Numbers and popularity equal a successful ministry, or so says the thinking which dominates most of the church today. The same criterion used to measure success in business is used to measure the success of a church. The same marketing tools are used. The over-arching goal is to attract people, not make disciples. But didn’t Jesus teach on the impossibility of loving God and worldliness at the same time? Didn’t Jesus say, “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13)?
There is no getting around this principle. It is immutable. There are no exceptions to this rule. The nature of this principle is such that it is self-validated by the lifestyles people choose, the priorities they set, and the goals they pursue. People may try to deny this principle by their profession, but they cannot deny it in their practice.
But, just like the religious community of Jesus’ lifetime, the vast majority of the church has been trying its level best to prove Jesus wrong. In order to give it an air of respectability, this attempt to serve two masters has even been given a name, that of “evangelical syncretism”, an oxymoron if ever there was one. Just like the Pharisees, the church today scoffs, and in so doing only prove Jesus right.
Why did the Pharisees scoff? Because they were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14), and as such, not lovers of God. This doesn’t mean they became atheists; rather, they just imagined God to be other than He is. They imagined a god who actually encouraged the love of money and prosperity, who didn’t mind fleshly indulgence and the perversion of His word and worship, who thought self-promotion and self-glorification was a good thing, and who lived to satisfy their worldly and self-serving desires.
In its lust for worldly success and cultural and academic acceptance, the church has simply demonstrated the timeless truth of Jesus’ teaching. You still cannot serve two masters, and it is very clear which master most of the church has chosen to love and to serve and which it has chosen to hate and despise. “How can you say, ‘I am not defiled, I have not gone after the Baals’? Look at your way in the valley! Know what you have done!” (Jeremiah 2:23). Those who hate God only pretend obedience to Him (Psalm 81:15).
The message, the practice, the goals, the lifestyle, and the priorities of the majority of the professing church and the majority of professing Christians is completely inconsistent with a true love for God as He is. This is as undeniable as the principle itself. Their practice denies their profession (Titus 1:16). Demas deserted the apostle Paul because he loved this present world (2 Tm 4:9), and this same love has captured the heart of the majority of the professing church.
The church has only one thing to offer which the world cannot duplicate, only one thing to distinguish it from the world — the truth. Everything else offered by the church, all its programs, all the fun activities, all its community service, all its entertainment-driven ambiance, all its camaraderie — absolutely everything else done by the church can be and is counterfeited by the world, but it cannot counterfeit truth.
The unity for which Jesus prayed in His High Priestly prayer is a unity in the truth (John 17). The love by which Jesus said the world would know His true followers is a love grounded in truth. Biblical love is a byproduct of truth (1 Timothy 1:5). When there is not a shared love of the truth, simply interject truth into any relationship and see what happens to the unity and love.
The world cannot counterfeit the preaching and teaching of Scripture. It can and does pervert the Scripture, misuse Scripture, misinterpret Scripture, and distort the Scripture, but it has always done this (2 Peter 3:16). Only in the true church will someone find the biblical exposition of Scripture, the true knowledge of God, what He requires, how to be reconciled to Him, man’s core problem, and how to overcome it. Only the true church has the answers to all the world’s problems.
Paul’s first letter to Timothy was written with a specific purpose in mind, “I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Notice Paul’s threefold description of the church. First, it is composed of the household of God, that is true Christians. Secondly, it is the church of the living God, that is, God as He really is, not a figment of someone’s imagination. And thirdly, it is the pillar and support of the truth. Let’s look at these one at a time. If any one of these is absent, so is the true church.
1. The church is made up exclusively of those who have been transformed by the Holy Spirit and who truly love Jesus Christ.
Their faith is an active faith, not just mental assent to a set of facts. They have had a new birth, they have truly repented of their sin, they are consistently crucifying their fleshly and worldly desires, their mind is constantly being transformed by God’s word, they have abandoned all hope in their own righteousness, and their heart’s desire is to live in obedience to God’s word and for His glory out of no other motivation but love for God.
Non-Christians attend church and become members of a particular church, but they are not part of the household of God, and therefore not part of the true church. One does not become part of the household of God by joining a church, by being baptized, by going through some form of religious education or performing some religious ceremony or keeping a bunch of man-made rules.
No one becomes a member of God’s household by avoiding certain vices and behaviors. Morality will not get you into God’s household. A person is not born into the household of God because they have Christian parents. No one can be good enough to become part of the household of God. Paul is not including all of mankind in the household of God. He specifically defines the household of God as “the church.” People can do a lot of things to look like a church; they can play at church, but only the household of God can be the church.
2. Paul is not talking about just any church; rather, He specifically calls it “the church of the living God.”
In other words, the true church is not only made up of true Christians, but they worship the true God, the living God — God as He is. Not an imaginary god, not the product of someone’s own fertile imagination, but God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture and in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman, the same woman who worshiped what she did not know, that those who worship God, must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). That word “must” is the little Greek word dei and indicates a divine necessity. This is the way which God has determined He must be worshiped, and any deviation from His prescribed form is not only unacceptable but is in direct disobedience to His command. In other words, it is not worship, but rebellion. It is not good; it is evil, sinful, and idolatrous.
It is presenting ourselves to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), it is devoting every aspect of our lives to His word and His will with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28) because our God is still a consuming fire who does not tolerate the rejection of His divine command (Hebrews 12:29; Deuteronomy 4:24).
Sadly, the vast majority of worship practiced within the church today is anything but reverent. Rather it is flippant, frivolous, trivial, and designed to appeal to the senses and emotions. Everything from the music to the message is geared to elicit an emotional response — a “worship experience.” But God is Spirit and must be worshiped in spirit and truth.
True worship flows from the mind, the spirit of man, not the carnal flesh. Worship that focuses on outward expressions and emotional highs is usually lacking in spiritual devotion. Just as it is human nature to gravitate to what appeals to the flesh and satisfies the senses (Genesis 3:6), so people naturally gravitate to a carnal worship.
People want to worship in a way that gratifies their senses. This is why people select a church based on carnal criteria, and as a result, their worship is carnal and false, not spirit and truth. Just as Eve’s mind was corrupted from a pure devotion to God (2 Corinthians 11:3), so our minds are easily corrupted by what appeals to our senses.
God is as much displeased now with a carnal worship as He was with Israel’s meaningless sacrifices ( Isaiah 1:11-14). They thought God was as pleased with their outward observance as they were, even though they lacked the internal worship of God, a reverential fear of Him, trust in His word and nature, and a lovingly obedient disposition ( 1 Samuel 15:22, 23; Hosea 6:6). They never gave themselves, they never sought to know Him, and imagined God to be as superficial as they were (Psalm 50:21).
It is impossible to worship and honor God as we ought unless we know Him as He is. Only God can acquaint us with His own nature. Without a knowledge of God and His true nature, people will worship a god of their own imagination — a god that is remarkably like themselves. Not only are we dependent on revelation to know God, but also to know how to worship Him. We must be told from heaven what worship is fit for the God of heaven. To worship God and serve Him only with our body and not our spirit is hypocrisy. To serve God with our spirit but not our body is sacrilege. To give Him neither is atheism.
3. Paul calls the church “the pillar and support of the truth.”
Notice, the truth does not support the church, but the church supports the truth. To not support the truth is the same as undermining the truth. It is the same as being hostile to the truth. If a church minimizes the teaching and preaching of truth, if it seeks to attract people by any means other than the truth, if it compromises or trivializes truth, if the preacher cannot support his message with Scripture or must mangle Scripture to support his message, if people rely on extra-biblical revelation to support their claims or ignore or reinterpret what contradicts their claims, if they replace the word of God with the wisdom of man, then it no longer qualifies as a church because it fails to support the truth.
If it is not supporting truth, it is supporting something other than the truth, and anything other than the truth is a lie. And since Satan is the father of lies, any church that fails to support the truth is really doing the work of Satan, not God. The god they support and teach is the god of their own imagination, an idol of their mind, not the true God. And behind every idol is a demon (1 Cor 10:20).
We still cannot serve two masters, no matter how hard we try. It is an immutable principle of God, and all who have tried to live otherwise come to realize the truth of it. A few realize it now and bow to serve and love the true Master. Most scoff and remain self-deceived until death rips their deception from them. God tolerates no rivals. What master do you serve?