"Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake." (1 Thessalonians 1:1-5)The first letter to the Thessalonian church is believed to be the earliest letter of Paul that has survived to our day. Paul had previously visited Thessalonica with the Gospel and, amidst some opposition, saw a church of God become established there. Later, concerned for their state, he sent Timothy to check up on them and to see how they had fared. Heartened by Timothy's report, he writes to them telling them he hopes to visit them soon but, in case he delays, gives them some instruction pertaining to their new life in Christ. Paul commends them for the faith, hope, and love.
He commends them for their work of faith. This Greek word implies an actual act. Faith should compel us to a response and to a pursuit of good works. Good words are not enough as John reminds us to not, "love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth." (1 John 3:18) Similarly, James tells us that, "faith without works is dead." (James 2:26) Faith that does not move us to action is dead faith. Put another way, to hold the faith of God in our hearts without producing in our lives the good works of that faith is a form of self deception; believing we have something which we do not in truth possess. The Thessalonians were not like this, their faith produced the good works in them and these works were evident to all who knew them.
Paul further commends them for their labor of love. This Greek word implies a straining at labors, even to the point of pains. Sometimes Christian charity is not convenient and the needs of others can often conflict with our own self-interests, but Christ is our model of labor who set aside His own interests that He might bring salvation to all. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:5-8) The price of our freedom was not cheap but Jesus paid the ultimate pain in His labor to set us free, even the pain of a Roman crucifiction and separation from the Father as He hung on the cross. What made Him able to endure the pain was His love for us; His life was a labor of love. In the same way the Thessalonians labored in charity and good works towards others out of the love of Christ which embodied them.
Finally, Paul commends them for their steadfastness of hope. This Greek word implies patience and a cheerful waiting for what has been promised and hoped for. God is not a vending machine where we put in our money and get out what we want. Sometimes the promises of God take time. The writer of Hebrews says that, in order to receive the promises of God, faith is not always enough, sometimes we need patience too. "[Be] imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (Hebrews 6:12) What God has promised He will do, but He will do it in His time not ours. Like the Thessalonians we too need patience to endure long enough to see the promises of God come to light.
Faith, Hope, and Love: the three eternal pillars of our Christian life!