Today’s post is the third mark in our series entitled “Ten Marks of a Healthy Church.” We are learning that churches are not merely organizations, they are bodies of God’s children united by covenant to Him and to one another.
The church is not like the Rotary Club or the Red Cross. In fact, no other organization on the face of the earth is like a Christian church. The church exists for the glory of God. No other organization, Christian or non-, is called the Bride of Christ; as such, she should be submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. And no other organization represents Jesus like His church. As Paul said, “Glory to God in the church.” When the church fulfills her mission, God is glorified. When the church fails in her calling, God is shamed and Christ is reproached.
Now a church can be healthy and strong, or it can be diseased and sickly. If one part of the church body becomes spiritually diseased or does not function properly, the other parts are affected. That’s what it means to be a body.
Evaluating church health can be difficult. We are very blessed to have the Word of God to help us evaluate everything according to God’s truth. And when it comes to church health, we have the first chapter of First Thessalonians to help us see the things that are praiseworthy in a church. In that chapter Paul says some marvelous things about the church there. In fact, what he is doing is remembering them and thanking God for them. And when he does, he identifies ten marks of a healthy church.
2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:2-10, ESV).
The first mark of a healthy church is a “working faith,” not mere intellectual assent, but steadfast trust. A faith that gets up every morning and goes to work. Genuine saving faith produces fruit and draws others to Christ. In a church marked by faith, you’ll see people wanting to serve God. They value the things of God. They sacrifice for God’s purposes and mission. They believe Jesus’ words, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”
The second mark of a healthy church is a “laboring love.” Loving Jesus and loving others means that you will often clash with the impulses you have naturally. To overcome is a labor. Healthy churches are motivated by love for God and love for others. Love drives selfless labor. Love cares; it is not apathetic. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). Genuine love is a rare thing in today’s world, and that means the church has an opportunity to show the world something different.
The third mark of a healthy church is an “enduring hope.” The word ‘endure’ here is from the Greek word hupomone, and it indicates the “capacity to continue to bear up under difficult circumstances” (LN 25.174). The related verb hupomeno means to remain under. Again, here is an action based on a virtue. The virtue here is hope, an interesting and somewhat difficult word to define. It means “to look forward with confidence to that which is good and beneficial” (LN 25.59). The only way a person can bear under the pressure of internal and external trials is to possess an enduring hope.
Hope says, “This is not all there is.” Hope tells us, “The future is good, just, righteous, glorious.” (Eph. 1:18). What gets you through a difficult time? Hope is the biblical solution for dark days. The Thessalonians experienced persecutions and difficulties. They encountered problems. But no problem can extinguish an enduring hope. In fact, the phrase here could be translated your “steadfastness of the hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If you want to see hope personified look at Jesus. His hope was not contingent upon His circumstances; it was based on the glory to come. That hope in the future glory was what enabled Him to endure the suffering. Someone once told me the story of a farmer and his mule:
A farmer had an old mule that could no longer pull plow or wagon. The farmer could not bear the thought of putting down the beloved animal, so he decided that instead of waiting for the creature to die, he would just bury it alive. So he put Lucky in a large hole he made with some dynamite and began to cover the mule with dirt. Every time that farmer would cast a shovel full of dirt on the mule, the mule would just shake it off and step up. Shake it off and step up. He just kept doing that simple but effective act. When the farmer saw Lucky climb back out of his grave, he changed his name. He’s not Lucky, he’s Steadfast Hope.
You too will make it if you don’t give up. Shake it off, and step up. Brighter days are ahead for those of us who know Jesus. There are lots of things in this life that might bury you. But not a single thing can keep you down. You have a promise that nothing can destroy: Resurrection! And that’s where our hope should dwell. Christian, let your hope endure!
When a church has hope, they have a vision. And where they have a vision, they will not perish. Hope springs from the eternal. When we look beyond our present circumstances to the greatness and goodness of God, we can take that next step. Without hope, you will be paralyzed with fear and throw your faith out the window. We will turn aside to replacements for God. We will follow our own weak and miserable plans instead of God’s bold mission.
Without Christ, a person has no hope. Hope begins when you are rightly related to God. The Good News is that Jesus lived and died and lived again so that you might truly live in hope. Will you turn your life over to Him today? Will you embrace the hope of the ages? Yield your life to Him now and embrace the greatest hope of all.