THE WORK OF FAITH, LABOR OF LOVE, AND ENDURANCE OF HOPE
In the first Epistle to the Thessalonians there are three words which are very important—faith, love, and hope. Verse 3 of chapter one says, “Remembering unceasingly your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, before our God and Father.” Faith relates mainly to the past, although we still need faith at the present time. The Christian life is initiated by faith; faith is the starting point of the Christian life. Following this, love is the present process of the Christian life, and hope is for the future. A proper Christian life is a life of faith as the start, love in the process, and hope for the future. These three are all related. If we are short of any one of these three, our Christian life has a problem.
Anything solid must have three dimensions. If something has three dimensions, it is established, solid, and stable. When the ancient Jews constructed a building, for example, they laid the foundation stone, built the structure upon it, and placed a topstone, a crowning stone, to complete and cover it. Faith, love, and hope are the three dimensions of the Christian walk. Faith is the foundation, love is the structure, and hope is the topstone. A solid Christian life must be a life of love, but love is founded on faith and has hope as its covering. In all our work and living we must have love, which issues out of and is produced by faith (1 Tim. 1:5, 14; 2:15; 2 Tim. 1:13; Gal. 5:6).
We must keep these three items in mind—faith, love, and hope—when we read 1 and 2 Thessalonians. These eight chapters are a development of the three dimensions of the Christian walk. It is not necessary to expound every verse in these books; if we remember that these two books deal with these three dimensions, we will understand all eight chapters.
We pursue the Lord day by day because He has given us faith. However, this faith causes us trouble. If the Lord had not given us faith, we could go along in a fallen way and still be at peace, but since the day we received faith, we have been troubled by it. It is this living faith, this saving faith, that not only turns us back to the Lord but also encourages us to go on. There is something within us that always stirs us up and encourages us to be active. We may say that this is the Lord Jesus, but we should also say that it is this wonderful faith within us.
Second Peter 1:1 says, “Simon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have been allotted faith equally precious as ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” This verse says that we obtain faith in the righteousness of God, but Romans and Galatians tell us that we obtain righteousness through faith (Rom. 4:5, 13; 9:30; 10:6; Gal. 3:5-6). Does faith come first or righteousness? The answer is that faith is a seed sown into us that grows. Second Peter 1:3-7 continues, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us all things which relate to life and godliness…through which He has granted to us precious and exceedingly great promises that through these you might become partakers of the divine nature….And for this very reason also, adding all diligence, supply bountifully in your faith virtue; and in virtue, knowledge; and in knowledge, self-control; and in self-control, endurance; and in endurance, godliness; and in godliness, brotherly love; and in brotherly love, love.” To faith are added more and more virtues until eventually love is added in two aspects—love for the brothers and love for all people. This sequence begins with faith and ends with love. This is the proper growth in the Christian life.
Faith as the foundation within us causes us to live a certain kind of life. On the one hand, faith as a seed sown into us is a foundation to strengthen us, while on the other hand, this living and dynamic faith constantly troubles us. If there were no faith within us, not one of us would remain in the church life. We would run to the beach, to the movies, or go dancing. However, if we go to the beach or to the movies, we do not have the peace within. Something within rises up to ask, “Is this eternal? Is this divine?” We may want to find a better job, but the faith within us may not agree. If we pursue a Ph.D. or seek to be a bank manager, something within may ask, “Is this for the Lord Jesus? Is this eternal and divine? Is this precious in the eyes of God?” This troubling element is the faith within us. Faith within us always troubles us and keeps us from the worldly things.
As a result, love follows this living faith. We may tell the Lord with tears, “Lord, I love You. I forsake myself. I give up all the glory of this age. For Your sake I would stop seeking the worldly things. I just love You. I want to spend my time and energy and be spent to gain souls for You. I desire to serve You, to work for You, and to live for You because I love You.” This is the labor of love. What bubbles up, rises up, and is produced by living faith is a sweet love. Although many times we are suffering or persecuted and have many problems, we sense a sweetness toward the Lord. Sometimes with tears we may say, “Lord, I praise You, and I really love You,” and the more we tell the Lord that we love Him, the more our tears come. This is love as a product of faith. Love carries us on to work for the Lord, to live for the Lord, to go along with the Lord, and even to sacrifice our life as martyrs for the Lord. This love comes from faith.
Moreover, this love has a crown, a topstone, which is hope. Whenever we say that we love the Lord, spontaneously and unconsciously within us there is a hope to see Him. Whenever we say, “Lord, I am living for You because I love You,” spontaneously hope rises up within us. We have the hope of seeing Him and meeting Him. Very often we cannot and would not do certain things, and we determine to not be defeated, simply because we realize that we will see the Lord. We must stand and fight the battle to the end because one day, perhaps tomorrow, we will meet Him. This is our hope.
The entire Christian life and walk is built with these three dimensions—faith as the foundation, love as the structure, and hope as the topstone. The two epistles to the Thessalonians are a development, definition, and explanation of the work of faith, the labor of love, and the endurance of hope, and we can understand all eight chapters in this light.
(General Sketch of the New Testament in the Light of Christ and the Church, A - Part 2: Romans through Philemon, Chapter 13, by Witness Lee)