Celebrated Danish painter and sculptor Peter Brandes said this about colors: “Blue, yellow and red – those are the letters. They’re like alpha and beta in the Bible: they are the beginning of everything. I could go on and make any language with those colors.”
In like manner, if we were painting a portrait of a model church, we should start with the three primary colors of faith, love, and hope according to Paul in I Thess. 1:3-10.
Like the vital signs of the human body, these are the vital signs of a healthy church. For sure, every Christian possesses each, at least a mustard seed portion. But model Christians, who make up model churches, will have working faith, laboring love, and enduring hope.
I Thess. 1:3 (NIV) says: “We continually 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.”
Saving faith in Jesus produces deeds, tasks, or actions that will inevitably flow out of genuine faith. Faith without works is dead, like the body without the spirit.
The faith Paul speaks of here is to believe that apart from God’s grace, we are nothing but sinners who can’t save ourselves by good works, but that our loving God sent Jesus into this world to save His people by His perfect life, atoning death and physical resurrection. It’s faith that Jesus is the one and only way to the Father, believing that if I trust Christ and Christ alone, God will declare me righteous in His sight and pronounce me forgiven of all my sins.
We aren’t saved by good works but for good works.
Great Swiss Reformer John Calvin defined faith as “a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” Calvin went on to write that faith is not mere conjecture which “flits around in the top of the brain” but a knowledge that “takes root in the depth of the heart.” It’s this kind of faith that produces a body of work by the end of your life.
Deadbeat faith is only talk and notions and mental assent. But a living faith in Jesus will work for Jesus because the seed of the gospel fell on fertile soil. As German Reformer Martin Luther said, “we are saved by faith alone but the faith that saves is never alone.”
Simply put, this is a love from God that becomes love for God and people. Romans 5:5 says “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Love labors. The root word of labor here means to strike or pound, to engage in toil and trouble, to work to the point of exhaustion. Paul has in mind the fatigue that follows strenuous, sustained effort. Now that’s a goal for life! Let me exhaust myself because of love for God and others, not love for me.
Love determines to love no matter the condition of the loved. Love sets no limits. Love never quits and love never fails.
Love befriends the friendless and visits the lonely. Love feeds the hungry and clothes the naked. Love shares the gospel with the lost and points believers to the Lord, not self.
When we stand before Him after His coming, will there be a documentary of toil for the King or a reality show of a selfish life?
The final vital sign of a healthy believer is patient endurance. Hope bears up under a weight, load or trial until Jesus comes. Some trials are short but some last a life time. Some thorns in the flesh God will remove when we cry out to Him, others He will leave for our good and His glory. Some things in life can’t be changed and must simply be endured with steadfastness, looking to the return of Christ as our only rescue.
Hope moves forward with a positive attitude void of self-pity or mere escapism. Hope endures no matter how hopeless the situation. Jesus can return and rescue us at any moment!
The tree of hope actually grows in the storms of suffering and nowhere else. True hope is refined in fiery trials that burn away inferior hopes. If we have no place for suffering in our understanding of the Christian life, then we will want everything now and not develop hope for heaven and eventually be sorely disappointed.
Luther on his theology of hope: “I did not come to my theology of a sudden, but had to brood ever more deeply. My trials brought me to it, for we do not learn anything except by experience… One who has never suffered cannot understand what hope is.”
Dr. Timothy George writes about Luther’s suffering: “one of the lowest points of his life was when his beloved daughter Magdalena, barely 14 years of age, was stricken with the plague. Brokenhearted Luther knelt beside her bed and begged God to release her from the pain. When she had died and the carpenters were nailing down the lid of her coffin, Luther screamed out: “Hammer away! On doomsday she’ll rise again.”
May we walk today by faith, love others in our path and long for the return of Christ more than life itself.
Unless otherwise noted, all posts are written by Pastor Chris McKnight