Remember: Faith, Hope, Love – these Three
“But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” 1 Thes. 5:8
The history behind the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church of the Thessalonians is as follows: Paul had preached the Gospel in Thessalonica a few years prior to this letter and spent some time there to establish a group of believers. He had become concerned about the well being of this congregation since he was not able to revisit them after his initial visit, so he sent Timothy to check on them. Upon the return of Timothy, Paul wrote this letter to commend them on their steadfastness and progress, as well as to encourage and exhort them in their Christian walk.
We can learn from this letter if we look at Paul’s approach to encouraging the Thessalonians and his view of their spiritual strengths.
At the beginning of the letter, after his salutation, Paul immediately commends them on three core items: faith, hope and love:
“We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thess. 1:3
It is interesting that Paul gives a similar commendation at the start of his letter to the Colossians:
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” Col. 1:3-5
…and also at the start of the 2nd letter to the Thessalonians:
“We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as is fitting, because you faith is growing in abundance, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring.” 2 Thess. 1:3-4
…followed by this:
“And to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,” 2 Thess. 1:7 (relating their steadfastness in affliction to their hope)
Obviously, when Paul examined a group of Christians for spiritual maturity he did so in the perspective of these three Christian attributes: faith, hope and love. Therefore, it is also important for us to examine ourselves in a similar matter, understanding the true meaning of faith, hope and love, and how they should be manifested in our lives.
Notice that in 1 Thessalonians Paul uses the phrase “work of faith and labor of love” when he commended them. The Greek word in the original passage that is translated as “work” is “ergon” and is defined in Strong’s concordance as follows: from a primary (but obsolete) érgō (to work); toil (as an effort or occupation); by implication, an act:—deed, doing, labour, work. The original Greek word for “labor” is “kopos” and is defined thus in Strong’s: toil (as reducing the strength), literally or figuratively; by implication, pains:—labor, + trouble, weariness. There also is an implication of “intense labor with trouble and toil.”
Paul’s interest was in the fruit that they showed in their lives, and Timothy must have reported that they were producing “good works” that confirmed their spiritual maturity. Timothy must have seen sacrifices being made to help the poor and needy, orphans and widows being cared for, and general activity that supported the fact that they loved one another.
The Holy Spirit has taught us though the Scriptures that faith without works is dead, but that our works confirm our faith:
“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James 2:17
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’; and he was called the friend of God.” James 2: 21-23
True Christian faith will result in good works and will produce true love in the believer. Remember that love fulfills the law and does no harm to a neighbor. Our spiritual maturity should show forth these spiritual fruits of good works and love for others.
Like Abraham, we all will face situations in our lives that will require us to exercise our faith to “complete” it. Abraham believed that God could raise Isaac from the dead, and was willing to obey God’s command to put him to death.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your posterity be named.’ He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Heb. 11:17-19
Let’s encourage one another to respond with the same faith that Abraham had when we are faced with similar situations and challenges in our lives, knowing that God is able to do whatever is required.
Paul reminded the Thessalonians that when he was with them, he had encouraged each one of them to exercise their faith with their actions. I like how his encouragement was not just words but he had told them to imitate his actions, and he reminded them of his behavior among them:
“For you remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our behavior to you believers; for you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.” 1 Thess. 2:9-12
Paul also commended them for enduring afflictions and persecution from their own countrymen, similar to what Paul had suffered from the Jews. We too should be prepared in our hearts, should persecution arise, to endure patiently whatever afflictions come our way.
It is very clear that Paul’s expectation for believers was to walk in love and holiness, and to endure in this way until the Lord returns. Paul first sent Timothy to make sure that they were living appropriately, producing the fruit of spiritual maturity. He then reminded them of how he had trained them in this appropriate behavior and also exemplified this behavior in his life. He then encouraged them to continue in and even increase the quality of their behavior. I point this out to emphasize the fact that our behavior and spiritual maturity is extremely important. Our faith and hope should be producing love as reflected in our good works and holy living.
“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your consecration: that you abstain from immorality;” 1 Thess. 3:12- 4:3
The original Greek word that is translated as “consecration” in the above verse is hagiasmos, and is defined in Strong’s concordance as: properly, purification, i.e. (the state) purity; concretely (by Hebraism) a purifier:—holiness, sanctification. Again, Paul makes it very clear that it is God’s will for us to walk in holiness.
Paul also knows that the key to our spiritual maturity and our ability to walk in holiness and love is to have our faith focused on the hope we have in Christ Jesus and our future with Him in His Kingdom that He will establish upon His return. Therefore, after exhorting and encouraging them to walk in holiness, Paul reminds them of the soon coming of the Lord, and our part as believers in this event:
“But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep (dead), that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words.” 1 Thess. 4:13-18
Paul knew that this hope that we have will comfort us in our afflictions and help us to endure, continuing in holy living. This is our source of strength that will get us through difficult times and empower us to walk in love and holiness, as we make this assured hope a reality in our lives.
A living faith in our blessed hope we have in what God has promised to us in Christ Jesus, namely a place in heaven for eternity with Him, will produce in us the ability to walk in holiness and love, with the strength to endure until the end. It is critical that we continue in this way so that we too can be found blameless in holiness when Jesus returns.
I hope that this message has encouraged you in your walk as a believer. Recognize that all of the things in this life are trivial compared with the glory that awaits us. Let’s keep our perspective clear and focused on what is really important: eternal life and our future hope.
“May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls is faithful, and He will do it.” 1 Thess. 5: 23-24