“We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; 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 our Father; knowing brethren beloved, your election of God.”
The church of Christ, and here particularly the church of the Thessalonians, brings forth fruits which become manifest as she assumes her place in the world.
These fruits have their origin and source not in the church, considered by herself, but in God Who has chosen her in order that she might bring them forth.
For this fact, and for these evidences of divine election the apostle and those with him cease not to give thanks.
This is the thought expressed in our text!
Consider, first of all, these beautiful fruits!
Your work of faith!
It should become apparent that the apostle is not speaking here of “your work,” that is, of the work of the church. He is not interested in the mere work of the church. This is indeed a far cry from the situation as we see it in the church today. Today the emphasis seems to fall on the work of the church, what the church is doing or is expected to do. A long list of works are prescribed for her and assigned to her membership to perform. Even ministers are no longer called today in the accepted sense of that term to the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments, but they are being hired as professionals to be the administrators of the works. They must be adept in organizing and fostering youth clubs, missionary societies, serving in ministerial and political organizations, which in turn again are intended to serve the community.
Nor is the apostle interested in the diligence with which the church works. Also this is a far cry from the situation as we see it in the church today. The church is encouraged to be on fire for the work of the church. And the church is judged according to the amount of enthusiasm she displays as to whether or not she is a good and prosperous church.
But again, the apostle does not give thanks because the church was all on fire, filled with holy enthusiasm, expending all her energy in vying with other churches in a popular effort, or even for the cause of Christ.
Rather, it is your work that is marked by faith!
And again, this does not mean that the apostle gives thanks merely for faithful work accomplished by the church. He is not complimenting the members for their faithfulness, because they had been faithful in all that they did, though there is nothing wrong with acknowledging faithfulness on the part of members of the church and it may be entirely in place. Someone I has said that it is the oil of appreciation which makes the machinery of social relations run more smoothly. And this is also true in the church. Nevertheless, the apostle is not rewarding the church members here for their faithfulness. Rather, he is speaking here of the work of faith. That is, the work which proceeds from faith, not from the members. It is the work which faith produces in and through those who possess it.
Then there is your labor of love!
This is not mere repetition.
Labor and work are different. Work may be the mere use of energy in the accomplishment of a certain task. But labor has in mind that work which is done with much weariness. For example, a man may work, let us say, in a foundry where heavy castings are made. And at the end of the day he may have filled his quota and become very tired so I that he must retire for the night. But if that same man works in a shop where he is pestered because he refuses to join with the union, out of religious principles, he labors. He labors with great difficulty. He has the added burden of persecution to contend with. The apostle evidently has in mind work that is toilsome. The church at Thessalonica had evidently undergone much suffering for Christ’s sake. The apostle is thinking of this now, when he speaks of their labor of love.
It is your labor marked by love!
This same apostle in Colossians 3:14 offers what may be called a definition of love, when he says, “And above all these things put on charity (love), which is the bond of perfectness.” That describes the true nature of love. It is a bond that unites a perfect subject and a perfect object, or, it is the action of a perfect subject whereby he seeks the perfection of its object. For example, if I possess the grace of love and I see you do that which is wrong, or evil, I cannot be silent, lest I hate you. However, if I truly love you I will seek your perfection. That is love!
Here the apostle has in mind very evidently the love of others. In their love of others they suffered. Hence, labor of love!
And finally, the apostle mentions your patience of hope!
Note the triad: faith, love, and hope!
The apostle in I Corinthians 13 speaks of this trilogy again, only in a different order. There he writes: “And now abideth faith, hope, and love (charity), these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Here noticeably love is mentioned last and receives the emphasis. But in our text, the order is: faith, love, and hope. Not especially does this order emphasize the greatness of hope in distinction from the others. For also here, most assuredly, love would be the greatest. But hope in our text marks the climax, the end of the ascending scale.
Patience marked by hope!
Hope is that grace in the child of God that desires, longs for a certain object with the confidence that it will attain to it, or receive it. It is never used in the Scripture in the sense in which we often use it, when we mean to express our doubt or uncertainty relative to a certain thing. We say when we are asked whether we are going to this affair or are expecting a certain thing: I hope so. We mean, I’m not sure. We are asked: Are you a child of God? or, Are you saved? And we reply: I hope so. We mean to say: I’m not quite sure. But so the Word of God never uses this concept. Rather, hope is absolute certainty relative to an object we know exists, though we see it not; that we shall surely have it, though it is only promised to us. Hope is that activity of faith that aspires to its object because it knows it is real, though it cannot be seen as yet.
Patience, on the other hand, is that grace of endurance which bears up under the most trying circumstances. It is seen in one who has gone through intense battle, and when the smoke of the battle is dissipated he is still standing. It refuses to go down. It remains steadfast to the end. It is a grace that is given to us, which we do not possess of ourselves. Peculiarly, you never read in the Scripture that God is patient. You do read that He is longsuffering, and forbearing, and you also read that He is the God of patience; that is, the God. Who gives patience; but you never read that He is patient. It is a virtue peculiarly given to His people of mere grace. It is given unto them not only to believe on Him but also to suffer for His sake; and in the midst of that suffering to endure. That is patience. Patience of hope is patience that is produced by hope, which in turn motivates, gives that patience its enduring character.
All these, work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope, are fruits which find their origin not in us, but in sovereign, eternal election.
Not merely foreknowledge!
O, it is that too, no question about that! Surely election means that we were foreknown of God. Those elected God knew before the foundation of the world, and that, too, with a knowledge of love. Paul tells us in Acts 15:18“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” And this surely applies also to those elected, chosen by Him. Yet, if we were to say no more, the Arminian would have no quarrel with us. He too believes in and teaches election. It is exactly his theory that God chose those whom He foreknew would do works of righteousness, and on that basis He chose them.
Rather we must say that election is an eternal, sovereign, causal choice. God did not choose us because He knew before hand what we would be or become. He chose us in order that we might become what He ordained we should be. He did not choose us because we were holy in His sight, but He chose us in order that we might become holy in His sight. He did not choose us because of our work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope; but because He wanted us to have these things. Election is the cause, the source of the virtues of faith, love, and hope. The possession of these virtues is therefore the proof of our election.
Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God!
This is a knowledge which the apostle has concerning the saints at Thessalonica.
And how did the apostle attain to this knowledge? How did he know that the saints were chosen of God? Did he perhaps have a secret look into the Lamb’s book of life where he discovered their names inscribed? Had God perhaps given to him a special revelation of His predestinating counsel and showed him exactly who were the chosen ones? The answers to the last two questions are negative.
The apostle received no secret or special revelation concerning the election of God. Nor do we receive a secret or special revelation concerning our election. Would we know our election of God, we may determine this by its fruits. When the apostle Peter in II Peter 1:10 exhorts: “give diligence to make your calling and election sure,” the implication is: that we make our election sure by making our calling sure. The same relationship obtains in our text: we make our election sure, that is, we know our election, by its fruits. This would also imply, would it not, that in the purpose of God election never stands by itself. To our election, that is our having been chosen of God, also belongs the way in which that election is realized and the fruits it must also bring forth. Or, to put it still more simply, God chose us in order that we would bring forth certain fruits of grace in our lives. He chose us in order that we might believe, possess a faith that works. He chose us in order that we might love, a love that labors. He chose us in order that we might hope a hope that enables us to endure faithfully to the end; namely, according to which we shall stand in the assembly of all the elect in life eternal.
Judging their works, the, apostle can say of the saints in Thessalonica, I know your election of God. You have not been chosen because you possess faith, love, and hope; but you have faith, love, and hope because you have been chosen. Election is, therefore, the cause, the source of these graces. And for this the apostle gives thanks!
A continual thanksgiving!
Paul, Silas, and Timothy cease not to give thanks, remembering without ceasing these fruits of election.
And again, the thanks are not directed to the congregation, no matter how faithful she had been. Thanks only to God!
God is praised, He is well-spoken of! That is the implication of thanksgiving here!
And so, God attains to the very purpose for which He has chosen us, and causes us to bring forth fruits in our lives,—His glorious praise!
Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable Gift, through Whom flow unto us all the riches of Christ Jesus, which work for our salvation not only, but unto the glory of God.