In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul speaks of the work of faith, the labor of love, and the endurance of hope. What has he got in mind?
Elsewhere, he places these three virtues in a different order when he enumerates faith hope and love. It would seem that the last of the three is the one that he is emphasizing, the other two building up to it.
If that is so, in this letter, he is emphasizing hope. And rightly so. There was confusion in the Thessalonian church about death and the resurrection. Evidently, as the second letter clarifies, some rumor had reached them to the effect that no Christian would die before the Lord’s coming. Presumably, some of their loved ones had died, and this caused confusion and consternation among them. So hope was the uppermost quality they needed.
At Corinth there were many unloving things happening among members of that church—lawsuits, rivalry, unloving use of their gifts, selfishness at the Lord’s table—you name it, they had it! Naturally, then, in writing to them, he would stress love. He does so by putting it at the apex when writing to them.
Now, having settled that, let’s look at the outcome of each of these superlative qualities. Faith, as everywhere in the Scriptures—if genuine—always produces work. Here, there is nothing different. Next, he speaks of love producing labor. A man works from 9-5, but a woman “labors” for her family out of love. There is no clock-watching on her part as there may be with the workman. Hope produces endurance–the ability to hang in there when the going gets tough.
That hope, which the Thessalonians so dearly needed, and that Paul writes about is the “expectation” or “anticipation” of something that is certain to happen, but has not yet occurred. What makes it certain is that God has promised it; what makes it hope is that the promise has not yet been realized. To be able to look forward with assurance is precisely what the church needed, and what Paul provided for them in these two letters (“I would not have you to be ignorant, brothers . . .”). Thus, he provides a certain hope in the promises of God to enable them to endure the disappointments and the trials that lay ahead of them.
On what is your hope based? For what do you hope? Is it grounded in God’s unfailing promises; is it that upon which you have the right to expect? These are matters to which you ought to have solid, biblical answers. If you don’t, then you too ought to listen to the apostles as they seek to instruct you in their letters about faith, love and hope.
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