1 Thessalonians 1:2–3
We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:3 Paul gives thanks to God that faith has produced work and love has produced labor and hope has produced endurance. If you took those words all by themselves, you might treat faith, hope, and love as very general psychological forces that have inevitable effects on our productivity and durability. You might say, for example, that faith in yourself produces hard work, and love for family produces labor to earn food, and hope for victory produces endurance to finish the race. And, of course, that would be true. But it wouldn't be Christian. It wouldn't be of any spiritual or eternal value. It wouldn't be what Paul is talking about here.
When Paul speaks of faith giving rise to work and love giving rise to labor and hope giving rise to endurance, he has in mind some very definite Christian, spiritual transactions between us and God—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Faith, Hope, and Love and the Trinity
Notice how Paul links the Christian life of faith and love and hope to every member of the Christian Trinity:
The Relationship to God the Son
First, notice the relationship to God the Son: at the end of verse 3 the faith and love and hope are "in our Lord Jesus Christ." Paul is not describing general psychological principles; he is describing particular spiritual effects of being in relation to a particular living Person, Jesus Christ. Faith and love and hope which are "in our Lord Jesus Christ" give rise to a particular kind of work and labor and endurance that count for eternity because they come from Christ and honor Christ.
The Relationship to God the Father
Second, notice the relationship of these things to God the Father. At the beginning of verse 3 it is to God the Father that Paul gives thanks for the faith and love and hope that the Thessalonians have: "Remembering before our God and Father . . . " So evidently God the Father has been instrumental in producing this faith and love and hope, since he gets thanked for it.
But in verse 4 the connection with God the Father is even more specific. Verse 4 teaches that if faith in Christ produces work, and love in Christ produces labor, and hope in Christ produces endurance, this is clear evidence that the Thessalonians have been chosen by God. Verse 4 connects with verse 3 like this: "We give thanks for your faith and love and hope for (by this) we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you." We know that you are among the elect of God because of the fruitfulness of your faith and love and hope.
The Relationship to God the Holy Spirit
Third, notice the relationship to God the Holy Spirit. Verses 5 and 6 make the connection clear. "For our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction." So the change in these people's lives is not only evidence that they are chosen by God the Father, as verse 4 says; it is also evidence that the Holy Spirit was powerfully at work within them.
Verse 6 spells out the evidence of this just like verse 3 did: "You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit." The fact that affliction didn't destroy the joy of their faith is evidence that the gospel had come with Holy Spirit power and not just in word.
So the upshot of all this is that the faith and love and hope of verse 3 are not general psychological principles that happen to work and make people more productive and stable. Rather they are profound theological realities. They come from a relationship with the living Lord, Jesus Christ. They are the result and evidence of being chosen by God the Father. And they are the work of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of a particular message called the gospel.
How Do You Keep On Going?
What we want to focus on this morning is the relationship between endurance and hope. Our text is verse 3 and in particular the phrase, "endurance of hope." I take this to mean that hope produces endurance, or that endurance is the fruit of hope. My reason for this interpretation is that "work of faith" and "labor of love" seem to have that meaning—namely, a work which comes from faith and a labor which comes from love. Faith produces work. And love produces labor. Similarly then, endurance comes from hope and hope produces endurance.
The question I want to ask this morning is this: How do you keep on going in a path of obedience to Christ—say, in some relationship or some ministry—how do you keep going month after month for years or even decades when there are emotional and relational and spiritual and financial obstacles, and when the normal human encouragements evaporate and you feel forgotten?
What does it take to hang in there when the glamour is gone? The limelight is terribly fickle. It moves from ministry to ministry in the local church. For a while it is on the music ministry. Then there is a special focus on Christian Education. Then comes Missions Week, and being a world Christian and going across cultures is a glorious thing. Then the international student ministry stands out, then urban ministries, then small groups, then the ministry of prayer and the thrill of being a praying church with teams praying through every service and every morning of the week.
As the limelight moves and focuses on a ministry, it looks bright and exciting, and so the ministry picks up people. There is a sense of thrill and joy and camaraderie and power. But then the limelight moves on. Gradually no one seems to be talking about your ministry any more. It doesn't turn up in the STAR as often. Recruits aren't called for from the pulpit. Other things seem to be getting people exciting now.
The Need for Endurance
Does God mean, then, for ministries to flourish only when they are in the limelight of attention and glory? Does he want dynamic ministries of music and education and missions and international students and urban concerns and 20:20 groups and prayer only when they have the limelight of church wide attention? The answer is clearly, NO. What then is needed? The answer is: Endurance.
Absolutely indispensable in the ongoing life of the church of God is the power to keep going month after month, year after year, even decade after decade in the path of obedience. And for many of us that will mean long-haul endurance in a particular ministry in spite of emotional and relational and spiritual and financial obstacles, even when the encouragements of the limelight and the attention and the glory and the admiration are gone, and we feel like the joys of life are passing us by.
There will be a world of difference between the joy and enthusiasm and admiration when we commission the Roys and Richters and Reyes tonight, and the stress and loneliness and sickness six months from now in Cameroon and Guatemala. What does God require of such missionaries? What does he require of you in your ministry, in your marriage, in the burden of your sickness or disability? He requires endurance. And where does endurance come from? It comes from hope. "I give thanks to God . . . for your work of faith and labor and endurance of hope."
Without the endurance of hope, the work of faith and the labor of love will prove to be no real work of God but only the love of the limelight. We do not live in a generation that puts a high premium on endurance in relationships or jobs or in ministry. And we are very much children of our age. If we follow Scripture here, we will be swimming against the tide. So be it! This is a call for the endurance of the saints! (Revelation 13:10; 14:12.)
A Crucial Question About Endurance and Salvation
Let us probe the connection between hope and endurance by asking a very crucial and practical question: are Christians supposed to endure in the path of obedience in order to inherit the blessings of heaven; or are Christians supposed to endure because the blessings of heaven are certainly and infallibly theirs?
Let's ask it another way: is endurance in the path of obedience to Christ a condition we must meet in order to obtain the inheritance of salvation; or is the inheritance of salvation already a guaranteed gift so that our confidence in it is what enables us to endure?
Or to ask it one other way: Is the message of the gospel, You must endure to the end in order to be saved; or is the message of the gospel, You shall endure to the end because you are saved?
The biblical answer to all six of these questions is a resounding YES! You must endure to the end in order to be saved. And you shall endure precisely because you are saved. Salvation is both the reward of endurance, and the free gift of grace. We endure in order to inherit the blessings of heaven and because we are sure that the blessings of heaven are certainly ours.
Now the reason I stress this is that the place you must go to strengthen your hope is to the Scriptures, and what you will find when you do is both of these teachings (the "must" and the "shall"; the "in order to" and the "because"). And I don't want you to mangle the Scriptures, or miss the precious encouragement of God in both kinds of texts. Let me illustrate these two kinds of Scripture and try to show how both are really intended to strengthen and sustain your hope and empower your endurance. First let's look at the SHALLS, and then at the MUSTS.
You recall from last week how the new covenant promises were better than the old covenant because they are accompanied with the assurance of spiritual power to fulfill the covenant conditions. For example, in Jeremiah 32:40 God promises,
I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.
This is the same as Ezekiel's saying in 36:27.
I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my commandments.
So what do we learn from these verses? We learn that the people of God SHALL endure in the path of obedience. "I SHALL put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me!" "I SHALL put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes." Endurance is a promised gift of the new covenant. It is one of the great SHALLS of God's sovereign grace!
And so we come over to the New Testament and read in Philippians 1:6, "I am sure that he who began a good work in you SHALL bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." God WILL do it. And 2 Timothy 1:12, "I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me." In other words God SHALL keep Paul faithful in the ministry he has been given.
To the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:8–9) Paul says, "Christ SHALL confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son." In other words, if God calls you into the fellowship of his Son, he will give you endurance to the end. "He who calls you is faithful, and he WILL do it!" (1 Thessalonians 5:24). "Those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Romans 8:30).
The path from justification to glorification is a path of obedience. This path is the guarantee and the gift of God bought for God's people by the blood of the new covenant: "Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Hebrews 13:20–21). The blood-bought blessing of the new covenant is the commitment of almighty God never to turn away from doing us good and to work in us what is pleasing in his sight, and thus to cause us to ENDURE in obedience to the end. Endurance is a gift and guarantee of the new covenant sealed by the blood of Jesus for all who trust in him.
And so we take heart when we feel weak, and we look away from ourselves to God's grace and power and rekindle our hope that we can and will endure in the path of obedience to which he has called us.
Now that is one kind of text which you find in the Bible when you come looking for encouragement and strength. But there is another kind also. The first kind says that endurance has been bought by the death of Christ for his people and is guaranteed. The second kind says that endurance is a must for God's people and by it they will obtain the reward of salvation. The first says, You shall endure because you are saved. The second says, You must endure in order to be saved. Let's look at this second kind of text.
As he describes the end times, Jesus says, "Because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:13; 10:22; 2 Timothy 2:12). You must endure to the end in order to be saved. Paul says to the church at Rome, "God will render to every man according to his works: to those who by endurance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life" (Romans 2:6–7). We will obtain eternal life IF by our endurance we press on in well-doing.
He says virtually the same thing in the great epistle of freedom. Galatians 6:8–9, "For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in well-doing [i.e., let us endure!], for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart." The reaping of eternal life is attained only by those who sow to the Spirit and do not grow weary in well-doing—those who endure. We must endure in order to inherit (reap) eternal life.
And Hebrews 10:35–36 teach the same thing: "Do not throw away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised." You need to endure so that you can do the will of God so that you can obtain what is promised. The inheritance is only given to those who endure in obedience to the will of God (Hebrews 3:6, 12f.; 6:11; 10:23; 12:1ff.).
Those are the two kinds of texts you find in the Bible concerning endurance. The one kind assures us that we SHALL endure because we are saved. The other kind urges us to endure so that we will be saved. Endurance is a gift and endurance is a duty. And these are not in conflict. When dealing with a holy and sovereign God, these are not contradictions. We MUST endure to the end, for he is holy; and we SHALL endure to the end, for he is sovereign.
In one sense there are the two different kinds of Scriptures because they have two different purposes. But in another sense they are perfectly one. Consider their different purposes.
The SHALLS of Scripture Do Three Things
- They turn us away from all self-reliance and boasting (1 Corinthians 4:7) and direct us to the sovereign power of God. "He will cause us to endure!"
- The SHALLS of Scripture turn us away from all legalism—the thought that we could ever earn the heavenly reward. It was bought by Christ. It is a free gift and cannot be earned. Endurance is not a way of paying for salvation. It is a way of experiencing grace (1 Peter 4:10–11; Galatians 5:10) and living by faith (Galatians 2:20).
- The SHALLS of Scripture give confidence and peace to the broken and contrite who cast themselves on Jesus for forgiveness and help.
The MUSTS of Scripture Do Three Things
- They remind us that the miracle of conversion is not a legal fiction. You can't be converted to Christ and have everything stay the way it was. There MUST be a change—a change that endures. There must be the "work of faith, the labor of love, and the endurance of hope." "Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh" (Galatians 5:24).
- The MUSTS of Scripture direct our attention to the exceedingly great value of the reward of heaven. If we must endure, and if endurance comes from hope, then I must get my heart free from the love of the world and set it on the value of the things above so that my hope in God will be kindled and I will have the power to endure in obedience to Christ.
- The MUSTS of Scripture provide us with a way of testing whether we have any right to claim the SHALLS for ourselves. To whom do the SHALLS of Scripture belong? They belong to those who are broken by the MUSTS of Scripture and who fly to Christ for forgiveness and help.
So the SHALLS of Scripture give the Christian life its peace and security and stability, and the MUSTS of Scripture give the Christian life its urgency and earnestness and mission. The SHALLS base the Christian life on the sovereign grace and power of God. The MUSTS remind us of the necessity to depend on this grace and power.
So in the end both the SHALLS and the MUSTS of Scripture point us to the same thing: they point us away from ourselves to the sovereign grace and power of God. The SHALLS do it directly with promises of grace. The MUSTS do it indirectly by commanding us to do things we can't do without grace.
The Musts, the Shalls, and the Endurance of Hope
And so when you read in Scripture that God SHALL cause you to endure (Jeremiah 32:40), the aim is that, with all peace and joy, you would set your hope on the sovereign grace of God, and in that hope find the strength to endure. And when you read in Scripture that you MUST endure (Luke 21:19), the aim is the same: that, with all urgency and earnestness, you would set your hope on the sovereign grace of God, and in that hope find the strength to endure.
The SHALLS of Scripture are sweet and reassuring calls to hope in God. The MUSTS of Scripture are urgent and earnest calls to hope in God.
The MUSTS are not telling us to endure in our own strength. And the SHALLS are not telling us that we don't have to endure. Both the SHALLS and the MUSTS are telling us: HOPE IN GOD! HOPE IN GOD! HOPE IN GOD! For this is the great source of power to endure in the path of obedience.
If you put your hope in the sovereign grace and power of God and not in your own strength, or in the approval of others or in money or in fleeting pleasures or in status, then when the limelight shifts off your ministry and your life, and the praise of man is gone, and the glamour of self-denial evaporates and all the supports of men crumble, then you SHALL endure—with the endurance of hope.
Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
After 17 weeks of messages on hope I feel constrained to entreat you who have not put your hope in Christ to do it now. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, acknowledge your sin, let go of worldly hopes, and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, the power to endure, and the hope of everlasting life.