1 Paul, 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, 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. 1:1–3
“Faith without works is dead”. James 2:17 It is the stuff of “religion”: “A form of godliness that denies the power of God”. 2 Timothy 3:5
I find it worth pondering that Paul uses two different words here that in English mean nearly the same thing, work and labor, but which in the Greek have very distinct and differing meanings. “Work” (ergon) means “what we do”, “our job”, “our ministry”. Here it means those deeds and actions that our faith in the Lord prompts us to perform. “Labor” (kopos) is a word that holds in it the idea of wear-iness and travail and implies, here, that the love of God (agape), which motivates our work as Kingdom sons and daughters, compels us to efforts beyond what those who are “just doing a job” would feel required to do. There is compassion in the heart of God which moves in the hearts of those who truly know Him. Cf. John 10:7–18
The real power of godliness is not faith… it is the love of God out of which true biblical faith springs and takes root and grows. Galatians 5:5–6 Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 13 where he lists three “abiding things”, “Faith, Hope, and Love”, and then places love at the head of the list. It is the love of God in and through Grace that first ignites a living faith in our heart and causes us to seek after Christ (John 6:44; 1 John 4:19; Ephesians 2:8)
Faith that does not have this component of love moving through it is just some degree of belief. Mere belief is insufficient to save the soul. James 2:19 It is obvious that people can have “faith” in myriad things, but that the effects of their faith are often neither godly nor loving. “Faith” alone is not an indication of the rightness of the relationship of a soul with its Creator.
The “works of (New Covenant) faith” are the manifestations of the love of God that first comes to us from Him and then flows back through us toward Him (“we love Him because He first loves us” 1 John 4:19 ). He is the vine and we are the branches John 15:5ff… the works of faith are the fruit that naturally grows from the branches when the life of the vine is coursing through them. And it is the qual-ity of this fruit which ultimately identifies the vine out of which the branch is growing and the root out of which the vine springs. Mat-thew 7:16–20
The “work” of the branch is to grow healthily out from the vine: to become strong and to put forth, in their proper seasons, leaves, and buds, and blossoms, and then fruit bearing seed. The branch does this by “abiding in the vine”: nothing more… nothing less. Abiding means to endure, to remain steadfast, to persevere. As the writer of Hebrews says, “There is therefore yet a rest for the people of God… To cease from their own labors.” Hebrews 4:9ff Fruit does not have to work at growing: It is the natural fulfillment of the life of the healthy branch. What is necessary is that the vine be well tended: watered, fed, nurtured, protected, and defended against attack and disease. John 15:1–2
As this flow of the life of God establishes itself in our lives and we begin to understand that it is as faithful and consistent as God Him-self because the taproot of the vine is the Heart of the Father, we become more and more anchored in “hope”. (“steadfast” = “fas-tened” and “steady”… “centered” and “calm”.) Psalm 91:1–4
Hope reaches forward into the time-fullness of eternity giving us the eyes to see increasingly distant and ever-expanding horizons in the Kingdom of God. As our vision increases and clarifies, our confi-dence deepens and our love of God intensifies. With this intensifi-cation of love our faith and courage grow and the works of our faith multiply.
Love produces deeper spiritual effects… the outworkings of the heart and soul: Compassion, mercy, forgiveness… Others-centeredness and redemptive vision. Ephesians 1:15–2:10
Faith produces substantial works… physical/material results… Faith allows us, with God, to perform the operations of the Kingdom that we call “miracles”: Those actualizations of the way things are meant to be according to God’s created design in our fallen world. Philippians 2:12–13 We see the Kingdom and we see what the Fa-ther is doing. We are more and more able to declare, with confi-dence, “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”
Hope reaches ahead and provides the courage and vision that is strong enough to give reason and meaning to the continuing of the works of faith and love when everything of merely physical and in-tellectual sight grows too dark and confusing to have reason and meaning. We are more and more able to experience with Christ the Joy that gave Him his enduring courage to carry out His mission to its full completion. Hebrews 12:1–3: The courage and strength of character and will that enabled Paul to say to Timothy at the end of his long pilgrimage:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6–8
For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. 1:4–5
We are not called to save the whole world. That is God’s job. We are called to preach and demonstrate the Gospel of the Kingdom and to make disciples of all those who respond positively to our message. John 17:9 surr. Paul says here that such a positive response has three evidences.
(1)There will be a visible effect, a change, the beginnings of transformation.
(2) There will be a sense of God’s presence.
(3) There will be a conviction of sin and of God’s holiness. Cf. John 16:7–11
We move through the world as heralds and ambassadors of a conquering King, taking every opportunity afforded to us to proclaim that He is requiring the surrender and allegiance of all mankind and that a grace period has been provided for “the full number” of the race to decide how they want to deal with these terms. Romans 11:25–26 This is “preaching”. We do not always know that those to whom we speak will receive our message with favor, and the scriptures are clear that many will not. The evidence that our message is favorably received will be the manifest power of the Holy Spirit, and the true conviction of the conscience with repen-tance and the rebirth of those who hear us. There will be a turning toward God and away from the world, and a struggle between the two realms will begin. Galatians 5:17
If this does not occur it is not our problem, so long as we have clearly and fully delivered the message we are bearing. Salvation is of the Lord, not of us. We are to complete our assignment and move on. Matthew 10:12–14; Mark 10:21–23
For those in whom this struggle begins it becomes our responsibility to do all we can to either take them to ourselves as disciples and nurture them, or to make sure that they are given into the care of those who are able to nurture and instruct them. It is irresponsible and immoral to rescue someone from the enemy camp only to leave them standing alone and undefended in the war-zone just beyond the gates of sanctuary.
We are called to make disciples, lifetime learners, not to make converts. We are covenanted with the Lord to “preach the gospel… to make disciples… to teach those disciples everything that the Lord has taught and commanded.” Matthew 28:19-20;Mark 16:15 This does not mean we are to give them a crash course in our local fellow-ship’s statement of faith and in how to go out and “win more souls” by street witnessing. It means that we are to commit ourselves each one to another to “study to show ourselves approved workmen correctly dividing the Word of God” 2 Timothy 2:15 until we in fact are living and demonstrating that we have attained to what Paul calls the “full stature” of mature Christians. Ephesians 4:13–17
Furthermore, a careful reading through the scriptures reveals that at no time were any of God’s heralds “driven” by the Lord with a whip of “urgency”, except in certain cases when they were dragging their feet after He had given them clear instructions about something they were to be doing. Our Father offers us “abundant life” John 10:10, and “rest” Matthew 11:28–30. He “puts us in families” Psalm 68:5–6 and teaches us to look for Him in deep interpersonal rela-tionships. If at any time we are trying to “do” a ministry work and a sense of frenzy, or confusion, or chaos begins to overtake that work, or too much “busy-ness” begins to steal the “peaceableness” of God’s abiding presence in that work, or there is an erosion of our liberty to find time to spend time with the Lord or our wife and kids apart from our work, then something is very wrong.
If God is fully aware of “the end of things from the beginning” Isaiah 46:8–10; And if God has, in His sovereignty, a Plan and a Purpose that we are confident He will accomplish Ephesians 2:10; And if, as we believe, ultimately He will have His way, even though He gives the sons of Adam free will and the freedom to defy Him; then it is inconsistent with everything we say we believe to act as if He gets caught by surprise, or is ever in a hurry, or suddenly remembers that He forgot to do some important and necessary task.
We never see Jesus in a rush, and He is our Pattern. All such incon-sistencies that show up in our lives and “ministries” therefore must indicate that what we are doing has somehow deviated from His ideal plan that He would have us follow. We human beings are given to urgencies and rushings and panics because we cannot see into the future, but God is not so blind. In Christ, and through His Spirit in us, we are to learn to see with the “eyes of faith”, and to live in the confi-dence that our Father has our unseen way under His complete con-trol. We are to move, or to wait, deliberately, taking our instruct-tions moment by moment as we live and move in the Holy Spirit, “praying without ceasing”.
“Those who live by the Spirit are the sons of God.” Romans 8:14
You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you re-ceived the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 1:5–7
When Paul and his team came to Thessalonica, they not only spoke well with persuasive words, they “proved” themselves to be men worthy of those words. They weren’t at Thessalonica all that long, because their pursuers stirred up such trouble for them that they had to move on fairly quickly in order to protect both themselves and the young fellowship. But their testimony before the new belie-vers was so credible, their lives so consistent with their words, that even in the short time that they were there, this fellowship became one of the strongest beachheads in Paul’s outreach into the west.
Too often “ministers” and “ministries” come into a town and put on their “revival” or their “conference”. With modern technology and sophisticated methodologies some of these men and women can put on a show that rivals the best that Hollywood has to offer. And after a week or a month of mesmerizing entertainment and “smoke and mirrors” and powerful religious emotionalism these folks move on in their crusades and the excitement dies down and life goes on… and they haven’t “proven” themselves to be much of anything at all. Very few, if any, lives have actually been changed by their visit, and in-stead of planting seed that has produced fruit, they left town with baskets filled with what fruit the people had to offer and have strip-ped the orchard bare.
A minister raised up by the Lord and walking with the Lord will leave more behind him than he (or she) takes because he is a servant son (or daughter) and understands this.
For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth every-where, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves re-port concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, (this is how it should be, that others tell our story and speak well of us. Promotion is of the Lord. Psalm 75:6–7 We should not be too ready to “toot our own horn”) and how 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 delivers us from the wrath to come. 1:5-10