When James and Cephas [Peter] and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me. -Galatians 2:9
Growing up in church my understanding of being a “pillar” within the congregation came to be those stodgy deacons who threw their weight around and exhumed an air of superiority over us regular folk. Such a perception is far from the biblical concept and from what Paul perceived in James, Peter, and John.
Interestingly, this is the first time in the New Testament that men are recognized for their reputation within the community of believers. Perhaps the most important thing about these “pillars” was that it was something observed about them. The word “seemed” in the above verse refers to that which appears or can be observed. It does not refer to an official position or imply any special rank or privilege.
Aspiring to be a pillar within your local church is a tricky proposition, since striving to be known as such basically disqualifies you. It’s like trying to be humble. The moment you claim humility you’ve lost it since the drive to seek that kind of recognition is fueled by sinful pride. Obviously then, the first characteristic of someone known as a pillar within their church would be humility. Pillars of the church serve the body of Christ motivated by a sincere love for the Lord Jesus and his church. They do nothing for “vain glory” (see Galatians 5:26 and Philippians 2:3).
So, what else is true of those who are “pillars” within the local assembly, and can it be a legitimate aspiration? Let me answer the last part of that question first. I would say it certainly can as long as the motive driving the desire is to glorify Christ and bless the body. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul describes the aspiration for ministry as “desiring a noble task.” With this in mind, consider what other qualities are inherent in being a pillar within the church. I’ll mention three.
1. Faithful Service
As a pastor, I have learned to treasure faithfulness above all other qualities in my members. It’s that quality that earns the respect of knowing one can be counted on. You can depend on them to show up, to serve, to give, and to encourage and pray for others. While not everyone is equally gifted or talented, everyone can be equally faithful. The Bible says, “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:2) James, Peter, and John were faithful even to the point of laying down their lives for the gospel.
2. Perseverance in Trials
In Revelation 3:12 our Lord Jesus says, “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.” An overcomer is one whose faith carries him victoriously through the trials of life. When I think of pillars within the church my mind goes to those who, despite great suffering and adversity, remain “steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) The example of such pillars inspires and encourages others within the church.
3. Support and Defense of the Truth
In 1 Timothy 3:15, the church is called “the pillar and ground of the truth.” As the ground of the truth, the local assembly is to be guided and ruled by Scripture. As the pillar of the truth, the church is to support and defend the truth. And as the church is made of individual believers, every member is responsible to live and defend the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Concerning the term “pillar,” one author wrote: “Paul was merely using a common metaphorical expression to refer to individuals of strength and stability who are regarded as indispensable to the life of a certain community.” These individuals know what they believe and are always ready to give an answer for the hope within them. They remind me of A. E. Housman’s ‘army of mercenaries’: “Their shoulders held the sky suspended; they stood, and earth’s foundations stayed.”
Would your fellow members think of you as a pillar within the church? Are you striving to minister in love to your brothers and sisters in your local assembly? Are you faithful? Do you persevere in the hard times? Do you know and love the truth and are you able to defend it? Especially in these days of cultural opposition and theological compromise, more than ever, we need men to be pillars within the body of Christ.