2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, 3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
All three qualities above, faith, hope, and love, are inextricably linked. That is to say, you cannot have one without the other two because removing just one (like removing the wrong block in the game of Jenga) will spell disaster for the rest. Of course, this doesn’t suggest that we don’t struggle in any of those areas because we all certainly do at different times for various intervals. But the Christian life should be characterized by a well-balanced presence of the Spirit’s manifestations as described in Galatians 5:22-23. Our goal here is to briefly discuss how the three virtues of faith, hope, and love operate within the believer’s life.
The first of the “big three” mentioned is faith because everything in the Christian life begins with belief in Jesus Christ (and ends with continuous faith 2 Timothy 2:12). The spiritual journey God desires for all to undertake starts with belief in the gospel. This step is known as justification (the point where Christ declares us righteous before the Father based on our faith in Him). So faith (as well as hope and love) has its stages of growth where it is (or should be) constantly changing over time. This process of continuous strengthening (spiritual growth) is known as sanctification. Glorification is then the final stage when the result of the Lord’s empowerment of our spiritual development, progress, and production is brought to completion upon seeing Him face to face (Romans 8:17). As 2 Corinthians 5:7 and Hebrews 10:38 clarify, we live by faith. And if it grows as it should, so will our hope and love.
In our particular context, the Thessalonians were “working out their salvation” through the faith they possessed. For it was their continuous trust in the Lord that increased their growth and production. Hebrews 11:6 rightly says that without faith, it is impossible to please Him. Even after entering God’s family, the process of sanctification (although it is God’s work) is impossible without faith. Sanctification is not an automatic process that God forces us through. If we cooperate by trusting in Him (obedience), then God can and will do His work within us (hence the empowerment process is God’s work). We could do absolutely nothing for Christ without walking in faith with this simple fact in mind. Since it is God who works within us to will and do His good pleasure, faith has to be involved for this to happen. The Thessalonians were operating from faith in all the spiritual work they performed. James 2:21-22 helps us to understand this better when it says, “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.”
13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
However, although these believers operated through faith, it was not alone in the process. In other words, faith, hope, and love are all present when we believe in Jesus Christ. We would never have believed in Him if we had no hope He could save us. Nor would we have committed our lives to Him if we never loved Him. Since Christ has loved us by sending His Son to die for us, we choose to return the love by responding to His gracious offer (1 John 4:19). Love is the greatest of all three because we react to and live for Christ because we love Him. If an unbeliever does not love Him or others (their neighbor), then they will not believe and hope in Christ. So although all three cannot exist without each other, love is the greatest of them for this very reason (we will examine this further below).
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Love is the next big quality mentioned in our passage. We have already discussed it to some extent. Still, the truth remains that we will do whatever we can for those we love (even if that means laying down our life for the brethren (John 15:13). Since believers (the Thessalonians in our particular passage) love God and should be continuing to grow in it day by day, their love for their fellow brothers and sisters should be increasing as well. And once we have learned to love our spiritual family members as we should (since we have a special love reserved for them), this will extend to all men (2 Peter 1:5-8). Ministry is driven by faith, hope, and love, but how much more the latter! The more we love God, the greater our work and service will be for Him and His church (extending to all men). We would never have believed and hoped in Christ if we didn’t love God (a loving response drove both). But the level of love needs to increase as time goes by. Technically, there is no such thing as a specific level we have to obtain since the process never ends on this side of eternity. Therefore, our faith, hope, and love should always be growing throughout our lives. But there comes a sense of knowing we are doing what we are supposed to be doing when we see spiritual progress. That is a good indicator and one we should feel at peace about.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Finally, the Thessalonians remained steadfast under trial because they looked to the future hope of eternal glory that lay beyond all their present troubles. The hope we possess as believers are (as we should already know) not an “I think I will receive it,” but “I know I will receive it.” These firm believers of Paul’s time had their minds fixed on their heavenly destination and all the rewards that would accompany it. Whenever we face many of life’s difficulties, it helps not one bit to focus on the problems while ignoring the actual reality. The fact is that having this true hope helps us to realize that nothing ever lasts forever and that better things will emerge on the other side. Eternal life and rewards are the greatest things anyone could look forward to. The only exception (and the best part of it all) is being in the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit forever. A fellowship as great as can be is worth waiting for in eager anticipation. Hope encourages, exhorts, and strengthens us to keep going despite whatever we must endure getting to the other side. Therefore, let us strive all the more to pursue faith, hope, and love.
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.