Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.
2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. 9 For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. – 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 [ESV]
Has your faith ever wavered? Have you ever wondered whether it’s all true? Have you grappled with doubts? I certainly have. The devil has a way of planting seeds of doubt, and a willingness to question all this about God. Does he really exist? Does something really happen when I pray? But these questions have not ever kept me from praying, preaching, studying, and wanting to learn more about God. Some of that was born of fear: I honestly do fear the dire consequences of abandoning faith in God. Some of it has to do with love. In fact I am more captivated and sustained by the pure truth of God’s steadfast love. I have no doubt of that. Some of it has to do with trust. I do not trust anyone other than God. I never doubt the trustworthiness of the God in whom I believe.
As a result of this, I continue to write, preach, teach, and give myself to God’s service as best I can. I rely desperately on God’s grace in all this. If he were not a gracious and forgiving God, I would have no hope. If he is not trustworthy, I would have no reason to share these thoughts with anyone. If he did not love me and all people, all would be lost. And it is the purity of God’s love that holds me fast in faith.
Love is truly good. Love is patient, kind, gracious, and constant. Love keeps no record of wrongs, bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (cf. 1 Corinthians 13 for a refresher course in the nature of true love – God’s love)
Because of this, I am willing to be generous. Because of this I delight to share the hope of God in the face of death. Because of this I resist temptation. Because of this I seek always to honor God. These are the works of faith. And whenever I falter or stumble, I fall back on God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. And I keep on going.
Yours may be a different list. A kind word to a troubled woman battling chronic pain. A word of encouragement to a struggling coworker. A gift to someone who needs cheering up. A listening ear to a wayward daughter. A word of forgiveness to someone who has hurt or offended you. A phone call to a grieving widow. A helping hand to a neighbor in need. A sack of groceries to a sick friend. A meal to a grieving family. A silence in the face of false accusation, knowing that God has the final say. A willingness to be known as a follower of Jesus…one who is still learning what that means and how to follow him well.
All these at best are works of faith. At worst they are an ugly cover-up for an unbelieving heart. And while ours will never be perfectly pure, faith’s essential tenet is that our sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake, and any work of faith flows from that faith.