LABOR OF LOVE
We need to understand the difference between work and labor. Work may be something which is not very deep and which may not be very difficult. Labor, however, is both deeper and harder than work. When we are doing a work that is difficult to accomplish, that is a labor. This labor should be of love. Love is the motivation and the characteristic of our Christian labor. This means that love is the expression. Our Christian work eventually becomes a labor, something that is deeper and more difficult. For this labor, faith alone is not adequate; we also need love, a love that is lasting.
Raising children is a good illustration of a labor of love. Mothers know that caring for a child is a labor, not merely a work. After giving birth, a new mother will have a tender love for her infant. For a while she will work happily to care for the child. Eventually, however, that work will become a labor that presses and exhausts her. How good it is that the Lord has created within this young mother a mother’s love for her child! Without such a love, she would not be able to bear the burden of caring for her child over the years. This love motivates her to care for her child. It is also the characteristic, the expression, of her labor. This illustrates that in the Christian life first we have a work of faith and then this work becomes a labor of love.
ENDURANCE OF HOPE
From the work of faith and the labor of love we go on to the endurance of hope. Hope is the source of endurance. All mothers know that caring for children requires endurance. It takes endurance for a mother to bear all the troubles that come with raising children.
In the church life as well as in the family life we all need endurance. We must be trained, educated, first to work, then to labor, and eventually to endure. An apostle is one who endures. As long as he has endurance, he is qualified to be an apostle. In 2 Corinthians we can see the endurance of the Apostle Paul. Such endurance is the topstone of our work. Elders, endurance is the topstone of the eldership. Likewise, in the work of shepherding others, endurance is crucial. If we would be successful in shepherding the saints, we must exercise endurance. Endurance involves suffering, not enjoyment. Shepherding always involves an amount of suffering.
In 1:3 Paul speaks of the endurance of hope of our Lord Jesus Christ. This endurance comes from the hope in the Lord’s coming, or from the hope in the coming Lord. Hope is the source of endurance.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
The faith, the love, and the hope in 1:3 depict the structure of the genuine Christian life, constructed with these elements. Faith receives the divine things (John 1:12) and realizes the spiritual and unseen things (Heb. 11:1). Hope reaps and partakes of the things realized by faith (Rom. 8:24-25). Love enjoys the things received and realized by faith and partaken of by hope for nourishing ourselves, building up others, and expressing God. Such a life originates not from the ability of the believer’s natural being, but from the infusion of what God is, in whom they believe. It is carried out by their sacrificial love toward their loving Lord, who loved them and gave Himself for them, and toward His members, whom He has redeemed through His death in love. This life lasts and stands unchanging by the sustaining power of the hope that looks for their beloved Lord, who promised that He would come to take them to Himself. Such a life is the content of this Epistle.
I hope that from 1 and 2 Thessalonians we shall all see something that is helpful to young believers. We need to help the new ones to grow in faith, in love, and in hope, in particular, in the work of faith, in the labor of love, and in the endurance of hope.
It is marvelous that the Thessalonian believers could live such a life through the apostle’s short ministry of less than one month. This encourages us to preach, in full assurance of faith, the complete gospel to typical unbelievers and minister the deeper truths concerning the Christian life to new converts. Do not hold the concept that, as you preach the full gospel, others will not be able to understand what you are saying. First we must believe for others. Then they themselves will believe. If we do not believe what we are preaching, others will never believe it. Thus, we must believe that those who hear us will be able to understand, receive, and accept the full gospel. Likewise, we must go on to minister the deeper truths of the Christian life to new believers. May we all learn to preach something deeper than what we think others are able to understand.
In the two Epistles to the young church in Thessalonica, the genuine Christian life for the proper church life is revealed in a simple and brief way. It is a life of three dimensions in the light of the Lord’s coming back: faith as the beginning, the foundation; love as the process, the structure; and hope as the consummation, the topstone. Faith is toward God (1:8); love is toward the saints (3:12; 4:9-10); and hope is in the Lord’s coming (2:19). The first Epistle is for encouragement and comfort; the second is for correction and balance. The believers should live, walk, and work by faith and love in the hope of the Lord’s coming back. But we should not have the wrong concept that the Lord will come immediately, so that we need not do anything for the long run.
THE CONSUMMATION OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE FOR THE CHURCH LIFE
These two Epistles may be considered the consummation of the Christian life for the church life. They conclude the section of the Apostle Paul’s writings that begins with the book of Romans. Although these two Epistles are for the young Christian life and church life, they may also be regarded as the consummation of the Christian life for the church life.
According to the sequence of the New Testament writings, we have Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 and 2 Thessalonians. These nine Epistles may be considered a group. The consummation and conclusion of this group of nine Epistles are 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
In this message we have covered two basic points: first, that the church is composed of human beings in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ, those who have the life of God and who are in the organic union with Christ; second, that the church life is the Christian life constructed of the work of faith, the labor of love, and the endurance of hope in the coming Lord. May we all be deeply impressed with these two points. We need to see that the church is the composition of human beings who are in God the Father with life and who are organically in the Lord Jesus Christ. We also need to see that the Christian life for the church life is constructed of the work of faith, the labor of love, and the endurance of hope. In forthcoming messages we shall see more concerning this work of faith, labor of love, and endurance of hope.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)