The maturity of the Church can be measured by a standard of faith, hope, and love. In the New Testament, whether explicitly or implicitly, this simple, three-fold standard is held up as the criterion of true Christian growth. Throughout Paul’s writings specifically, he consistently uses this 3-fold framework to model discipleship (Gal. 5:5-6, 1 Cor. 13:13) as he praises the growth of believers (1 Thess. 1:2-3, Col. 1:3-5), prays for their lack (Eph. 1:15-18), and exhorts them to grow (1 Thess. 5:8).
The above passages I mentioned in parentheses are references that contain all three elements by name. However, there are many other passages in the New Testament that use slightly different language to say the same thing. Consider the following passage:
“You (Thessalonian believers) became an example (‘model’, NIV) to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth (broad aspect), so that we have no need to say anything. For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and (moving to detailed aspect) how you turned to God from idols (faith) to serve a living and true God (love), and to wait for His Son from heaven (hope), whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thess. 1:7-10 NASB)
Whether the maturity of the church is described in general terms of “faith toward God” (as in 1 Thess 1:8 above), or the more detailed cluster of “faith, hope, and love” (as in 1 Thess. 1:3), we should let the simplicity of the apostolic standard speak to us today. Are we daily concerned with building up faith toward God, walking in love toward Him and neighbor, and waiting in hope for the coming of Jesus? Is this also how we praise, exhort, and pray for each other?
The more I study the Scriptures, the more I am convinced of the simplicity of the Christian life. All of the things that truly matter boil down into faith, love, and hope. Oh that we would pursue this in ourselves and others. In all our acquiring, let us acquire this (Prov. 4:7).
Along this theme, I had a dream in the Summer of 2010, in which I was walking around a cluttered store with one of my sisters. She was pointing out all the cool, vintage things in the shop and how they could be used as cute decorations, etc. In a tone of offsetting sobriety, I replied, “All these things are fine, but they aren’t useful.” (cf. 1 Cor. 6:12) She was thrown off by my response. “What is so important then? What is useful?” I said, “The need is that we are made ready for the day of the Lord. Every day we wake up, we must renew our hope in the day of the Lord.”
I kept looking around the store, searching for something that was useful and beneficial to that end. I saw lots of children’s toys, books, and trinkets. A thicker book caught my eye as I picked it up. It was titled, “Faith, Hope, and Love For Little Sojourners”. As I opened the book, I discovered that it was laid out in the form of little, one page letters to kids from different, contributing authors. It was a children’s devotional about producing faith, hope, and love in light of the day of the Lord. Then I woke up.
I thought it interesting that this book was probably meant for morning reading, alluding back to my latest statement about “waking up” and renewing our hope. This is truly what life is about in this present, evil age (Gal. 1:4): We are looking for the hope of a righteous age (Gal. 5:5), as we walk in “faith working through love.” (Gal. 5:6).