The Apostle Paul traveled from Athens to the city of Thessalonica and preached the Gospel for about 3 weeks before he was forced to return back to Athens. After he returned, he reflected back on his time in Thessalonica. He must have been wondering what was happening in the new church that was only a few months old. So he sent his young disciple, Timothy, on a follow-up visit to see what was really happening in the lives of the Thessalonians. Timothy came back with amazing news and said, “God is working there, it's unbelievable!” Paul was blown away with this sense of spiritual joy. So he wrote a letter to them known as 1 Thessalonians and sent it to them.
Paul greets them, then writes “3 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 Thessalonians 1:3.
In this one verse, Paul shares three reasons why he was thankful for the church in Thessalonica. First, Paul was thankful because of their work produced by faith. What work? Work like helping their neighbors, work like serving others, work like caring for the poor. The text doesn’t go into great detail about what they did, Paul just spoke of their works in general. He immediately praised the Thessalonians for the good works they were performing.
Why did they do good works? Because they had faith in Christ. Paul clearly states in other texts that salvation is a matter of faith not good works, but when you have faith in Christ, you are expected to take it to the streets. You share that faith through good works. It’s one thing to hear how much God loves you, it’s another to see God’s love in action through others. The beautiful thing about good works through faith is that it connects us with our purpose.
Second, Paul was thankful for their labor that was prompted by love. The love Paul is speaking about here is “agape love”. The essence of agape love is goodwill, benevolence, and involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. As soon as we discover what agape love is, we are forced to make a decision. We either yield to that love or we reject it. If we accept God’s agape love, we are made new in it. By the grace of God, we begin to see people like God sees them. We love them because God loves them like he loves us. That changes everything. Instead of being selfish, we become self-less. Instead of being greedy we become graceful. Instead of receiving, we become more giving. In this text, Paul praises them for their agape love toward others. Because they understood the love of God, they willingly shared it with others and people became followers of Christ because they admired the great love they displayed.
I am convinced that when we love others like Jesus, it makes a difference. If you don’t show the love of Christ, how will anyone ever see the love of God? We show the love of God through serving others. You and I are holy agents commissioned to serve others and it’s a commissioning that we need to take seriously. Because when we serve others out of our love for them, they see Christ.
Third, Paul was thankful for their endurance inspired by hope. Hope enables us to see setbacks as comebacks. Hope enables us to overcome even the worst of situations. The Thessalonians were being persecuted by the Jews who wanted them gone but were willing to endure trials because they had blazing hope in Christ. Hope changes things because hope changes our perspective. The Gospel is based on truth and saturated in hope.
The Gospel enables us to look past our current struggles and set our eyes on the hope of being with Jesus in eternity. You may have endured immense hardships. You may have endured more pain and suffering than anyone should have to go through. Because you have endured, many people have come to see that the gospel is real.
The three key words in verse 3, faith, hope, and love, are seen together several times in the New Testament because when you and I demonstrate these, it makes a tangible difference in our lives and in the lives of others. The Thessalonians were all in. They loved God with their whole heart. They were authentic. They were the real deal. They were full of faith, hope, and love and because of them, disciples were made. In the same way, when we are full of faith, hope, and love, people see Jesus.