I know there is specific context around the letters Paul wrote to the church of the Thessalonians. That they had been saved out of the world . . . but into the frying pan. The heat of persecution surrounding them from the first day they believed.
Thus, possessing the peace of God but living in a hostile world, to quote Ben Franklin, they had to “all hang together” or “most assuredly” they would “all hang separately.” Point being that the crucible of opposition has a way of becoming a natural catalyst for unity among those being persecuted.
But even with that, as I chew on the opening verses of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians, there seems to be a principle embodied within this fellowship that should be true of every gathering of believers. One of a growing faith and an increasing love.
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.
(2Thessalonians 1:3 ESV)
The work of grace God had begun in this small church, was the work of grace that continued to bear fruit as their faith grew abundantly. They remained steadfast in all the persecutions and in the afflictions they were enduring (v. 4). As each difficult day tested what they said they believed, they became more and more convinced it was true. The Spirit bearing witness with their spirit. The living Christ making Himself known as they abided in Him through every trial. “You ask me how I know He lives,” they might have sung had the hymn been around then, “He lives within my heart!” Their faith was growing abundantly.
But check out what accompanied growing faith. Increasing love. Literally, super-abounding love.
And not just among some of them, but “the love of every one of you” was increasing for one another. Their affection not restricted to their closest friends. Their willingness to serve and sacrifice for others not limited to just their small group. But the love of every one of them was increasing for every one of them.
And I know that these Thessalonian believers needed to hang together, but is it possible that there is a transcendent principle here which should be characteristic of any gospel based community? That abundantly growing faith in Christ manifests itself in super-abounding love for His people. If so, is the corollary then true as well? Show me a fellowship of believers that is not increasing in love for one another, and I’ll show you a body stuck in stagnant, inert belief? I’m thinkin’ . . .
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(John 13:34-35 ESV)
How important is love among a church fellowship? Pretty important!
If faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Heb. 11:1 NKJV), then, according to Jesus, love for one another is the evidence we are followers of Christ.
Do we love the church more today than when we first believed? I’m thinking it’s evidence of a growing faith. Do we find ourselves increasingly compelled to seek ways to sacrificially serve one another? Then I’m wondering if it isn’t related to the transformation we are promised through the renewing of our mind (Rom. 12:2).
The motto of Village Missions, an organization dedicated to placing missionary pastors in small rural communities with the goal of establishing vital churches, is “Preach the word, love the people.” And Paul says when we increasingly believe His word, then we can’t help but love His people.
Growing faith . . . Increasing love.
By His grace. For His glory.