We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 1:3
The work at Thessalonica did not appear to be so great at first glance. Luke hardly gives it much coverage at all, consigning only a few verses to the story of Paul and Silas coming, preaching, and a little about the response by a few people – notably Jason who faced the persecution of the unbelievers. The only other comment was that the Bereans, to whom Paul went next, were of more noble character than the Thessalonians.
But this does not tell the whole story, for Paul wrote twice to this little Christian fellowship meeting at the northwest end of the Aegean Sea. A tough place to live and worship did not prevent the Lord from moving powerfully in the hearts of those who believed. Great conviction was present (1 Thes. 1:5) as the Lord moved and those who reacted to the message of Christ in repentance and faith received more and more joy from God (1 Thes. 1:6). One of the ways that God proves His movement among people is to bring great conviction of sin and leads to repentance and cleansing, and ultimately to great joy and effective witnessing for Christ. People who must bear witness in a tough, resistant place need this deeper work of conviction and cleansing and empowering.
I am writing these words from Thessaloniki, Greece, just a few hundred meters from where these events took place almost two thousand years ago. It remains a tough resistant place to give a Christian witness. We are here looking into a partnership with a group of international believers seeking to establish a Christian witness in this city. If a witness will grow here or anywhere on earth, it must be because the people have gone deep with the Holy Spirit in conviction and joy and service.
Three traits of the commitment of these original Thessalonican believers were immortalized in Paul’s letter. The first was faithful work or service, indicating due to their faith in Christ their lives were channeled toward Christian duties. They served faithfully, reliably, dependably as believers should.
The second, however, went deeper: their labor prompted by love. They went beyond what Christian duty demanded – they labored and toiled. Part of this labor, no doubt, was the exercise of patience with one another. Since love of God and for God had prompted their labor – we love because he first loved us – love would have its way in their hearts and actions toward one another. We read in 1 Corinthians 13 that love is the greatest of this triad of faith, hope, and love. He listed it second in this list of 1 Thessalonians to emphasize its effect in terms of human commitment and actions. If the love of God will touch us as it should, we would love one another more purely, would be more willing to labor and toil for the sake of Christ. The burden of service is lifted by the burden of love, as Jacob served for seven years for Rachel and it seemed like only a few days (Gen. 29:20).
When we are weary of service, it is God’s way of telling us to go deeper into the knowledge of His love, in the transformation of our hearts.
The third trait was perseverance or patience prompted by the hope of God. Not only did they attend to what was Christian duty, not only did they toil and labor for Christ, but they also persevered in the face of rejection and difficulty, out of the hope that the gospel brought to them.
As we let God deal with the innermost attitudes of our hearts, our love and hope in Him will grow, and our service will expand.
Lord, touch our hearts with Your love that we might know You more fully. Do Your entire work within our lives. Amen.