May 25, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 (NRSV)
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Love isn’t always a matter of sweetness and romance. Often, genuine love leads to labor, a difficult and even painful action. Christians are inspired by the example of Jesus, whose love led him to the cross. Thus, we sense God’s call to love expressed in deeds—deeds that may be costly to us. In this way, we imitate Jesus’s own “labor of love.”
Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we began looking at the prayer of thanksgiving in 1 Thessalonians 1:3. We saw that Paul and his colleagues were regularly giving thanks to God for the “work of faith” of the Thessalonian Christians. In addition, they also thanked God for their converts’ “labor of love.”
The Greek word translated here as “labor” (kopos) is similar in meaning to the word in verse 3 translated as “work” (ergon; my spellcheck wants to turn ergon into “ergonomics.” Indeed the words are related. “Ergonomics” comes from the Greek combination of ergon-work and nomos-law.) The Greek word kopos, however, has a distinctive nuance not found in ergon. Kopos doesn’t mean any sort of work, any human effort. Rather, it refers to work that is particularly difficult, burdensome, and even painful. By referring to the “labor of love” of the Thessalonians, Paul and Co. are implying not only that the Thessalonian Christians lived out their love, but also that they did so in a particularly difficult and demanding way.
In our culture, we often emphasize the sweet, pleasurable, and romantic dimensions of love. We celebrate love on Valentine’s Day with chocolates, flowers, and special cards. This isn’t necessarily bad. Romantic love in the right context is the enjoyment of God‘s good gifts. But we can often overlook the fact that genuine love isn’t only sweet and amorous. Real love often leads us into actions that are challenging, arduous, and uncomfortable. True love leads to laborious behavior.
When I think of people I have known whose love has required labor, many memories flood my mind. I think of a man in my church in Irvine whose wife was plagued with numerous physical ailments. For years and years, until she died, this man cared for his wife in costly and difficult ways. Or I think of a friend of mine whose adult daughter has Down Syndrome. Though her daughter is highly functioning in many ways – her memory for movie trivia far outstrips mine – she still requires much more oversight than the average 24-year-old adult. My friend expresses her love for her daughter in ways that would certainly be called laborious. Also, I think of my daughter who teaches high school in an underserved district in Northern California. Yes, teaching is her job and she seeks to excel in it as a committed professional. But so often what motivates her to work doubly hard is her love for her students. She deeply cares for them as people and wants to help them flourish in life. So she puts in the extra hours because of her love for them.
I’m sure you can think of examples from your own life of people whose love becomes incarnate in labor. I expect there are times when your love for others has been expressed in costly and difficult ways. 1 Thessalonians would encourage you to hang in there, to keep on loving even when it’s hard.
Of course, the ultimate demonstration of love expressed in labor comes from the life and especially the death of Jesus. The very Son of God came to earth as a human being out of love (John 3:16, Philippians 2:5-11). The love of God in Christ is what led Christ to the cross, to a degree of suffering we can only begin to imagine. For Jesus, love was indeed a labor. His example moves us and inspires us to imitate. When we remember what Jesus did and how this has affected our lives, we are encouraged to express our love in the form of labor, whether for our families, our neighbors, our colleagues at work, or the hurting people of the world. When we love in costly and painful ways, we follow the example of our Lord. Our hearts are drawn near to him and we hear in our spirits his voice saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
When you hear the phrase “labor of love,” what comes to mind for you? What examples of love, what memories of costly love?
When have you been the recipient of love expressed in labor? (Of course, we could all point to our births, which literally involved a labor of love!)
Are you in any relationships right now in which love requires you to labor? If so, in what ways are you reaching out to God for help?
Are there people in your life who need you to love them in a challenging and perhaps even painful way?
As you think about the people in your life, see if you can express love for someone in a way that is costly to you. Do whatever the Lord puts on your heart.
Gracious God, thank you that love is not just a sweet thing we can enjoy, but also a motivation to live in a costly way for others. Thank you most of all for the labor of love we see in Jesus. Thank you for his willingness to express love through the suffering of the cross.
Lord, may I be encouraged to love in the way of Jesus. May I have eyes to see the needs of those around me. I know I can’t do everything, but may I be sensitive to the guidance of your Spirit. Show me, Lord, how I can express love in labor.
Today I pray especially for those who are loving in difficult ways today. O Lord, please encourage them. Strengthen them. May they know how much their labor of love honors you and gives you delight. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: https://www.theologyofwork.org/the-high-calling/daily-reflection/labor-love
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
As I thought about “labour of love” (Aussie spelling, by the way), my mind went to “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” (John 5:17)
Thanks, Nigel. Good to get in that Aussie spelling every now and then to keep us Americans humble!