Why is the church called the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15)?Paul writes two very personal letters to Timothy. In the first letter, Paul expresses his desire to see Timothy, but, in case he is delayed, Paul writes so that Timothy will know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, the church (or assembly), which Paul calls "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15, NKJV).
It is important to recognize that the household of God is not a building but an assembly of believers. That assembly was first announced by Jesus when He said He would build His church (Matthew 16:18). This new assembly of which Jesus spoke was inaugurated in Acts 2, upon the arrival of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised (John 14; 16). This new assembly was powered by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit ministered to the church by guiding the apostles to remember all that Jesus taught them (John 14:26; 16:13), baptizing believers into the assembly (1 Corinthians 12:13), manifesting Himself in each believer for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:4–11), sealing and indwelling all believers (Ephesians 1:13–14), providing God's Word in writing (2 Peter 1:20–21), and bearing fruit in believers' lives (Galatians 5:22ff). Because of God's direct involvement with this assembly, it is no surprise that Paul would call the church the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
A pillar is a supporting structure, and a ground is a base or "foundation" (NLT). Other translations have "buttress" (ESV), "support" (NASB), "bulwark" (NET), or "support" (GNT). The church is founded on a rock, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). The fixed nature of the church makes it a stable and permanent foundation of truth. When the storms of persecution come and the winds of change blow and the gusts of error howl, the church remains steadfast in its support and preservation of the truth.
God works through the church in this current age, and thus the apostles said the church was to hold fast to sound teaching and to truth. The members of the assembly were to speak and act in a manner consistent with what God had revealed (e.g., 1 Peter 4:11). Paul exhorts Timothy to be nourished on the words of the faith and sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6). If anyone didn't follow those sound words, then they were conceited and lacking understanding (1 Timothy 6:3–4).
The church was designed to be the pillar and ground of the truth. As such, it is to represent God's revealed truth and to hold unwaveringly to God's Word. This is one reason Paul encourages Timothy in his second letter to continue in the things Timothy had learned (2 Timothy 3:14)—specifically, the sacred writings that were able to provide wisdom leading to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3:15). Paul adds that all Scripture is God-breathed and is ultimately useful to make the person of God adequate for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Because the church is built upon God's revealed Word and designed to walk in that Word, the church is the pillar and ground of the truth.
Paul warns Timothy that, as time progresses, people would abandon sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:3) and only want to hear those things that were agreeable to their desires, turning away from the truth. These would be challenging times for the church, but that challenge presents a great stewardship opportunity. Members of God's household can stand for His truth, speaking truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). In times of opposition, especially, the church has an opportunity to embody Paul's description of the church as the pillar and ground of the truth.
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Truth about Church