God is Love

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.

1 John 4:7-12, 15-16

Here John teaches us about love. This is what we learn:

  1. God is love.
  2. Love comes from God.
  3. Loving others is a sign that we know God.
  4. God showed His love for us by sending His Son Jesus, that we might live through Him.
  5. Our love for God is a response to His love for us. He loved us first.
  6. Out of response to God’s love for us, we should love one another.
  7. God’s definition of love is this: Jesus came and died for us.
  8. The fullness of love is displayed in Jesus’s death and resurrection. Without this at the center, love becomes defined by our own preferences and selfishness.
  9. It is our acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of God that allows God to come and live in us and allows us to live in God’s love.
  10. Our identity is rooted in God’s love for us (not our performance for Him).

What is clear from this passage is that there is no separation between God’s love and Jesus. We can’t somehow abstractly talk about the fact that “God is love” without also mentioning that “Jesus is Lord” and that Jesus is the “Son of God.” All of this is intricately woven together. Any attempts to separate talk of God’s love from talk of Jesus immediately depart from the biblical definition of love.

There is also this tendency, especially in progressive circles, to remove “God is love” from the context of this whole passage. Likewise, there is a tendency to remove “God is love” from the other New Testament descriptions of God. For example:

  1. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16)
  2. God is holy (1 Peter 1:16; Psalm 99:5,9; Rev 4:8)
  3. God is light (1 John 1:15; John 1:4-5)
  4. God is good (Mark 10:18; Psalm 34:8)
  5. God is faithful (1 Cor 10:13; 2 Thess 3:3)
  6. God is just (1 John 1:9; Hebrews 6:10; Isaiah 61:8)

This list could continue but I think we get the point. In God, these attributes never conflict. Does God bring love to the unloved? Yes. He also brings holiness to the impure parts of our lives. He brings light to the darkness of our lives. He brings goodness to the evil parts of our lives. He is faithful when we are unfaithful (2 Timothy 2:13). He brings justice to the injustices of our lives.

If we want God to love us but we don’t want His holiness, goodness, and light to purify us, then we want some of God but not all of God. It is partial surrender. It is half-hearted faith. He absolutely loves us. God is love. And He loves us enough to want us to get free from our sinful lifestyles that damage our soul. God is holy. God is light. God is just. God is love.

The Reason For The Hope

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 

1 Peter 3:15-16

We are called to be ready to give the reason for the hope that we have. If someone asks about our good life, our good attitude, our good marriage or our good parenting, we are to use this as an opportunity to point people to the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus. And, using all the emotional intelligence we can muster, we are to do this with gentleness and respect.

The question for us is why would anyone ask? Are our lives marked with blessing, kindness, generosity, love and hope such that people would be curious about it?

Here are some practical ways to display the love of Christ:

  • pay for the groceries of the person in front of you in the “20 items or less” checkout line
  • leave a tip that is 50% or 100% of your bill
  • help someone pick up their stuff after they’ve dropped it and made an embarrassing scene in a store
  • encourage a parent who is struggling with the behavior of their child in public
  • be the person who is immune to the cries of the baby on the flight and offer to help
  • let someone else go first
  • let someone use your umbrella in the rain
  • tell someone that they are good at their job (especially in service industries)

If they ask why you are doing these things, be ready to give a reason for the hope that you have. Tell them that you’ve been changed by the love of Jesus and want others to know that they are loved by God. Keep it simple. Keep it personal. Don’t preach. Don’t sell the gospel. Simply live it and then speak it. Let God do the rest.

What Does Love Look Like?

There was a quote from pastor Brian Zahnd that was going around on Facebook. It read:

“We all make errors in our theology; you and me both. So my recommendation is to err on the side of love. Why? Because… God is not doctrine. God is not denomination. God is not war. God is not law. God is not hate. God is not hell…God is love.”

Brian Zahnd

And while on the surface I agreed with this sentiment, the more I read it, the more it bothered me. There was a subtle, trojan-horse kind of lie buried in this quote that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then, after I noticed some of my friends on Facebook using this quote to justify sin, I realized what the problem was.

First, it is true that God is love, but we have manipulated the definition of love in our society to mean something very close to “permissiveness.” The faulty thinking is that if you really love someone, you let them do what they want. But we know that isn’t what real love looks like. Good, healthy parenting doesn’t let kids do whatever they want. That kind of permissiveness leads to all kinds of personal and social problems. And if enough parents buy into this faulty definition of love, as we have seen in our own culture, it creates society-wide problems.

In good and healthy marriages, spouses don’t say, “Sure, do whatever you want, sleep with whomever you want, go wherever you want and stay out as late as you want.” This level of permissiveness is not loving. It is the opposite of love.

When people equate “love” with “permissiveness” this quote gets twisted into meaning, “If you aren’t sure what to believe theologically, then just go with the theology that is most permissive. Because, after all, that’s what God is like. He’s the cool parent that lets you do what you want because He ‘loves’ you so much.” You can see the problem here, right? Permissiveness isn’t loving.

The second problem with this quote is that while it is true that God is love, it is only part of the truth about God. The other reality about God that must be held in tension with “God is love” is the truth that “God is holy.” We could just as easily say, “We all make errors in our theology; you and me both. So my recommendation is to err on the side of holiness. Why? Because God is Holy.” Actually, scripture does say something pretty close to this.

“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'”

1 Peter 1:15-16

All manner of heresy in the Church has been created by not holding tensions. By holding one truth without the other, we fall into false teaching. We must hold together the truths that Jesus was God and man, not one over the other. We must hold together the truths that God is immanent and transcendent, not one over the other. We must hold together the truths that God is sovereign and He has given us free will. Over and over again, the fullness of truth in the Christian life is really about holding two paradoxical truths together in tension.

We must hold together the truth that God is love and that God is holy, not one over the other. The reason Jesus went to the cross is because God is love and God is holy. The reason someone had to pay for sin is because God is holy. The reason Jesus paid for our sin is because God is love.

God is not a permissive, single dad. God does not choose between being holy or being loving. He is both loving and holy simultaneously and continuously. God is not “okay” with our sin. God hates sin. God is holy. God doesn’t want sin to separate us from Him, and since He knows that is exactly what sin does, He paid the price for our sin so that He could draw us near to Him. God is love.

We would never recommend to someone to “err on the side of Jesus’s divinity over His humanity,” or to “err on the side of Jesus’s humanity over His divinity.” We would never recommend to someone to “err on the side of God’s transcendence over His immanence” or “err on the side of God’s immanence over His transcendence.” This sort of advice is nonsensical. To experience the fullness of what is true of God we must hold both simultaneously.

And the same is true of the nonsensical advice to “err on the side of love” as if leaving holiness behind somehow honors a holy God. It doesn’t! Don’t err on the side of love if doing so leaves holiness in the dust. Love should include holiness and holiness should include love. They are inseparable.

I see this Brian Zahnd quote being used a lot for people who are confused over the LGBTQ issue and whether homosexuality is sinful. Basically, people are saying if you aren’t sure about the homosexuality issue then err on the side of love (and of course by that they mean permissiveness).

I wish they meant love your LGBTQ friends regardless of your understanding of the sinfulness of their sexual choices. But they don’t. Usually, they mean to create the false dichotomy between love and holiness. What is forgotten is that to encourage holiness is loving because it is encouraging us to imitate God with our whole lives, including our sexuality. Why not err on the side of the truth of scripture? Jesus is The Truth. Why not err on the side of holiness? God is holy. All of these–truth, holiness, love–are things we can lean into because they all are attributes of God.

City of the Living God

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”[Deuteronomy 4:24]

Hebrews 12:22-24, 28-29

When we worship God we get to enter the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. We get to walk among thousands upon thousands of angels who have gathered to joyfully worship the Lord. We get to approach the throne of grace with confidence knowing that Jesus has made a way by His blood.

Can you picture it?

As you walk toward God’s throne, surrounded by cheering angels, you are clothed in garments of white. The aisle to the throne is as clear as a crystal sea. The angels, as servants of the King, all know that a child of the King has entered the throne room. Royalty has walked in and they all act accordingly. You are an heir of an unshakeable Kingdom, a co-heir with Christ.

As you approach God on His throne, your pace slows. Your steps are careful. You are reminded that this is not only the King of Kings but also your Heavenly Father. You stop. You know this is close enough. The rest of the distance from you to Him is for Him to walk if He decides. He is a consuming fire, and you can feel His power from here. You bow down with your knees to the ground to honor the One who deserves all glory and honor.

You bow your head in reverence and awe. You don’t bow as a slave bows to a master. You are not afraid. You don’t bow in shame and guilt. His eyes see through you, but it is not a stare of disappointment or judgment. It’s a gaze of pure love. He loves that you bow your head in reverence, but He doesn’t want your head to stay bowed. As a loving Father, He signals to you to lift your head. He doesn’t want the top of your head but your eyes looking back at Him. He loves to see your face. The joy and pride of a proud parent fills His countenance.

As He stands to His feet, all the angels–the cherubim, seraphim, and all the other heavenly beings–drop to their knees in worship. As He walks the transparent aisle toward you, He signals you to your feet. You’re not sure you should be standing so your personal angel has to tell you to stand up. You stand before pure love and pure light walking toward you.

Self-limitation is an act of love and had He not reduced His own glory and power in this moment, you’d be fatally consumed immediately. And you know it. You can feel Him dial down His presence and majesty in order to draw near to you. It’s what He did in Jesus and here He is doing it again…just for a moment with you.

He has a smile that makes you smile. When you see His smile it’s so contagious you can’t help but feel joy well up from your gut and overtake your face. He puts His left hand on your right shoulder. You instinctively know that if His power wasn’t sustaining you in this moment you’d collapse under the weight of His glory.

He doesn’t have to say a word. Somehow everything that needs to be communicated is already being said, heart to heart, mind to mind. And somehow He’s not speaking one word at a time but instead it feels like He’s downloading whole ideas instantaneously. These thoughts would take a long time to explain using words but somehow the ideas come all at once.

He draws even closer. He wraps you in His arms. He transmits a love that is intoxicating and overwhelming. Tears burst from your eyes, and your heart feels like it is about to explode. It’s like your current heart wasn’t meant for this amount of love. You need a new heart, one with the capacity to hold a fraction of what is coursing through you in that moment.

The encounter ends.

Grateful is such a small word for what you feel in the aftermath, but it’s as close as you can get to describing the feeling. You have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and you are in awe!

The Father’s Discipline

They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12:10-11

Part of God being a good and loving Father is that God disciplines His children. God loves us so much that He is unwilling to leave us in a state of immaturity. He loves us too much to see us continue to be trapped in sin and selfishness.

This is the paradox of real, agape love. Real love unconditionally loves a person just as they are. It loves them without condition even if they never grow and change. Yet, love also wants the best for that person. And the best is maturity, growth and holiness. So real love is not just loving someone unconditionally; it’s also loving them enough to encourage them to change and grow into who they were created to be. Real love involves both of these things simultaneously.

Notice what God’s goal in discipline is: 1) it is for our good, and 2) it enables us to share in the very nature of God, His holiness. We get the profound honor and privilege of getting to share in, partake in, join in the very nature of the Godhead. What an unbelievably honoring and humbling reality! As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dance together in perfect unity, love and holiness, we get invited into the dance. We get the absolute privilege of sharing in God’s holiness when God discipline’s us.

As for any parent, discipline is not primarily about punishing our kids. It’s about infusing discipline into their lives. It’s about training them in righteousness, so that their character has the strength–especially when we are not around–to choose right from wrong.

The same is true for God’s discipline. It is God the Father training us in holiness so that we will reap a harvest of righteousness and peace in our life. So many people today experience no peace in their lives because they reject God’s discipline, the very thing that will produce peace.

No discipline is pain-free. That’s kind of the point. The pain comes from putting to death our old self so that we can live clothed in the new self that was purchased for us by Jesus on the cross. Death can be painful. Putting to death our selfishness and sinful desires can be painful. But it’s the kind of pain that comes from working out at the gym. It’s the pain experienced when a physical therapist helps a person come back from an injury. It’s the pain involved in growing and getting whole.

Jesus describes this process as pruning. He said to His disciples and to us:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

John 15:1-2

Either way there is a cutting that happens. If we separate ourselves from Christ, we are cut off. If we submit our lives to Him and bear good fruit we still get cut, but the cutting is a pruning that makes us even more fruitful. The parts of our life that do not bring honor to God get trimmed back so that we can live in His holiness. Our Father doesn’t want us wasting our energy on branches of our life that won’t bear good fruit. This is the discipline of a loving Father.

Draw Near

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:19-25

The writer of Hebrews lays out the proper response to the good news of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Most Holy Place was the inner most room of the Temple. The priests would sacrifice animals on the bronze altar in the courtyard. Then they would wash with water in the wash basin. After that they would enter the Holy Place where the lamps on the lamp stands needed to be trimmed, the bread of Presence had to be replaced, and the altar of incense had to be kept burning. This was their daily work as priests.

But once a year the high priest, and only the high priest, would go into the Most Holy Place where the ark of the covenant rested between two cherubim. He had to do an elaborate set of cleansing rituals before he went past the inner curtain and entered the Most Holy Place because the very Presence of God was there. If he entered in an unworthy or unholy way, he would drop dead in God’s Presence.

But when Jesus give up His body and spirit on the cross, that inner curtain separating God and humanity was torn from top to bottom. Jesus became the once and for all sacrifice that allows us to approach God confidently with a cleansed conscience. Faith in Jesus is what allows us to receive the cleansing that comes from the blood of Christ and the water that flowed from His side. Because of Him, we can approach God with confidence.

So our proper response to this great news is that we draw near to God. We live with an awareness of the reality that God is already near to us. The Kingdom of God is “at hand.” It’s within reach. We only have to draw near to God with our hearts and minds to experience His Presence.

And we respond to this great news by holding unswervingly to the hope that we profess. Our hope is this: that we’ve been saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus and not by our own works. Our hope is that even though we make mistakes, God calls us a new creation and sees us as clothed in Christ, unblemished and washed clean. Our hope is that Christ now dwells in us through His Spirit, and that we will eternally dwell with Him when this life is over.

Our response to this great news is to spur one another on toward love and good deeds as we continue to meet together as the church. We respond to this great grace by meeting together as the Body of Christ, the church, and encouraging each other to continue in the faith. We lay down our pride and admit that we can’t live this life of faith in isolation. We admit our need for one another. We admit that we not only need Christ in me but we need Christ in you to help strengthen me on this journey of faith.

All of these things–the drawing near to God, the living in hope, the love and good deeds, the encouraging each other, the meeting together as the church–are the proper response to the good news of the gospel. This is what gratitude for our rescue looks like.

Forgiving God

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:31-32

We forgive because we are forgiven. We don’t wait for the other person to apologize or ask for forgiveness. The other person may have really done something wrong when they hurt us. It’s also possible that they did nothing wrong and it was just a perceived slight that hurt us. Either way, forgiveness is not based on the other person but on our reception of God’s forgiveness in Christ. Forgiveness is the only way to weed out the bitterness, anger and resentment in our heart.

But what if you’re angry or feel distant from God? What if God is the one who you believe harmed you? Can we forgive God?

I had this interesting moment with the Lord the other day in a worship service. We were all singing and the Lord began to speak to me about a friend of mine who was feeling distant from God. I heard God speak to my heart and say, “He needs to forgive me.”

When I heard it, I couldn’t make sense of it initially. Forgive God? But why? “God, you don’t ever do anything wrong. Why would he need to forgive YOU?”

Then the Lord gave me a mental picture of a father kneeling down to his young son. The son was upset with his dad. His dad didn’t do anything wrong, but the dad knew that in order to restore the relationship he would have to be the one to ask the son for forgiveness. It wasn’t about the father doing anything wrong; it was about restoring the relationship and mending the heart of the hurting son.

“But, God, what does he need to forgive You for?”

Then I heard the Lord whisper, “I didn’t meet his expectations. He feels distant from me because I failed to meet his expectations. You need to tell him that I am asking for his forgiveness.”

Sensing that I was still uncomfortable with the idea of doing this, the Lord explained further. In an instant, He gave me a download of understanding. It wasn’t that He explained it all with words. It felt more like a surge of understanding.

What God reminded me of is that this is what God does. This is what Jesus did on the cross. He died a death He didn’t deserve to die. He didn’t do anything wrong. He lived a perfect life. Yet, He took our punishment. This is what God does. Even when He doesn’t do anything wrong, He takes the first step toward us. He’s not concerned with what is “fair” to Himself. He’s concerned with mending relationships and healing hearts. He just wants to be reconnected to His sons and daughters. So He bends down on one knee and asks His son forgiveness for not meeting his expectations (even though those expectations were probably false expectations).

It made more sense now. But before I would go and talk to my friend, I wanted to know where the expectations came from. The Lord told me that his family mistakenly taught him that if he did everything right, everything would turn out okay. This lie was planted early in life. And so he did everything right but things didn’t turn out okay. That’s when the feelings of betrayal, confusion, hurt and resentment entered in. Only by forgiving God would he be able to release the bitterness and hurt that has created a wall between him and the Lord.

The Father loves his son so much that He was willing to interrupt His other son right in the middle of worship to tell him all of this. He loves his son so much that He was willing to take a knee and ask His son for forgiveness! How great the Father’s love for us!

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 

1 John 3:1

Some of you reading this may need to do the same. You may need to forgive God. Your mind has prevented you from doing so because you know He doesn’t make mistakes. But that truth in your mind has kept your heart distant from Him. What the Father understands is that your heart needs to forgive Him. Forgive Him for whatever that hurt is. Release the resentment, bitterness and anger you’ve been holding against Him. He’s getting on one knee before you, taking your hands, and He’s asking His child for forgiveness. Will you forgive Him?

If you don’t know what to say, try something like this:

Father, I was hurt by this ______________. And now I have felt distant from you. I hear You today asking for my forgiveness, wanting to mend our relationship, wanting to heal my heart. So right now, God, I forgive you. I choose today to forgive you. I release the anger, bitterness and resentment. I put aside any feelings of rejection. I take your hands. I want to be close to you again. Thank You for bending down on one knee and asking for my forgiveness. It feels funny to say I forgive you, but I know it is what my heart has needed. Thank you for understanding what my heart needed in order to come close to You again. You are a loving Father. Thank you for loving me through this. Heal my heart. Mend my wounds. May I experience Your love flow into my heart again through your Holy Spirit, in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Not Timid, Not Ashamed

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—

2 Timothy 1:7-9

The New American Standard Bible translates verse 7 this way: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” Paul was encouraging Timothy not to be timid regarding the “testimony about our Lord.” Fear can paralyze a person into silence about the truth of the gospel.

Paul was reminding Timothy that the Holy Spirit gives us a boldness about the gospel of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of fear but of power, love and self-discipline. The Holy Spirit gives us power to see the impossible become possible–miracles, signs and wonders. The Father also pours His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. His love changes our heart toward people we would otherwise avoid. And the Holy Spirit is a refining fire within us, giving us self-discipline and moving us into a holy life.

Paul also lets Timothy know that part of following Jesus is suffering for the gospel. Specifically, suffering for the gospel in the New Testament is not about facing illness or the normal hardships of life. Suffering for the gospel is the ridicule and persecution that comes from proclaiming the testimony of Jesus. And part of why we are given the power of God from the Holy Spirit is to fortify our souls during times of insults and false accusations.

Jesus warned of this same thing when He said,

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:11-12

We couldn’t do any of this on our own. On our own, in our own power, we would shrink into fear and self-protection. We’d spend our time trying to hyper-manage our reputation and other people’s perception of us. It’s the Holy Spirit that breaks us out of self-protection and into courage. It’s the Holy Spirit that empowers us to swim upstream against cultural norms that are anti-Christ. It’s the Spirit that gives us the power and love to call people back to their Heavenly Father–the One who longs to welcome us home and shower us with grace (Luke 15:18-24).

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:19-21

Paradox of Faith

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:11-12

Paul encourages Timothy not to spend all of his time pursuing material wealth. Instead, Paul wants Timothy (and the rest of us) to pursue the riches of the Spirit. Righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness are things we must go after. They are things we must pursue and fight for. This is what it looks like to “take hold” of the eternal life that we have in Christ.

Yet, righteousness is also something we’ve been given. Godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness are also fruits of the Spirit. They are not only things we pursue but things that are birthed within us by the Spirit. And this is the mystery and the tension of the Christian life. This is the paradox of faith–the place where God’s work in us and our participation with God meet together.

It’s like when Paul said of his own ministry, “To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me”(Colossians 1:29). It is the Holy Spirit working within us, yet we must cooperate with Him. God already made us righteous in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), and yet we must pursue righteousness and godliness. We are already new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-18), and yet we must “put on” the new self and “put off” the old self (Ephesians 4:22-24). The Father pours His love into our heart through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), and yet we must pursue love. We were saved by grace through faith in Jesus which is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8), and yet we must pursue greater measures of faith in our own life (2 Timothy 2:22).

This dynamic is not an either/or but a both/and. It is God’s activity, and it is our response to God’s activity. It is His work in us, and it is our cooperation with His work in us. It is His grace, and it is our obedience. The paradox of faith is all of this working together. This is what it looks like to fight the good fight of faith and take hold of the eternal life that we’ve been given in Christ.


We 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.

1 Thessalonians 1:3

Paul praised the Thessalonians for essentially three things: 1) their work, 2) their labor, and 3) their endurance. But what is so interesting is what produced each of these: faith, hope and love. It’s not the only time Paul would write about how these three fit together (1 Corinthians 13:13).

In Christ, we will work hard for the gospel. Work is from the Lord and is a good thing. But our work doesn’t come from a place of striving. It comes from faith. James wrote about how work and faith go together when he said, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds”(James 2:18). In other words, real faith produces action. Real faith will work.

Then Paul mentions that the Thessalonians’ labor was prompted by love. The word translated “labor” in the Greek is the word kopos. It means “laborious toil involving weariness and fatigue.” We have here the image of a woman in labor, fatigued by the process of delivery. Ultimately, it is the unconditional love the mother has for her baby that gives her the strength to labor. Love is capable of doing what seems impossible. Love will labor through just about anything.

Finally, Paul mentions their endurance inspired by hope. When a marathon runner hits the wall in the middle of the race, it is the hope of the finish line that gives them the endurance to keep going. Hopelessness saps all our energy and steals our ability to press through hardship. But hope is energizing. Hope keeps a person going long after they should have given up. Hope sustains us and gives us endurance.

Faith, hope, and love: the essential trinity of character formation–the superfood fruits of the Spirit. Faith, hope, and love produce people who can work hard, labor through difficulty, and have endurance for the long haul.