Letter writing is, it would seem, a lost art these days. The conventions of written communications from days gone by have been all but forgotten.
The Apostle Paul was skilled at such things as testified by the large percentage of the New Testament that was poured through his pen—all in the form of letters. These letters often find their first point of communication (beyond the salutation previously discussed) in an expression of gratitude for the ones to whom he wrote.
First Thessalonians was one of the earliest of Paul’s letters. It was written to a fellowship very dear to the Apostle’s heart. He begins with an assurance of his constance in prayer for them:
We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers…1 Thessalonians 1.2
This is pretty routine, of course. It’s a pattern oft repeated. The apostle assures his readers that he prays for them and gives thanks for them. Then he explains the particular things about them that stir his gratitude:
…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 1.3
The apostle was stirred to gratitude by their work of faith. There are many ways their faith is lauded through the five chapters of this letter. But what does he mean here? I don’t know that we can know specifically, but the reality is that every step we take in confidence of God’s faithfulness is a work of faith.
The Thessalonian believers were taking steps of faith. That’s what genuine followers of Jesus do.
Paul then points to their labor of love—the working of the love of God in them and through them. It is the way that the Spirit works through the life of the believer.
God (who is love, according to John) works in the life of a believer to the degree that the believer is yielded to Him. When we lean into the Spirit’s working within us, we are joining His labor—indeed a labor of love.
As their faith was solid in the living Christ whose love was certainly at work in and through them, Paul recognizes the steadfastness of hope that they demonstrated. This hope was in the person of Jesus and his promised return.
These three characteristics paint a picture of these beloved saints. In this opening expression, Paul recognizes a faith of substance, of resilience—a real life faith, a faith well-remembered.
So, as you and I look at the testimony of Paul about these dear ones, we need to ask, how would he describe our lives? Does our faith work? Is our service in the kingdom easily recognized as a labor of love? Do people around us see our lives anchored by a steadfast hope in Christ?
Father, teach us to lean into the work You want to do in us. May our lives become truly a work of faith. May we pour ourselves into a genuine labor of love, passionately pursuing Your kingdom purposes. May our hope in what You have promised be a steadfast anchor to our hearts. Do this work in us, O God.