In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul uses three metaphors to describe the local assembly in the span of a dozen verses (vv6-17). In 1 Timothy 3, he packs four descriptions of an assembly together in a single verse (the house of God, the church of the living God, the pillar of truth and the ground of truth, v15). We will examine these last two, which are connected in the text as “the pillar and ground of the truth”(KJV). “Truth” has the definite article which indicates the entire body of Christian belief is being stressed.
The Pillar – We Display God’s Truth
The Greek word for pillar is stulos and is found four times in the NT. A pillar’s purpose is not only to hold the roof steady, but to hold it up high, so it can be clearly seen by all. The imagery Paul uses would bring to an Ephesian’s mind the great local temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The temple had over 100 pillars, each around 60 feet high, displaying its beautiful, shining marble roof. Thus, each pillar had the task and honor of manifesting the structure’s beauty.
The point of Paul’s metaphor here is that the assembly should be a place where God’s truth, something much more beautiful than a mere physical structure, is held high for all in a local community to see. In order for God’s truth to be displayed, it must first be practiced. Additionally, there must be engagement in our local communities for God’s truth to be noticed. Do you ever wonder what percentage of your own town/city knows about your assembly? And if people do know you exist, would they say, “Those people are trying to carefully follow what the Bible teaches?” Or are they more likely to say, “We have no idea who they are or what they believe”? God’s truth must not be hidden from a world which desperately needs it.
If people visit our local assembly meetings, they should see God’s truth carried out. But what if they don’t visit? This metaphor of the pillar implies that His truth should be seen even from a distance. Is this happening today? How can it happen? It can only happen when we reach out.
There are many ways God’s truth can be displayed by a NT assembly in the twenty- first century without compromising Paul’s teaching elsewhere on separation. Local tent meetings or outreach works can hold high the truth of the gospel, a message which is possibly watered down or non-existent in some communities. Opening the hall or renting a place for outreach work with local children can display the truth taught by the Lord Jesus in Mark 10:14 (“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” ESV). A consistent message throughout both the OT and the NT is that believers should have a desire to help those in need. We can display this obedience to the Scriptures by providing community meals, volunteering in local shelters, and in a variety of other venues. Renting a booth at a local fair/market and distributing God’s printed Word also holds His truth up high for others to see. We can also display God’s truth, not only by preaching it publicly, but by practicing it personally. Our individual testimony is a powerful way to manifest God’s Word to people looking on all around us.
After Paul speaks about “the truth,” he calls our attention to something (actually Someone) in verse 16 in particular Who is truth – our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Truth we are privileged to display in our assembly gatherings and in our lives personally. Do people see Him when they see us?
The Ground – We Defend God’s Truth
The Greek word for “ground” is hedraioma, found only here in the NT. However, it is related to the adjective hedraios, which is translated elsewhere as “steadfast” or “settled.” This would indicate the word refers to what gives stability to the building and could be translated “foundation” (ESV, ISV, NIV) or “base” (Darby). Thus, as the “foundation of truth,” the assembly is to hold God’s truth firm and steadfast. As the pillar, the assembly displays God’s truth, but as the foundation, it defends it, holding “the truth steady against the storms of heresy and unbelief.”
It is not our job, nor is it consistent with the character of Christ, to defend God’s Word in a militant fashion, but we should be willing to stand up and preach unashamedly the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Additionally, we should be willing to accurately and articulately preach against false doctrines and heresies which sweep across our land in the twenty-first century. Of course, we need to carefully distinguish between defending God’s truth and defending our convictions about God’s truth. What I believe to be right does not necessarily equal truth. It can be a real temptation to preach our opinions and state that what we are doing is “standing for the truth.” There are times when this has been done without a Christ-like spirit, and thus actually detracts from the display of God’s pure truth. May the Lord give us the wisdom to know how to distinguish the difference between truth and personal conviction, and to defend His Word with conviction and grace.
Putting the two metaphors together emphasizes just how important God’s Word must be to the local assembly. Does every decision we make as a group of believers apply the Word of God first? Perhaps we might first apply logic, psychology (or even worse, politics) before making a decision as an assembly. We must always allow Scripture to have the first and final word, for the assembly is, figuratively speaking, the pillar and ground of the truth.