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Friday, September 25, 2009

Faithful Work, Loving Labor, and Hope-filled Patience

Faithful Work, Loving Labor, and Hope-filled Patience

Paul continually remembered the "work of faith" found in the Thessalonian Christians.

Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father...(1 Thessalonians 1:3)

"Work of faith" is translated from a single Greek word, "ergon", from which we get our English word, "ergonomics", the science that improves the efficiency and safety of work environments. It means business, employment, product, or act.

"Faith" in the Greek means a conviction of truth, to persuade, to trust.

What work qualifies as faithful?

...You became imitators of us and of the Lord...you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit..." (1 Thessalonians 1:6)
...You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead---Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath." (1 Thessalonians 1:9)
...We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living..." (1 Thessalonians 4:1)

The Thessalonians produced "faith-work" by imitating other faithful lives, patterned after the life of Christ. The Holy Spirit of God had full reign over their hearts, making Him free to give them joy in hearing God's gospel message. They repented of their sins and lived each day in recognition of the Almighty God Who created and sustained them. They accepted Jesus as the Son of God, their Sacrifice for sin, their Redeemer and Savior. They were now living to please God, rather than themselves. This was their "work of faith", their "faith-product".

Philippians 2:12: "...work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

Faith-work is allowing God to work through us. Our deeds cannot save us...the gulf between our righteous acts and God's standard of holiness is like that of dirty rags to clean linen...but a Christian cannot help but do good if they are allowing God's Spirit free reign to their life.

With their faithful work, the Thessalonian Christians demonstrated "labor prompted by love". (1 Thessalonians 1:3) "Labor" is often a synonym for work, so is Paul being redundant in praising the Thessalonians for their "labor of love"? A close examination of the original language shows a great difference between "labor" and "work".

"Labor" is translated from a Greek word that means to cut, repeated blows, or hacking. It was used as a synonym for toil that reduces one's strength, or pain. It comes from a word meaning to chop or or beat one's breast for grief. Visualize a person deeply mourning the death of a child, striking their head in disbelief, hitting the wall in frustration and pain. This is the meaning of the word, "labor".

When the woman anointed Jesus with the precious alabaster, his dull-hearted followers reprimanded her. Jesus defended her, reproaching them for the pain they caused her. The word, "trouble" is translated from the same word as "labor".

When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.(Matthew 26:10)

Paul included "labor" in his description of his ministry.

But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings...(2 Corinthians 6:4-5)

Paul used this word twice in the following passage. Both "labors" and "weariness" are translations of the same Greek word.

Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? (2 Corinthians 11:24-29)

Paul endured exhausting toil and trouble for the sake of others.

For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

"Labor of love" represents the sacrificial love expressed by the Christians in Thessalonica towards each other. This immediately brings to mind Jesus's words written by the Apostle John:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." (John 13:34-35)

The writer of Hebrews echoes the same sentiment.

For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. 11 And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: 12 That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:10-12)

This passage from Hebrews contains the same elements that we see in Paul's letter to the Thessalonians: work, love, ministry, hope, faith, and patience.

When Paul praised the Thessalonians for their "labor of love", he was recognizing the trouble, the pain, distress, and danger they endured for the sake of loving others. Genuine, unconditional love is never easy, never without personal pain and sacrifice.

Finally, Paul commended the Thessalonians for their "patience of hope". (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

"Patience" is translated from a Greek word meaning cheerful and hopeful steadfastness, constancy, or endurance. It comes from a word meaning to remain, undergo, or persevere. Literally, it means to "under-stay". It implies humble endurance, waiting upon someone you respect and trust.

A good illustration of patience is that of a farmer. God's Word is often compared to seed, and Christians are to patiently allow His words to grow in our hearts.

But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Luke 8:15)
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. (James 5:7-11)

Paul described patience as being essential to a Christian's spiritual growth, showing that patience comes from experiencing trouble, and it results in hope and love.

And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.(Romans 5:4-5)

Patience brings comfort, allowing Christians to love one another, bringing glory to God.

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:4-6)

"Hope" means an expectation, of evil or of good. It comes from a word that means to anticipate with pleasure. It is NOT "wishful thinking", or unfounded anticipation. It implies certainty and confidence.

Hope is always founded in truth, and hope in God is founded in His promises to us. Standing before unbelieving Jews, Paul claims the hope of God's promise.

And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers...(Acts 26:6)

A vivid illustration of hope is found in the life of Abraham. There was strong physical evidence to show that he would never have an heir. He and his wife were old, aged far beyond childbearing years. But Abraham considered the promise of God to have greater weight than mere appearances. He did not ignore his age...he "hoped against hope", putting God's promise higher than human perspective.

Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. (Romans 4:18-21)

Paul's praise of the Thessalonians is a tremendous encouragement to us continue in trusting God.

Our lives glorify God as we recognize His work on our behalf, resulting in faithful work for Him.

Love is never easy, never cheap. It means sacrifice of time, money, comfort, and safety. Ministry is always a labour of love.

Hopeful patience is based upon the trustworthiness and goodness of the One upon which we wait: Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father...(1 Thessalonians 1:3).