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.”
1. The context of the whole epistle is that of the congregation in Ephesus. The word ecclesia is used three times in this epistle (3:5, 15; 5:16). In 3:5 (“…how shall he take care of the church of God?”) the meaning is obviously local, since the bishop cannot take care of a universal church – visible, or even less, invisible. In 5:16 (“…and let not the church be charged” [with the widows]). The matter of alms and aids belonged to the local congregation. A universal invisible church (the multitude of the elect) cannot be charged with something like this, since it cannot help any, having neither resources nor deacons (servants). Therefore, in two out of three cases, Paul uses ecclesia with an obvious local meaning. Could he change the meaning in 3:15?
2. it is claimed that the meaning in this verse is a universal church because of the terms used, “house of God,” “church of the living God,” “pillar and ground of the truth”. It is believed that these expressions are too grand to refer only to a local assembly. But we already showed that the expression “church of God”, used in 3:5, refers to a local assembly. How probable is it that the expression changed its meaning in 3:15?
3. “to behave” indicates a certain conduct or practical behavior.
4. “how thou oughtest” means that such a behavior or conduct is obligatory.
5. What is this behavior? We find it in the rest of the epistle.
a. To be careful regarding the apostates (4:1-5)
b. To warn the brethren about these dangers (vs. 6). Notice all the similarities between this passage and Acts 20:28-31. Timothy was in Ephesus. The church in Acts 20 was that of Ephesus. There it is also called “the church of God”, just like in our verse. The bishops are warned in both texts.
c. To insist upon the sound doctrine and the teaching of believers, giving himself as an example (11-16).
d. To rightly treat the brothers and the sisters in the congregation (5:1-2)
e. To treat rightly the widows (5:3-16)
f. To treat rightly the elders (17-22)
g. Chapter 6 is the closing of the epistle and contains other practical advices for slaves, masters, for the rich, for Timothy to persevere in the faith
h. The whole context of the epistle is the behavior in the local church.
6. Bearing in mind the metaphor of a building, Paul says that the congregation of God is the pillar and the foundation of the truth. Practically speaking, the universal invisible church cannot uphold the truth, because it is said to consist of all the saved, no matter what they believe or practice.
7. Conclusion: only a visible congregation, faithful to the teachings of Christ, can uphold the truth. And this congregation is not universal, but local. Just like the congregation of Ephesus, every local assembly of Christ upholds His truth, in whatever place it resides.