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When the secular teachers of Paul's day made this kind of ethical exhortation, in similar terms they appealed to reason and the responsibility of each citizen to promote the stability of society. Paul's appeal is based on God and the higher claims that he and life in communion with him make upon the believer—that is, life in God's household. The specifics of Christian conduct are treated elsewhere, but the nature of the church that calls them forth is illustrated here. The very nature of the church legitimates and demands godly conduct. Three phrases describe this unique community of faith.
1. The church is God's household. The first and most dominant phrase depicts God's people as a household whose Master is God (compare 2 Tim 2:21; see on 2:1). The Greco-Roman household consisted of different groups, duties and responsibilities, and in the larger ones stewards were given authority to see that each did her or his share so that the master's purposes might be achieved. The concept of household with its associated notions of interdependence, acceptable conduct and responsibility was so strong that Paul could borrow it to illustrate the nature of the church. It too, both then and now, is made of different groups (men and women from every level of society, parents and children, employers and employees) who must depend upon and, in love, serve one another, and it is the task of the stewards (bishops/elders, deacons) to ensure that the household accomplishes the Master's goals.
Perhaps today our idea of household is not so central to our view of life. Yet there remains another side to this concept that we can appreciate. Membership in God's household means refuge. We enjoy our Master's protection and find our identity in our relationship with him and with other believers, as we seek to carry out our responsibilities within his household. In fact, if by our commitment to one another we can even approximate the ideal of unity and cooperation traditionally connected with the household, we will present to the unbelieving world an attractive alternative lifestyle.
2. The church consists of people called out from the pagan world. With the second phrase, church of the living God, Paul reminds the readers how God has called them out from a pagan world. This "assembly" of Christian people is distinct from the other assemblies of the world because the living God dwells within it (2 Cor 6:16). The privilege of being called out to live in God's presence carries with it, however, the responsibility to live a life worthy of the One who has called. God's calling of the Hebrews out of Egypt into association with himself required them to be holy (Lev 11:45); and membership in the church of the living God makes the same demand (compare 1 Pet 1:15-16).
3. The church exists to protect and promote the truth. Paul employs building imagery in the last descriptive phrase to characterize the church in terms of one of its major functions: the pillar and foundation of the truth. As the "supporting foundation" (one idea is expressed rather than two) of the truth, the believing church is the guardian and communicator of the gospel in the world. This aspect of the church also demands from believers appropriate conduct: godly leadership, that the message might not be discredited, and corporate prayer for the missionary enterprise, that the message might be spread.
As Paul's description of the church reveals, the distinctive identity and responsibility of God's people require an equally distinctive manner of conduct. The success of the church's evangelistic mission rests not solely upon the preservation of the gospel but also upon the lifestyle of mutual commitment that "adorns" this message (see Tit 2:10; compare 1 Tim 3:7).