A Commentary by John Stott
1 Thessalonians: 1:3 b). The church is a community which is distinguished by faith, hope and love.
After identifying the letter-writer and recipients, and sending a greeting, ancient correspondents, as we saw, normally continued with an expression of thanksgiving, a wish or a prayer. Paul Christianizes this custom too. He tells the Thessalonians that he, Silas and Timothy – whether together, separately or both – (1) always thanked God for them all, (2) mentioned them in their prayers, and (3) continually remembered them before God (i.e. in his presence). Thus memory, thanksgiving and prayer belong together. Perhaps we need to pray and work for better memories. For it is when we remember people (their faces, names and needs) that we are prompted both to thank God and to pray for them.
What Paul and his companions especially remembered about the Thessalonians was the three most eminent Christian graces (faith, love and hope) which characterized their lives. Apart from Galatians 5:5-6 where they are mentioned, though not in a recognizable triad, this verse (with 5:8) is their first occurrence in Paul’s letters. He will refer to them again in varying degrees of clarity (Eph.4:2-5; Col.1:4-5; Rom.5:1-5), and elaborate them in 1 Corinthians 13). They also occur in Peter’s first letter and in the letter to the Hebrews (1 Pet.1:3-8; Heb.6:10-12; and 10:22-24). Two aspects of these Christian qualities need to be noted.
First, each is outgoing. Faith is directed towards God, love towards others (both within the Christian fellowship and beyond it), and hope towards the future, in particular the glorious coming of *our Lord Jesus Christ*. Similarly, ‘faith rests on the past; love works in the present; hope looks to the future’. Every Christian without exception is a believer, a lover and a hoper (not necessarily an optimist, since ‘optimism’ is a matter of temperament, ‘hope’ of theology). Faith, hope and love are thus sure evidences of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Together they completely reorientate our lives, as we find ourselves being drawn up towards God in faith, out towards others in love and on towards the Parousia in hope. The new birth means little or nothing if it does not pull us out of our fallen introversion and redirect us towards God, Christ and our fellow human beings.
Secondly, each is productive. It is this that Paul emphasizes. Faith, hope and love sound rather abstract qualities, but they have concrete, practical results. Faith works, love labours and hope endures. A true *faith* in God leads to good works, and without works faith is dead. Here Paul and James are seen to agree, even if Paul usually stresses the faith which issues in works and James the works which issue from faith (E.g.Jas.2:18). A true *love* for people leads to labour for them; otherwise it degenerates into mere sentimentality. Moreover, this ‘labour’ is *kopos*, which denotes ‘either the fatiguing nature of what is done or the magnitude of the exertion required’. And a true *hope*, which looks expectantly for the Lord’s return, leads to endurance (*hypomone*), which is patient fortitude in the face of opposition.
So comprehensive is the vision conjured up by *your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ* that Calvin did not exaggerate when he called it ‘a brief definition of true Christianity’. Bengel similarly affirmed that ‘in these (sc. faith, hope and love) the whole of Christianity…consists’.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.