1 Thessalonians 1:3, 6, 9b-10a
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.
They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven…
Introduction: Advent is the season in which we anticipate and wait for Jesus’ return by remembering his first coming. Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian church are filled with references to Christ’s second coming, encouraging the believers to be actively waiting as they fully expected that Jesus would come back in their lifetime. Paul commends their work of faith, labor of love and endurance of hope.
Love is the present and continuing relationship between God and his people through Christ, but how about this “labor of love” that Paul references? It is a phrase typically used to refer to something we do out of a deep passion, motivated by love for those involved.
But love is so wonderful and light that to pair it with a word like labor seems almost incongruent. So why labor? In Paul’s description the labor in labor of love speaks in part to the ability to continue to follow God in the middle of struggle and persecution.
Certainly, persecution and suffering was common in the days of the early church, but what was happening to the believers in Thessalonica? It actually was partly the fault of Paul. In Acts 17, when the local Jews discovered Paul was there preaching and teaching, they ran him and his team out of the city. So if the other Jews didn’t like Paul, then certainly they were not too happy with all these ‘imitators’ of Paul also proclaiming the gospel message.
Whether or not there was physical persecution, their suffering certainly started with social ostracization, conflicts with their Jewish friends and neighbors, and pressure from the Gentiles as well. Thessolonica was a multi-cultural port city and you just don’t go around in a pluralistic society proclaiming an exclusive one true God without people being offended.
But the believers were transformed by the labor of love within them. Their attitude towards their suffering had changed. Instead of complaints and laments, there was joy inspired by the Holy Spirit. Rejoicing through afflictions is a mark of the labor of love at work. As they actively waited for Jesus to return, they found joy in their suffering. We actively wait for Christ by doing the things God has called us to do because he loves us and will ultimately provide rescue and relief for us.
Actively waiting for the return of Jesus is supported by the labor of love. This Advent season, are you practicing the labor of love, enduring trials and difficulties with the confidence that God will see you through, and in so doing are you becoming an example to others? If not, what are you waiting for?
Originally published at https://theparkforum.org.