1 Thessalonians 1 v 3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith.
In the opening verses of I Thessalonians 1 we are given a glimpse of the Apostle Paul’s method and pattern of prayer.
2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; 4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
Perhaps we can think of Paul and the two other brethren with him, Timothy and Silas, sharing in a time of prayer morning and evening. As they seek to plant churches and spread the saving message of the Lord Jesus Christ to many people, they know the importance of praying together. Early in the day they would assemble for breakfast – read the Torah, speak about the passage and then perhaps one of them would lead in prayer. They worship the Lord Jesus first; then they thank God for His provisions and blessings – their food, their safety, their rest and sleep, the kindness of the new believers where they were and the strength that the Lord had given them during the previous day. Then, before turning to intercession, the one leading would pray something like this “Now Lord we do thank thee for those dear believers back in Thessalonica. We remember how they trusted thee and it changed their lives turning from their idolatry; we remember the new love that came to their hearts for others so that they began to exert themselves strenuously in the Gospel; and we remember how patient they are even under that great persecution and provocation that they have to endure. We remember, Lord, Jason’s kindness and how he suffered for our sake and for the Gospel. We know Oh Lord, from all these things, that our fellow believers at Thessalonica are truly born of God – they are thy children and thou hast chosen them. We thank thee dear Lord for these precious people, as we do every time we pray. Amen.”
We can notice again the thankfulness that characterises this prayer. When we pray so often it is very soon into intercession and pleading for something. But not Paul and his companions. They prayed frequently and they prayed thankfully. Already we can see the direction that this prayer has gone and we can do well to ponder on it.
This morning then we are going to consider
The subject of Paul’s prayers for the Thessalonians.
2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 Remembering without ceasing.
Mnemonics are very useful devices. Last Thursday the Seekers group went out for the evening to sample chips from three of the town’s chip shops. It was a fun evening and during the time in the minibus the young people made up some sentences based on the word CHIP. They were making up mnemonics. “Children hate irresponsible parents” was one. “Charlie had itching powder” was another. This device, A MNEMONIC, has enabled many people to REMEMBER certain facts. “Richard of York gained battles in vain” – enables me to remember the colours on the light spectrum and the order of colours in a rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.
Would you like to remember the order of the 4 letters of Paul between 2 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians? Then remember this – Get Every Pub Closed – Galatians Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians.
Now what is so interesting about Mnemonics?
It is this – that it introduces us to two words in our text that have their roots in the Greek verb MNEMONEUOH.
Incidentally our English word AMNESIA comes from the same root – and means literally – NOT REMEMBERING.
Making mention comes from this root – when something is mentioned in prayer like this it is an indication that the one praying is REMEMBERING. We use the phrase “remembering someone in prayer.” It is not merely a remembrance of the person, but also a remembrance of certain facts about that person including sometimes their needs, which can then be brought to God in prayer as a request. So we have make mention in verse 2 and noticed last week that the frequency of prayer and thanksgiving for the Thessalonians Christian was “every time they prayed!”
At the beginning of verse 3 we are met by the word REMEMBERING. It is the same thought – the three missionaries recall certain things about the Christians that they had to leave behind. But look closer
3 Remembering without ceasing.
What a statement to make about the fervent prayers that are being prayed here. Remembering without ceasing.
65 years ago an old papyrus Greek letter was discovered in Egypt that dated back to the first century in the Apostles’ days. It spoke of the writer as having an INCESSANT – unceasing cough. The writer used the same Greek adjective that Paul does here – ADIALEIPTOS. Many of us know what it is like to have a tickly irritating cough that won’t go away. We can use this word for it – unceasing – even though we are not coughing every second of every minute.
So to apply this to Paul’s unceasing remembering of the Thessalonians it does not mean UNINTERRUPTED prayer – but it does mean that the prayer for the Christians was a constantly recurring one, like the cough!
Let us not be discouraged by such terns as unceasing; praying day and night and praying always – as if these super spiritual giants of men in New Testament times had a quality of prayer life that we could never aspire to. When we look at what the words actually mean we are encouraged to pray often, while at the same time recognising that we cannot be praying ALL THE TIME. We have to work, talk and do a hundred other things in life that are legitimate and necessary. But – when we do pray let us follow the pattern – let our prayers and thanksgiving be constantly recurring to God who hears.
Let us now identify the 4 things that Paul and the others remember about the Thessalonians so faithfully that have been evident in the sight of God the Father.
1. Their Work of Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
2. Their Labour of Love in the Lord Jesus Christ
3. Their Patience of Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ
4. Their Election by God
These four items of thanksgiving are the saving benefits given to these new believers in Thessalonica. The missionaries were rightly so thankful to God for what He had done for them. The first is this -
1. Their Work of Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ
Several weeks ago we considered the issue of faith and works – only faith saves – works never can.
So it is interesting when we come to a statement like this – the work of faith. Is faith something that we do or something that we receive? Is belief rooted in our good deeds or do our good deeds demonstrate that we have faith? My friends these questions are fruitless when put like this because what we have here before us is this. Paul and his friends were remembering the Thessalonians’ faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which came to them through the preaching of the Gospel under the mighty influential power of the Holy Spirit – verse 5 says that. And that this faith produced works in these Christians. The works, that were plain for anyone to see, were the changed, transformed and revolutionised lifestyles of these believers resulting from their Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are certain indications of the dynamic change that had taken place in the Thessalonians.
8 For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. 9 For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God;
Imagine the impact of this new faith on those who observed it. Their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ had become almost famous amongst the unbelieving world at that time. People were saying, “Have you heard what has happened at Thessalonica? There is a new faith that has come to the city – and it is making a powerful difference – people who were once the same as the rest of us – worshippers at the idol shrines, have completely changed. The remarkable thing is that their behaviour had changed. They are people who are now good to know – they have become kind and helpful, and all traces of selfishness have vanished. And they put it all down to a man called Jesus who has thoroughly influenced their lives for the better.” These people who had begun their lives worshipping idols, images of false gods and all that this meant, had now turned from them completely and claimed to worship a God who could not be seen. This would have been incredible to so many of their fellow citizens in Thessalonica. Yet they knew that faith was the initial act of belief of the one who hears the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God. Jesus said,
John 5 v 24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. (John 6 v 29)
What then of those questions we asked a moment ago about faith and works? Is Paul saying that we can be saved by works, and specifically the works of obeying the law? By no means – Paul had clearly rejected this doctrine and in his preaching had proclaimed this – that faith is a characteristic of the giving by God of His grace. Romans 10 v 8 ff puts Paul’s position clearly.
8 But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; 9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? 17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
What then is a work of Faith? It is work resulting from faith in the Lord Jesus. It is a conviction of truth that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.
What is your work that results from your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Has your life changed? Are you a different man, a different woman? Has the old you departed and the new transformed you emerged? A work resulting from faith. Indeed have you changed at all? The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God – are you someone who pleases your creator?
The second saving benefit to come to the believers in Thessalonica was
2. Their Labour of Love in the Lord Jesus Christ
The word for work in the previous phrase was ERGON, which merely means to be occupied in some form of business or pursuit. But labour here is KOPOS, which indicates something much stronger — intense labour united with trouble and trial. The word exertion comes to mind and indicates really hard work, strenuous activity that includes suffering. In the Thessalonians’ case it included stress and strain. They were being hounded and persecuted as believers. They had every reason to give up, to decide that being a Christian was far too costly. Yet instead of this the Christians were toiling to the point of weariness. They believed that they had been called by grace for LABOUR rather than for LEISURE. They had unhesitatingly got involved in answering that call out of love. LOVE had been the constraining force behind their service to one another. What a mighty thing the Gospel message had done for them – they had experienced a new selfless concern for others that made them willing to lay down their lives for those others. What made these people so keen to suffer hardship and labour long for the Gospel? It was love for the Lord Jesus Christ – it was a labour of love.
We speak the same today about a labour of love – it is something that is done selflessly by one person for another motivated by love for the other person. Where love is the motive, labour is light. But we notice that the supreme labour of love known to mankind was expressed on the cross at Calvary.
Romans 5 v 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
We can read this verse in this way – that God PROVES His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. The Lord Jesus Christ proved His love for us, His friends, that He did not hesitate from laying down His life for us on the cross. And this is the example or type to which our love as Christians is to be conformed – the sacrificial type of love that we see in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostle John sums it up for us in his first letter –
1 John 3 v 16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
But love to God is not only in sacrifice – important though that it – it is seen in OBEDIENCE – the Lord Jesus Christ said in John 14 verse 15
If ye love me, keep my commandments.
And verse 21
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
Love is expressed as we think about others before ourselves –
Philippians 2 v 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Did not Paul show us this in 1 Corinthians 13? Love is contrasted with selfishness. Are we as redeemed believers labouring in love today? Are we ready to show how much we love others by being ready to put ourselves out for them? May the Lord help us to be such loving people, labouring in love all the time.
The third thing that the three found themselves remembering fondly about the Thessalonians was this -
3. Their Patience of Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ
The Thessalonians quickly learned after their conversion how to endure hardship. How could this have happened? How was it that new believers, not very old in the Lord Jesus Christ, were able to steadfastly endure all manner of difficulties? Surely the answer is that they were inspired by something. It seems that they had a stamina inspired by their confidence in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul had declared to them that the Lord Jesus Christ was coming back – and that very soon.
10 And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
The Lord Jesus Christ was coming back to save His people and to judge the world. This burned in their hearts – He is coming – He is coming! This imminent return of the Lord kept them going – kept them alert. Eager expectation of the Lord’s return and the glory to come had proved in the past, the primary source of patient endurance in trial. Does this glow as joyfully in our church today? Are we really expecting the Lord to come at any moment? We sometimes take for granted the certainty of Christ’s return – but we may well be surprised when it actually comes!
Romans 8 v 24 For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
Mathew Henry says that “wherever there is a well grounded hope (meaning certain anticipation) of eternal life, it will show itself by the exercise of patience.” Christians therefore should be patient people amidst all of the disasters and difficulties of life we are called to be patient – and equipped to be patient – because we see ahead of us heaven and glory and the wonder of being with our Saviour for ever.
We are waiting for the Lord to return – it could be today – it could be before the end of this service – are you ready my friend? Has the Lord saved you? Are your sins truly forgiven? Do you have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ? There will be no further opportunity to repent of your sins beyond His coming again. Make sure you are prepared in your soul.
Paul and his companions then have been remembering these three things that they knew about the believers – Work of Faith, Labour of Love and Patience of hope.
Faith rests on the past; Love works in the present and Hope looks to the future.
But there was one more thing that was evident and plain about the Thessalonian Christians
4. Their Election by God
Of course the best thing about this is that the Thessalonians, through faith, love and hope, knew themselves that they were the chosen of God, that they were elect. It is often an argument by those who refuse to believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, that they do not know whether they are one of the elect or not. In their rebellion they say that they probably are not elect and therefore there is no point in seeking the Lord God. But this phrase is a most forceful repudiation of that attitude. Because although the missionaries had a comparatively short time with the Thessalonians before they were forced to leave, they had enough time to note that these believers showed marks of grace that PROVED, without a shadow of doubt, that they were elect according to God’s sovereign decree, and that they had been loved by God and saved through His Son – and they knew it! Not proudly, but thankfully.
Whenever Paul introduces election in his writings it is always with a practical purpose.
It is in order to foster ASSURANCE and not presumption;
To foster HOLINESS and not moral apathy;
To foster HUMILITY and not pride;
To foster WITNESS and not lazy selfishness.
Election is rooted in love. If only we could get a hold of this. Which is why those who are the elect of God, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, should be those whose lives are characterised by faith, love and hope, and the greatest of these is love! God explains His purpose in election in the Old Testament.
Deuteronomy 7 v 7 The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: 8 But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;
Paul here unites the love of God with the election of God here in 1 Thessalonians 1 v 4. And for this reason the doctrine of election makes evangelism indispensable. It is only through the preaching of the Gospel, the proclamation to needy sinners that the Lord Jesus Christ came to die for them; and the receiving of the gospel in those who hear through the work of the Holy Spirit – that God’s secret purpose comes to be revealed and known.
So the Thessalonian Christians are an example to us all and a description of what a true church is all about – it is a community loved deeply by the Lord God and chosen by Him in eternity past. It is a community that draws its life from Him and exhibits a FAITH THAT WORKS; A LOVE THAT LABOURS AND A HOPE THAT IS PATIENT – that is, endures. This is a Divine society.
Does this describe us today? Are we the elect and loved people of God? Are we demonstrating this by our faith, love and hope? What a challenge to everyone today – to live as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ with an eager expectation of the Lord’s return and of glory to come.
Are you part of this yet my friend? Are you a believer? Have you truly got this hope in your heart – that when the Lord Jesus Christ returns you will have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing that will not be covered and paid for by the precious death and shed blood of the Saviour?
May each of us be ready and joyfully patient as the Lord gathers in yet more of his chosen ones into His Kingdom – and may we take our part in this while there is still breath in our bodies.