One of the significant measures of a healthy church in the New Testament is love for one another. Many times the apostle Paul commends churches for their love. To the church at Thessalonica, he writes, “We give thanks to God always for you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thess 1:2-3) and, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows even greater” (II Thess 1:3).
To the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote, “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you” (Eph 1:15-16). And finally, to the church at Colossae, “We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints” (Col 1:3-4).
On the flip side, in Paul’s first letter to the dysfunctional church in Corinth, he again thanks God for them (I Cor 1:4), but does not refer to the quality of their faith, hope, or love. Why the omission? Because these qualities are not visible in the Corinthian church; a church marked by selfishness and division. In fact, the topic of love is not addressed until chapter 13 where it is presented as something they are missing; the solution to their carnality, not a description of their current state. It is interesting that Paul acknowledges the Corinthian’s superior speech, knowledge, and giftedness (I Cor 1:5-7) and then holds these up as useless without love.
Now, if love for one another is the measuring stick for a healthy church, what kind of scale do we use to measure our results? After all, love is a difficult thing to measure. And if love for one another is so crucial to our community health, what steps can we take to put it into practice? In what kind of environment will love flourish? All questions we will take up in due time.