Whenever I begin studying a passage or book of the Bible, I know I’ll get something from the Lord because his word is alive. But the sweetest times are when, through the course of studying, God teaches me more than I’d ever imagined he would.
A few months ago I began studying 1 Thessalonians because, while I’ve read through it many times, I’d never sat down and done a thorough study of it. And boy, did God stretch me through it. There were three main things he taught me through the book, and they’ve transformed the way I view the Christian life.
1 Thessalonians 1:8 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our father.
This is what I would say is the theme verse of 1 Thessalonians. The concepts of faith, love, and hope are woven throughout the entire five chapters. The book gives specific examples of how to live these things out and what happens as a result.
Additionally, 1 Thessalonians is a book about discipleship. In the first three chapters, Paul details how the people in the church went from being lost Gentiles to saved ministers of the gospel. These chapters give a perfect outline of discipleship.
As a whole, the book demonstrates how faith, love, and hope are integral to our lives as disciples and disciple-makers.
...if our faith can’t be seen, how are we to lead people to Christ?
Work of faith
What is it?
Some would say we earn God’s favor through works; others would say it’s only by our faith. But we know from scripture that our faith in Christ ought to bring about works that glorify and please him (Eph 2:8-10).
We can take this further: Galatians 5:6 says that works for their own sake aren’t worth anything in Christ, but rather faith which worketh by love. The Greek word for worketh in that verse is energeo, and it means to be active or to show forth. So, we work out our faith by our love towards Christ. And how do we love Christ?
John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
Our faith needs to be worked out through obedience to God’s commandments. Otherwise, as James 2:17-18 says, our faith is dead and can’t be seen. And if our faith can’t be seen, how are we to lead people to Christ? If we have faith in him for salvation yet we don’t have a work of faith, we look exactly like the lost world.
What does it do?
We’ve already seen one of the results of a work of faith: the outward expression of the gospel’s work in our lives, which can then be a testimony to the lost world. But Paul talks a lot about the Thessalonians’ faith and what it did.
In chapter three, Paul says he was distressed because he was afraid the Thessalonians had been tempted away from following Christ. But when he sent Timothy to visit them, upon his return Paul says he was comforted in all his affliction and distress by their faith. Even in Paul’s persecution and affliction, he had joy because of the faith of his spiritual children.
As a disciple, do you have a work of faith? If you do, have joy knowing that you in turn bring joy to your spiritual authorities. As John said in 3 John 1:4, the discipler has no greater joy than to know that their children walk in truth. If you examine your life and find you’re not working out your faith, recognize that all it takes is simple obedience to the commandments found in scripture.
As a discipler, are you finding joy and comfort in your spiritual children’s work of faith? If you’re feeling afflicted or distressed, remember what God has done in the lives of your disciples and find rest in that. And if you’re not seeing fruit, do what you can to invest in them further so that they can have the work of faith God desires for them.
...he will cause us to increase and abound in love not only toward other believers, but also toward the lost.
Labour of love
What is it?
The phrase labour of love is used one other time in the Bible in Hebrews 6:10-12.
Hebrews 6:10-12 For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. 11 And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: 12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
So, a labour of love is to minister to other believers with diligence and without slothfulness. We also know that the type of love being talked about here, agape, is one that is self-sacrificing. Sometimes people call it “love in action”. If you want to do a full study of how we can rightly and diligently love others, examine 1 Corinthians 13 and figure out what each quality listed is sacrificing.
What does it do?
A labour of love makes us more like Christ. If we lay down our lives to minister to others, we are doing exactly what Christ did (Philippians 2:1-8) and being conformed to his image. Not only that, but biblical love actually changes us.
1 Thessalonians 2:12-13 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: 13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.
When we surrender to the Lord and allow him to work in our lives, he will cause us to increase and abound in love not only toward other believers, but also toward the lost. The result of this is that our hearts with be unblameable in holiness.
As a disciple, do you find that your heart is easily tossed to and fro? Then give yourself to diligently ministering to your brothers and sisters in Christ. You can also show Christ’s love to the lost by ministering to and sharing the gospel with them. Over time, God will establish your heart unblameable in holiness.
As a discipler, are you labouring in love towards your disciples? Are you being an example of Christ’s self-sacrificing love by sacrificing yourself for them? We must be Christlike, bringing our disciples along in our lives and giving them the opportunity to be with us, even if it seems inconvenient.
Because of their eternal perspective, the word of the Lord sounded out from them to every place.
Patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ
What is it?
The phrase patience of hope isn’t used elsewhere in the Bible, but the words patience and hope are used together in several other places. Romans 8:22-25 says that all of creation groans for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. This especially includes believers, who groan within themselves for the redemption of their bodies when they meet the Lord face to face. It goes on to say that we have to place our hope in our future meeting with Christ, but that we can’t have that hope without patience. (Note: Today we use hope to mean something we wish may come true, but the Bible defines hope as something sure and expected.)
Yet so often we have the opposite of patience of hope in meeting Jesus. Instead, many of us dread that day. Sometimes we say there are things we still want to do on earth: get married, excel in our career, have children, see Captain Marvel in 2019… We are so invested in the temporal that instead of constantly reminding ourselves to be patient for Christ’s return, we wish that we could have more time on this planet. Instead of saying, “Come, Lord Jesus,” we say, “No rush, bro.”
What does it do?
Having patience of hope to meet Jesus has perhaps the clearest result of these three qualities. If we love the Lord through obedience and devotion so much that we must patiently wait for him, we will be focused on eternal things.
Romans 5:1-2 and 12:12 say that we’re able to rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Similarly, 1 Thessalonians 4:12-14 tell us not to be sorrowful about death, but instead rest in the hope that we will be risen like Christ. We are able to look towards our hope with joy and peace.
Titus 2:11-14 says that looking towards our hope will cause us to live soberly, righteously, godly. If we remember that Christ gave himself for us that he may purify and redeem us—spiritually for the moment, and physically when we meet—we will live with his desires in mind. Additionally, according to Colossians 1:21-23, if we continue in faith and aren’t moved away from the hope of the gospel, we will be holy and unblameable and unreproveable in Christ’s sight when we meet.
We know that Christ’s greatest desire is to seek and save the lost that they may know and worship him. Paul says in Ephesians 3:1-9 that he was made a minister of the gospel so that the Gentiles would be saved and, therefore, able to partake in the unsearchable riches of Christ—our eternal hope of glory.
The Thessalonians had patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. They desired greatly to meet their Saviour King, but they did so with patience. As they waited to meet him, they continued patiently in the work he’d given them. They worked out their faith, they laboured in love. Because of their eternal perspective, the word of the Lord sounded out from them to every place.
As a disciple, are you setting your affections on things above? Are you investing your time, talent, and resources into the spread of the gospel? Or are you unhealthily fearful of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ? Jesus says that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. So invest in spiritual things, and your heart will in turn hope for the appearing of Christ.
As a discipler, are you instilling an eternal focus into your followers? Are you an example of sober, righteous, godly living? Have you taught them how to be an evangelist and discipler? If not, find practical ways to train them in these areas. After all, if our disciples are not able to disciple, we have not fulfilled our mission.
They were fully surrendered, completely in love with their saviour.
Working out our faith is difficult. To live in constant obedience requires constant surrender and mortification of our flesh. But when we lay these down and faithfully obey Christ’s commandments, we glorify and please him, bring joy to those who lead us, and have peace knowing we are right with our Father.
Labouring in love is difficult. To lay down our lives—our desires, our comfort, our emotions—for those around us is costly. Yet we are called to model Christ for the world, and he had a perfect labour of love. 1 Corinthians 13 is a list of character qualities of the Lord Jesus Christ. And if we diligently serve our brethren and the lost, God will perfect our hearts in holiness.
Patiently hoping in our Lord Jesus Christ is—surprise—difficult. It is much easier to focus on physical yet temporal things than it is the invisible yet eternal. But if we are to have a proper perspective for discipleship, we cannot neglect this quality. If we do not keep in mind that Christ will judge both our works as believers and the spiritual state of the lost, we will not minister properly.
It is only because the Thessalonians had all three of these qualities that they were so effective for God’s mission. They were fully surrendered, completely in love with their saviour. If we desire to live rightly before God and fulfill his mission, our lives must also be drenched in true faith, love, and hope.