negotiable basics. Let us, therefore, implement these treasured letters, making them the very foundation of our church structure and culture.