A Thessalonian Introduction

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Hey, friends!

At the time of my writing this, I am putting the finishing touches on this piece whilst sitting in a New York airport, waiting to head to Montenegro to visit family who are missionaries there. Maybe at the time you are reading this, it’s cold where you are, or maybe it’s warm. Maybe you’re at a coffee shop or maybe you’re between meetings at work. No matter. I pray God’s Word comes alive to you and revives your soul (Psalm 19:7). Let’s lean in together!

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul writes, “We always thank God for all of you”—that is, the members of the church in Thessalonica—“mentioning you in our prayers. We continually 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” (1:2-3).

Now, sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a lot in a simple introduction, but if we look closely, we might be surprised at what we unearth. Notice that in this passage, Paul commended the Thessalonian church for three distinct attributes, each respectively rooted in faith, in hope, and in love. Let’s look again.

He says, “We continually remember your (1) work produced by faith, (2) your labor prompted by love, and (3) your endurance inspired by hope.”

1. A Work Produced by Faith.

Consider closely this language. Notice that good works do not earn saving faith, but inversely that faith naturally produces good works. Amen! A believer doesn’t earn and build and exert and try, and then at last win relationship with Jesus. Instead, a man puts his faith in Jesus—commits wholeheartedly to follow in the Way and receive in his life all that Jesus has planned for him—and consequently, that faith produces a work. The Passion Translation renders it this way: “We remember… how you put your faith into practice.” That is, because we are consumed with love for Jesus, what instinctively flows out of us is kindness toward others, forgiveness of our enemies, and a generous love for our neighbor.

To take it a step further, this is more than a personal culture; it’s a requirement. In James 2:14, we are asked, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save them?” The answer is no. Authentic faith is therefore indicated by qualifiable works. Put differently, not only do we believe in Jesus, but we demonstrate that we believe in Jesus by the way we live our lives.

2. A Labor Prompted by Love.

What is your labor, your life’s mission, your zeal? Do you labor in teaching the Word of God? Do you labor in raising children in a Gospel environment? Or serving as a missionary in a foreign context? Or running your business with Biblical principles? Or leading worship? Or loving your spouse beautifully well? Trying to run in your lane on a tank empty of love is perhaps the driest and most draining way to live. May you be prompted by love, genuine and holy! Oh, yes! My prayer is that all your “doing” stems from a deeply rooted, supernaturally charged, life-consuming, heart-engaged passion for your truest and first Love, Jesus.

And, my friend, if you feel that your labor at one time was prompted by love but no longer is, don’t lose heart. Passion is a precious gift offered freely and enthusiastically to us by Jesus. He longs to fill up the empty and revive the weary, until your labor is again fueled by real love. God the Gentle and Just says, “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear Me and that all will go well for them and for their children after them” (Jeremiah 32:39, emphasis mine). God is the lavish Giver of passion!

3. An Endurance Inspired by Hope.

Endurance may be inspired by all sorts of things, but arguably the most effective endurance is inspired by hope. A runner may endure training in the hope that she will win first place. A weight-watcher may endure his diet in the hope that he will trim down. And a believer endures difficulty, inner growth, trials, persecution, and spiritual battles because he has a “hope of glory” (Colossians 2:17). 

Yes, as believers we can, and ought to, look forward to a stunning reward (Matthew 16:27), to our inheritance of glorious riches (Ephesians 1:18), and to eternal life (Titus 1:2) filled with God’s supreme goodness! Oh, the joy of learning new facets of God’s love for us every day forever and ever! I can hardly wait! Paul even spends considerable time later in 1 Thessalonians describing the end of time: “We who are still alive and are left will be caught up together… to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words” (4:17-18). And Paul is still elaborating one chapter later: “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath”—that is, God will not curse a blood-bought son to hell—“but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that… we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (5:9-11). So keep running! Endure! Don’t give up! Don’t think about throwing in the towel! Be fueled by the hope of great glory just waiting for you at the finish line!

There you have it. Paul seems convinced that the Thessalonian Church had mastered a work produced by faith, a labor prompted by love, and an endurance inspired by hope. Have you mastered this triad? Which one do you think you could spend some time with today?

My heart,