But if I tarry long - Paul appears to have been uncertain how long circumstances would require him to be absent. He expected to return, but it was possible that his hope of returning soon would be disappointed.
That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself - That is, that he might have just views about settling the affairs of the church.
In the house of God - This does not mean in a place of public worship, nor does it refer to propriety of deportment there. It refers rather to the church as a body of believers, and to converse with them. The church is called the "house of God," because it is that in which he dwells. Formerly, his unique residence was in the temple at Jerusalem; now that the temple is destroyed, it is the church of Christ, among his people.
Which is the church of the living God - This seems to have been added to impress the mind of Timothy with the solemn nature of the duty which he was to perform. What he did pertained to the honor and welfare of the church of the living God, and hence he should feet the importance of a correct deportment, and of a right administration of its affairs.
The pillar and ground of the truth - There has been no little diversity of opinion among critics whether this phrase is to be taken in connection with the preceding, meaning that "the church" is the pillar and ground of the truth; or whether it is to be taken in connection with what follows, meaning that the principal support of the truth was the doctrine there referred to - that God was manifest in the flesh. Bloomfield remarks on this: "It is surprising that any who have any knowledge or experience in Greek literature could tolerate so harsh a construction as that which arises from the latter method." The more natural interpretation certainly is, to refer it to the former; and this is supported by the consideration that it would then fall in with the object of the apostle. His design here seems to be, to impress Timothy with a deep sense of the importance of correct conduct in relation to the church; of the responsibility of those who presided over it; and of the necessity of care and caution in the selection of proper officers.
To do this, he reminded him that the truth of God - that revealed truth which he had given to save the world - was entrusted to the church; that it was designed to preserve it pure, to defend it, and to transmit it to future times; and that, therefore, every one to whom the administration of the affairs of the church was entrusted, should engage in this duty with a deep conviction of his responsibility. On the construction of the passage, Bloomfield Rosenmuller, and Clarke, may be consulted. The word "pillar" means a column, such as that by which a building is supported, and then any firm prop or support; Galatians 2:9; Revelation 3:12. If it refers to the church here, it means that that is the support of the truth, as a pillar is of a building. It sustains it amidst the war of elements, the natural tendency to fall, and the assaults which may be made on it, and preserves it when it would otherwise tumble into ruin.
Thus it is with the church. It is entrusted with the business of maintaining the truth, of defending it from the assaults of error, and of transmitting it to future times. The truth is, in fact, upheld in the world by the church. The people of the world feel no interest in defending it, and it is to the church of Christ that it is owing that it is preserved and transmitted from age to age. The word rendered "ground" - ̔́ hedraiōma - means, properly, a basis, or foundation. The figure here is evidently taken from architecture, as the use of the word pillar is. The proper meaning of the one expression would be, that truth is supported by the church. as an edifice is by a pillar; of the other, that the truth rests "on" the church, as a house does on its foundation. It is that which makes it fixed, stable, permanent; that on which it securely stands amidst storms and tempests; that which renders it firm when systems of error are swept away as a house that is built on the sand; compare notes on Matthew 7:24-27.
The meaning then is, that the stability of the truth on earth is dependent on the church. It is owing to the fact that the church is itself founded on a rock, that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, that no storms of persecution can overthrow it, that the truth is preserved from age to age. Other systems of religion are swept away; other opinions change; other forms of doctrine vanish; but the knowledge of the great system of redemption is preserved on earth unshaken, because the church is preserved, and because its foundations cannot be moved. This does not refer, I suppose, to creeds and confessions, or to the decisions of synods and councils; but to the living spirit of truth and piety "in" the church itself. As certainly as the church continues to live, so certain it will be that the truth of God will be perpetuated among people.
Other Barnes' Notes entries containing 1 Timothy 3:15:
2 Samuel 7:13
2 Corinthians 1:12
1 Timothy 1:3
1 Timothy 3:16
1 Timothy 4:13
1 Peter 4:17
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