Paul’s second missionary journey took him into Thessalonica, a city in Macedonia (what is now northern Greece). After he arrived in Corinth, he wrote back to the Thessalonians to encourage and establish them more firmly. The believers there had become known widely as shining examples for others to emulate…in fact, that’s where the title above came from:
“For from you has been sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and in Achaia, but in every place your faith toward God has come out…” (1 Thess. 1:8)
By the third verse of his first epistle to the Thessalonians, Paul introduced an interesting “trinity” of character traits and the actions associated with them:
“…your work of faith and toil of love and endurance of expectation of our Lord Jesus Christ, in front of our God and Father…” (1 Thess. 1:3)
All three connections above are possessive. “Your work of faith” could also be stated “your faith’s work; “your toil of love” becomes “your love’s toil,” and “your endurance of expectation” could be read as, “your expectation’s endurance.”
So what’s to learn from this?
- Expectation produces endurance; it leads to endurance; it requires endurance. Why? Because what we expect isn’t here…we have to wait for it, and that takes endurance.
- Love produces toil; it leads to toil; and it requires toil. Every parent knows this!
- Faith produces, leads to, and requires work. That makes perfect sense, given the definition of faith: “faith is an assumption of what is being expected, a conviction concerning matters which are not being observed” (Hebrews 11:1).
There’s more: For example, we might assume that “work” and “toil” are very similar, but it turns out they aren’t:
- “Work” (not “works”) in Greek is “Act”: “undertaking, an act, deed, a thing done; [connected to faith, it is] the course of conduct…which springs from faith” (Thayer’s lexicon).
- “Toil” is “Strike” in Greek: It is to “labor excessively.” (Concordant Keyword Concordance); “to grow weary, tired, exhausted; to labor with wearisome effort” (Thayer). Out of 14 references to the word “toil” in the Concordant Literal New Testament, all but three appear in Paul’s letters. Here’s an example from Philippians 2:16: “for my glorying in the day of Christ, that I did not run for naught, neither that I toil for naught.”
- “Love” is the Greek word, “agape”: Love is a word we think we know, since we read it, hear it, and use it often (hopefully); however this is not a touchy-feely affection, but love like God’s, which stops at nothing short of His highest purpose. Too often, we throw out the verse, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), without taking into account that love like God’s let Jesus be hung on the cross (of course, it also raised Him on the third day!)
- “Endurance” in Greek is to “be under stress” (CLNT); “steadfastness, constancy, in the NT the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings; a patient, steadfast waiting for; sustaining, perseverance” (Thayer).
In 1 Thess. 1:4, Paul takes note that the three aspects of character he described, and the actions they require, were matters of choice. No wonder the Thessalonians had become such an example to others far beyond their own region, as Paul noted in 1 Thess. 1:8 above.
Let’s put the elements together to gain a more complete picture and understanding of what the Apostle wanted to convey to encourage the early ecclesia—and now us:
“You guys just make me flat proud and here’s why: it’s what you’re doing, your course of conduct, which springs from your faith; it’s your excessive, wearisome, exhausting labor; and your steadfast constancy. You just won’t be swerved from your deliberate loyalty to the faith; no matter how much you suffer, no matter how bad it gets, you wait, patiently persevering. What’s more, no one’s forcing you; you’re choosing to do this! Because of your love that won’t stop short of God’s highest purpose, the word of the Lord has been sounded forth among believers everywhere.”
Would that Paul’s words were spoken over our own lives as faithful, persevering members of the Body of Christ.
Blessings and joy in the journey.