Metaphors of the Church
John Griffiths, Port Talbot, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The Assembly as the House of God
– Its Dignity, 1 Tim. 3. 15.
The first use of the expression ‘house of God’ is in Genesis chapter 28 verse 17 where Jacob, having slept and dreamt, awoke to the realization, ‘This is none other but the house of God’. It was marked by the presence of God.
The house of God in the New Testament is the residence of God among His people. We acknowledge His presence in the midst whenever we gather in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word translated ’house’ is used in verses 4, 5 and 12 in the sense of ‘household’. Elders and deacons are responsible for the running of their domestic households. They regulate what goes on in their homes. This experience fits them for taking care of the assembly. The ‘house of God’ figure teaches us that this is the place where God resides and that our behaviour is subject to the regulation of God through the elders.
It is also expressive of relationships; the elders and deacons are dealing in the home with family, that is, wives and children. Similarly, the house of God includes those who are related to us spiritually and all related to the Lord. In Matthew chapter 12 verses 48 to 50, the Lord asks, ‘Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? . . . Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven the same is my brother, and sister, and mother’.
The house of God is where God abides, elders administer, and all are bound together in affectionate relationship.
The Assembly as the Pillar
– Its Testimony, 1 Tim. 3. 15.
In the quotation ‘the church . . . the pillar and ground of the truth’, two architectural figures are brought together to identify the role of the assembly relative to ‘the truth’, that is, the revealed mind and will of God in His word.
As a pillar, the assembly bears the weight of the edifice of truth. The Greek word stulas indicates that which supports weight: load-bearing.
A pillar in scripture was also a landmark. People should know where to go in order to discover ‘the truth’, that is, to the assembly which is seeking to be obedient to the New Testament pattern.
A pillar was also a testimony to what had taken place at a given location, for instance, Jacob raised a pillar at Bethel. The assembly bears testimony to the faithfulness of God in preserving ‘the truth’ up until this present moment of time.
The ground, hadraioma, is the buttress that supports the pillar. The assembly should be both the beacon of the truth and the bulwark of the truth.
Is your local church spreading the truth and supporting the truth?
The Assembly as the Lampstand
– Its Autonomy, Rev. 1. 12, 20; 2. 1, 5.
In the tabernacle there was one seven-branched lampstand; in the temple there were ten lampstands (five on each side), but every assembly is represented by a single, separate lampstand. Each assembly stands on its own base and is autonomous. No assembly has jurisdiction over another. Any similarity is based on the use of a common text book, the Bible. The scriptures do not support any ideas of a district oversight, central government or ecumenicalism. Ideally, the assembly should be self-sufficient as to its position, practice and preaching. However, this does not rule out the inter-fellowship of assemblies.
The stars/lampstands indicate a night scene, the period of Christ’s physical absence when moral and spiritual darkness prevail in our world. The use of seven assemblies illustrates completeness and fullness of testimony and the practical teaching contained in them is suited to the needs of assemblies today.
The material of which they are made, gold, speaks of the glorious nature of the assembly ‘purchased with his own blood’, and its exceptional value to God. If only we valued the assembly aright!
The lampstand gave light by burning oil. The power of testimony in the assembly is totally dependent on the Holy Spirit (oil being a type of the Holy Spirit). The light from the lampstands is illuminating the person of the Lord Himself. Our testimony in this dark world of sin is to make Christ visible.
Christ in the midst of the lampstands is the One whose appraisal enables Him to say, ’I know’. Nothing escapes His gaze – service, suffering or motives.
Each lampstand is intended to reveal the glory and autonomy of the assembly testimony – how is your assembly doing?
The Assembly as the Field
– Its Husbandry, 1 Cor. 3. 9.
Paul and Apollos are planting and watering whilst looking to God to give the increase, that is, the fruit. Where is the scene of their labours? In a cultivated field! This equates with the local assembly at Corinth. The word for ‘husbandry’ indicates a cultivated or tilled field and can be used equally well of a vineyard or garden. Old Testament passages will help to fill out the brief reference here: for example, the field, Ruth 2. 2; the garden, S. of S. 4. 12; the vineyard, Prov. 24. 30.
The lesson being taught is that the sphere of my labour for the Lord should be in the context of the assembly. Labour implies hard graft and causes a sweat to be raised. Am I committed in this way?
The Assembly as the Epistle
– Its Authenticity, 2 Cor. 3. 2, 3.
The opening paragraph of chapter 3 presents us with contrasting teachers, the true and the troublesome. Paul counters the false accusers by making it clear that the troublesome teachers have only a letter of commendation from Jerusalem to support their claims. He and his fellow-workers, on the other hand, can point to the Corinthian assembly and say, ‘Ye are our epistle’ or letter of commendation!
Enshrined in his heart, they are the public proof positive of the genuineness of his claims to apostleship and the service of God. They are Paul’s epistle, as he was the instrument used in planting the Corinthian assembly. They are also ‘the epistle of Christ’ in that they are the living testimony to the work of Christ in their hearts and lives. The language Paul uses would enable the Judaizing party to see the superiority of the grace of God over the law, of the new covenant over the old. The commendation is:
Not on parchment but on their hearts;
Not for a clique in the church but for all to see;
Not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God;
Not written in cold, unfeeling stone but in hearts which are warm and alive;
Not part of the old covenant but of the new one.
The assembly is the living, visible evidence, for all to see of the work of Christ in the heart and the work of God’s servants who planted it. What kind of commendation does your assembly offer to the Saviour who purchased it, and the servants who planted it?
- The field is not the world in this passage as it is in the parable of Matthew chapter 13.