I’ve been struggling through some memory/concentration issues these past several months (not uncommon for women in my stage of life ) and that has led to some interesting times in the scriptures. These past 3 weeks I have been reading in 1 Thessalonians, each day beginning in chapter 1 and reading until the Lord shows me something to “chew” on. I remember once, after the first 5 days, sitting down to read and thinking, “Wait a minute…I thought I was in 1 Thessalonians. I don’t remember reading ANY of this!” So I looked at 2nd Thessalonians and that wasn’t what I had been reading either! Turns out I HAD been in the 1st book but just couldn’t remember any of it!! Well, I guess this is God’s way of giving me fresh daily insights into His Word. Too bad I can never remember any of the old insights!! I guess this is a good reason to blog on a daily basis!
Anyway, last Wednesday I was really struggling with feeling weepy and emotionally vulnerable and decided to go to the special worship service at church we were having with a worship team from Cedarville University. Being at the church building long before the service was to begin (due children with various youth group meetings), I sat outside on the bench in front of the sanctuary and was in, you guessed it, 1 Thessalonians. I came to verse 3 of chapter 1 (at this rate, I may NEVER get passed chapter 2!!!) and was struck by the terms Paul chose to use.
I really love the first part of this chapter as Paul talks about his deep love, respect and joy at the heart of the Thessalonian believers. It often makes me cry as I read it (and I am not a crier…well, not normally) to see how deeply he loved them and the intimacy of their relationship with one another. It makes me think of the dear friends I’ve had over the years who have touched my life in profound and eternal ways – particularly those I don’t get to see anymore and miss more than they’ll ever know. But I digress.
2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father…
I really want to focus on verse 3. The words Paul used about their faith, love and hope were very very fascinating! He used the words: work, labor and steadfastness. Those are words of action, words of exertion. We never think (and often disagree with) faith being linked with work and dislike love being considered an effort. But if you look more closely, you’ll notice that it isn’t FAITH that is the work, it is the work OF faith; the work that is produced by faith. Paul is always remembering how their faith is actively being worked out in their lives and in their deeds to one another and in outreach to the lost. In talking about their labor of love he is meditating on (as Wesley put it) “love continually labouring for the bodies or souls of men”, that their love is not just a touchy-feely thing (although there is NOTHING wrong with that), but it is being worked out in and through their lives with sacrifice, dedication and exertion.
It made me think of the several (or maybe more) times I have been in labor with my babies. Talk about a ‘labor of love’. It was hard work (for you men or single gals who don’t know what I mean), often there were times when I said, “OK, I’m done. I want to go home now and come back to finish tomorrow.” but the love (not to mention contractions ) that compelled me to hold that precious baby in my arms gave me the strength and endurance to continue through the hardness, the travail, the sweat and the trial of that labor.
For me, this was such a living and vivid picture of the “labor of love” Paul was talking about. The transformation of the saints around us into mature and godly believers, partly through our ministry into their lives, through my love and faith.
To be able to minister into the lives of the saints around me, to work (and sometimes sacrifice) for their good, is a labor that I am willing to participate in, especially when I know that the end result is their transformation into the image of the Son of God; into mature and godly believers. Of course, my participation is only a very small part. The Holy Spirit is the One who works it all out, but to know that I can have a part in this glorious eternal work is a major joy. It gives a whole new outlook to serving others.
The last part, the steadfastness of hope is something that I sometimes think we forget. We often live too much in the culture around us; in the instantaneous generation. We forget that our hope comes through long-suffering. Our hope is the final culmination of our salvation, when we will be united with Him in glory. However, we have a long (and often tedious, sometimes odious) journey along the way. We must continue to plod, to move forward, to “fight the good fight”, to walk faithfully with the One who holds our hand and guides us along the way. The spur that keeps me on the path, that sometimes keeps me walking at all, is the hope of His promise of eternity with Him. We too often want our Christian life to be an easy lark where we get everything we want with no trials along the way, great success at all we do, praise and recognition all along the way. In our minds we know that might not happen, but there is too often a large part of of us looking for that easy way. Jesus, however, promises us trials and tribulations. We see the suffering of saints in past generations, and many in our current generation (just not in our western cultures), yet still we expect the easy road and often grumble when it doesn’t happen.
When God brings the trials, the hardships, the pruning that will purify and strengthen we balk and complain (at least I do!) and begin to lose our way. Not the Thessalonians! They had steadfastness in their hope! The KNEW the end of the road, they were looking for the Author of their salvation and they were willing to persevere to see that final promise fulfilled.
So, where are we in this passage. Are we like the Thessalonians; living out our faith through good works, displaying the love of God to those around us regardless of the hardships it means to us, looking to the hope ahead while faithfully enduring the tribulations along the way? That is my prayer for me today. These are areas I so desperately need to grow in. How about you?
by Kate Megill (c) 2010