Friday, September 12, 2014

THE REAL THING (1 Thessalonians Chapter 1)

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, “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.”

In many respects the church in Thessalonica was a model church.  In his epistle Paul cited no cause for rebuke or condemnation, instead there is much for which they were commended.  These introductory verses mark the beginning of a long series of reasons for which Paul gave thanks regarding them (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3-10).  In a sermon on this passage John MacArthur summarized these as follows: they were saved (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:5), submitted (1:6), willing to suffer (1:6), soul-winning (1:8), and second-coming oriented (1:10).

1 Thessalonians 1:3 cites three particular commendable virtues—faith, love, and hope.  This triad of virtues are both praiseworthy and complimentary.  These are similarly related to each other in other passages in Scripture (1 Corinthians 13:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:8; Galatians 5:5-6; Colossians 1:4-5; Hebrews 6:10-12, 10:22-24; 1 Peter 1:21-22; Romans 5:2-5).  All three virtues have to do with fundamental aspects of the believer’s relationship to God and respectively emphasize aspects having to do with the past (faith), present (love) and future (hope).

“Work of faith.”  Though some tend to an erroneous intellect-alone way of understanding of faith, the Greek term has a broader sense of meaning.  According to Vine's Expository dictionary of New Testament Words, it means: "primarily, firm persuasion, a conviction based on hearing."  Vines goes on to explain that the word, as it is used of faith in God, includes three elements: 1) A firm conviction, producing a full acknowledgement of God's revelation or truth; 2) A personal surrender to Him; and 3) A conduct inspired by such surrender.  It is the last aspect of the definition that has direct bearing on Paul’s commendation.  Salvation is not by good works (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9), but it inevitably leads to them (Cf. Ephesians 2:10).  A faith unaccompanied by works is “useless” (James 2:20).  Martin Luther once wrote of faith, saying: “Faith is something very powerful, active, restless, effective, which at once renews a person and again regenerates him, and leads him altogether in a new manner and character of life, so that it is impossible not to do good without ceasing.”  The Thessalonians had that kind of faith.

“Labor of love.”  According to Vine’s the term translated “labor” means “toil resulting in weariness, laborious toil, trouble.”  “Love” translates the Greek term “agape.”  The love referred to here is that love intrinsic to God Himself, who is love (Cf. 1 John 4:16).  It involves more than mere sentiment or emotion, it is that kind of love defined for us by Christ in His sacrifice on the cross (Cf. 1 John 3:16).  There is labor involved in love.  The transformation of a selfish sinner into a selfless saint is ultimately a work of the Spirit, but submission to His leading along the way is not without effort.  1 Corinthians 13:4-7 speaks of love in Christ-like terms.  Loves is a verb--it “does” and “doesn’t do” certain things.  It “does not insist on its own way” and sacrificially prefers the needs of others to one’s own (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 2:3-4).  The believers in Thessalonica had this kind of love for one another.  They’d been taught by God to love (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:9) and labored in it according to Christ’s example. 

“Steadfastness of hope.”  Biblical hope is the confident expectation regarding some future result.  We’ve been born again to a living hope (Cf. 1 Peter 1:3) that anticipates the glory of heaven (Cf. Romans 8:23-24).  There can be no steadfastness (i.e. endurance) apart from hope, “but if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:25).  The Thessalonians possessed a Spirit-imparted hope that revealed itself in their steadfastness amidst trials (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:6).

Chuck Swindoll commented regarding this matter, “The Thessalonians’ unseen attitudes of faith, love, and hope were like hidden roots that produced the fruit of good works, loving labor, and patient endurance.  How lush and fragrant these qualities were in Paul’s memory now that he was so many miles away…In his heart he carried with him a bouquet of encouragement, gathered from his brief encounter with the Thessalonian believers.”  Real faith works.  True love labors.  Genuine hope perseveres.  Paul thanked God for the Thessalonians.  With respect to salvation, the visible evidence of the fruit of these virtues, reassured him that they possessed the real thing. 

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