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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.*
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**
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 this point. 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 him boldly.
It will be noticed that the apostle speaks of the wives of
deacons, and 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 and tale-bearers.
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 is the 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.* 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; marvellous 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 everything morally in its place, and who by the fact of His presence shows 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 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.
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