At about the midway point of Paul’s first letter to Timothy the apostle confirms why he has written those first three chapters to the young preacher. He writes, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). There are two questions that this particular statement brings to the forefront in Paul’s explanation: “what do those two terms mean?” And “to what do the pillar and ground refer?”
To define the two central terms in this statement one must go back to the original language. The term “pillar” comes from the Greek word stulos and it means “a column, pillar, a prop or support.” With the definition of such a word it does not take the mind long to envision the columns that were so prevalent in Greco-Roman architecture in and around the first century. The word “ground” comes from the Greek word hedraiōma and means “a stay, prop, or support.” This word, though it sounds as though it means the same thing as the first term, has a different place of emphasis. The columns were both for visible beauty, and also for outer structure support. The word translated “ground” would have more to do with the internal support structure of a building, that which was absolutely necessary for the continued structural stability of it. Thus, upon definition, there are two terms of support, one visible outwardly, one structurally necessary inwardly.
But to what do these words refer, and why? Earlier in verse 15 Paul states that the things written to Timothy were so that he might know how one is to behave in the house of God. The house is then equated to the church and the church is the pillar and ground of the truth. The word “church” comes from the Greek word ekklesia and means “assembly, called out, gathering.” The general principle of the church throughout Scripture is that the church of Christ is the called out body of believers who assemble to worship and serve God as he has authorized. As one reads 1 Timothy though, the emphasis of much of the book is on the internal workings of the congregation.
The contextual evidence would indicate that the statement of verse 15 is a statement concerning the central creation of God for the purpose of assisting and strengthening the saints: the congregational assembly of the saints itself. Consider the application: the assembly is the pillar. It is the beautiful outer framework that everyone can see and experience for themselves simply by stepping into the assembly of the saints. How many times have people come into the worship services of the church and stated that there was something different from what is experienced elsewhere? The assembly is the outward, visible support structure for the truth. It is that place from which the truth shines forth and attracts those whose sole desire is to serve and worship God acceptably.
The assembly is also the ground of the truth; the internal support structure that keeps the truth’s proclamation present at every gathering. The assembly is the strength for the internal structure of the church. It requires, not just the external perception of the teaching and practice of the truth, but the internal strength and integrity of that truth to function as it should and remain a sturdy structure. Many congregations crumble because they have maintained the pillars, but the internal supports are crumbling, and all that is left is a shell. The congregational assembly is truly “the pillar and ground of the truth.” But it can only be so if we keep the truth, maintain it in our assemblies, and present it with boldness and confidence.