1 Timothy 3:15: 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.
Our rich American Christian heritage has given us a term we often use to describe Sundays and Wednesdays: “going to church.” To us that means going to a location for a regular meeting with other likeminded believers, and usually some visitors. In modern America, we have the privilege of a dedicated building, or a set of buildings, for these meetings. Because they are set aside for that specific use, the building or buildings are often called “the house of God,” the phrase Paul used in 1 Timothy 3:15.
The word for “house” in 1 Timothy 3:15 means a place that is inhabited. It is a house because there are people in it—the household. You can find “the house of God” used dozens of times in the Old Testament to refer to the temple and tabernacle. Those buildings were God’s house because God was there. When God’s presence departed, the temple was no longer His house. The temple without God’s presence was an empty building.
In 1 Timothy 3:15, “the house of God” is the place where God dwells. Where is that? With His people, “the church of the living God.” 2 Corinthians 6:16: “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, ‘I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’.” Remember that the people who make up the house are called the household? Ephesians 2:19: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
We believers are the “building” where the presence of God dwells. Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 2:20-22: “[Ye] are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone: In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord; In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” All the people who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, together, compose the place where God’s Spirit is. That means that when Christians gather, God is there. The house of God is where we are.
When we go to church, we go to the house of God, not because of the physical location we attend, but because wherever God’s people gather the house of God is. Is everyone who gathers at regular service times part of the church? No. But at those gatherings unbelievers are in the minority.
What can we take away from Scripture’s teaching on the house of God? First, churches and organizations are different things. Enough believers may gather that their money can collectively purchase buildings, pay staff salaries, fund Christian schools, or organize a summer camp. God can use those ministries to glorify His Son and extend His kingdom. However, only the gathering of believers to worship Christ still biblically qualifies as a church. The church’s health is not measured by enrollments, attendance at events, or ornate buildings, but by the growth in unity, knowledge, and Christlikeness of the individuals and families that make the ministries function. Alternatively, participating in a church organization is no substitute for regularly gathering with God’s people.
Second, churches and activities are different things. When a church’s buildings are used to host a funeral service, or as a facility for a community event, or to perform a cantata, many people may come that are not a part of the church. Using the church’s property is a wonderful way to testify to the name of Christ and preach the gospel to the lost, both of which are activities the church is to be involved in. However, participating in church activities is no substitute for gathering with believers.
Third, and following closely on the second point, participating in the church means going where believers are gathered. Christians can worship the Lord individually or as families, but they are not biblically faithful to the church unless they are faithful to the regular gathering of God’s people. Your practical participation in God’s church looks like Sunday services and midweek prayer meetings at the gathering of believers where you are a member. Without exception for urgent life events? No. But it ought to be a regular habit. Why? Because we are the church, dispersing throughout the week to fulfill our individual callings, carrying the name of the Lord Jesus Christ with us, busy about kingdom-related activities, perhaps even participating in organized Christian ministries, but always setting time aside for the house of God, where God's presence is. Where is God’s presence? Wherever two or three are gathered for the purpose of worshipping Christ. We are the church.
The above article was written by Jonathan Kyser. He is a pastoral assistant of NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every Tuesday, SFL publishes relevant Bible-based content. Check back next Tuesday to read the next SFL article.
The Proverb of the Day! Watch Pastor Johnson's outline of Proverbs chapter 8.