Multiple times in the New Testament we read of faith, hope, and love in the same thought (1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 Thessalonians 1:3, 5:8-9, 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4, Jude 22-21). Why is this? Because faith, hope, and love play an essential role in the life of the believer. [Now, just as a reminder, you can only get “so deep” in a short blog. This blog in no way, shape, or form covers even a smidgen of the entirety of the biblical understanding of these themes.]
Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, writes,
We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Here, Paul commends the Church in Thessalonica for their work of faith, labour of love, and steadfastness of hope. Now, to get what Paul means here, we must discover how Paul and the New Testament writers understood faith, love, and hope.
What is Faith?
The writer of Hebrews said it best, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-3) Faith is believing a specific hope that we can be assured of. It’s a conscious decision to believe something that’s not empirically experienced (tasted, touched, smelled, felt, seen, etc.). So in reference to the 1st Century Church, to have faith is to have faith in Christ and His promises through the gospel. This obviously involves salvation. Paul, in his letter to the Church in Ephesus, writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” (Ephesians 2:8a) Simple, right? Well, Paul continues, “And [this faith] is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8b-9) Faith isn’t something we muster up – it’s made possible and given to us by God. When we have a trust and assurance of the belief in Jesus and His gospel, we will be saved – and this trust and assurance isn’t in and of ourselves, it’s ultimately given by God.
Say you were stranded on a remote island from birth, with no human interaction. Then one day a ship comes by and the captain communicates to you that there is more to see in this world. He tells you of cities, mountains, sports, music, etc. Now, having faith that there is more to this world than merely an island wasn’t from yourself, was it? You would have never thought about more to the world, therefore you would never have had faith that there was more. This captain, however, gave you the gift of faith by explaining to you the hope you have. This illustration isn’t perfect, I know! But it at least explains an aspect of faith.
Okay, so why does Paul say the “work of faith?” This in and of itself is another massive theme, but here’s a quick version. Paul, in Romans 1:5, speaks of doing ministry to bring about the “obedience of faith” in the 1st Century world. You see, upon having faith in Jesus as told through the gospel, it immediately results in obedience – or rather, works. James is famous for saying, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17) In essence, if you’re assured of salvation through Jesus, you will assuredly live differently. Paul is then commending the Thessalonica Church for the faith they have because it’s resulting in a changed life – and that changed life is doing good works for the kingdom of God.
What is Love?
Throughout Paul’s letters (along with the other books in the New Testament), he’s constantly commanding and reminding the 1st Century Church to love God and others. Why? Because of what Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-40. Matthew writes about a lawyer who asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was in the Law. Jesus responded with, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” So Paul is just repeating what Christ has already commanded (and which Yahweh commanded Israel through Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4-6 and Leviticus 19:18). This “love” that Jesus commands is not sexual or selfish – it’s a true and dear love of the person that denotes serving them.
Tim Keller in his book The Meaning of Marriage reminds the reader how “love” isn’t always connected to feelings. To love is to act. I can love someone without feelings, but loving feelings will arise from my act of love eventually. Imagine if we were to only show love to our spouse or friends when we felt love? It’s in this same way that we are to love God and others. We’re broken sinners saved by grace. There will doubtless be many times in life when we’ll need to love while not feeling love. To love is to give – giving respect, honour, compassion, patience, and generosity (of time, money, gifts, etc.). The greatest form of love is giving one’s life for another. In fact, we’ll finish this section with 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, that [Christ] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers [and sisters].”
When Paul writes “labour of love,” we can agree with him! No wonder he’s commending the Thessalonica Church for their authentic love. Paul knows that love is difficult, exhausting, and totally against our sinful nature.
What is Hope?
To hope is to believe in something not yet realized – or fully realized. Paul, in Romans 8:23-25, writes, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Don’t take this the wrong way, the moment you are saved through faith by God’s grace in Jesus you are adopted into His family. But Paul goes further to say “the redemption of our bodies.” Our hope, or, our belief in something not yet fully realized is our full redemption. This isn’t going to take place until Jesus returns. Look at your body – is it fully renewed? Is it heavenly? No. For Paul says “hope that is seen is not hope.” So there’s something specific about the hope we have as Christians. In some sense, we’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8), but no one could say they’ve fully tasted and seen Him.
In that sense, we hope in His return. We hope in our new bodies. We hope in an eternal life with Him in heaven. Now, does having hope make you look strange on earth? Definitely! Having hope is seen as being intellectually weak. No matter how good an apologetic argument is (a defence for Christianity), it will always come down to a faith in the hope of Christ.
Paul commends the Thessalonians’ hope because it was steadfast. Through the struggle, the pain, the persecution, the strange looks, and the bad reputations, they continued in hope.
Truly, one cannot claim to be a Christian without faith, hope, and love. My encouragement to all of us who claim to be in the family of God is to pursue in our work of faith, our labour of love, and our steadfastness of hope. However, don’t attempt this in your own strength – rest in His strength for you.
 Keller, Timothy, and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage. New York, New York: Dutton, 2011.