I’ve never been in physical danger because of what I've taught about Jesus. Sure, I’m in danger of internet trolling tweeters spouting ugly half-truths about my beliefs, trying to prop up the “god” they find in themselves, complete with out of context verses from Scripture. Other than a mean-spirited 140 characters, no danger is near me because of my preaching (or writing).
Paul lived in a different world. The apostle had to flee Thessalonica because after Paul had taught in their synagogue on three occasions, an angry Jewish crowd began rioting and arresting people who came to agree with Paul’s teaching about Jesus (see Acts 17). Paul and his companions run from Thessalonica to a place called Berea, but the Thessalonian mob pursues them still. Finally, they are able to go to Athens without being pursued, but they find new troubles in that city.
Paul grew concerned for the new converts to Jesus. I would be concerned too considering the dangerous climate where they live. So Paul sent Timothy to check on them. Timothy returned with good news of steadfast faith among the new Christ-followers. To these persevering believers, Paul penned one of the first letters of the New Testament.
In his introduction, Paul wrote, “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:2-3, NIV)
Paul’s sentence structure sticks out to me, using a sort of parallel theme when in his list of memorable things about the Thessalonian believers. He remembers
your work produced by faith,
your labor prompted by love, and
your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Faith, Hope and Love are common bells for Paul to ring. You may recall the Pauline verse that was probably read at your wedding, “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love…” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Those same three concepts appear as Thessalonian high points. We could go into this more, but I’d rather look at the words “work, labor, and endurance.” Those three are the responses to faith, hope, and love. Where faith, hope, and love are planted grows work, labor, and endurance.
Greek time: The phrase Paul uses for “your work produced by faith” is “tou ergon tes pistos” literally translated “your work of faith.” Ergon (work) isn’t a fascinating word. Paul uses it regularly to mean an action or deed. My guess is that the “work of faith” refers to the day to day activities of the Thessalonian believers that are a result of them having faith.
The next phrase, “your labor prompted by love” is “tou kopou tes agapes” or “your labor of love.” We can go into the study of “agape” (uh-GAH-pay rather than uh-gape) love but instead let’s look at the word “kopou.” This isn’t just a regular work or deed like ergon, kopos is used for something strenuous. A hard work. Paul uses it for people working up a sweat out in the field sowing seeds and tending a crop (1 Corinthians 3:8). It translates as “hard work” beside “sleepless nights and hunger” (2 Cor. 6:5). Kopos is bearing a hardship, no small task. Paul praises the perseverance and endurance of the Thessalonians.
The last phrase is “tes hypomones tes elpidos” or “your steadfastness of hope.” Steadfastness is patience, constancy, and endurance. The Thessalonians could endure all hardships because of a constant hope. They patiently waited, expecting their faith in Jesus would not be in vain.
My Takeaway: I’ve never been pressed by outward forces like the Thessalonians had. Their labor, their hard work, their endurance meant being able to withstand arrest, physical harm, and social pressure. While I may have a small scale social pressure kinship with them, I don’t face the same turmoil. Instead, I hope that my “labor” can be the diligent, consistent, hard work of doing my very best to spread the gospel. My acts of faith can be a simple life defined by obedience in everyday, mundane todays. I endure temptations, but do not waver from my faith. I persevere through trials making me want to engage the world in a way that does not honor my God, and I resist.
Consistent, enduring, hard work
prompted by faith, hope, and love