Proper 24 Year A 10/22/2023
Isaiah 45:1-7; Psalm 96:1-13; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22
Rev. Mark A. Lafler
As we are coming to the end of our lectionary year,
which renews every first Sunday in Advent (about six weeks away)…
our second reading for the next five Sundays will be from St. Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica.
This letter will be our focus for the next five Sundays…
I encourage you to read it during the coming weeks…
You may want to use these coming weeks to dig deeper in this short letter of St. Paul…
Find out what God may be saying to you in His Holy Scriptures.
So today we have the first few verses of the letter to the church in Thessalonica.
This city is still an important city in Greece…
Today it is called Thessaloniki and is the second largest city in Greece with just over one million residents.
It was a large city in the first century too…
Boasting over 200,000 people.
The city was named after Alexander the Great’s half-sister,
Thessalonike of Macedon.
Our present letter is one of St. Paul’s earliest letters in the New Testament collection…
Paul and his companions Silvanus (aka Silas) and Timothy are writing to a church they helped to found on an earlier missionary trip.
Well, the verse that I want to focus on today is verse three:
We 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.
In the opening words of the letter, Paul writes that what he remembers about the Thessalonians is the eminent Christian attributes…
The three great graces of God: faith, love, and hope.
These three things should be evident in any body of believers…
They should stand out in any church…
They should be the paramount fruit of Christian life.
It was the great reformer of the church, John Calvin who wrote:
Faith, love, and hope are “a brief definition of true Christianity.”
As believers in the Gospel of Jesus Christ these attributes should define our life in Christ Jesus.
Because of the cross of Jesus and the resurrection of our Lord,
we are able to walk in faith, in love, and in the hope of Christ’s return.
And the way that Paul presents these qualities in his letter…
there is seen two aspects that we should note.
First, each quality is outgoing.
Faith is directed towards God.
Love towards others.
Hope is directed towards the future.
Author and Priest John Stott said:
Every Christian without exception is a believer, a lover, and a hoper.
Faith is the quality of belief.
Specifically, it is belief in Jesus Christ and his victory over sin and death because of his sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.
It is by faith we say the words of the Nicene Creed.
With these words we are affirming our faith.
Faith in God through Jesus Christ rearranges our life…
Calling us not to look inward for meaning, for purpose…
But looking outward…
Toward God… who through Jesus and by the power of the Spirit gives a meaning and a purpose.
Only in Christ Jesus can we find true fulfillment and contentment.
It begins with faith directed outwards toward God.
Love is expressed towards others…
Both within the Christian fellowship and beyond to all the people in the world.
Love is from God…
As the scripture says: We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4.19)
And because God loves us…
We can truly love others.
Not merely with kindness…
But with true affection…
Seeing people in the image of God.
Loving them in the sight of how God sees them…
In fact, so valued and beloved that Christ died for them…
Giving up his life so that they may be drawn unto his self.
Hope is outgoing towards the future…
That is the glorious second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s not just being optimistic… that’s actually a temperament.
It is a theological understanding in the who God is…
The one who comes…
The one who fulfills…
Christianity is nothing less than a theology of hope.
A hope that looks toward the future coming of Christ Jesus in glory.
And not only are these three graces outgoing they are also productive.
The second point is that these qualities are productive.
In one sense the qualities faith, love, and hope are rather abstract.
But Paul centers them with verbs:
Although faith is an outward expression towards God,
it produces good works.
True faith leads toward good works.
Faith isn’t just a mental exercise or an existential idea.
It produces work, it brings about goodness in the form of action.
As the half-brother of Jesus wrote in the book of James:
What does it profit, my brethren,
if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can faith save him?
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,
and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body,
what does it profit?
Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.”
Show me your faith without your works,
and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2.14-18)
Here Paul and James are speaking the same language…
The product of faith is works.
Paul then speaks of love as a labor.
To love others is not to merely have sentimentality for them.
It is to truly labor on their behalf.
The Greek word here translated as labor (kopos) has to do with laborious toil to the point of weariness and fatigue.
You see the labor of love is not just thinking kind thoughts toward someone… wishing them well.
It is to labor with them even if that means we get exhausted.
Love always has a cost.
That is why agape love in scripture is so connected with sacrifice.
You cannot have a sacrifice without something dying…
The cost must be paid.
The greatest way this is seen and experienced is in the cross of our Lord Jesus.
It is the greatest act of love…
The greatest labor of love…
Because it cost…
On the cross, Jesus labored in weariness and fatigue…
To the point of exhaustion…
Even unto death.
But it was in that sacrifice that we may receive the gift of eternal life.
So, in this little phrase, your labor prompted by love, we find a great deal of not just a sentimental meaning but of a productive quality that changes the way we live.
And finally, the product of hope is steadfastness…
An endurance to keep on keeping on even in the midst of difficulty.
The Greek word for endurance here (hupomonē) means…
a patient fortitude in the face of opposition.
It is the word that is used to describe the virtue shown by martyrs.
Although hope points toward the future…
It grounds the present life in the reality of what is to come…
In the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So we have these three words…
These three phrases:
work of faith
labor of love
steadfastness of hope
These should be the outflow of the Church…
The words that describe the people of God.
These should be the attributes that are generated by each of us who call Jesus Lord and Master…
Who call Jesus Savior and Redeemer.
For all of the baptized people of God…
Faith, love, and hope is the fruit of the Spirit’s work in our life.
In the good times of life, when we are enjoying the blessings of this life… faith, love, and hope should be present.
In the difficult time of life, when we may be suffering failing health…
When members of our family are struggling…
Faith, love, and hope should be present.
Even in the challenges of our world…
The political climate…
The escalating threat of war…
The rising cost of goods and services…
Faith, love, and hope should be present.
For these three qualities are the sure evidence of regeneration by the Holy Spirit in our life.
They are the fruit of the Spirit’s work of sanctification in our soul.
So, the lesson for all of us today…
Is to pray that God will continue to grow in us,
by the ministry of the Holy Spirit
the work of faith,
the labor of love,
and the steadfastness of hope.
Come, Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful.
And kindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created.
And you will renew the face of the earth.
 Quoted from John R.W. Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians (Downers Grove: IVP, 1991), 30.
 These are derived from John Stott, The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians.
 Ibid., 30.