“Your Work of Faith and Labor of Love and Steadfastness of Hope” (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10)

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 16, 2011

“Your Work of Faith and Labor of Love and Steadfastness of Hope” (1 Thessalonians 1:1-10)

Pastor Henrickson, to the church of the Bonne Terrians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

And as long as I’m imitating the opening of Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, I’ll continue by saying to you what he said to them: “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Yes, I do give thanks to God for you, the people of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Bonne Terre, just as Paul gave thanks to God for the church at Thessalonica. And what Paul remembered in prayer for them is my prayer for you also, thanking God for, and praying that he would increase, “Your Work of Faith and Labor of Love and Steadfastness of Hope.”

“Your Work of Faith and Labor of Love and Steadfastness of Hope.” That is our theme this morning. As we see these things exemplified in the Thessalonians, we will consider how God is working these same gifts in us. A faith that works, a love that will labor, and a hope that remains steadfast–all gifts of God to us in our Lord Jesus Christ.

It begins with faith. None of these things happen, these admirable qualities in Christians and in a Christian congregation–none of them happen apart from faith. These things are the fruit of faith in the lives of believers. Fruit is not produced unless the tree is first planted.

And so even before we talk about the fruit of faith in our lives, we must first see how God has planted that faith in our hearts. And that is where Paul goes in our text. He writes: “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

The first cause of the fruits of faith, love, and hope in our lives, the first and primary cause, is the love of God, his choosing of us. We have been loved by God, and he has chosen us. He chose us from before the foundation of the world, chose us to believe in Christ and thus become his children. He has loved us with an everlasting love.

And it’s not because of anything in us that causes God to love us. No, we had sinned against our Creator, tuning out his kindly voice and wanting to go it on our own. That is sin. That is rebellion. That is death. And so it is God’s love for the unlovely that is so amazing.

God’s love for us sinners is so great that he sent his only Son into the world to be our Savior. Jesus Christ came in the flesh as our brother, sent here on a mission of love to rescue sinners. This he has done, enduring the taunts and traps of sinful men, their hatred and rejection–indeed, going to death on the cross in the grossest injustice there has ever been–all in order to work God’s justice, whereby our sins are paid for and our righteousness is obtained. This is what Christ has done for you, my friend, winning your forgiveness and eternal salvation.

God’s eternal choosing of us in Christ, his unfathomable love for us in the cross of Christ–these great facts lie even before our coming to faith. Then God activates that faith in our lives through the agency of the gospel. As Paul writes: “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

It is the gospel, in Word and Sacrament, that creates faith in our hearts. God’s powerful gospel word comes to us dead sinners, and the Holy Spirit uses that word to bring us to life and give us saving faith. It is a miracle of God when anyone believes in Christ. It is God raising the dead to life. Through the preaching of the gospel, through Holy Baptism, and through the Sacrament of the Altar, God is at work to make living believers out of dead worldlings and to nourish and strengthen our faith.

So this is how God brings us to faith and keeps us in it. God calls us to turn from our dead ways–that is repentance–and to turn to him in faith for forgiveness and life. That’s what happened when the gospel came to the Thessalonians. Paul recalls how they received the message he brought, remembering “how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” This turning, this conversion, this repentance and faith, God does in you also, when you realize the false things you have trusted in can do you no good–they’re a dead end–and that instead you need God, the living and true God, the only source of life and truth.

Now you have this faith in the true and living God, whom you know in his Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. And you believe in Christ by the Holy Spirit working powerfully through the gospel. This God-created faith will now produce fruits in your life: “your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope.” The word of God is at work in you believers, and this living faith will produce good works in your lives.

“Your work of faith,” as Paul writes. The faith God gives you will go to work in your life. God-given faith produces in you the ability to endure affliction with real joy, and so to be a witness to others of the power of the gospel. Paul tells the Thessalonians: “You received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere.”

“You received the word in much affliction.” “Affliction” is not a word we like to hear, much less experience. But afflictions of all sorts come to every one of us. It may be the disapproval of relatives and friends who think we’re getting carried away with this religion business. But we endure that disapproval for the sake of Christ. Other afflictions come in more common forms: economic setbacks and the constraints they bring; illness and aging; loss and loneliness; marital strain; the stress of work. All of these things afflict us with pain and sadness. How do we endure these afflictions?

We have more resources for affliction than just keeping a stiff upper lip and a stoic resolve. We have the joy of the Holy Spirit, even in the midst of affliction. There is a joy that is greater than our sorrow. That may sound crazy, but it is true. We rejoice when we consider what God has done and will do for us in Christ. This is cause for joy, even in affliction!

And this joyful, affliction-bearing faith can be a powerful witness to others. The example of a joyful, affliction-enduring faith will be an encouragement to our fellow believers. The word of the Lord sounds forth from his people. Our faith in God goes forth everywhere, to all around us, so that they see in us and hear from us the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ that all people need.

Your faith will be a witness to others. The suffering Christian, the believer lying in the hospital–the fact that you are still trusting in God and his goodness, even when your life stinks and you can’t do very much about it–you are at that time preaching a powerful sermon, although you may not realize it. So take heart. God is working in you and through you for your good and the good of others.

“Your work of faith and labor of love.” Love is a fruit of the faith that God works in us. We have love for one another in the church, the body of Christ. This is more than a warm and fuzzy feeling. Love goes to work, caring for our brother or sister in their need, in very practical ways. Do you need someone to love this week? Look around you in the pews. These are your brothers and sisters. And look also at our church members who are not here today in the pews. They are your family, too. Who are they, and how can we love them this week? God will give you opportunities. Be open for them.

“Your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope.” A steadfast hope–this is what God is producing in your life also. Hope is faith projected into the future. You have a firm and solid hope to hold onto now, because you have an eternal future to look forward to. Paul talks about this when he says that we who have turned to God “wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

There is wrath coming on this evil world. Judgment Day is coming, make no mistake about it. We may not know when, but we do know it is coming. How will we be spared, how will we be saved, on that Last Day? Through the one we are waiting for. He is Jesus, God’s Son, the one who died on the cross for us, whom God raised from the dead on Easter Day. Jesus, who ascended into heaven, and who now is seated at the right hand of God, in all honor and glory and authority. This same Jesus will come again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. And you and I will be saved on that Day of Judgment, because our Judge is also our Savior, in whom we have trusted. We are waiting for our heavenly king to come and rescue us from all wrath and misery. Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh! Jesus is coming again, and he is coming to take us home, to live with him forever. This is the Christian’s hope, our sure and certain hope. And we have the steadfastness of hope that our text talks about, because Christ’s promise is sure and certain and steadfast.

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” A faith that works, a love that will labor, and a hope that remains steadfast–yes, all these and more are gifts of God to you, dear Christians, in our Lord Jesus Christ!

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Published in: on October 15, 2011 at 6:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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