“We give thanks to God always for all of you, 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 Thessalonians 1:2-3 (ESV)
Work. Labor. Be steadfast. These implied admonitions don’t seem near as appealing as “come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28
I mean, I listened to a pastor this week talk about the spiritual value of naps, and I subscribed to his podcast immediately! Still, there is no avoiding these clear depictions of Christianity in Scripture. It’s meant to be an active life of eager worship and deliberate service.
Paul wrote encouraging the Thessalonians to remember their identities in Christ. He thanked God for their salvation and reminded them of his commitment to pray for them constantly. Then, he gave them a peak at some of the content of those prayers. Namely, that he reminisces with God the Father about how — now that they’re defined by their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ — they have real faith, love, and hope (I know faith, hope, and love rolls off the tongue better, but I’m following his pattern here!) It’s in the context of those new characteristics that he brings up this toil language.
See, their faith is faith that works. Not only is it effective, but it also… does stuff. This reminds me so much of what James wrote in his letter: “…faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” James 2:17-18
True faith isn’t the product of doing enough “good things”. Instead, good works are the product of true faith. If you’ve been changed by Jesus, the way you live and the way you love is directly impacted because real faith is alive!
Likewise, the love they have perseveres tirelessly. The word translated as “labor” here implies working to the point of exhaustion. That resonates on a deep level for me. As a pastor, teacher, husband, father of four, Upward basketball coach, guy who keeps emailing columns to the editor of this lovely paper, and… well, you get the point — I understand exhaustion. I’m sure most of you do too.
We live in a sprinting culture. We fill our plates high and run from table to table, trying our best not to slip in our spills. But the picture of labor here isn’t one of just general busyness. This is a call to give our all to the cause of love. It’s a labor because there will never be a moment when this love isn’t needed, but it continues in the face of exhaustion because it’s fueled by the endless supply of Jesus’ unconditional love!
Furthermore, being those who have experienced this love firsthand — those who have been changed by knowing and belonging to Jesus — provides hope that doesn’t give up. Biblical hope is eagerly expecting God to be God. If your hope is in anything else, your anticipation of good is resting on an unstable foundation, but when you’re standing on the surety of His character and the promise of His sovereign grace, your hope lasts.
Work. Labor. Be steadfast. These aren’t meant to be burdens. They aren’t forced obligations. They’re the natural result of walking with Jesus and being changed by His gift of faith, reflecting His abundant love, and living with His unending hope. I mean, I still like naps… but this is the vibrancy I want resonating from my life.
Until next week, live every day like it’s Christmas! God bless.
Bobby Upchurch is the pastor at Providence Baptist Church in Bonne Terre where he lives with his wife, Melissa, and their four children. He is also an English teacher at Farmington High School. Bobby writes a weekly column for the Farmington Press opinion page. – Editor