Faith, Love, and Hope

Dr. Brian Allison

This past week I received the Gospel Witness magazine in which was an article on Arnold Dallimore who recently passed away. He was eighty-six years old. After twenty three years of ministry at Cottam Baptist Church, Dallimore resigned from the pastorate in order to devote himself to a writing ministry; and thank God that he did. About twenty years ago, when I was in seminary, I read his first published book. It was a landmark book, George Whitefield, Vol. 1. That book was an encouragement, inspiration, and blessing to me, as well as to many others. Again, we ought to thank God for His grace which is clearly displayed and demonstrated in the lives of His people, whether they be people of renown and recognition or people of insignificance and indistinct. With this point in mind, let us consider 1 Thessalonians 1:2,3, "We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father."

Remembering believers

The logical sequence in these verses moves backwards, that is, in verse 3 we have the 'root' of the matter and in verse 2 we have the 'fruit'. Thus, let us begin with verse 3 – "Constantly bearing in mind." This is quite a testimony. The apostle Paul was always thinking about these Thessalonian believers. This fact suggests a number of things. First, it suggests something with respect to his relationship with them. Clearly Paul had a love and fondness for these believers. Second, it suggests something with respect to the impression or impact that these believers had made on Paul. They evidenced exemplary lives and model conduct. So, on the one hand, the apostle cherished these believers and, on the other hand, these believers encouraged the apostle by their conduct and progress in the faith; and the result was that he constantly remembered them.

Remembering their faith

Notice specifically what Paul was constantly remembering about these believers – "[Remembering] your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 3b). Here we have the three eminent graces, the triad of virtues, of Christian life and morality. It was these three graces that the apostle Paul was taken up with. As you read his epistles, he mentions this triad repeatedly. In this same epistle, he writes, "But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation" (1 Th. 5:8). John Calvin stated that these three graces comprise a brief definition of true Christianity. Here we have the three essential angles of the triangle; they are necessary in order to have the whole.

First, Paul affirmed, "[I remember you because of] your work of faith." 'The work of faith' is work which is rooted in, and flows out of, faith. 'Work' is the natural extension, the obvious demonstration, of faith. So, the reality of faith is seen in the visibility of work. Or, to change the language, these believers, having put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, enlisted themselves in Christian service or ministry. This idea of work connotes ministry or service. For example, 1 Thessalonians 5:12,13, reads, "But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labour among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work [same term]. Live in peace with one another." The 'work' of these leaders was simply ministry.

What we have here is a proof of the reality of faith. Real faith demands the evidence of work; Christian ministry must result from one's belief and trust in the Lord Jesus. So, the apostle Paul remembered the 'faith-provoked work' of these believers. And we are to remember those who serve or minister as an expression of their faith. For example, Hebrews 13:7 reads, "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith." We are not simply to remember the obvious Christian heroes and giants – the Billy Grahams, the Luis Palaus, the Carl Henrys etc.; but we are also to remember the 'no-names' and the 'little guys' – the people who work 'behind the scenes', the people who receive little, if any, recognition; as I am sure was the case with many of the Thessalonian believers.

Last week I received about 25 preaching tapes of Les Nimigan. Have you ever heard of this man? Probably not. If not, it is a shame that you did not have the privilege of meeting him. He was what you would call a 'no-name' Christian who served in the kingdom. But what a faith! At the age of 30, Les resigned from his job because he received the call of God to ministry. He worked for the Christian Railroad ministry, and traveled throughout Canada and the United States witnessing to and teaching men at the various train depots and stations. He served for about 35 years, moving from one little town to another, sharing the Gospel. Not many people know about Les, but the Lord surely knows him, as well as his ministry that was the natural outflow of his faith. It is still bearing fruit, though he has gone to be with the Lord. He was one of the 'little guys', but what a powerful ministry of faith. I yet remember his work of faith. We are to remember believers for their ministry that flows out of the reality of their faith.

Remembering their love

But the work of faith is not the only thing to remember. Paul remembered something else – "Constantly bearing in mind...your labour of love" (1:3b). This term 'labour' means hard toil, exhausting exertion; and this labour was the result, the outflow, of love. Christian labour should be the natural extension of love. True love consumes and drives an individual. One is willing to expend himself for the object of his love. The picture is that of a sick child whose parents stay up all hours of the night to care for him. That is what real love does; it drives you to the point of exhaustion, you exert yourself for the sake of the object of your love. True love knows no limits nor barriers. "Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it; if a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, it would be utterly despised" (Cant. 8:7). Love is powerful; and its effects are easily seen.

So, true love results in exhausting work for others. Hebrews 6:9 reads, "But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints." According to this text, this labour of love is really a proof of salvation. Now, we need to think about that. So, we are to esteem those who exhaust themselves for the sake of the kingdom. Amy Carmichael (1867-1951) was a Christian mystic who nicely blended ministry with her mysticism. Later in life, she suffered from health problems, particularly severe arthritis. Yet, regardless of the obstacles, she served in the land of India for over 50 years. She was motivated by love. She started Dohnavur Fellowship. Her main focus was ministering to young girls who had become temple prostitutes. She retrieved many girls through a love which inspired compassionate toil. These are the kind of people we should remember.

Remembering their hope

But the labour of love is not the only thing to remember. Paul remembered something else – "Constantly bearing in mind...your steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" (1:3b). He remembered their endurance or perseverance which resulted from their hope. Their hope inspired this endurance; and it was a hope that rested in the person of Christ. Christ is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27b). We are not talking about wishful thinking here, but rather we are talking about a certain reassurance about the future. In hope, we are willing to endure hardships; in hope we are willing to persevere through trials; in hope we are willing to bear persecution and tribulation. And we are to remember these ones who evidence steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Again, it is interesting how the book of Hebrews touches on these same points. So, in this connection, Hebrews 6:11 reads, "And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." Many of the Lord's people are enduring great suffering for the sake of the kingdom. Many have been willing to sacrifice much for the sake of the Gospel. They have persevered because of their hope. We are to remember these saints.

Are you remembering the Lord's people? Are you remembering those who show the work of faith, the labour of love, and the steadfastness of hope? Whether these ones receive public recognition or not, whether they reach the world stage or not, these ones are the true heroes and giants of the faith. These are the ones whom we should imitate.

And notice that these Thessalonian believers expressed these virtues and their fruit as before God – "Constantly bearing in mind...in the presence of our God and Father." These Thessalonian believers lived their lives as in the sight of God. We always are before God. Your life is an open book. God sees everything you do. Now, I think that you give, or would give, intellectual assent to this truth, but do you feel the weight of it? This past week your life has been an open book; that is the only way that God will be able to judge you righteously and justly. In this connection, Hebrews 4:13 reads, "And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." If we were to live as if God sees everything we do, say, and think, then we need not ever be ashamed, embarrassed, bothered, or disturbed by our conduct or behaviour before others. If we lived in such a way, then we would never be concerned about our actions or deeds performed in the privacy of our homes or in the affairs of our businesses. We would always be able to look at anybody and speak to them with a conscience void of offence, because to so live in the presence of God is to live blamelessly. Are you living your life in the presence of God? Apparently, these Thessalonian believers did, and Paul commended them for it.

Remembering and praying

Paul remembered them, and in remembering them, he was moved to pray – "Making mention of you in our prayers" (1:2b). As we remember the heroes and giants of the faith, even though they are not on the public stage, we should pray for them. As we think of God's people who are faithfully ministering, we should intercede for them. Yes, grace is being demonstrated in their lives, but they need more grace; and if they have stepped up to do service for God, then shouldn't we pray to God for grace for them that they might continue to battle, fighting where many would not dare to go, evidencing a level of commitment that many are unwilling to give? If these ones will fight for the King, and serve Him, do they not deserve our prayer support so that they might fight and serve well?

Paul constantly prayed for believers – different groups and various people. I am amazed as I consider the prayer life of the apostle Paul, a prayer life which is revealed through his epistles. For instance, in Romans 1:9 we read, "For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you;" and in Colossians 1:3-5a, "We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; because of the hope laid up for you in heaven." Even when he wrote to individuals, Paul indicates that he is praying for them. Thus we read in 2 Timothy 1:3, "I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day." Now, I ask the question, when did he ever have time for service and ministry? I suggest to you that the primary service and ministry that he could render to the people of God was that of prayer. My brothers and sisters, pray for your fellow believers. Praying for fellow believers is not optional; it is a Christian duty.

Let me ask you a question, did you pray for other believers this past week? If you did not remember them, then you could not have prayed for them. That is simple logic. It is a great privilege to pray for one another. It is also truly motivating and gratifying, for even though a brother or sister is not aware of it, you can be an instrument of grace in his or her life. In praying to the Lord for grace and mercy for that brother or sister, and if God is pleased to answer your prayers, then that brother or sister has profited and is encouraged; and you have secretly participated in bringing about his or her sanctification and enrichment. What a joy and privilege!

We need to be people of intercession. This is perhaps one of the most difficult kinds of praying – intercessory prayer – remembering faithfully the brethren day after day with their needs. When I am living 'in the flesh', it is a chore to pray for others; not simply a chore, but it is a bother. I do it begrudgingly. But when we are walking in the Spirit, it is a delight and an honour to pray for the people of God. Very often our prayers are selfish and self-centred, aren't they? Be honest, now. Are your prayers self-centred and selfish? Our personal shopping list goes on and on – "Lord, help me to do this; Lord, help me to do that. Lord, give me strength for this; Lord, give me strength for that. Lord, give me wisdom for this; Lord, give me wisdom for that. Lord, help me to accomplish this.....Oh,...and Lord, bless the brethren." Who did you pray for most this past week?

Every now and again I meet a Christian brother or sister who says to me, "I have been praying for you." That humbles, as well as indicts, me. I stand amazed that people, whom I have not seen for some time, have been given the grace of God to remember me in prayer. The prayers of God's people are the only reason that I am surviving as a Christian and as a pastor. Prayer is our salvation. That is why we need to be praying for one another.

Praying with thanksgiving

We now come to the logical climax of the text. As I said, we have been working backwards. In remembering these believers in prayer, Paul is constrained to give thanks – "We give thanks to God always for all of you" (1:2a). Paul gave thanks for all the believers, no doubt, even for the angular and awkward ones, even those who appeared unfaithful, disloyal, and idle. Having remembered in prayer their work of faith, their labour of love and their steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of God the Father, seeing the grace of God demonstrated particularly in these three eminent virtues, Paul expressed heartfelt gratitude to God.

Thankfulness reveals love and affection; that you want the best for that individual. But it also reveals personal humility, being both an expression of esteem and encouragement. I thank God for people like John Piper, Eric Alexander, and others, who have a heart for God, and have helped to teach me what it means to have a heart for God. I thank God for the saints of old, like Jonathan Edwards and John Owen who have taught me what it means to have a high view of God, and to know the way of humility. I thank God for the flow of grace in the lives of His people of which I have partaken, and for which I am the better, and would not be where I am now spiritually apart from their influence and affect upon my life. Are you thanking God for God's people, for the ones who have touched your life and have made a difference because of the grace of God in them?

The apostle continually gave thanks for the grace of God in the lives of God's people. We read, for example, "I thank my God always concerning you, for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus;" and again, Philippians 1:3,4, "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all." And in giving thanks for the grace of God in the lives of believers, he rejoiced at the thought of that grace. He affirmed, "For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy" (1 Th. 2:19,20). Again, in this same epistle, the apostle asked, "For what [amount] thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account?" (3:9). In effect, the apostle exclaimed, "How wonderful is the grace of God in your life. We give thanks for that, and we rejoice. Hallelujah, praise God!" Is that your attitude? The apostle was happy to see God's grace in others. There was no notion of jealousy, no notion of envy, saying, for instance, "I hate that brother (or that sister); he has what I don't have." But rather, we should be saying, "Father, I thank You for the grace that flows in my brother's (or sister's) life, and I rejoice because through the flow of Your grace in him, I too am profiting by it."

Are you rejoicing in the grace of God in the lives of God's people, giving thanks to God for how He is working in their lives? Remember, it is all of God. There is no boasting here, friends. It is all of God; it is what He does, and therefore we rejoice. Again, giving thanks is an expression of love and selflessness. You will not give thanks for the grace of God in the lives of fellow believers, nor will you rejoice from the depths of your heart over that grace in their lives, if you lack love and true affection, if you are self-centred and selfish. Such a state of heart reveals that you are too concerned about yourself. How is your state of heart, my friend? In praying for yourself, remember others. The kingdom will be the richer for it, and thus God will be further glorified, which is the only motivation we need.