THE STRUCTURE OF A HOLY LIFE
In 1:3 Paul says, “Remembering unceasingly your work of faith, and labor of love, and endurance of hope of our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father.” The work of faith, the labor of love, and the endurance of hope are all great and profound terms. However, we may take for granted that we understand what the work of faith is. Actually, we may not be able to give an adequate definition of faith. What is faith, and what is the work of faith? Some would say, “The Thessalonians believed in God, and because of their faith they did a work for God. This is the work of faith.” However, this is a natural understanding of the work of faith. The actual meaning of this expression is different from what is in our natural way of understanding.
During the training on 1 Timothy we sang a chorus based on 1 Timothy 3:15 and 16:
The church is the house of the living God, The church is the pillar and base of the truth; And great is the mystery of godliness—That God was manifested in the flesh.
Even a child can sing these words strongly and clearly. However, a child would not be able to tell you what it means to say that the church is the house of the living God or the pillar and base of the truth. Neither could a child say what is the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh. A child may sing of such profound things without having any understanding of them. In principle, we may be exactly the same in our reading of the Bible. We may say the words “the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” without having any understanding of what they mean. Likewise, we may have only a natural understanding of the structure of the holy life for the church life, a structure consisting of the three elements of the work of faith, the labor of love, and the endurance of hope. We may know these matters in a natural way, not according to the way Paul used them.
In 1:9 and 10 Paul says, “For they themselves report concerning us what manner of entrance we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from the heavens, Whom He raised from among the dead—Jesus, Who delivers us from the wrath which is coming.” We may think that we know what it means to turn from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from the heavens. Actually, we may not know the proper meaning of these things.
In 4:7 Paul says that God has called us in sanctification. We also may assume that we understand the term sanctification. Actually, we do not have very much understanding of what sanctification is. Here Paul does not say that God has called us in holiness; he says that He has called us in sanctification. There is an important difference between holiness and sanctification.
First Thessalonians 5:23 says, “And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We may read this verse without knowing the true significance of the words “sanctify you wholly.” In like manner, we may not know what it means for our spirit and soul and body to be preserved complete. We may read this verse again and again thinking that we understand it, when actually we may not understand it at all.
First Thessalonians emphasizes sanctification. God calls us unto sanctification, and the God of peace sanctifies us wholly. This Epistle emphasizes a sanctified life for the church life. This is the reason we adopt the expression “a holy life for the church life.”
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 3, by Witness Lee)