COMMENTARY ON FIRST THESSALONIANS
" 1:3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father." (1 Thessalonians 1:3 KJV)
There is a fellowship within the body of Christ that transcends our several ministries. Whether an Apostle, a servant, minister of mercy, or some other function, we are "one body in Christ, and every one members one of another" (Rom 12:5). In all of His Epistles, Paul acknowledges this affinity by speaking personally with his readers. You sense his concern for their spiritual welfare, thankfulness for their progress, and interest in their destiny. His Apostolic office did not depersonalize him, and was never approached as a professional career. In this regard, he reflected the spirit of the Lord Jesus Himself. Salvation, in all of its aspects, is personal and productive. The person in fellowship with Christ will be observant of the qualities in others that have come from Him. Those observations will reflect heavenly values, encourage the brethren involved, and instruct others in proper Kingdom priorities. In the world, great and large matters are rarely personal, and often not practical. However, that is not the manner of God's great salvation, as confirmed by this text. In Christ, the benefits that are conferred are not necessarily limited to those receiving them. They can often be experienced by others.
REMEMBERING WITHOUT CEASING
" 1:3a Remembering without ceasing . . . " KJV Other versions read "constantly bearing in mind,"NASB "We continually remember,"NIV and "unceasingly remember."BBE Here is an expression that reflects the manner of the Kingdom. There is a certain frame of mind that is produced by faith. It not only shapes how we consider the future, but how we reflect upon the associations of the present. In a religious institutional setting, a constant spiritual frame of mind is virtually unknown. The mind is too often devoted to things wholly unrelated to the children of God. The dominating nature of personal and mundane interests can be heard in the conversations of professed believers. Rarely, if ever, is there mention of the graces God has granted His people-specific people. This is a betrayal of a most serious deficiency, and is to be taken seriously.
When Paul says he remembered "without ceasing" he was not speaking of a routine remembrance, driven by mere human discipline. He did not maintain an impersonal prayer list, in which he fulfilled a mere Apostolic obligation to pray. He thought in such a manner as provoked the recollection of the people of God. This resulted from not loving the world or the things that are in the world (1 John 2:15-17). It was the consequence of setting his affection on things above, and not on things on the earth (Col 3:1-2). It was the natural outcome of living as a stranger and pilgrim in this world, which posture accentuates the value of the saints of the most High God.
What does it take to summon holy brethren into remembrance? Paul told the Philippians he thanked God "upon every remembrance" of them (Phil 1:3). He told Timothy "without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day" (2 Tim 1:3). He called to "remembrance the unfeigned faith" in young Timothy (2 Tim 1:5). He made mention of the Roman brethren "without ceasing" in his prayers (Rom 1:9). The Ephesian saints were also a source of constant thanksgiving in Paul's prayers (Eph 1:16). Apart from these references, I could find no expressions of this kind of remembrance or recollection of the brethren. It appears evident that certain brethren had made such advancement in the faith that the recollection of them was more constant.
Involved in the work. As Paul was involved in the work of the Lord, certain brethren were recalled to mind. He could not help but think of them because of their obvious association with the Lord, and their progress in the faith. While he loved all of the brethren, some were more present in his memory than others. Our Lord had this same manner, being the more attracted to those who were more devoted to Him. Thus, from the multitudes of those following Him, He chose seventy (Lk 10:1). He also chose the more select group of the Apostles from "among His disciples" (Lk 6:13). Among the twelve, there was also three who enjoyed special privileges: Peter, James, and John (Matt 17:1; Mk 5:37; 13:3; 14:33). There was also John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 20:2).
These were characterized by a more acute sensitivity, and were thus afforded unusual graces. The same principle is found in Paul's remembrance of the Thessalonians. As he was involved in the work of the Lord, he recalled them because of their obvious commitment to the Lord. God's work summoned the recollection of these brethren.
So it is in our time also. As we are involved in the good work of the Lord, certain brethren will come to our mind. They will be the ones who have distinguished themselves by unusual commitment to the Lord. It is good for each of us to strive to be in that category of people-those who come to mind as kindred spirits are working with God.
Helpful remembrance. The recollection of some people is painful. Thus Paul wrote, "Demas hath forsaken me" (2 Tim 4:10). John the beloved wrote, "I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not" (3 John 9). The remembrance of such individuals is not helpful, unless it is to warn us of falling into a similar category. There are those, however, whose memory brings help to the soul. There are holy recollections that can strengthen our hands, refresh our spirits, and enhance our joy. There are precious saints who are the source of joy and encouragement when they are remembered, though they may not be seen. The Thessalonians were such a people. It is good that we strive to fall into this blessed category of believers.
YOUR WORK OF FAITH AND LABOR OF LOVE
" 1:3b Remembering . . . your work of faith, and labor of love . . . " KJV As already indicated, the remembrance of the Thessalonians was not an expression of the flesh or carnal associations. The Thessalonian brethren had endeared themselves by their involvement in the salvation of God. Paul does not cite the size of their assembly, their community outreach, or their missionary program. He does not refer to the credentials of their ministers, or various specialized ministries. While these are of great value in the modern setting, they are of little worth in the realm of eternal things. The NIV reads, "work produced by faith" and "labor prompted by love." That is, indeed, the sense of the text. This is a reference to Kingdom productivity and its cause.
Work of faith. Notice, this is not a speculative faith, or one associated with a mere position: i.e., their official belief. Let no one doubt the importance of believing the right thing. Those who "believe a lie," for example, have been sent "strong delusion" because they did not receive the love of the truth (2 Thess 2:11). "Sound doctrine" is imperative (1 Tim 1:10; 2 Tim 4:3; Tit 2:1). Still, this is not the point of commendation. The Ephesian church, for example, was commended for holding to right doctrine, yet rebuked for leaving their "first love" (Rev 2:1-4).
What is "the work of faith?" There are two perspectives in this expression. First, faith itself can be seen as the "work," brought to the Thessalonians in the power of the Holy Spirit. In this sense, it was receiving grace to believe (Acts 18:27), obtaining faith from the Lord (2 Pet 1:1), and being "given" to believe (Phil 1:29). In this instance, the reason for the recollection was the willing acceptance of the Thessalonians. They did not quench the Spirit, but humbly yielded to His gracious working. Second, there is a work that proceeds from faith, causing the believer to be productive in the vineyard of the Lord. On one side, faith gains the victory over the world, triumphing over the delusions and temptations of the wicked one (1 John 5:4). On the other side, faith engages one in intense activity for the Lord. It ranges from obedience and working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, to working together with God in producing fruit for His glory. The building of the ark was Noah's work of faith. David defeating Goliath was a work of faith. Faith always does something! Without works, it is dead, or non-existent, "being alone" (James 2:17). Faith does not simply sit and spectate. It is not idle and unproductive. Third, faith itself works in growing and increasing-expanding one's grasp on the things of God. This aspect of faith is described in Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians. "We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly" (2 Thess 1:3). This also is a marvelous "work of faith."
Labor of love. This is a labor, or activity, that is sparked by spiritual love. This love is the first mark of the Spirit's fruit (Gal 5:22). It is wide in its scope, including a love for God (Rom 8:28), Christ (1 Cor 16:22), the truth (2 Thess 2:10), and the brethren (1 Pet 1:22). Ultimately, this love is produced "because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). To be more precise, it comes when we perceive the great love God has for us. That realization comes because "the love of God [His love for us] is shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit" (Rom 5:5). When love is spawned in our hearts for God, Christ, the truth, and the brethren, we move into action. Love, like faith, is a more powerful incentive than Law. It propels the individual into intense activity for the Lord.
This love will constrain the believer to endure all kinds of hardship for the Lord, counting it all joy when granted to suffer for His name (Acts 5:41). It will move people to even jeopardize their lives. Barnabas and Paul were referred to as "Men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15:26). Epaphroditus is described in these words: "for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me" (Phil 2:30). That is the sort of labor, or hard work, that proceeds from a profound and productive love. Help people love the Lord, and you will unleash an abundance of work and labor for the Lord. It simply is not possible to love Him without engaging all of your powers in thankfulness and for His glory.