Small group Bible study curriculum with lessons by:
Scott Aniol, Tom Ascol, Voddie Baucham, Josh Buice, Costi Hinn, Phil Johnson,
Steven Lawson, John MacArthur, Laramie Minga, Matthew Sikes, Paul Washer, James White
Main Point: The deformation of worship necessitates a bold reformation.
Main Passage: 1 Timothy 3:14–16
Memory: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16–17)
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. (1 Tim 3:14–15)
In 1 Timothy, Paul is writing to his son in the faith, Timothy, as he was pastoring the church in the city of Ephesus. Paul had served in a pastoral role in this very church for a period of three years, but prior to leaving, he called together the elders of the church:
Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:17–21)
Paul also warned the church’s elders that certain false teachers from within the body would seek to destroy the church from within to destroy this very church:
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. (Acts 20:28–31)
Shortly after he addressed these Ephesian elders, Paul was put into prison in Rome, and it is from prison that he wrote his epistle to the Ephesians as well as his letters to Timothy, continuing many of the themes he expressed to the elders in Acts 20. Paul desired to further equip Timothy to lead the church at Ephesus by instructing him concerning how the church should function according to the Word of God.
This is exactly what Paul states in 1 Timothy 3:14: “I am writing these things to you,” Paul said to Timothy, “so that if I delay in coming to you, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.” The term “behave” here comes from a Greek term that literally means to conduct oneself in a specific manner. In this context, it is a reference to the functionality of the church, which would have involved the way that the church worships. Paul is concerned that the church knows how to properly conduct itself in its public worship.
Apparently, something in how the Ephesian church was behaving was off-center. Perhaps Paul had heard that something wasn’t proper in some specific area of the functionality or the worship of the church. So Paul is writing to Timothy to help this pastor lead his church to worship in conformity with God’s Word.
This church was on the verge of attack when Paul left Ephesus. It was under attack during the time of Timothy’s pastoral ministry. And it was still under attack forty years later when then church received a message from the Lord Jesus Christ himself:
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.’” (Rev 2:1–4)
Unfortunately, in his message to the Ephesian church, Jesus accused them of abandoning their first love, the gospel of Christ. How could such a privileged church come to abandon their first love for the gospel? That is frightening. To labor with a church and see it walk away from the true gospel is a hard thing.
Paul heard of the church’s compromise, Timothy experienced the church’s compromise, and Christ judged it.
Churches today are under the same kinds of attacks and are in danger of falling under the same kinds of accusation. On the one hand, we might think of the beautiful cathedrals all over the world filled with worshipers lighting candles, praying to images, and venerating saints. Yet we should also recognize the many cultural trappings that even modern evangelicals welcome into our churches, turning the worship of God into entertainment. It is a sad reality that many evangelical churches have been transformed into entertainment communities who gather at entertainment centers to be entertained—watching the worship, watching the singing, watching the praying.
When we consider the reality of worship in many modern evangelical churches, we cannot help but recognize that many Christians do not seem to think much about what worship really is. Sometimes it’s empty worship. Sometimes the worship is misplaced. Sometimes the focus of the worship is not on God at all, but rather on man-centered pragmatics that have robbed God of his worship. The public worship of God has been consistently deformed through the years.
Indeed, like the church in Ephesus, worship today is in much need of reformation.
|Think About It
|1. In what ways do you see the culture around us negatively affecting the church?
2. In what ways do you see modern evangelical churches failing in their public worship?
How would you define worship?
What Is Worship?
Before we consider how Paul’s instructions to Timothy describe the necessary steps toward reforming worship, we need to first define worship biblically. The English word worship has been used in a variety of different ways, from when knights would “win worship” by their feats of arms, to the Old English prayer book where the groom tells his bride, “With my body, I thee worship.” The antiquarian English term (weorthscipe) carried the idea of worthiness or the “worth-ship” of the object or person in reference.
The English term may help somewhat in defining what we are doing when we worship, but even more importantly, Holy Scripture itself must define our understanding of worship. The New Testament employs a couple of primary terms when talking about the subject of worship. The first is the word proskuneō, which carries the idea of having complete dependence or submission to a higher authority. It means to fall down before, to bow in honor of, to worship. The second term is latreia, which is often translated as “service” or “to serve.” A third is leitourgeō, from which we get our English term “liturgy,” and which refers specifically to public worship.
|Terms for “Worship” in the New Testament
|proskuneō (73 times) – “to express in attitude or gesture one’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure, (fall down and) worship, do obeisance to, prostrate oneself before, do reverence to, welcome respectfully” (BDAG)
Matthew 2:11 – “And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him.”
Revelation 5:14 – “And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.”
latreia (22 times) – “the state of a hired laborer, service” (LSJ)
Romans 12:1 – “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Hebrews 9:1 – “Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness.”
leitourgeō (6 times) – “service of a formal or public type, service” (BDAG)
Luke 1:23 – “And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.”
Hebrews 8:6 – “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.”
The New Testament also refers to worship with other less technical terms as it addresses the order and conduct of church gatherings, even as simple as “when you come together” (1 Cor 14:26). Public worship is at least one aspect of what Paul addresses when he says to Timothy in verse 15, “how one ought to behave in the household of God.” The term “behave” could describe the personal relationships among members of the church, but it is also a reference to the conduct of the church when it gathers for worship. In other words, at least one of Paul’s central concerns as he writes to Timothy in this letter is that Timothy and his church know how they should conduct themselves as they come together for public worship. He wants the church to reform its worship.
Reforming Worship Through Pastoral Oversight (1 Tim 3:14)
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you …
The first key step toward reforming worship that comes from Paul’s instructions to Timothy is to recognize the necessity of pastoral oversight. In verse 14, Paul says, “I am writing these things to you, Timothy.” It is the elders’ responsibility to protect and safeguard the worship of the local church. It was Timothy’s job to oversee and bring about necessary correction to the church. You see, pastoral leadership is more than simply showing people where to go, it also involves reproving and correcting the church when it goes astray.
Reforming Worship by the Word
(1 Tim 3:15a)
… so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God.
Elders are tasked with leading and even at times reproving the people under their care, but they do so through the Scriptures. As Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16–17)
In other words, there is a time when the church needs to experience reproof, including with their worship, and that reproof happens through Scripture. We might acknowledge this need in some areas of Christian practice and living, but many times Christians think that when it comes to worship, they may worship in whatever way they deem best.
We need to ask ourselves an honest question: does God regulate the worship of His church? The clear answer is Yes, because as Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:15, “You need to know how one ought to behave in the household of God,” which implies the fact that God is the one who is regulating the boundaries of the church’s functionality, including its public worship.
Historically, three approaches to this question have emerged. One would be what we can call the inventive principle, which would have the idea that we may do in worship whatever we might imagine. This approach leads to churches having indoor fireworks or pastors approaching the pulpit on zip lines.
The second approach is known as the normative principle, which claims that unless God forbids something, then it is permitted for worship. Traditions like the Lutheran church and Anglican church adopted this principle in response to the Church of Rome; they eliminated from worship any elements that Rome had established that were contrary to Scripture, yet they retained other worship practices that they deemed helpful, even though those practices were not commanded in the New Testament.
The third approach is known as the regulative principle, which claims that we should only approach God and worship in the way that he has clearly prescribed such worship in the pages of Holy Scripture, which is God’s sufficient, inerrant, and authoritative message of God to His people. This was the principle adopted by the Reformed wing of the Reformation, including John Calvin, John Knox, and early English Baptists like Benjamin Keach.
The fact that Paul says “how one ought to behave in the household of God” indicates that God regulates how your church worships him, and the manual for that worship regulation is the Word of God. You don’t have to go to a conference, buy someone’s book, or pick up a manual to figure out how to best conduct worship. You have that in the Word of God; God’s Word is sufficient.
|Think About It
|1. What do you think is mostly impacting how churches worship today?
2. Why do you think Christians do not believe that the Bible is enough to regulate how we worship God?
3. If you committed to worshiping only as God has explicitly prescribed in the New Testament, what elements would you have to eliminate from your services?
Reforming our Perspective of the Church (1 Tim 3:15b)
… the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
A third essential step toward reforming worship is to reform our perspective of the church. Paul articulates a biblical understanding of the nature and mission of the church simply in the descriptive phrases he uses in this passage.
Household of God
In verse 15 Paul describes the church as the “household of God.” This emphasizes the fact that the church is not so much a building or structure; rather, the church is the family of God. This intimate statement points to our commitment to one another as a people who gather together, serve together, pray together, and worship together.
In Ephesians 2:19, Paul also tells Christians that they are “members of the household of God,” and Hebrews 10:21 describes Jesus as “a great high priest over the house of God,” specifically in the context of the church meeting together (v. 25). The phrase “house of God” was a technical term used at the time to describe the sanctuary of God’s presence (Matt 12:4, Mark 2:26, Luke 6:4). In the Old Testament, Jacob referred to the place where he met with God as “Bethel,” meaning “house of God,” and several places refer to the tabernacle as the “house of God” (Judges 18:30, 1 Chron 9:25–27) as well as the temple (2 Chronicles 3:3, Ezra 1:4, Neh 6:10, Ps 42:4, Eccl 5:1, Dan 1:2). Thus, as the temple was the house of God and the place of corporate worship in the Old Testament, so the assembled church is the place of worship today.
Church of the living God
Next, Paul uses the specific term “church.” This term, ekklēsia, literally means “called out assembly of believers.” The church is not simply loosely connected believers; rather, the church assembles for worship. God has not called Christians to ecclesiastical spectatorship, he has called believers to church membership, to assembling with other believers as active participants, not spectators of worship.
Paul literally calls the church here, “the Living God’s Church,” a descriptor Paul uses intentionally to contrast with the idolatrous culture of Ephesus. Located in modern day Turkey, Ephesus was the gateway to Asia, labeled by many today as “the Vanity Fair of the ancient world.” The city was well-known for its trade and athletics, but it was also known for its worship. Ephesus was the home of the temple of Artemis (also called Diana). This temple was filled with a shrine and a bank dedicated to this goddess who was a multi-breasted idol worshiped through prostitution. The city was so filled with idolatrous wickedness that the philosopher Heraclitus (“the weeping philosopher”) once said, “No one could live in Ephesus and not weep over its immorality.”
This is why Paul so firmly admonished Timothy to preach the Word—he served in a city of sin, and he would have no greater weapon to defend and protect the church than the sword of the Spirit. Paul instructed Timothy to resist the deforming attacks of the idolatrous culture and lead the church to dedicate themselves to the living God, not dead idols.
Pillar and Buttress of the truth
The first two phrases Paul uses to describe the church, “household of God” and “church of the living God,” are common in Scripture, but his third description is perhaps more striking to us today; Paul calls the church the “a pillar and buttress of the truth,” which describes the calling of the church. Pillars support the roof of a building, and the buttress is the foundation that supports the entire structure.
Though Paul’s image may sound unusual to us today, he was deliberately alluding to something that would have been very familiar to Timothy and the Ephesian Christians—the temple of Artemis. One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, this temple was a massive structure measuring 425 feet long and 225 feet wide, double the size of other temples in the ancient world. In order to support such a large building, the temple was surrounded by 127 columns that were 60 feet high and four feet in diameter arranged in double rows all around and decorated with relief figures from Greek mythology. When Paul references the “pillar” of truth, he is calling to mind these massive pillars upholding the imposing structure.
And what is that structure supported by the church? Truth. The church is called to uphold and support the truth. This means that we are committed to the Scriptures as God’s inerrant Word. Paul’s use of the definite article, “the,” stresses that it is not just a truth, but the truth that will reform the church.
|Think About It
|1. What does the phrase “household of God” indicate about the nature of the church and our worship?
2. What does the phrase “church of the living God” indicate about the nature of the church and our worship?
3. What does the phrase “pillar and buttress of the truth” indicate about the nature of the church and our worship?
Reforming our Confession of Faith
(1 Tim 3:16)
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.
In verse 16, Paul presents a concise summation of the truth of which the church is the support. In a sense, this is an early church confession by which we ought to reform our understanding of truth.
Yet this is not a confession to simply post on a bulletin board or website—this was a hymn sung by the early church. What this tells us is that while preaching is the central, primary means of grace in the worship of the church, how the church sings matters.
This sung confession contains six main verbs that are centered on a high Christology that must be carefully maintained and fervently proclaimed (and sung!) by the church. First, Christ “was manifested” (phaneroō)—“made visible”—“in the flesh.” Jesus Christ was truly God, but he was made visible in human flesh. This line embodies the entirety of Christ’s ministry in the flesh from the incarnation in Bethlehem to his death on Calvary.
Second, Christ was “vindicated” (dikaioō)—“justified”—“by the Spirit” in his resurrection from the dead. As Paul proclaimed in Romans 1:4,
[Christ] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Jesus was victoriously vindicated at his resurrection, which was confirmed, third, when he was “seen by angels” who declared, “He is not here, for he is risen.” This proved that Jesus is truly God and truly man and puts him into contrast with the other false, dead idols of the day.
The final three verbs describe the results of this three-fold gospel truth: Christ is “proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.” This is the Great Commission. This is what the church has been commanded to do. We gather for worship that must be reformed by gospel truth, and we scatter for missions to proclaim gospel truth, for the church’s goal and mission is to proclaim the excellencies of Christ, to make much of King Jesus, and to declare the good news of hope in Jesus.
This is the central confession of faith we must preach, sing, and live in our churches and in our daily lives.
The Deformation of worship Requires a bold reformation
This confession is exactly what is under attack in today’s culture, just as it was in Ephesus. The world has sought to redefine the truth, reject the truth, and replace the truth with falsehoods. This has been the pattern since the very beginning in the Garden of Eden when the Serpent lied about God and pointed Eve toward death.
This attack on God’s truth is at its root an attack against true worship. As Paul stated in Romans 1:25,
They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
This Romans 1:25 curse has prevailed from ancient days to modern times. The world hates the truth, Satan is committed to twisting the truth, and the culture will seek to sway the church away from the truth. Because truth is under such strong attack, leading to church behavior drifting from the regulation of God’s Word, it is the duty of the pastors and the calling of the church to engage in the ongoing work of bold reformation—to literally reform what has been deformed.
This is exactly what led to the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation—it was preceded by a long period of deformation. Martin Luther began by seeking a religious conversation when he nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door. But the deformation that had taken place within the church required much more than a mere conversation. Following the piercing of Luther’s heart with the sharp edge of Romans 1:17, the conversation moved to a confrontation, which erupted into a full Reformation that has not ceased to this day.
Reformation within the church and its worship will happen only as the churches proclaim and preserve the truth of God. John Calvin observed,
Nothing is more sacred and holy than the truth that embraces both God’s glory and man’s salvation. If you could collect together all the praises that have been heaped on pagan philosophers, they pale into insignificance when compared with this heavenly wisdom. This alone should be called light and truth and this alone gives teaching about how to live and how to find the way to God and his kingdom. This truth is only preserved in the world through the ministry of the church. So a very heavy responsibility rests on pastors who have been entrusted with the safekeeping of this priceless treasure. (Crossway Classic Commentaries , 61)
Calvin is exactly right. The Reformation was a return to the Word of God; it was about bringing the Bible to the people and the people to the Bible. We must not diminish the responsibility of the church to safeguard the right worship of God through the truth of God’s Word.
For this reason, biblical, God-honoring preaching is essential for the reformation of true worship. The Protestant Reformers knew this. Between 1510 and 1546, Luther preached approximately 4,000 sermons. He viewed the Bible as God’s Word, and he preached it. Calvin took preaching a step further by practicing faithful expositional preaching through books of the Bible. William Tyndale, John Rogers, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, Thomas Cranmer, and later, faithful pastors such as Charles Spurgeon each steadfastly preached the truth of Scripture, stood against attacks from the world around them, and in some cases suffered imprisonment and even death for their commitment to the Word of God.
And the church in our day has seen just as much deformation as these men saw, and it is likewise just as much in need of reformation. Over the past centuries since the start of the Protestant Reformation, truth gave way to rationalism, rationalism gave way to empiricism, empiricism gave way to existentialism, existentialism gave way to postmodernism, and postmodernism has led to the idea that there is not truth, no certainty, and no meaning. In our world saturated by postmodernism, truth is rejected and there is an ongoing attack on the Word of God.
But no matter what the world says about God’s truth, as Luther penned so well in his glorious hymn,
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.
As the culture seeks to deform the worship of the church, we must be committed to reforming the church’s worship to honor God.
|Think About It
|1. In what ways do you notice truth under attack in our day?
2. How has attack on truth contributed to the deformation of the worship of evangelical churches today?
3. In what ways can a return to the truth of God’s Word serve to reform the church’s worship?
Prayer: Our Father in heaven, as we see your truth and your worship deformed in the world around us and even in our own churches, help us to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in your work, knowing that our labor is not in vain in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
For Further Study:
Calvin, John. 1, 2 Timothy and Titus. Crossway Classic Commentaries. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998.
Köstenberger, Andreas J. Commentary on 1–2 Timothy and Titus. BTCP. Nashville: B & H, 2017.
Old, Hughes Oliphant. The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church: The Age of the Reformation. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2002.
Wells, David F. No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994.