The holy triad of faith, hope, and love is found multiple times in the New Testament. Many people the world over are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (NIV) Other references to these virtues can be found elsewhere in Paul’s epistles, Peter’s writing, and in Hebrews.
“Faith, hope, and love” is not a catchy one-off in scripture; it’s a foundational tenet.
During my study recently, 1 Thessalonians 1:3 leapt off the page at me, arresting my attention. “We continually 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.”
Paul complimented the Thessalonian believers for:
- Their work produced by faith
- Their labor prompted by love
- Their endurance inspired by hope
As an engineer (it’s both a blessing and a curse; fellow engineers and their spouses will understand!) I frequently think of things in terms of cause and effect. In this instance, then, believers’ faith, hope, and love result in work, labor, and endurance. Work, labor, and endurance are the output, the normal result of faith, hope and love. Further, as our Christian faith, hope, and love increase we may expect commensurate increases in our work, labor and endurance. This is part of normal Christian growth or maturity.
As I pondered this passage, I realized Paul had an intended order in mind.
- Faith precedes work, not the other way around.
- Love leads to labor and not vice versa
- Hope yields endurance
Our work for the Lord is in response to His love, not an attempt to earn His love. This runs counter to what we often experience in the workplace. During my career, particularly in the early years, my motivation to work hard was to impress others, be they clients, coworkers or supervisors. I worked to please and/or to gain their favor and approval. From a human perspective I found that sometimes this was successful, and sometimes my hard work was simply greeted by indifference and expectations for more. Talk about disappointment and de-motivation!
As the years passed, I began to learn a better approach. Paul wrote “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23). While I continued to work hard, my motivation, my Audience changed. I began to see how my good work glorified God. Most frequently others were satisfied, but I was no longer “held hostage” to their approval, and this brought tremendous freedom to my workplace walk. My “Cause” had changed; the effect was the welcome release of not being driven to please others.
Our work for the Lord is in response to His love, not an attempt to earn His love. Paul clearly and skillfully addresses the relationship between God’s grace and our works in Ephesians 2:8-10. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Having received God’s grace (cause), we work or labor to serve Him and His Kingdom in ways He has equipped and empowered us (effect). We reverse those two at our own peril, forfeiting His enabling power, and often resulting in frustration and suboptimal results. It’s not pretty!
Lastly, hope yields endurance. Life is not always a pleasant journey. We say, “Life happens,” yet hope sustains us. Romans 5:3-5 encourages us, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
Paul once again uses cause and effect language. “[B]ecause God has poured out his love into our hearts …” (cause) “hope does not disappoint us …” (effect).
Because of our hope in both God’s present and future Kingdom (the “now and not yet”), we have stamina to press on. Paul put it this way. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
God has promised us that “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness …” (2 Peter 1:3) and further that “if you possess these qualities [both faith and love are including in the preceding list] in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive …” (1:8a)
My Type A personality is all about avoiding being “ineffective and unproductive”. I still enjoy others’ approval. However, I’m no longer driven by that need nor by my human attempt to earn God’s love and approval. I am secure in both my work and my relationship with Jesus Christ.
Faith, hope and love. Have you laid this foundation through our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ? Having done so, what – and how – are you building?