I once warned that I had several topics to blog about and intended to tackle them during my spring break. I thought I had a progression of topics and the order I was going to write them, but nothing has happened on that front. Until now. I’m skipping my first one to bring you perhaps the most important one I’ve been thinking about.
My Navigator bible study has been going through the books of 1 & 2 Thessalonians and the insight and comments have been quite good. I don’t think it’s possible to not have a good bible study, I mean, it’s the bible! Anyway, I digress.
In 1 Thes 1:2-3, Paul writes “We give thanks to God always for you, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father.” Just some quick background, Paul preached in Philippi just before being forced out and then went to Thessalonika (That’s the Greek spelling; it’s not misspelled) You can read about it in Acts 16-17. The point I’m trying to make, though, is that Paul was only in Thessalonika for 3 weeks or so, and already, the church he planted there came under persecution. (That’s why he had to leave for Berea)
Back to 1 Thes 1:2-3, So Paul prays for them, that’s great, but what does he remember in his prayers? Their work of faith, their labor of love, and their patience of hope. This part reminds me of the end of the famous love chapter in 1 Corinthians (13:13) “And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
The designer of our study drew our attention to the words that Paul used to describe their faith, hope, and love (Ie work, labor, and patience). We see these words all over the epistles of Paul, most often speaking of his “labor among you” or a command to ‘be fruitful in every good work.” We see these same ideas (Work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope) in the Lord’s messages to the seven churches, particularly Ephesus in Rev 2:2-3.
As the attention was brought to these words, I went to my trusty concordance in an effort to clarify why they were used that way. The study designer had quoted a Charles Ryrie commentary which went like this: “The word Paul uses for labor in verse 3 means “fatiguing work” and differs from work in the phrase work of faith in that it includes the cost associated with labor.” Thus, I went to the Greek dictionary.
Work of Faith, the word “work” in Greek is “ergo” and means ‘toil as an effort or occupation”. It’s used in John 6:29- “The WORK of God is that you believe…” In Acts 13:2, Paul and Barnabas were commanded to be “Separated to Me for the “ergo” to which I’ve called them.” 1 Corinthians 15:58 uses that word: “…always abounding in the work (toil as an occupation) of the Lord…” Col 1:10 “…Being fruitful in every good work…”
So then it’s the “occupation” of faith. Faith. Faith is foundational; by Heb 11:6, “without faith, it’s impossible to please God.” Faith is, according to Heb 11:1, the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen.” There, it is connected with hope, but I’ll get to that in a minute. James talks about faith in chapter 2:14-26. Faith without works is dead. So it therefore requires action, just like you can’t do no work and still have a job (occupation).
Labor of Love, again the word labor here is Kopos (the o’s are short, if you want to pronounce that correctly). It means toil, pains, trouble, weariness. Again, its the same word as in Rev 2:2-3, 1 Cor 15:58, and Heb 6:10 (For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward his name, in that you have ministered to all the saints and do minister.) The most interesting passage it related to, I thought, was Matt 11:28–“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
So then this is the pains of love. I think of Romans 12:9-21, 1 Cor 13, and Phil 2. Those characteristics of love are hard to do. That’s probably why Paul asserts that “the greatest of these is love.” Even loving God in the way Jesus told us how is difficult. “If you love Me, you will keep My commands.” There truly is a cost to following Christ. Paul said he died daily so that Christ might be made manifest. Jesus Himself said, ” If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
Lastly, Patience of Hope, The word for patience was Hupomone or cheerful endurance, waiting. Same word as the famous Luke 21:19 quote from That Thing You Do. (I thought you might like that). It is produced by tribulation according to Romans 5:3 and produces character. James 1, the testing of your faith produces patience. Romans 8:25 says, “But if we hope for what we do not see, (Sounds like Heb 11:1 faith) we eagerly wait for it with patience. ” He was talking specifically of your adoption as sons.
The cheerful endurance of hope, I might know something about endurance, but not this kind. What is our hope that the Thessalonian church was patiently waiting in? Perhaps it was written about later in the book when Paul lays out the rapture. Maybe it was the living hope that 1 Peter 1:3-5 talks about. Maybe it was like Abraham’s hope and belief in God’s promise of a son. But the evidence of this hope, this patient hope, was what they endured because of it. Hebrews 11:32-40 comes to mind and I’ll quote.
“32-And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak, Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33-who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34-quenched the voilence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valient in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35-Women recieved their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36-Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37-They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented–38-of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. 39-And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40-God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”
Finally, I came across another mention of the “big 3″ as I like to call them, in 1 Thes 5:8. The context is armor, ie the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of salvation. It’s interesting that the breastplate guards and protects the heart and the helmet protects the head (mind). This also means that it’s a battle. News flash? Nope, we all know Eph 6:12 and the nature of our enemy in John 10:10. To close, I’d like to composite Eph 6:12, Jn 10:10, 1 Thes 5:8, and certain elements of battle into a statement.
“My battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the robber of hope, the destroyer of faith, the killer of love, where the battlefield is men’s souls and the plunder is their eternal destiny.”
I know I probably took a long walk in the realm of kapu, but it was worth it.