On Sunday Rob spoke from 1 Thessalonians. In particular he highlighted verse 3 and showed how as Christians we should embody all the traits mentioned in this verse.
‘A Long Obedience in the Same Direction’
Background/Overview of 1 Thessalonians
- John preached from 1 Thessalonians 5 a few weeks ago
- Graham has been preaching during the summer on Zechariah and the second coming. One of thethemes of 1 and 2 Thessalonians is the second coming, as the Thessalonian church wereencountering a number of false teachings about the second coming. They were being told that the day of the Lord had already come.
Thessaloniki – today the second most important city in Greece. Paul, Simon and Timothy were all there evangelising to the city. Paul preached in the synagogue in Thessaloniki on three separate occasions. He told them about how Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. And he taught them how Old Testament prophecy had been fulfilled in Jesus and that the Jesus of history was the Christ of Scripture. Jews and Gentiles became followers of Jesus as a result of the work of Paul, Simon and Timothy. This obviously drew lots of opposition, and the apostles got into trouble. They all had to leave quite quickly, so presumably would have preferred to have stayed to preach more and get the church better established and more mature before travelling on.
Paul wrote two letters, 1 and 2 Thessalonians. 1 Thessalonians can be broadly split into two parts, the first part looking back at the visit of Paul and Silas and Timothy and some of the good things, and the second part addressing some of the problems that the church was encountering. We are able to see through the letters some themes between the gospel and the church, with Paul explaining how the gospel creates the church and how the church spreads the gospel, and how the gospel shapes the church and how the church tries to live according to the gospel.
1 Thessalonians 1 v1-10
Major theme of Paul. Paul’s triad/trilogy. Other examples:
Galatians 5 v 5-6 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love
1 Corinthians 13: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Hebrews 6:10-12: God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
Description of the Christian life in miniature. John Calvin describes it as a ‘brief description of true Christianity’.
What is the relationship between faith, hope and love and work, labour and endurance?
Read Revelation 2v1. How might the Thessalonian church have been different from the church in Ephesus? What was the difference in their motivations?
Is there someone you have known who carries the traits of all 6? (faith, hope and love and work, labour and endurance) Why and how?
Kind of true for anybody. Faith in yourself produces hard work, and love for family produces labour to earn food, and hope for victory produces endurance to finish the race. But what makes it different for us as Christians? How is our faith, love and hope different? And how does that make our labour and work and endurance different?
Important themes in this short triad in 1 Thessalonians. Faith, hope and love for the Christian are rooted in God and they produce fruit, and action, results. It is important to realise that each faith, hope and love are outward focused. Faith is directed towards God, love is directed towards others and hope is directed towards the future. Every Christian is marked by being a believer in God, a lover of others and a hoper for the future. These are our defining traits. These traits all evidence that as Christians, rooted in God we have been transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. Our new birth as Christians does not mean anything unless we are moved out of our focus on ourselves and redirected to focus on faith in God, love of others and hope for the future. And these are active things that are clearly evident because they produce real things, work, labour and endurance.
1. Be motivated by good things of God
These attributes are rooted in the Trinity. The context of the verse is that the three start with ‘Remember before God the Father’, and end with ‘hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’. They are particular spiritual effects of being in relationship with God.
For the Thessalonian church each of their attributes were motivated by good things of God. They worked because of faith, they laboured because of love and they endured because of hope. The Thessalonians were young Christians, new Christians. Paul had to leave them quite abruptly after their conversion and their church had been established. There would have been a question in Paul’s mind as he left them and as he was writing this letter that ‘Would their immature faith prove equal to the challenges which faced them?’. If you read further into Thessalonians you will read that they were faced with great persecution for their faith, false teaching and the uncertainty that came with that, sexual temptation, laziness, and infighting. But as we read from Paul at the start of both of his letters in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, their faith proved equal to these challenges emphatically so. And why? Because their faith was rooted in God. Not in self-interest or in the faith of others. But in God.
Their motivation to work hard, to love others and to endure amidst suffering was because they had a faith in God which was sure and certain and had captured their hearts. It makes us ask some questions of ourselves, and where our motivation lies. Why do we work at studying and reading the Bible? Because we want to be smarter or because we have faith in God that it will enrich our lives?
Why do we continue to labour in loving people at work who may be difficult to love and they test our patience? Because we know the love of God. Why do we keep coming on a Sunday morning and put work into church? Because we believe in God or because it is a convenient social club? Why do we pack away or join a rota? Do you do it because it is a job you can do or because it allows you to be generous? Why do we keep praying when all seems hopeless? Does our hope endure in our prayer lives? Why do we keep discipling people who don’t seem to be growing or knowing more of God?
We do these things because we know that our labour is not in vain. The Thessalonian church kept on doing things in the mist of challenges because they knew that their work was not in vain. But like the church in Ephesus, if our work, labour and endurance are not rooted in the goodness and truth of God then they are in vain. Our labour is in vain without love. Our work is in vain without faith. Our endurance is in vain without hope.
Paul finishes his great chapter on the resurrection of Christ and subsequential resurrection of the living and the dead in the future in 1 Corinthians 15 by saying:
1 Corinthians 15v58: Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is
2. Who we are becoming is much more important than what we are doing
If our work without faith, and labour without love are in vain, then where does this order our priorities as a church when it comes to work and faith, labour and love? Where does it orientate ourselves around the activities which we are doing as a church, and the reasons for why we are
doing them? As a church we are called to first and foremost build disciples not activities. Our activities may help to add numbers to our church and help us mature as disciples. Indeed, activities can show that there is life in the church and that we are moving on with God. How good it is to see that there is life in our church with lots going on! But let’s remember that activity is there for the purpose of growing in God. Who we are becoming is always more important than what we are doing.
This is the same with ourselves as individuals. There is great pressure on us to be doing loads of activities, to be achieving all sorts of things. In today’s social media generation you are constantly surrounded by the wonderful activities and wisdom and cultural tastes of those who we know and those who we don’t really know. We are surrounded by the highlights of everyone else’ life while we compare it to the behind the scenes footage of our own. We may often have in the back of our minds what are we adding to our CV’s, or our Facebook profiles or Twitter biographies. What are we doing to show that we have a diverse set of interests and experiences? How can we show those around us that not only can we do a full time job and have such a wonderful family and clean house all whilst volunteering in a community project and reading good books and cooking good food. These things are still worth our time. But it is important to remember that activities must be there for the purpose of blessing others and growing in God. Who we are becoming is always more important than what we are doing. You can be the busiest person in the world experiencing all sorts of things whilst never stepping back, dwelling on the goodness of God and his presence in everything and thus see a whole load of experiences pass you by without ever really experiencing them as God intended you to.
This is counter-cultural. Our world does not put a high price on endurance. Our world does not put a high price on doing a few things well. More on new things, and lots of things.
Further to this, there is a bit of a tendency in our current generation to see this need to prove your busy-ness as a bit of an outworking of works righteousness. There is an undercurrent in some of our Christian teaching that living a ‘radical’ life where we do all sorts of wonderful things transforming our community is almost like treating Christianity as some kind of extreme sport. If we are justified by faith in Christ alone, then we need not be anxious to show how Spirit-filled we are by living extraordinary, radical lives. We have already received the promise of the Holy Spirit in baptism – which is God’s promise which we can trust he will keep—we are freed from establishing our credentials before God or before others or our own consciences.
Faith, hope and love, and the labour, work and endurance that result from them are very definite transactions done in relationship between us and God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Let us be a church which is distinguished by faith hope and love. Our first calling as a church is that we should be with God. So let us be distinguished by that. And let’s be a church which is known for this over a long time, not because we have a new initiative but because we are rooted in God.
2 Corinthians 4v7: ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’
From our ordinary lives of clay great treasure can emerge. If we are motivated by things of God and rooted in being and not just doing, then we will see great things happen. The Thessalonian church saw amazing growth. They had difficulties, but had sustainable faith which endured.
Knowing Christ the best decision we will ever make. We make decisions amongst the chaos of our lives. The endurance of our Christian walk will be defined by small everyday decisions which we make. The tendency from the world or from doctrines of radical living is that we constantly take 180° turns. Eugene Peterson described the Christian walk as a path of ‘A Long Obedience in the Same Direction’. We need to keep making small 1° turns, realigning ourselves to the call of God. Motivated by God, and fixated by Him.