Faith, Love, Hope
by Jack Wald | January 20th, 2019

I Thessalonians 1:1-3

Paul wrote more letters than are recorded in the New Testament. Paul wrote at least four letters to the church in Corinth, only two are part of our Bible. Of Paul’s New Testament letters, Galatians is the earliest written and I Thessalonians is the second. Paul and his companions visited Thessalonica in AD 49 or 50. It was an important city with a long history. It benefitted from a natural harbor at the head of the Thermaic Gulf and was situated on the Via Egnatia which was the main route between Rome and the East.

Luke writes in Acts 17 about how a church was planted in Thessalonica. It happened during Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul left the Council of Jerusalem with Silas as his partner. They headed up to Antioch where Paul and Barnabas were called to go out on his first missionary journey. In Lystra he invited Timothy to join them and then in Troas, Luke was added to the team. So Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke were the four missionaries who sailed across the Northern Aegean Sea into Europe.

After a successful mission in Philippi, Paul, Silas, and Timothy moved on to Thessalonica while Luke stayed behind. Paul preached the gospel on three successive sabbaths. (Acts 17:2-4)
he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.

Opposition to the gospel is often not a theological problem; it is a struggle to maintain power and control. And so, in Thessalonica as in many other cities where Paul preached the gospel of Christ, the Jewish leaders were threatened by all the people joining the newly planted church. Some of those people left the synagogue to go to the new church. When the Jewish leaders went to the synagogue, there were less people gathered than there had been before Paul arrived. In addition, the financial donations to the synagogue dropped off. Their security was threatened so the Jewish leaders gathered some trouble makers and paid them to oppose Paul.

A riot ensued and that night Paul and Silas slipped away and went to Berea. Here Paul had a positive reception. Luke writes, (Acts 17:11–12)
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

But then some of the Jewish leaders in Thessalonica received word that Paul was preaching in Berea and made a trip south to stir up opposition against him in that city. Once again Paul had to leave but this time Silas and Timothy stayed behind.

Paul went south to Athens and soon sent for Silas and Timothy to join him so he could get first-hand news about what was happening in the churches he had planted. After receiving the news, he sent Silas back to Philippi and Timothy back to Thessalonica. He was not able to go himself, he had too high a profile. But Silas and Timothy could go on his behalf, carry his message to the churches, and encourage them in their new faith.

By the time Silas and Timothy returned, Paul had moved on from Athens to Corinth and that is where Paul wrote I Thessalonians.

I am fascinated by this little insight into how Paul operated with his team. Paul did not have email or a cell phone. If he wanted to get information, he had to send people, send letters, and then wait for a return letter or visit. That means Paul spent a lot of time, weeks and months, wondering what was happening, how the churches were doing, whether or not they were still holding on to the gospel he had preached.

These were infant churches. He had spent just a few months with each church and had been forced to leave before he wanted to, before he thought they were ready to walk on their own.

When people come into a relationship with Jesus, they do not become perfect and complete people. We know this very well ourselves. There may be some initial dramatic changes, but then it takes a lot of time to discover all the ways we need to change. There are a lot of habits we have, a lot of deep-seated prejudices, a lot of presuppositions about how we are to live that have to be shaken up and made new. This unfinished work is what concerned Paul.

These were fragile churches and I Thessalonians opens up a window on a newly planted church. It tells us how it came into being, what Paul taught, its strengths and weaknesses, its theological and moral problems, and how it was spreading the gospel.

There is a lot for us to learn from this letter. Let’s begin.

Paul, Silas and Timothy, 
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 
Grace and peace to you. 

I have talked about this before but it bears repeating. I am so impressed with Paul in the way he lifts up those who worked with him. In this case he does not elevate himself, naming himself as an apostle; he lists himself with Silas and Timothy. He is part of a team and values those who work with him.

Everyone knew he was an apostle. Sometimes, when he found it necessary to assert his authority, he described himself as an apostle in his letters, but he always elevated the people who worked with him. Whatever you do in life, it is helpful to make this a characteristic of your leadership as well. Lift up and encourage those who work with you. Value them and let people know you value them.

Paul writes:
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

What does this preposition, in mean? It does not mean the church is inside God. What it means is that the church is in relationship with God. The Greek word for church means “an assembly” and there were many assemblies, religious and secular. What was distinctive about this particular assembly Paul was writing to is that this assembly, this church, was in relationship with the Father and the Son.

Jesus spoke about his disciples being in him as branches are in the vine. (John 15:5)
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

When Paul preached in Corinth he said, (Acts 17:28)
‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’

Why did Paul describe the infant church in Thessalonica this way? Perhaps it is because he knew how fragile they were and worried they would succumb to the pressures of persecution. He wanted to remind them that in the midst of trials, their security was in God.

The church in Thessalonica, RIC, and every church in the world depends on their relationship with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for life, strength, and stability. It is not our programs that give life. It is not our church building that gives strength. It is not our financial giving that gives stability. It is our relationship with God, our dependence on him that gives life, strength, and stability.

Paul, Silas and Timothy, 
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 
Grace and peace to you. 

There is no greater blessing. Grace and peace to you. God’s peace is not just the absence of conflict, but the fulness of health and harmony through reconciliation with him and with each other. We do not deserve God’s peace. It is God’s grace that gives us what we desperately want but are unable to achieve by ourselves. Grace and peace to you.

2 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.

Too often we say, “I will pray for you,” and then it slips from our mind and we forget to pray for that person. It is Christian politeness to say, “I will pray for you.” We need to be challenged to be more honest in how we talk about praying for people.

In Paul’s case, this was not Christian politeness. When Paul woke up in the morning, when Paul went to bed at night, and in between, he was thinking about the churches he had planted. How were they? Were they persevering in their faith?

If you have children who are having difficulties, you do not need to be reminded to pray for them. Because you are constantly thinking about them, your prayers for them come continually. This was the case for Paul.

2 We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. 3 We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

When Paul prayed, he remembered three things about the church in Thessalonica: their faith, love, and hope. These three words should be familiar to you from other books of the New Testament. I Corinthians 13 is often read at weddings. That chapter ends with this: (1 Corinthians 13:13)
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

These words provide a description of what a church is and ought to be.

  • your work produced by faith
  • your labor prompted by love
  • your endurance inspired by hope

The New Testament translation I read when I was a new believer was the J.B. Phillips New Testament. When I think of the opening of I Thessalonians, this is the translation that comes most quickly to my mind.

We are always thankful as we pray for you all, for we never forget that your faith has meant solid achievement, your love has meant hard work, and the hope that you have in our Lord Jesus Christ means sheer dogged endurance in the life that you live before God, the Father of us all.

The NIV says

  • your work produced by faith
    J. B. Phillips says
  • your faith has meant solid achievement

The NIV says

  • your labor prompted by love
    J. B. Phillips says
  • your love has meant hard work

The NIV says

  • your endurance inspired by hope
    J. B. Phillips says
  • the hope you have in our Lord Jesus Christ means sheer dogged endurance

The NIV puts work, labor, and endurance first. Phillips puts faith, love, and hope first. Why is this? Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? If there is no egg, where did the chicken come from? If there is no chicken, where did the egg come from? What comes first, work, labor and endurance? Or faith, love, and hope?

Let’s take a look at these.

  • your work produced by faith (NIV)
  • your faith has meant solid achievement (J. B. Phillips)

Paul commends the church in Thessalonica for their hard work. He has received word from Timothy and is delighted at all they are doing to encourage and build up the church community. Every church needs people who work hard to allow the church to function as it is supposed to do, but working hard by itself is not necessarily helpful. It is not just the work. It is also the attitude and motivation that go along with the work.

There are people who work hard in the churches of the world. They teach, they clean, they serve on church committees, they do a lot to keep the church going. But why do they work so hard? What motivates them?

When I was a young pastor there were some people who worked hard in the church where I served. Why? For some people it was because they had a sense of responsibility to keep the church going. In the small town of 3,000 people there were seven churches and they wanted their church to be the best of the churches. They worked because it was their duty to work in the church. It is what a respectable person does. I appreciated their hard word and benefitted from their hard work, but what I wanted was to see that their hard work came out of their strong faith. I cannot judge, but I sensed that their work came out of a sense of duty and loyalty rather than out of an experience of faith that comes from a living relationship with Jesus.

Hard work by itself is not necessarily helpful to the church. But faith by itself is also not necessarily helpful to the church. Faith that believes and sits and waits for Jesus to return is not helpful. (Paul will talk about this later in this letter.) Paul talked a lot about spiritual gifts and how the church is dependent on people using their gifts to build up the church into the image of Christ. When the church operates well it is because each person is using his or her gifts for the church. When people do not use their gifts and come only to sit in church and enjoy the worship and sermon, the church limps. When the church members use their gifts in church on Sunday and in the world through the rest of the week, the church prospers.

True faith in God leads to good works, and without works, faith is dead. Paul and James are in agreement about this, even though Paul usually stresses the faith which leads to works and James the works which come from faith. James wrote: (James 2:17–19)
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

Why did so many people follow Jesus? Why did fishermen and tax collectors drop what they were doing and follow him? Why did prostitutes and lepers and those who had been possessed by demons follow Jesus? When we know what Jesus has saved us from, we give our lives to Jesus and where he goes, we go. Because of all Jesus has done for us, we give our lives to him in service to his church.

Faith, true faith, leads to working with Jesus in the church – and work, meaningful work in the church, comes out of faith.

  • your labor prompted by love (NIV)
  • your love has meant hard work (J. B. Phillips)

There are churches that provide meals for homeless people. People in the church volunteer to buy the ingredients, cook the meal, and serve it to the people who come. This is wonderful. This is the kind of thing churches should do. But it makes a huge difference to those who come for the meal how they are treated by the people who serve the meal. We can tell if someone is doing this out of a sense of duty or whether there is love present in the serving of the meal.

Jesus set the example of how we are to serve one another when he tied a towel around his waist and washed the feet of his disciples. Some churches have turned this into a church rite and every Easter they have a service where feet are washed. I have seen people do this reluctantly. I have also seen this done with love and compassion. The motivation for washing the feet of someone else makes all the difference.

One of my grandsons in Thailand says the secret ingredient in his cooking is that he cooks with love. That makes a lot of difference.

When I was first in Rabat there was a couple who were long-time members, Don and Rose Johnson. When I stepped into their home, Rose would greet me and offer me tea and some of her cookies. I loved going there and always felt welcome because she had the gift of hospitality and her greeting and tea and cookies came with love.

If someone says, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” and does nothing to demonstrate that love, it is mere sentimentality. Love is demonstrated in tangible, practical ways. Love is necessary because labor is not easy. The Greek word for labor uses a word that signifies a great amount of effort. If love is not behind the labor, it will be superficial and will not last.

  • your endurance inspired by hope (NIV)
  • the hope you have in our Lord Jesus Christ means sheer dogged endurance (J. B. Phillips)

Work in the church can be very frustrating. Loving people can be very frustrating. People are often not easy to love. Sometimes it seems that the work you do in the church is not being appreciated. Why keep working? Why keep loving?

You spend time with someone encouraging them in faith. You share your life with them. You read the Bible together. You pray together. And after all the time you have spent together, the other person walks away from faith and you ask yourself, “Why did I waste my time with this person?”

You work hard and do your best to serve the church in some capacity and then on Sunday someone is critical of what you have done. Are you paid to serve the church? No. You are a volunteer. Is the person who is critical of you serving the church with their gifts? Perhaps not, and you ask yourself why you bother to serve the church when you are not appreciated for what you do. Certainly there are others who might do what you do better than you can, but they are not volunteering.

Sometimes you work alongside others but then they drop off and you are left doing the work yourself. It makes you want to walk away.

In an international church with a high rate of turnover, it seems sometimes that ministry is like being on a treadmill. You go round and round and round but you never make progress. People come, you get to know them, you make friendships, encourage people to grow in faith, love, and hope and then they leave and a new group of people come and you start all over. Year after year it is the same script with different actors. Why not get off the treadmill and go somewhere where you can see the longer-term fruit of your ministry?

Without hope the heart would break. It is hope that keeps us going. It is hope that helps us to endure through difficulty, through discouragement, through frustration.

For me, it is my faith and hope that whatever happens in the ministry of RIC is not lost when people leave RIC. People are on a journey and I am privileged to be pastor of RIC which is one stop on that journey. I build on what other churches and pastors have done. Other churches and pastors will build on what I and RIC have done.

Sheer dogged endurance. I have always loved that phrase. It makes me think of J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Frodo is given the task of carrying the ring of power to Mount Doom where it can be destroyed. It is a long and lonely journey. Sam walks with Frodo but the spiritual burden is on Frodo’s shoulders. Why does he continue? It is sheer dogged endurance that takes him to where he needs to go. He takes step after step after step because of the hope that his friend Sam gives to him, because of the hope that is deep within him. He has strength he never knew he had because of hope.

Despite the evidence around us we have hope. We have hope that Jesus is coming back as he promised. We have hope that we are heading to our eternal home and that our current address is not our permanent address. The struggles and difficulties we face in life are temporary.

We, like the church in Thessalonica, are in God’s hands. We are in Christ. We are in relationship with Christ. He has called us to follow him and we are making our way to our heavenly home where he will be present with us.

Because we are loved by God, we work with him. Because he has given us his love, we love others in his name. Because we know we will be with him for eternity, we persevere with hope through difficult times.

John Stott, whose commentary I have been using in this sermon – and sometimes quoting without saying I was quoting him – says (with some editing)
Every Christian without exception is a believer, a lover and a hoper. Faith, hope and love are thus sure evidences of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Together they completely reorientate our lives, as we find ourselves being drawn up towards God in faith, out towards others in love and on towards the second coming of Christ in hope. The new birth means little or nothing if it does not pull us out of our fallen preoccupation with self and redirect us towards God, Christ and our fellow human beings.

Do you know that you are loved by God? Then serve him with the gifts he has given you.
Do you know that you are God’s beloved daughter, God’s beloved son? Then love others as he loves you.
Do you know where you are headed? Then endure suffering and difficulties and keep your eyes on the prize that is coming to you.

Is your faith, love, and hope being put into action? Are you sitting on your experience of Christ or are you stepping out into the world with deeds that come from your faith, love, and hope?

Did you benefit from people who taught you in Sunday School or in a youth group? Then summon up the courage to help with Kids’ Church or the youth group. Bless others because you were blessed. Are you aware of what Jesus has rescued you from? Are you aware of how much Jesus has done for you? Then be generous with your finances in support of his work. Be generous with your time in service to him.

Is your work in the church done out of gratitude for all that God has done for you? Or is it done out of a sense of duty, a sense of responsibility? Or perhaps a desire to impress people with what you do? Remember Ananias and Sapphira who wanted the acclaim that came to Barnabas when he donated the proceeds from the sale of a piece of land he owned. Why we do what we do is important.

God has rescued you. He loves you with a deep, passionate love. He created you to spend eternity with him in heaven. Respond to all he has done for you with actions and deeds.