What does a real church look like? A genuinely healthy church is a group of people that in spite of their problems, struggles, and shortcomings are all striving towards the same things – truth, faith, and love. Love is the glue that binds believers together. Love compels those with differences to draw together in unity and to find common ground. Love compels those who are offended to offer forgiveness, and for those who find themselves as offensive to cease their offending. Love compels those who have been blessed to steward what God has given them in generosity towards those who have not received the same amount of blessing. In short, without love, no church can exist.
But a church based upon love alone does a lot but accomplishes little. Faith gives love direction. Being kind for kindness’s sake or being diverse for diversity’s sake is simply an exercise in exhaustion. There must be something more than solitary love. Faith in God is that direction. Whereas love alone says, “I should do everything in my power to make this world a better place,” love with faith says, “This is my Father’s world, and I will do all I can to bring others to that reality by making this world a better place.”
And while faith complements love very well, both are still inadequate to make a healthy church. Faith and love serve as bonding, direction-giving agents in a group of people, but the real structure comes from understanding and thriving in the truth. Individually, love, faith and truth are potentially harmful. Love alone is pointless. Faith alone is immature and shallow. Truth alone is cold and useless. But when you combine all three in a body of believers, you have a cohesive, growing, healthy vibrant church.
When Paul left the believers in Thessalonica this was their testimony. Paul admits in verse 4 that as he traveled to other churches, he would brag about the Thessalonians. He would tell how that in the face of fierce persecution their faith was growing “exceedingly” and their love was “abounding” one toward another. These were certainly terrific times! The church was doing well. But Paul had a reason to write to them. In the church, the truth about the return of Christ had been polluted. It had been undermined, and while their love and faith were great, there were some fundamental doctrines that needed to be addressed.
Paul had a great desire that Thessalonica know the truth. It was not good enough that they were merely getting along. There would be some rough days ahead in the church if the problems were not addressed.
We too would do well to care about the truth. We should certainly be striving to love one another. We should be learning to lean more fully in faith on the gracious God who has saved us. But our Christian experience should not end there. We should be constantly pursuing growth in the truth. We should study God’s truth and seek to under-gird our weaknesses. As a church, we should engage one another in healthy, loving, truth-filled conversation so that we might know more deeply and more fully the doctrines and truth of our great God.
Food for Thought: In Matthew 15:9 Jesus tells how that some people teach the “commandments of men as doctrine.” How would studying God’s truth help liberate us from falling into the trap of those in this category Jesus is describing?