What is your vision of Jesus right now and how does that vision affect your behavior, your church engagement and your proclamation of Christ? Last week I made the statement that I believe that the church in the western world worships a small vision of Jesus. And my prayer has been that God would reveal to us where our vision of his Son needs to be increased.
1 Timothy 3:14 – 1614 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. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.
Each of us experiences the world we live in, in a certain way. And our experience of life in this world drives us to ask questions. Questions like: How should I behave in light of this circumstance? What should I say in this scenario or that scenario? And what is the churches role in all of this? My vision of who Jesus is, has a direct consequence on how I behave, how I engage the church and what I proclaim with my mouth.
So what is your vision of Jesus right now and how does that vision affect your behavior, your church engagement and your proclamation of Christ in the world you live in?
#1: Think About How You Behave (14 – 15)
In verses 14 – 15 Paul says “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave.” Actions speak louder than words. Behavior matters. The way we live has direct consequences not only on those closest to us but also on those generations who are coming after us. Our children and our children’s children will reap the consequences of how we behave now. And we are reaping the benefits of those who went before us.
Furthermore, the world we live in demands that we conform to its code of conduct. But the Bible calls us to be in the world and not of it. To be salt and light. To be shining cities on hills in the midst of the wickedness and the perversion of this world. So what does this look like? How should a Christian behave in a culture that is hostile to its very existence?
My guess is that the Ephesian Christians asked some of the same questions. Ephesus was a large city with tons of political and economical power. Magic and witchcraft and sexual slavery were some of the major money making industries in town. Pagan worship of a sex-goddess named Dianna was part of the religious fabric of the community. So just to be clear, there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to wickedness and perversion. The Ephesian believers were very similar to us and the culture they were living in was just as hostile to the things of the Lord as the one we live in.
Acts 18 – 20 is a good Biblical reference for some background on this and so is the book of Ephesians. Both of those accounts of the church in Ephesus paint a picture of a church that constantly made ripples in its community. Not through its open hostility towards the culture but through its subversive living within the culture. At one point some of the Ephesian believers were thrown out of the local Synagogue. At another point many people came to faith in Christ and left their practice of magic behind and actually burned their expensive books of witchcraft. At another point some of the local businesses threw a riot because their businesses were directly affected by the downturn in the practice of magic and pagan worship.
So the church in Ephesus had its hands full with questions about how to behave in a hostile culture. And thankfully Paul has outlined some of the ways in which the church is to behave already and he’s going to continue to nail that topic on the head in the coming chapters. But what has Paul said so far? What has he already said in this letter that helps Christians know how to live in the midst of a hostile culture?
Paul says that we must rest secure in the faithful grace, mercy and peace of God. (1:1-2) We must confront false teachers in our midst. (1:3-7) We must remember that the Law and the gospel go hand in hand. (1:8-11) We must remember that everything God gives is needful and everything he withholds isn’t needful. (1:12-17) Our hearts must be anchored to Jesus to weather the storms of this life. (1:18-20) We are called to live and pray like the gospel is for everyone. (2:1-7) We are not to let the tail of the culture wag the dog of biblical truth in regards to the gender roles. (2:8-15) We need elders who will oversee the spiritual needs of the church family. (3:1-7) We need deacons who will serve the practical needs of the church family. (3:8-13)
Long story short here, Paul is concerned with helping the church family live like a church family in the midst of a hostile culture without living in hostility towards the culture. He knows that hostility towards an already hostile culture will only breed more hostility not holiness. So he focuses on instructing family members to live like family members. Which brings us to Paul’s description of the church.
#2: Think About Your Description Of The Church (15)
I often like to ask people how they describe their dream church. I usually get answers that revolve around programs like VBS, Sunday School, Men’s and Women’s ministries, short sermon series, entertaining Sunday gatherings, kid’s and youth ministries, outreach programs and likeable staff. And I always try to find those definitions in my Bible but the funny thing is someone must have ripped some of the pages out of my Bible!! I can’t seem to reconcile those descriptions of the dream church with the Biblical definition.
There are a few places to look for great Biblical definitions of the church. Acts 2 and 4 are great places to spend time. So are many of the letters to the churches such as the Corinthians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, Thessalonians, Romans and Galatians. But so are the letters that were written to the churches and addressed to their pastors. 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are great resources for this because they contain great descriptions of the church.
Here in this first letter to Timothy Paul says that the church is the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. At first glance this description may not seem all that compelling. But if you put yourself in the Ephesian Christians’ shoes for a moment I think you’ll see the Spirit’s hand in Paul’s description.
The city of Ephesus was the home of one of the Seven Wonders of the World called the Temple of Artemis. This Pagan temple was a massive piece of architecture built out of white stone with over 100 tall white pillars that were set on a giant foundation of steps that wrapped around the building like a wrap around porch. This temple was said to be the household or home of the dead Greek goddess Dianna. She was essentially a sex and fertility god but she was known to be dead if not a mere mythological figment of the imagination.
So if you were an Ephesian Christian you were saved out of that culture when you heard Paul proclaiming Christ in the public theater or Jewish synagogue down the street. And you are now following Jesus as you look out the window of your little house church at the half naked temple prostitutes littering the temple steps. What should you do? How will you make a mark on this culture? How will you proclaim Christ in this environment? Your heart is breaking for these prostitutes who’ve given themselves over to sexual slavery. You feel what you think is justified anger towards the horrors of the culture you live in. How will you help them? How will you behave?
You could use giant signs to tell them how sinful they are just in case they don’t already know what you believe. At least you wouldn’t have to invest in them relationally. You could build a bigger temple and invite them to come visit your place of worship. Maybe they’ll like what your place of worship offers in terms of services better than the one they’re at right now. You could work hard to get some of the public servants to change public policy and get public indecency outlawed or at the very least get prostitution outlawed. It’s a proven fact isn’t it, that changing laws changes hearts?
You might be tempted to think that no one should be forced to look out his or her house-church window and see that kind of sinful display in public anyway. You could also just stay silent and pray for them and let God do the work of changing the world. After all, who are you to judge them anyways? Maybe you should take a glass of water across the street. They look thirsty. But what if Mr. and Mrs. So and So from your house church saw you over there on the steps of “that place” with “them”? What should you do? How should a Christian behave in these kinds of conditions?
Paul’s answer seems to focus on none of the above behaviors. Instead, he goes back to the basics and describes the church to the Ephesian Christians. Is he evading the question? He did just say that he wants us to know how we should behave right? So how should we behave Paul? What does God want us to do in a culture like this?
In short, Paul’s answer is simply “You’re the family (or the household) of God, the assembly (or the church) of the living God. You hold up and support the truth like a pillar and a buttress.” The idea that we are to live like the family of God reminds me that we are to be salt and light in a dying world. The church should have such a presence in a community that it creates thirsty people. Not by watering down the truth but by living the truth in word and in deed. The idea that we are the assembly of the living God reminds me that when we gather for praise, preaching, prayer, fellowship and outreach, God is present and alive among us. He’s not dead like the dead god of the religion across town. He is in effect showing himself off to the world through us. This is what it means to be the pillar and buttress of the truth.
Every true biblical church holds up the truth and supports the truth for the whole world to see. How does the church do this though? What kind of behavior should we engage in to hold up and support the truth? This isn’t about bigger buildings, better public policies, protest marches or more church programs.
What Paul is saying here is all about being so captivated by a grand vision of Jesus that we occupy a space in our community that makes other sinners thirsty for what we have. The vision of the Ephesian church was so compelling that prostitutes and witches were charging the doors of the church building not to knock it down in angry opposition but to instead get a taste of what the Ephesian Christians had. There was something compelling about the Christians in Ephesus that attracted other sinners to leave their sin behind and follow Jesus.
When was the last time we witnessed prostitutes and witches breaking down the doors of church buildings to become Christians? Could it be possible that the church in the western world needs to own some responsibility for this lack of evangelical fruit? Could it be, once again, that the reason the church is making little headway in the American culture is because we worship a tiny little false vision of Jesus?
#3: Think About Your Vision Of Jesus (16)
What is your vision of Jesus right now and how does that vision affect your behavior, your church engagement and your public proclamation of Christ? My experience with the church over the course of 19 years of following Jesus has left me with the impression that we need a fresh, biblical vision of Jesus if the church is going to live for the glory of God and the good of the community around us.
Consider with me for a moment what pictures of Jesus have been painted by the western church in our recent history. I’ve seen the western church present the hippie Jesus, the friendly Jesus, the cool hipster Jesus, the social justice Jesus, the republican Jesus, the democratic Jesus, the libertarian Jesus, the anti-establishment Jesus, the superhero Jesus, the Fox News Jesus, the CNN Jesus, the History channel Jesus, the intellectual Jesus, the missional Jesus, the blond haired, blue eyed, gentle Jesus, the cultural rebel Jesus, my homeboy Jesus, the health wealth and prosperity Jesus and possibly millions more culturally driven caricatures of Jesus than we could possibly imagine. Which Jesus do you turn to when the world goes on tilt? When you feel lonely? When you feel foolish? When you feel afraid? When you feel hurt?
Consider with me for a moment how your vision of Jesus affects what you say and do. Intellectual Jesus will drive you to your books to prove everyone wrong by arguing with them. Political Jesus will drive you to the voting booth to get your public policies passed. Hippie Jesus will drive you to the bonfire with a beer to make friends. Hipster Jesus will drive you to the concert to be entertained.
The bottom line is that my vision of Jesus has a direct consequence on how I behave, how I engage with the church and what I proclaim in public. This is why I think Paul finishes these verses by saying “Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” What Paul is doing here is he’s casting a grand vision of Jesus because he knows that if the Christians in Ephesus would only keep their eyes on this grand vision of Jesus then the culture in Ephesus would be radically transformed by the truth of the gospel.
Jesus was manifested in the flesh and vindicated by the Spirit. He was revealed by his incarnation and his resurrection. Jesus was seen by angels and proclaimed among the nations. Heaven and earth witnessed him. Jesus was believed on in the world and taken up in glory. He was received on earth and in Heaven.
We confess Jesus revealed to us for the forgiveness of our sins. We confess Jesus resurrected on the third day for the hope of eternity. We confess Jesus witnessed by angelic beings in the Heavenly realms and by the true church throughout the ages. We confess Jesus as received and believed by sinners for salvation from the penalty, the power and the presence of sin for thousands of years. We confess Jesus, seated at the right hand of the Father who will return in glory to bring his bride home once and for all.
What is your grand vision of Jesus? And what does your behavior, your engagement with the church and your public proclamation say about what your vision of him actually is?
Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory. Why would the church ever settle for a smaller vision of her Savior? I pray that the Spirit of the living God would grant us the gift of catching a greater vision of Jesus today so that we may know how we ought to behave in a perverse and wicked world as the family and the assembly and the proclaimers of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, resurrected and returning in glory. – Amen!