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The apostle next points out to Timothy the qualities necessary for a bishop
or a deacon, as well as for the wife of the latter. [see note #4] He supposes here
that there were some who desired to
undertake this work. It was a good work. To care for souls and have a
vigilant eye upon the walk of believers; to watch over them in order that
the members of Christ should answer to His love and lose no christian
privilege; to do this by maintaining that happy order and that precious
unity which were realised at that time, and to protect the flock of the
Lord against the ravaging wolves that were seeking to invade it: this
indeed was valuable work, and he on whose heart the Lord had thus laid the
souls of His people might well desire to undertake it. The apostle felt
this: it was a true and faithful saying; but certain qualities were needed
to make any one fit for such a charge. Gifts are not included among them,
unless the being "apt to teach" might be so considered; but even this is
presented as a quality-the man must have 'aptness' [see note #5] for it-not as a
gift. Power to use such truth with others was very useful in
fulfilling his charge, without saying at all that he taught publicly in the
assembly. The essential thing was that which gave moral weight.
Timothy was not left at Ephesus to appoint elders; but these were the
qualities necessary to a bishop, and Paul exhorts him to be watchful on
It is not needful to enter into the details of these qualities; they are
plain enough, as well as those required for a deacon.
We see what was the subject of " the condemnation of the devil :" he
exalted himself at the thought of his own importance. (Compare Ezek. 28)
"The snare of the devil" is another thing. If a man is not of good report,
he will yield somewhere to the enemy, because he will not dare to withstand
It will be noticed that the apostle speaks of the wives of deacons, not
those of bishops (except to say that these must be the husbands of one wife only).
Bishops had a charge, in which they were occupied with souls and exercised
authority in the church, in which women were not to act. Deacons were
necessarily occupied with family details and circumstances. In these women
might well be concerned and often very useful. In the spiritual cares of
elders they had nothing to do. It was requisite therefore that the wives of
deacons should possess qualities which would cause their husbands to be
respected, and at the same time guard themselves from becoming busybodies
Faithfulness in the charge of a deacon-the exercise of which in fact is a
matter of the greatest delicacy, and requires much christian love and
patience-was a means of acquiring strength in the work of God. Stephen and
Philip are examples of this: their spiritual powers soon carried them
beyond their services as deacons.
What was the assembly in those happy days ? That which surely it always is
in the sight of God, but then in fact, when love displayed itself in an
order maintained by the energy of the Holy Ghost, and when the oneness of
the entire body developed itself in the action of all its members, it was
the house of God. Thank God, it is so always; yet what a difference since
then in its practical condition!
But let us here examine the character which the apostle gives to the
assembly on earth. He wrote hoping soon to come, but in order that, in case
he might tarry long, Timothy should know how to conduct himself. He then
tells us what the assembly is.
In the first place it is the 'house of God'. God dwells in it upon the
earth. (Compare Eph. 2:22) We understand that it is here viewed as on the
earth, because the apostle is speaking of how to behave in it. But this
truth is important. It gives a character to the assembly of the highest
importance for us with regard to our responsibility. It is not a vague
thing, composed of the dead, of the living-a thing which we know not where
to find, because one part of it is alive on the earth and another part
consists of souls in heaven. It isthe house of God here below, in which we
have to behave (whatever other position we may hold) in a manner that
becomes the house of God. God dwells in the assembly upon earth. We cannot
too earnestly remember this fact. Whatever would bring confusion into the
presentation of the truth, through the idea that some are dead and that the
whole assembly is not here, comes from the enemy and is in opposition to
the word. The assembly viewed as subsisting on earth, is the house of God.
In the second place it is the assembly of the living God. God, in whom is
the power of life, in contrast with men and with dead idols, has an
assembly not of the world, having set it apart for Himself. It is not a
nation like Israel. That people were the assembly of God in the wilderness.
The assembly is now the assembly of the living God.
In the third place it is the pillar and support of the truth. Christ on
earth was the Truth. (He is so always, but He was so on the earth.) He is
now hidden in God. The assembly is not the truth: the word of God is the
truth. His word is truth. Truth exists before the assembly; it is faith in
the truth which gathers the assembly together. But the assembly is that
which maintains the truth on earth.[see note #6] When the assembly is gone, men
will be given up to a strong delusion.
It may be that there is only a little remnant of those that call themselves
Christians who maintain the word of truth; but it is not the less true that
the assembly-as long as it remains here below-is the only witness for the
truth upon the earth. It is God's witness to present the truth before men.
At the end that which God owns as such will be the feeble flock at
Philadelphia; and then that which is in the responsible position of being
the assembly (Laodicea) will be spued out of the mouth of Christ, who
Himself takes the character of Amen, the faithful and true Witness. But the
assembly as planted by God on the earth is the pillar and support of the
truth. Authority is not the question here, but the maintenance and
presentation of the truth. That which does not maintain and present the
truth is not the assembly as God understands it.
The presence, then, of the living God, and the profession of the truth, are
the characteristics of the house of God. Wherever this assembly of the
living God is, wherever the truth is, there is His house.
The mystery of piety, which lies at the very centre of what the assembly
maintains before the world, is great, and relates essentially to the Person
of Christ. The apostle naturally does not here develop all the different
parts of the truth, but that which is the living centre of the whole-that
which is essential to the relations between God and men.
God had been manifested in the flesh; marvelous truth in fact! There, where
all is confusion and sin, in the nature of him in whom all this sin and all
this confusion are introduced, the Centre of all blessing, He who is Light
itself, He who as the light puts every thing morally in its place, and who
by the fact of His presence shews that love is above everything, God who is
love, has been manifest in the flesh. Where sin was, there was love above
the sin. Man, who is the slave of evil, sees here in his own nature the
source and the power of all good. In the centre of evil and of weakness, in
human nature, God Himself has been manifested. Was there then evil in Him
who was such ? Did He undergo the lot of the common bondage? By no means.
Truly in the same circumstances, in the same nature, He proved superior to
all evil, perfect in all respects. The absence of all sin was made evident
by the power of the Holy Ghost during His whole life (if men had been able
to discern it; and, in fact, it was manifest to the conscience of every
man, for He was pure light shining upon all), and with power by the
resurrection. (Compare Rom. 1:4)
Thus God was made visible to the angels, was preached to the Gentiles (not
merely the God of the Jews), became the object of faith in the world (it
was not the manifestation of visible power, claiming His rights and His
glory), and at last took a place on high in the glory whence He had
descended. It is thus that God is known in the assembly according to the
truth. There is no truth outside the maintenance of this revelation of the
Person of Christ.
It is worthy of notice that in this epistle, and even in the second, the
apostle speaks nowhere of the relationship of Christians with God as His
children, of the privileges of children, or of that which is known within
in the intimacy of the family. He speaks of truths that are essential as
testimony before the world; that which the assembly is externally, that
which it is as the witness of God towards men. It is the house of God, the
assembly of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth: that which
it is as responsible in the world, and in order that all should learn what
God is. The mystery of piety, of which the assembly is the vessel for
testimony, answers to this. It is the grand essential truth on which all
relation between God and men is founded, by means of which God has to do
with men. Therefore also he says previously, '"There is but one God, and
one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus."
We have not here the privileges of children, nor the heavenly bride of
Christ, but the foundation of God's relations with all men. Thus the Father
is not named, nor even the Spirit, except here in connection with the
Lord's Person, as the justification of His testimony. It is God the
Mediator, and man, and the assembly as the vessel and depositary of this
truth of the testimony of God; or else evil spirits turning men away from
the faith. This deserves all attention.
Not only, as we have seen elsewhere, the testimony of the grace of the
gospel maintains the great eternal principles of the nature and glory of
God, and His relations according to that glory with men; but even in the
pains the apostle takes that the assembly may be cared for and guarded,
during his absence, from the assaults of the enemy and from disorder and
improprieties within; it is not of its internal privileges that he speaks.
God is set before us, and the Lord Jesus Christ. God, in the majesty of His
immutable truth in His relations with men as such, and in the revelation of
Himself in the flesh-God was in Christ, reconciling the world; dwelling in
the assembly, in order that it should present and maintain the truth before
the world-the truth (as we have seen) with regard to Christ, of the
revelation of God in Him. God desires to be in relation with men: it is
thus that He accomplishes it. The assembly maintains the rights of the
Creator and Saviour-God on the earth. The assembly itself must be
maintained in moral order that it may confront the enemy who is in the
world and be able to sustain this testimony.