A preacher was teaching the men's Sunday school class on the subject of the Ten Commandments. When he discussed "Thou Shalt Not Steal" a man on the front row became noticeably distracted and agitated. The preacher went on. When he to "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery," the fidgety man relaxed and started paying attention again. The preacher saw the man after class and asked if anything was wrong.
"Oh, no, Preacher, it's all right. When you mentioned the one about stealing, I got upset because I thought somebody had taken my umbrella, but when you got to the other one about adultery, I remembered where I left it."
Every time we watch the news, it seems that we are presented with the sad truth that virtuous character means little in our culture today. There seems to be few national role models.
A recent survey of Americans shows that our stated beliefs and our behaviors are often two very different things. We claim to disbelieve horoscopes, yet we still read them. We believe in the relevance of the Ten Commandments, but the poll shows that most Americans are very selective in obeying those commandments. We believe in the Bible, yet most Americans are biblically illiterate B unable to list even the four gospels. There is obviously a large gap between what we say we believe and what we actually practice.
This was not so of the believers at the church in Thessalonica.
- They were examples in living their Christian virtues.
- They were examples in their spiritual assurance.
- They were examples in their evangelistic zeal.
I. THE THESSALONIANS WERE EXAMPLES IN CHRISTIAN VIRTUES*
v. 3 "Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ . . ."
- here we have the very first use of what may be called the "trinity of Christian virtues"
- though the letter of I Corinthians appears prior to I Thessalonians in our New Testament, this epistle to the church at Thessalonica was actually written four or five years earlier
- it is in I Corinthians 13 B commonly called the love chapter where we are most familiar with these three Christian virtues
- all Christian's lives should be characterized by faith, hope and love
- if these virtues are not evident in your life as a Christian, chances are good that you may not really be a believer
- in verse three, however, the emphasis is not on virtues themselves, but on the words which modify the three nouns
- in this verse, Paul emphasizes the quality of these virtues in the Thessalonian's lives
A. THERE FAITH WAS CHARACTERIZED BY FAITH WORKS
- perhaps the Thessalonian church had already read the letter which the Apostle James had written to the churches
- it very well could have been in circulation at this time
- they may have been familiar with James' emphasis on practical Christianity
- James wrote such things as:
- "But be ye doers of the word and not hearers only . . ." (James 1:22)
- "What does it profit, my brethern, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?" (James 2:14)
- "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead." (James 2:17)
- in Matthew 25:31‑46 Jesus told a sobering story of the final judgement day
- he identified the sheep and the goats by their actions toward others
- some of the works of righteousness which characterized the sheep included
- feeding the hungry
- giving drink to the thirsty
- sheltering the stranger
- clothing the naked
- visiting the imprisoned
- comforting the sick and afflicted
- the typical Christian in America today become a professional listener
- they've ceased to be doers of the word and are hearers only
- they've turned their faith into a Sunday morning spectators event which takes place between 10am and 12pm each Sunday
- they've made the erroneous assumption that "doing church" is the same as "faithful service"
- the typical Christian in America today has no time for "faith works"
- they've "hired" pastors and preachers and church staff to become their "spiritual hit men" to do "church work"
- Christians need to understand that God has called all believers B laity as well as clergy B to be "doers of the word"
- Paul was insistent that man is justified by God solely on the basis of faith
- he is equally insistent that a genuine faith is manifested by good works "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life." (1 Timothy 6:17-19, NIV)
B. THEIR LOVE WAS CHARACTERIZED BY AN EXERTION AT LOVING
- the motivation behind the Thessalonians works of faith was a great love for others
- Christians need to realize that love is more than emotional sentiment
- it is the driving force in the heart of the believer who loves the Lord
- because we love the Lord we are willing to labor for the benefit of others
- if our works of faith are not motivated by love, they become little more than manipulation
- to really show love requires effort
- Paul rightly uses the word "labor"
- the Greek word refers to the peasant's life of manual labor
- it implies a strenuous, sweating effort "And let us not be weary in well doing; . . ." (Gal. 6:9, NIV)
- ILLUS. Years ago at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, a young sociology professor assigned his class to a city slum to interview 200 boys. He told his class to, on the basis of their findings, to predict the future of these boys. Shocked at what they had seen in the slums the students estimated that 90% of the boys interviewed would someday serve time in prison. Twenty five years later the same professor asked another class to locate the survivors of the 200 boys and compare what happened. Of the 180 boys they could find only 4 had ever been to jail. Why had the predictions of the earlier class been so off base? A common denominator was sought in the lives of these 180 men B some value or influence that could have made the difference. Through more interviews it was discovered that most of them remembered having the same high school teacher B a woman named Shelia O'Rourke B who had been a tremendous influence on them in school. After a long search, Miss O'Rourke was found in a nursing home in Memphis, TN. When asked for her explanation she was puzzled and replied, "All I did was love everyone of them."
- the Thessalonians are an example set before us
- how well have we emulated their steps?
- we say we love others, but in what ways do we show Christian love?
- when was the last time you "sweated" to love someone for the Lord?
- recent figures show that most Southern Baptist Churches level off in membership at 10 years of age and that 90% of SBC churches are not growing
- they are simply holding their own or declining
- anyone who even casually reads the Book of Acts will immediately discover that simple maintenance is not God's will for any local church
- the church is called by its Savior to march forward, storming the gates of hell itself, and conquering in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ
C. THEIR HOPE WAS CHARACTERIZED BY A PATIENT WAITING
- added to their faith works and labor of love was a hope in the risen Lord Jesus Christ and the promise of his Second Coming
- ILLUS. Lloyd Ogilive, in his book, Life As It Was Meant to Be, writes, "A faith that is radical produces a love that is undeniable and issues in a hope that is indomitable."
- in other words, a hope that is real can never be overcome or extinguished
- an un‑extinquishable hope was the kind of hope the Thessalonian believers held
- their hope was characterized by patience
- the word which we translate as "patient" literally means "to remain under"
- it does not refer to a passive resignation to a difficult circumstance commonly implied by the phrase "Grin and bear it"
- it denotes an aggressive constancy, a dogged determination in the face of difficulties to retain hope for a better day
- because Jesus is coming back, we can sing with assurance and Bob Schuller enthusiasm that great Christian hymn: "My hope is built on nothing less then Jesus' blood and righteousness: I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus' name."
The Thessalonians were an example for us in Christian virtues. Are you expressing your faith in faith works? Or have you chosen the excuse: "Let the other fellow do it?" Are you laboring out of selfless love in all that you do or do you find yourself serving others in order to manipulate them?
Is your hope secure in a world which seems very insecure? The question this morning is not weather you have the virtues of faith, hope and love in your life, but what is the quality of these virtues? Is your faith characterized by good deeds? Is your love characterized by laboring on the behalf of others? Is your hope characterized by patient endurance?