There are many ideas floating around as to what the church’s greatest need is today. Some camps insist that we need doctrinal purity; others press the need for social justice and other ministries of compassion. Perhaps it is a bit of a dead end to suggest ‘this is the greatest need of the church’. Christ’s church consists of ‘many’ local churches and all of them have their particular needs. With that said, there are some things that every church needs. Some have them and others don’t but all churches need them. I’m thinking particularly of faith and love that is based on hope.
The apostle Paul was a thankful guy. Whenever he prayed he gave thanks for what God was doing in His church. Perhaps we can learn from him in this regard. Many of us get our ‘kicks’ in complaining at what is wrong with the church. But Paul was ‘always’ thanking God for the churches that were planted and growing by the grace of God. Here’s what Paul says:
We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints. Your faith and love have arisen from the hope laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard about in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you. (Col. 1.3-6a emphasis added).
The central thing for the apostle Paul was the gospel; the announcement that Jesus Christ died and rose again, is reigning at the right hand of God, and has accomplished forgiveness of sins for those who would believe. This is a gospel full of hope. It is the gospel of a good king who will one day put the world to rights. It is the gospel of a merciful lord who bore God’s wrath in our stead. The Christian has great hope because ‘in Christ’ he is buried, risen and will appear with him in glory. Just as Christ was declared to be in the right at his resurrection so will the Christian.
The results of this hope are continual faith in Jesus and love for all the saints. Christians who are gospel-centered will not sway in their beliefs about Jesus (i.e. that he is the crucified and risen lord of the world) but will discern between truth and error. Gospel-centered Christian’s will also love one another indiscriminately. Tom Wright says, “The solid facts about the future hope of Christians are a powerful motivation for constant faith and costly love in the present” (TNTC, Colossians and Philemon, 52).
So what is the greatest need of the church? I’m not sure. But what does the Church need? The answer is a focus on the gospel and the hope that it gives. This will give way to “constant faith” and “costly love”.