Several years ago Gene Getz wrote a book entitled “The Measure of a church.” In it Getz focused on Paul’s epistles in particular to see what was the most common measure he used in discussing how well a church was doing. I Thessalonians 1:2-3 illustrates the point made by Getz that I believe is a valid point. “We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
If you look at the different letters Paul wrote it is amazing how often he refers to these three elements as being fundamental in the church. Remember in I Corinthians 13:13 concluding a chapter where he compared the things that would abide or remain with the things that were temporary and wouldn’t last. He laid out the fundamental point that without love all the sacrifice to give, all the speaking in amazing tongues or all the prophesy and knowledge in the world was of no value, but was empty and meaningless. He then described the love he had in mind ending with “Love never fails”. He noted then that things like tongues would cease, knowledge would vanish away and prophesies would fail. He calls these things partial and said they would end when that which is perfect is come. “For now we know in part and we prophesy in part but when that which is perfect is come that which is part will be done away.” He referred to that age of partial revelation as being like a child and seeing through a darkened glass. Then his conclusion is “Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
To the Philippian church he would say that he prayed for them that their love might abound more and more in knowledge and discernment so that they might determine what is best.
Why are faith, hope and love so vital for a church to be pleasing to God? I’m certain the reasons could be multiplied many times. But when we go back to the starting verses in I Thessalonians it is intriguing what he tied to these three. Faith produced works. If you look at Hebrews 11 the faith chapter of the Bible it becomes obvious the kind of works involved. It wasn’t works trying to earn our way to heaven but works of obedience and trust in God. Abel offered to God the more excellent sacrifice by faith. Enoch walked with God by faith. By faith Noah built an ark to save his family. By faith Abraham left his home and family when God told him to not knowing where he was going. By faith Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Faith affects the way we live each day or it isn’t real faith.
The love produced labor. Love doesn’t just feel good toward someone or like them a lot, it reaches out to meet their needs. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:25). When we love each other we care, we listen, we forgive, we pray for and serve each other. A church that isn’t built on love can have all the teaching and all of the beliefs down right and still be as cold and lifeless as a dried up fish. Remember when Jesus wrote to the church in Ephesus and said they had left their first love. He told them to remember where they had fallen, to repent and to go back and do the first works and if they didn’t he would remove their light or their identity as his church (Revelation 2:1-7).
Hope is the mixture of desire and expectation. It is when we long for a thing and believe with all our heart that it will come to fruition. It isn’t hope just to wish for a thing. Hope is centered in heaven. The writer of Hebrews says that hope is an anchor thrown inside the veil to keep our soul steady. Hope is reserved in heaven for us. But notice hope brings about endurance.
When we lose hope, we soon give up. When hope is gone despair isn’t far behind. If we keep our hope right we trust God and keep one going no matter what happens. In I Corinthians 15:58 Paul pleaded with the church to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord for you know your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Into every life and every church some problems arise. When we build on faith, hope and love we keep moving forward even in such times. When we build on being right about everything we get discouraged and quit when any little thing happens that doesn’t seem right to us.
Let’s learn to measure by the right standards.