Faith, Love, and Hope
New Testament letters have four features:
- They are intended to be authoritative.
- They are situational.
- They are carefully written and Delivered.
- They are intended for the Christian Community.
- An introduction
- A body
- A conclusion
Take a look at 1 Thessalonians 1:1, the authors are Paul and Silvanus and Timothy. The recipients are “the Church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” The greeting: “Grace to you and peace.” The prayer begins at vs. 2 and extends to vs. 10, which is the end of the chapter.
Grasp the text in their town:
Imagine if you can, the year is 50 AD. You live in the city of Thessalonica, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in the region of Macedonia. Your church is persecuted by Jews and gentiles alike; many of your brothers and sisters have been imprisoned and or killed. You’ve received an encouraging letter from the men who established your church and taught you the ways of the Lord. You are a Greek speaking person and this letter has come in your native tongue. The culture that your church is in is Greco-Roman and the major religion is pagan, that is except for a few Jews who hate the way. What would this letter mean to you given the situation? What would this prayer mean to you? And what would this statement about work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ mean to you?
Measure the width of the river to cross:
Between us and the Thessalonian church there is a wide river making it difficult to grasp the text as they would have seen it. Let’s call it the river come-between. In this river there are currents that will sweep you downstream if you read it without considering its historical-cultural context. The currents in the river are: date, location, situation language, and culture. For Sylvania, the date is 2018 AD, 1968 years separate us from the Thessalonians. Our location is Tyler, Texas, 6300 miles separate us from Thessalonica. Our situation is much different than theirs, we are free to preach the gospel without fear of imprisonment and or death. Our language is English; glory to God we have men who have the ability of linguistics and have studied first century Greek in order to give us good English translations, but keep in mind that they are translations and not the original. Our culture is American. So, how do we truly relate to the Thessalonians? We can study the time, location, situation, language and culture for years, but unless we’ve actually been in their shoes there is no way to truly understand what receiving this letter and its contents might mean to them.
Cross the principlizing bridge:
We need to cross the river, but how do we accomplish this given that it is so wide? There is one aspect in which Sylvania and the Thessalonians are alike. We share the same covenant. Both the Thessalonians and Sylvania Church are in the New Covenant in Christ Jesus our Lord. Because of this there are timeless theological principles taught in the text for all New Covenant believers. We will call these principles the Principlizing Bridge because they allow us to cross the river from their historical-cultural context into ours. This is the reason that this letter is considered scripture. There are principles taught in this text that the Holy Spirit intended for all Christian, throughout all time, in all locations, in all languages, in all situations, and in all cultures. Do you know what are they? There are three of them: Faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, love for one another, and the hope of salvation. I believe that these three are the main theological principles for the entire letter; and therefore, very important to understanding this letter in our context. Let us look at a few texts from 1 Thessalonians that illustrates these principles further: (1 Thess. 2:9-13) illustrate the work of faith, (vss. 4:1-12) illustrate the labor of love, (vss. 5:1-10) illustrate the steadfastness of hope.
Consult the biblical map:
Our regular teacher Paul McClung points out that the Christian virtues of faith, hope and love are common themes in the apostle Paul’s writings (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 5:5-6; Col 1:4-5) I agree but add that these three are common themes throughout the New Testament.
One of the greatest passages in all of scripture that illustrates this is the Lord’s supper in the Gospel According to John. (cf. John13-17) After the meal Christ washes His disciple’s feet, He then informs them that He is going away. After which He gave them a new commandment to follow as New Covenant believers.
The disciples are troubled by the news that Christ is going away and probably didn’t hear this commandment the first time around; therefore, He will repeat it again twice after comforting them. (Cf. John 15:12-17)
In John 14:1-15 Jesus teaches His disciples where to put their faith. He then comforts His disciples with true hope. Then He says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” This statement about loving Him and keeping His commandments is sandwiched between His commandment to love one another with Christ like love. (cf. John 13:34-35 and John 15:12-17)
In another letter the apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church whom was struggling with the labor of love, “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Grasp the text in our town:
Our actions always follow our beliefs; therefore, if we have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and hope in His salvation which is yet to come, we will bear good fruit like our Lord did during His earthly ministry in labors of love.
 J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, 3rded. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 253.
 Ibid, 253-254.
 Ibid, 255-256.
 Ibid, 256-257.
 Ibid, 257-259.
 IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 1 Th 1:2.
 1 Thes. 1:1a, NASB95.
 1 Thes. 1:1b, NASB95.
 John 14:15, NASB95.
 1 Cor. 1:4-7 & 13, NASB95.