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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « E-Sword Files | Main | Post-Thanksgiving »

    Does Paul Thank the Thessalonians for their Work of Faith?

    Visitor Responds to the post "Is Faith a Work?"

    Visitor Question: In Thessalonians Chapter 1 Verse 3 Paul thanks the Thessalonians for their "work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope".For what is he thanking them and why?

    Context suggests that faith begets work, love begets labor, and hope begets endurance. Faith, hope, and love - the spiritual gifts. In Paul's 1st Letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes the spiritual gifts and defines love as the greatest of the three. If faith alone is the prerequisite for salvation, then where falls hope and love and how do you reconcile Paul's ordering of the gifts in Corinthians with the concept of faith alone? Are we to assume that the gifts of hope and love also resultant of grace, or are they borne of faith or are they given independently? As spiritual gifts, are hope and love also to be differentiated as recieved involuntarily by the faithful and therefore not available to all? Finally, is it possible to have these gifts bestowed upon you and yet to refrain unintentionally from acting upon them? Thank you, Mike

    Response: Mike thanks for your post.

    You may wish to take a closer look at the passage in 1 thess you cited:

    I Thess. 1:2-4, Paul states "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God."

    You asked why Paul thanks the Thessalonians for their work of faith ... but does he say this? Look more closely. He does not say he thanks the Thessalonians, but rather, that he thanks God for their work of faith. So Paul is grateful to God for what they did. This is profound. Why doesn't he thank the Thessalonians for it? Because Paul is not looking to the secondary source of faith but to the fountain, the real source, which is God Himself.

    Then Paul later in the same book in I Thess. 2:13 adds: "And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers." Take note that it their reception of the Gospel that is the cause for which Paul is thanking God! Paul puts in God's account man's initial reception of the Gospel.

    Still more of the same type of data is added in 2 Thess. 1:3: "We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.." Here Paul continues the same pattern as his previous statements, showing that this is not a mistake. He declares that he "ought to" (i.e. is obligated or constrained) to thank God, so not only is God to be thanked for the fact that a man possesses faith and love, God is also to be praised and thanked when that faith and love increases in the lives of believers. God is responsible, therefore, not only for the initial presence of faith and love, but also for it's maintenance, perseverance and fruitfulness during trials and afflictions (also see II Thess. 1:4).

    Finally, 2 Thess. 2:13-14 goes on even more deeply in the same vein: "13But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."

    Consider this question. Can you sincerely look to God and pray, "thank you Lord for all that you have done for me, except for my faith, which is something I came up with on my own. Such a statement would be blasphemous, yet it is the result of believing that we are the authors and finishers of our own faith.

    John 6:28, 29 ""What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" 29Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."

    While faith is something we are commanded to have, only God can grant what He requires in Jesus Christ.

    Shalom
    JWH

    Posted by John on November 21, 2007 03:13 PM

    Comments

    Mike,

    If you are reading this, then you may want to observe that scripture uses the term "work" in different senses. All obedient actions can be called "works." The Thessalonians, for example, were exhibiting obedient lives (faithfully working, laboring in love and patiently hoping), which manifested the fact that God really changed their lives through Paul's message. In this sense, any act of evangelical obedience is a "work." Even though our lives manifest the genuine fruits of repentance, these actions of ours do not constitute the ground upon which God declares us justified. God requires perfection, and Christ's legal obedience (or work) alone, imputed to us through faith, is that ground upon which God justifies us.

    However, we also observe in scripture a negative connotation of "work." Faith is antithetical to "works" in this sense. "Works," in the negative sense, are actions done with a view to earning God's favor, or establishing ones own righteousness through legal cooperation. Our faithful act of believing in Christ looks outward, rather than inward, for righteousness. A sinful "worker" is one looking inward, at their own legal obedience, as a meritorious cause for justification. True faith looks outward, to Christ, to receive an alien righteousness, since there is a repentant acknowledgement inherent in faith that we do not have a righteousness of our own to present to God. Our act of faith, then, is merely an instrumental cause through which we receive the imputed "works" of Christ.

    In summary, there are two sorts or senses of "works." The one is postive and the other is negative. Positively speaking, faith is a work in the sense that it is an obedient act, much like love and hope, and expresses gratitude for God saving us. The one faithfully working is not looking at these faithful works as any kind of ground for their justification. They already know that Christ's works alone constitute the meritorious grounds for justification. So, one might say that we "work" (acting in gratitude) because Christ first "worked" (acting meritoriously) for us. Faith works in gratitude, and loves out of appreciation for all that Christ has done on our behalf, and further waits patiently for his coming again, despite present sufferings and persecution.

    Negatively speaking, "works" are sinful actions of one seeking to establish their own meritorious ground for justification, or seeking to add to what Christ alone can do. The Thessalonians already knew that they had no hope in establishing self-righteousness, since they understood Paul's own Pharisaical background and his contrasting gospel message about salvation by Christ alone, on the principle of grace alone, received through the instrumentality of faith alone. One might even say that the "works" (grateful acts) of the Thessalonians were done in repudiation of "works" (self-reliance for justification).

    I hope that further helps,
    Tony

    Mike,

    I would also add that I think the justifying act of faith includes the virtue of love and hope. Not only does true faith trust Christ alone, it affectionately embraces him (out of love) and believes in his resurrection and promise to come again (hope).

    The virtues of faith, love and hope are all the result of God's gracious initiative in salvation. Whatever we have, we have from God. If one has faith in Christ, it is because the Holy Spirit has shed abroad the love of God in their heart. Faith acts out of love because it discerns beauty in Christ, so as to desperately embrace him for righteousness. One can even see the priority of love in the act of believing the gospel, I think. Faith is a word that captures the connotation of love for Christ and His gospel, so as to rely on him alone, and give allegiance to him alone. Faith is both a loving and a hopeful act.

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