"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Paul's Favorite Trio in the Trenches

Sing along if you know the words:  "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor. 13:13) A modest estimate would tell us, I am convinced, that roughly two million people have, in the past five years, translated some portion of these words into a 90s script font and placed them into a picture of an ocean sunset. You can find them all on Facebook.

That aside, though, the trio of faith, hope, and love is certainly one of Paul's favorites.  He mentions this combination a number of times in his biblical writings, and it is evident that, for him, these are more than just pretty words or ideas.  They are the helmet and the breastplate for the sober Christian warrior (1 Thess. 5:8), essential defensive components in the chaos and struggle of Christian life. 

Consider the basis of Paul's thankfulness for the Thessalonian believers, taken from 1 Thessalonians 1:3 - "your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father."  These qualities were not incubated in a pristine bubble of comfort (read:  they did not pitch their tents in the candle aisle of a Christian book store).  There was hardship, persecution, confusion, difficulty - even from the very beginning (see Acts 17:1-9, for instance).  Let us look at faith, hope, and love in the above context, and see what they teach us about the commendable Christian life.

1.  Our faith must work.  We cannot mention faith and works without James' famous treatment in James 2:14-26 springing into our thoughts, can we?  The faith of the commendable believer is one that is active.  It is not content to rest upon the (presumed) laurels of (supposed) salvation; rather, the natural outpouring of genuine faith is committed action for the Lord.  A lazy faith is not one that will excite gladness from our spiritual family, and it will not fasten us to an immovable pillar of assurance, because true faith should naturally generate godly works (cf. 1 John 5:2-4).  The circumstances through which our God leads us are manifold and complex, but biblical wisdom and godly discernment always, always demonstrate to us how we can serve Christ in faith in a given situation. 

2.  Our love must labor.  Paul's word choice behind "labor" is kopos.  This is toil, exertion to the point of weariness or pain- perhaps not the usual sort of idea when love is discussed.  Our love, both for God and for others (and it is difficult to completely separate those two objects; is it not?), should motivate us to lavishly pour out our energies in useful, selfless kingdom work.  The immortal words of David Brainerd, that earnest missionary of the 18th century, spring to mind:  "I want to wear out my life in His service and for His glory."  We live and work in the only kingdom that will never be overthrown; we enjoy the only salvation which is true and permanent.  We serve the only righteous Lord and life-giving Savior - what cause could clamor more loudly and rightly for the near-prodigal expenditure of our energies and zeal?  Put another way, what would we seek to withhold from ourselves for the sake of the love which God commands and implants?

3.  Our hope must endure.  We know from Paul that hope grows from the soil of steadfastness (Romans 5:3-5), and he explains here that steadfastness must also be a facet of that same hope.  True hope in the Christian world is never an uncertain venture, for it is grounded in the faithful truth of our immutable God - it possesses the element of expectation, not assumption.  Hope for the believer is always favorable.3  It is easy to see, then, how genuine hope can either set a believer up for devastating failure, or else carry through with them to victory for God's glory, in any given endeavor.  Hope that falters and comes short when circumstances grow difficult is of little use; it merely mimics one's emotional state when it should be driving one beyond the frustrating confines of emotional mire.  It has no weight, and is thus without momentum (simple physics teaches, of course, that momentum is the product of mass and velocity).  Hope's reality is proven in its endurance - true hope knows and believes in God's character and promises, and acts accordingly.

True faith, hope, and love, are serious pursuits, as well as powerful tools.  They require effort and endurance, and they will be tinged with the dirt and sweat of spiritual battle, but they will provide energy, direction, and protection, all from God, in our lifelong pursuit of Christ and His kingdom!

1Brown, Colin. Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Vol. 1. Grand Rapid, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1975. pp. 262-263.

2This is not at all to suggest that love should be given without wisdom or reck (e.g. giving the family house to a homeless man who shows up at your door).  Love must fall within the righteous confines of God's wise word, or it is not love at all, for it fails to love Him.  Make your love a wise, godly love.

1Vine, W.E., et al. Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. "An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words." Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson, 1996. p. 310.


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