"Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more." (1st Thessalonians 4:9-11)Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35) Love for one another is both our commission and our goal. Nothing can be more central to our participation in the physical presence of Christ on this earth that to love and be loved by others. As we come to love God, and to be loved by Him, our natural response aught to be to love others. As a church, the believers in Thessolanica exemplified both this command and this truth. They sincerely loved one another and their love for each other, and for all the brethren, was renowned through out region.
However, as the church has evolved over the past two thousand years, especially here in America, we have let service replace love and organization replace relationships. The "church" has often become a self-sustaining organization that, to some degree, no longer need its congregants to continue, except for their financial support. The congregants are needed only to fill the slot of the audience for the Sunday performance and to be the recipients of the services provided by the "church." So much happens outsides the purview of the individual members; the planning of the Sunday "service", the organizing of teams, the development of programs; many such activities which are center around the few or the professional and are are meant to serve the masses but not necessarily to relate to them. While many such noble works are considered and motivated out of love, they often operate without love for "one another," meaning there may be a genuine sense of love in the one giving but not a love for one another that flows from relationships.
Some churches even seem to have created an environment which appears to keep the spectator in a perpetual state of need; instilling in them a need for a weekly service to lessen, but never cure, some perceived need inside of them; the need for a sacrament for forgiveness, the need to be assured of salvation, the need for someone to teach them to know God; always receiving but never coming to perfection. What if people came to understand the sacrifice of Christ that was given once and for all? What if people came to understand that they are forever saved and are already being made new? What if people came to understand that they are complete in Christ and no longer need a teacher to come to know God? Might we them become a church that is no longer based on need but rather one that is now free to love and serve one another out of the love of God that overflows in our lives? I believe that such a church would revolutionize the world they live in.
We judge churches by many varying standards including, orthodoxy, lively worship, and the availability of services to meet pressing needs, but the one standard that Jesus is looking for is love! How would we fare if we judged ourselves and our relationships from this vantage point? Would we find that we have fulfilled Jesus' command to present ourselves as his disciples by loving one another even as He has loved us? Or would we be like the church at Laodicea who had a reputation of being rich and wealthy and in need of nothing but was really "wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked"? (Revelation 3:17) Let us dispense with the world's view of success and adopt Jesus standard of measure; that we might strive to be a church that loves.