The Apostle Paul’s Epistles, or letters, to the Churches of his day comprise a large proportion of the Christian Bible, the New Testament. In writing these letters, Paul exercised his Apostolic coverage over the Churches under him, to ensure, as much as possible, that they complied with the teachings given to them.
Some of the Churches faired well in their walk with Christ, and some not so well. Some walked the walk for a time, and then got lost.
In his letters to the Church of Corinth, it appears that all went wrong. Everything which could go wrong went wrong. As a result, for us, we have wonderful teachings from Paul which are wide ranging and broad in its scope, as he corrected almost everything.
But there were Churches like those in Galatia where things were a little different. Actually the Epistle to the Galatians was written not to a single Church, but to a group of Churches, as Galatia was not a city, but a region in Asia Minor and included many towns and Churches, comprising mainly an ethnic group called the ‘Gauls’. The problem here was that the Galatians were getting back into the law again, as legalists in the Church called Judaizers, were teaching that certain Old Testament laws were binding on Christians. Indeed, the modern Church seems to still fall under their spell now and again, as Christians begin to seek salvation through their works, rather than through grace, and tie themselves to the death of the word of the law.
The Colossian Church had left behind their original teachings, and had begun entered into a heretical state in which angel worship was in vouge, augmented with asceticism (a doctrine in which one can attain a high spiritual and moral state by practicing self-denial, self-mortification, and the like) and voluntary humiliation.
Just the same as today, each Church had a different problem which Paul in his writings, sought to correct. In his corrections of the Churches under his apostolic covering or apostolic authority, Paul wanted one single and common understanding, for there was, after all, only one history. Paul therefore established one set of plumblines against which to test the Churches. What is interesting in the Epistles of Paul, is that he did not seek to establish doctrinal correctness over all the Churches of his covering. This was despite his continual doctrinal corrections to each Church on an as-needed basis. He did not find it necessary or advantageous to write a definitive doctrine for the Church and as Paulian texts are unquestioningly Holy Spirit breathed, we can reasonably infer that the Holy Spirit did not require such a single doctrinal paper either.
Instead, Paul coaxed, chivvied, pushed, pulled, corrected and taught the Churches and their leader under him, to seek Jesus and be measured by the fruit, rather than one particular path. Paul was seeking to avoid the Church concentrating on hollow religious ritual, which had been the main downfall of the Hebrews. For as Paul tells us in Romans 7, the letter of the law brings death, while the spirit of the law brings life. Paul, nor the Holy Spirit who direct his hand, wanted to give us another Book of Law, lest we like the Hebrews before us, be tempted to seek compliance with the laws as more beneficial than relationship with the Law Giver.
Paul’s Epistles to the Ephesians, to the Church of Ephesus warrants understanding. This was a Church where things were going well, and two of Paul’s three plumblines used as measures of Church success, were met. What then, was wrong with the Church of Ephesus at the time of Paul’s Epistle? (Later in Revelation 2:4 Jesus condemned them saying “But I have against you that you left your first love.” But not yet.) At this time the Church of Ephesus were true and honest to their first love and “on fire,” as modern terminology would have it, for Christ. Let us read Ephesians 1:15:23 for a clue:
“Therefore I also, hearing of your faith in the Lord Jesus and love to all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers,
that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling;
And what is the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us, the ones believing according to the working of His mighty strength which He worked in Christ in raising Him from the dead, and He seated Him at His right hand in the heavenlies, far above all principality and authority and power and dominion, and every name being named, not only in this world, but also in the coming age.
And He has put all things under His feet and gave Him to be Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
This passage demonstrated that all was well with the Ephesians Church and it was a Church in compliance with God’s pattern for Churches. They were doing well, even according to Paul; but not well enough.
Paul was looking for three things in a Church. His three godly plumblines to test a Church were: Faith, Love and Hope. In v15 we read about Faith, and Pauls writes “hearing of your faith in the Lord Jesus.” They passed on Faith. Paul continues to write in v14 that the Church had “love to all the saints.” They passed on Love. But what of Hope?
In vv17b and 18a we read of Paul’s prayer to God that “the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling.” Paul praised them on their Faith and Love, but called them short on Hope. He prayed for them to receive the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they may understand and be enlightened and know the Hope of their calling into God. They had Faith, they had Love, but they had little Hope. This was not good enough for Paul, nor was it good enough for God.
For Christians, the three spiritual forces which we need to understand and develop are Faith, Love and Hope. They are the three spiritual forces which come into action, come into play, when one accepts Christ and we exchange the old man for the new and they are that which God imparts to us. But we need to grow them.
These three forces, Faith, Love and Hope may be seen as the solution to every problem which we will encounter in our spiritual life. We can see them, perhaps picture them, as the roots of the Spirit, from which everything else flows. Without them, we cannot be in God’s will. Without all three, we cannot be balanced and in a position for perfection in Christ. Without them, we cannot gain spiritual maturity. Without them, Christians cannot grow in Christ and our walk with the Lord is stunted and lopsided. Without them, our Churches cannot grow in Christ either, and the presentation of Christ to the world will be wrong and imbalanced, even if we do all else correctly.
What Christians do, think and say, directly influences those around us and ultimately affects the Church and the results of the Great Commission which God has given His Church. Paul knew this, and this was the precise reason he chose Faith, Love and Hope as the three Godly plumblines with which to judge the Churches. We are all judged by the fruit we produce and all Churches, all congregations of Christians, are judged by their Faith, Love and Hope, by God.