Fuller

Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians

by Mark D. Roberts, Ph.D.
Senior Strategist
Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership

© Copyright 2022 De Pree Center. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Do You Need Some Encouragement Today? (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
Part 2: A Vision of Shared Leadership (1 Thessalonians 1:1)
Part 3: When the Church Is Not the Church (1 Thessalonians 1:1)
Part 4: Grace to You and Peace . . . Really (1 Thessalonians 1:1)
Part 5: Encouragement to Be Thankful (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3)
Part 6: Encouragement to Share Your Thanks with Others (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3)
Part 7: Work of Faith (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3)
Part 8: Labor of Love (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3)


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Part 1: Do You Need Some Encouragement Today?

Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 4:18 (NRSV)

Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Focus

Do you need some encouragement today? It’s quite likely that you do, especially given all of the discouraging aspects of life in 2022. Yet we don’t want insubstantial happy-talk. That just won’t do. We yearn for encouragement based on what’s real, what’s true. This is exactly what we find in one of the shorter books of the Bible, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. It helps us to be encouraged and to become encouragers of others.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.

Devotion

I was speaking recently with my colleague Meryl about our research into mentoring. The De Pree Center is engaged in this study so that we can equip people to get into mentoring, either as a mentor or a mentee. Meryl has been doing an excellent job identifying the elements of a successful mentoring relationship as well as factors that can limit its effectiveness. Now, we’re beginning to think about how we can turn this research into resources for the people we serve through the De Pree Center, people like you.

As Meryl talked about potential resource materials, she said, “I wish we had some strong devotions related to mentoring.” As you might expect, this piqued my attention. I am “all in” when it comes to devotional writing, as you know. But my enthusiasm for writing a series of devotions related to mentoring also came from another experience of my life, one you may not be so familiar with.

You see, I’ve been thinking about mentoring-type relationships for decades. This reflection began when I was in graduate school. My Ph.D. dissertation examined Paul’s pastoral relationship with the Thessalonians as portrayed in the letter we know as 1 Thessalonians. Though that relationship was what one might call “pastoral” or “apostolic,” it had much in common with what we today call mentoring. The way Paul nurtured and encouraged his Thessalonian converts was far more personal and relational than we might suppose. In many ways, Paul was a mentor to the Christians in Thessalonica. We can see this clearly in 1 Thessalonians.

After my conversation with Meryl, I read through 1 Thessalonians carefully. As I did, I identified several passages ripe with implications for mentoring. But I was reminded of how much the content of this brief epistle addresses many things beyond mentoring. It speaks incisively to where we are today in our personal lives, in our churches, in our communities, and in our world. So, I thought to myself, “After I finish doing Luke in Life for Leaders, I should do 1 Thessalonians.” Further reflection and prayer confirmed this inclination. Beginning today, therefore, I’ll be basing my daily devotions (from Monday through Thursday) on 1 Thessalonians. (Friday’s devotions will continue to focus on the Psalms in relationship to our daily work.)

Now, I realize that a devotional study of 1 Thessalonians may not instantly get your heart pounding. I don’t know anyone who claims this short letter as their favorite book of the Bible. (It may once have been mine, but I fear it has been surpassed by Ephesians.) You don’t find in 1 Thessalonians anything like the Shepherd Psalm (Psalm 23), the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), “For God so loved the world . . . (John 3:16), or the Love Chapter (1 Corinthians 13). But, having spent literally thousands of hours studying 1 Thessalonians, I can vouch for its exceptional and timely wisdom, not to mention the fact that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit and therefore worthy of our attention.

If you were to ask me, “Why 1 Thessalonians?” I’d point, first of all, to its relevance to the challenges we face in today’s church and world. Second, I’d talk about encouragement. I am writing this devotional series to encourage you in your faith and, I should add, to equip you to encourage others. I’m basing this on the main reason Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians in the first place. In chapter 4, verse 18, he says, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” Paul is writing not only as an encourager but also as a catalyst of encouragement. He wants to help the Thessalonian believers become effective encouragers.

One of the distinctive features of 1 Thessalonians is how often the verb “to encourage,” parakaleō in Greek, shows up. It appears 8 times in only 5 chapters. Tellingly, this means that the verb “to encourage” appears more frequently in 1 Thessalonians than in any other book in the New Testament. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that 1 Thessalonians is an outstanding letter of encouragement. It was written originally both to encourage Christians and to equip them to be encouragers. I believe it can have that same impact today.

So, let me ask you. Do you need some encouragement today? I’m pretty sure you do. Though I don’t personally know most of those who read Life for Leaders – I’m always happy to hear from you, by the way, at markroberts@fuller.edu – it seems to me that just about everyone needs some encouragement these days. But we don’t want insubstantial happy-talk. Rather, we yearn to be encouraged by things that are substantial and substantially true. This, I believe, we will find in 1 Thessalonians.

So, I do hope you are encouraged by the thought of a devotional study of 1 Thessalonians, no pun intended. Please join me in praying that God will speak to our Life for Leaders community in a way that brings comfort, courage, and confidence in the Lord.

Reflect

Without opening your Bible to look at 1 Thessalonians, what, if anything, is your impression of this book? Can you think of anything in this book that has made a difference in your life?

In what ways do you need encouragement these days?

Can you think of people in your life who are excellent encouragers? What do they do? Why?

Act

Keep your eyes and heart open today so that you might be an encourager to someone who needs encouragement in a special way.

Pray

Gracious God, you are the ultimate source of encouragement. The encouragement you give isn’t flimsy or superficial. It’s based on who you are and what you have done in Christ. Thank you for being such an encourager.

Lord, I know I need encouragement today. May I be open to receiving what you have for me.

Help me, I pray, to be an encourager of others. May I be attentive to their needs. May I offer them the truth they need to hear. Amen.


Part 2: A Vision of Shared Leadership

Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 1:1 (NRSV)

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.

Focus

Shared leadership is sometimes frowned upon. It can surely be more complicated than one-person leadership. But it can also be more fruitful, at least in many situations. The New Testament letter known as 1 Thessalonians models shared leadership to a striking degree. It encourages us to consider how our own leadership might be better if we were intentionally collaborative.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.

Devotion

My wife and I had lunch with a good friend yesterday (whom I’ll call Jane). In part, we were celebrating Jane’s new job at a new company, a real milestone in her career. I asked her why she left her previous company where she had been doing excellent work. “Well,” Jane said, “they promoted someone to an executive director role over me, even though he had much less experience than I have and really needed my partnership. I asked to be made a co-executive director with him. But the boss said no. ‘Shared leadership just doesn’t work,’ he told me.” So I was open to moving and now it’s happening.”

I understand Jane’s boss’s perspective. It’s still pretty common in many organizations. Though, increasingly, business leaders are seeing the potential of shared leadership, even at the top of companies. (See, for example, these two articles in Harvard Business Review: “How to Co-Lead a Team” and “Is CEO a Two-Person Job?”) Nevertheless, shared leadership brings challenges that solo leaders don’t have to worry about, and it may bring distinctive benefits as well.

The letter we know as 1 Thessalonians models shared leadership right from the start. The first verse identifies the letter’s authors as “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy” (1 Thessalonians 1:1). Nevertheless, almost every commentator and preacher on 1 Thessalonians talks about it as a letter from Paul, not Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. This surely reflects the major role played by the Apostle Paul both in early Christianity and in the writings we know as the New Testament. In most of the letters attributed to Paul and others, it’s clear that Paul is the main writer, the primary leader. But 1 Thessalonians is curiously different. With three exceptions, every reference to the letter writers is plural (the exceptions are 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 3:5; and 5:27). So even if Paul was the main writer of the letter, he intentionally wrote in a way that underscored the leadership he shared with his colleagues Silvanus and Timothy. The letter known as 1 Thessalonians was truly a letter from Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy.

It’s important to see the shared leadership in 1 Thessalonians, not only because of what it says about Paul and his co-workers, but also because of what it implies about what it means to be a Christian, what it means to be part of the church, and what it means to serve God in the world. As we’ll see in our devotional study of 1 Thessalonians, the letter consistently shows that the Christians in Thessalonica are not only recipients of the ministry of Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, but also participants in that ministry. Christian ministry is shared ministry. Christian leadership, therefore, is shared leadership. (Consider the Trinity, for example!)

Most of us have experienced shared leadership of various kinds. We see it demonstrated in our political systems. Even in hierarchical workplaces, leadership is often shared among bosses and subordinates. Churches usually feature collaborative leadership by pastors, elders, and congregants. (And when they don’t, things can go very poorly.) Shared leadership is common in families, even if one member has culturally-ascribed authority (as in patriarchal households).

If you’ve been in a relationship where leadership is shared, then you surely know how complicated it can be. But it’s likely that you also know how fruitful it can be. I think, for example, of my work as senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church. I had clear authority over several things, but found that collaboration, however complex it might be, generally led to better results, even in matters where I could simply make the call. Yes, there were occasions when I needed to exercise my official authority, but 99% of the time our church was stronger because of leadership shared among pastors, staff members, elders, and congregants.

I’m not suggesting that shared leadership is the best in all circumstances, or that there is only one way for leadership to be shared. But I do believe that what we see in 1 Thessalonians encourages us to think critically and creatively about ways in which we lead, whether in businesses, schools, service organizations, churches, government organizations, or families. Even if we have the authority to speak and lead as a solitary “Paul,” it may be better for us to learn to speak, lead, and live as “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy.”

Reflect

When in your life have you experienced shared leadership? How did it go? What was good about it? What was not so good?

What do you think are the strengths of shared leadership?

What are the weaknesses of shared leadership?

Act

Think about where in your life you are exercising leadership these days. It might be official, as in a job setting. Or it might be unofficial, as in a neighborhood or friendship group. Is there something you can to do strengthen the way in which leadership is shared?

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for the example of Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. Thank you for the ways they worked as a team to serve the Thessalonians. Thank you for how their model teaches and encourages us.

Help us, Lord, to learn how to lead well together. Show us what shared leadership might look like in our distinctive settings. Give us wisdom and vision.

Finally, God, though you are uniquely the Sovereign of the universe, you have chosen to share so much with human beings. Thank you for honoring us in this way. Help us, Lord, to be faithful stewards of what you’ve entrusted to us. May we learn to lead and live together in harmony with you and for your purposes. Amen.


Part 3: When the Church Is Not the Church

Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 1:1 (NRSV)

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.

Focus

The first Christians referred to their communities with the Greek word ekklēsia. We translate this word into English as “church.” “Church” means something like “Christian religious group or gathering.” But the early, Greek-speaking Christians didn’t hear ekklēsia in this way. For them, the ekklēsia was governing body in their city. It was more like the city council than what we call a church. Thus, the biblical use of ekklēsia reminds us that our churches are not to be self-contained and self-absorbed groups of Christians. Rather, we’re to be assemblies of God’s authorized people who bring the good news, peace, and justice of God to the places where we live.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.

Devotion

I don’t know how many times in life I’ve been told that the church isn’t a building. It must be at least 200 times, maybe more. Plus, I’m quite sure I’ve said it dozens of times as well. Yes, we Christians meet in buildings called churches (though, increasingly Christians gather in schools, theaters, restaurants, parks, and community centers). But the church really isn’t the building in which we meet. The church is the people of God, the body of Christ, the assembly of Christians gathered in worship and scattered into the world.

I’m good with all of that. But even a theologically-precise view of what the church really is can sometimes keep us from understanding how the first Christians would have thought of themselves and their communities. The earliest Christians did not have buildings dedicated for their meetings, so they wouldn’t have been tempted to think of the church as a building. Yet, I would argue that the first Christians didn’t think of themselves as a church, either. For them, the church was not the church.

I realize this might sound confusing, or even incorrect, so let me explain what I mean. In the letter we know as 1 Thessalonians, Paul and his colleagues are writing “To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:1). When we read this English translation, we naturally interpret it to mean something like, “To the Christian religious community in Thessalonica.” That’s what a church is. Right?

Well, not according to the first recipients of 1 Thessalonians. When they heard the word ekklēsia, the Greek word translated in New Testament as “church,” they did not think of a “religious organization” or “religious gathering.” Ekklēsia did not have that meaning in first-century Greek. It was not used to describe religious organizations, groups, or gatherings. Rather, ekklēsia had two basic meanings: 1) a regularly summoned legislative body; 2) a casual gathering of people. Since the Christian gatherings were not casual, but intentional and regular, the use of ekklēsia in the early Christian writings, of which 1 Thessalonians is probably the earliest, echoed the secular, legal sense of ekklēsia. Even as the citizens of a Hellenistic city would gather as the ekklēsia to do the official business of the city, so the Christians gathered to do God’s official business in the places where they were located.

Given how familiar we are with the religious sense of “church,” it can be hard for us to hear ekklēsia as it was first heard. Perhaps an example will help. Most cities in the United States have some kind of local governing body. It might be called the “town council” or “board of aldermen” or “city council.” Members of this body are authorized to govern the city where they live. In Pasadena, California, where I live, we have the City Council. The council meets every Monday at 4:30 p.m. to govern our city, along with the mayor.

Now, suppose I decided to plant a new church in Pasadena. Suppose further that I decided to call my church “The City Council of Pasadena in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” How do you think that would sound to my neighbors? How about to current members of the official city council? Don’t you think they’d be perplexed, even rather bugged? Calling my little church “The City Council of Pasadena” might seem rather bold, or perhaps arrogant, or uppity. What was I implying about the existing city council? Did I have political aspirations? Was I trying to undermine the authority of the city council?

Conversely, how might the people in my little church feel to be called “The City Council of Pasadena in God . . .”? What might this say to them about their identity and mission? Might such a name suggest that the gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t just forming new religious communities, but rather transforming the social order, perhaps even the political order. I expect the members of my Christian community would sense that their calling to our city was significant, that they were involved in something big, something disruptive, something like, well, the kingdom of God, for example.

I believe that translating ekklēsia as “church” misses the sense of the original language. Neither Paul and his co-writers nor his Thessalonian recipients would have heard ekklēsia as a “Christian religious community.” A better translation might be “assembly” because this word can mean “official governing body” as well as “gathering of people.”

But my point here really isn’t about the word. It’s about how we think of the community of Christians. Are we just some little religious group that cares mostly about its own worship and wellbeing? Or are we an assembly of God’s authorized representatives who are called to transform the places where we live with the good news of God’s kingdom? Are we to embody and extend the love, justice, and peace of God in our part of the world? Maybe the church isn’t supposed to be just the church.

Reflect

When you hear the word “church,” what comes immediately to mind? (Be honest. Don’t just give the “right answer.”)

How do you think people in your city would feel if a new church called itself “The City Council of [Your City ]”?

What do you think of the idea that “assembly” might be a better word for ekklēsia than “church”?

In most of the world today, Christian assemblies are not the dominant authority in the places they gather. So then, how might we make a kingdom difference where we live as “assemblies” of Jesus Christ?

Act

Pay attention to ways your church is serving folks outside of the walls of the church. See if there’s a way you can get involved.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for the gift of what we call the church. Thank you for the community of your people, for our gatherings to worship and celebrate, for the love we share together, for the mission to which you have called us.

Help us to see with fresh eyes, Lord, what you have designed us to be together. Help us to see clearly how we can embody and extend your kingdom into the places where we live. Give us the freedom to serve our neighbors, bringing your love, grace, and justice into our common life.

No matter what we are called, Lord, may we be your faithful body, living for your purposes and glory in this world. Amen.


Part 4: Grace to You and Peace . . . Really

Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 1:1 (NRSV)

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.

Focus

New Testament letters often begin with the salutation, “Grace to you and peace.” This greeting was original to early Christianity, adapting both Hellenistic and Jewish traditions. But grace and peace are much more than words. They are some of the most precious gifts of God to us. And they are what our heart longs for. God gives us the gift of peace by grace in Jesus Christ. When we receive this gift, we are able to give it away to others.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.

Devotion

About a decade ago I started signing my letters and emails with the words “Grace and Peace.” You’d be right in supposing that I did this imitation of the letters of Paul in the New Testament. But I wasn’t trying to sound all pious and biblical. Rather, I decided to end with “Grace and Peace” rather than “Yours in Christ” or “Best” or “Sincerely yours” because I really wanted the recipients of my correspondence to experience grace and peace. By writing “Grace and Peace” I was saying, in effect, “May God grant you genuine grace and genuine peace.”

The Apostle Paul was my inspiration, as I mentioned above. His use of “grace and peace” as the opening greeting to the recipients of his letters was innovative in a clever way. In the first century A.D., letters were written in Greek usually included the greeting chairein, the infinitive of the verb “to rejoice,” which meant “greetings” (for example, Acts 23:26, James 1:1).

Paul chose instead to use the word charis, which meant “grace” and sounded a lot like chairein. To this, he added the word eirene, which meant “peace” in Greek and echoed the Hebrew greeting shalom. So, “grace and peace” was a unique greeting that combined both Greek and Jewish elements. As far as we know, Paul himself coined this particular greeting, which shows up in other New Testament letters as well, probably under the influence of Paul (1 Peter, 2 Peter, Revelation 1:4).

I find Paul’s creativity intriguing. He took that which was culturally common and tweaked it to carry a new message. Though we who are familiar with Paul’s letters are not surprised by “grace and peace,” his original readers (indeed, listeners, since his letters were read in churches) might have been surprised by what they heard. It sounded familiar, yet curiously different. They might have wondered why Paul made this unusual rhetorical move. What was so special about grace and peace?

Grace is God’s unmerited kindness and favor, given to us through Jesus Christ. Grace is God giving us good things that we haven’t earned and don’t deserve. Most importantly of all, it is by God’s grace in Christ that we are saved from sin and death, and reborn into new, full, and abundant life (see Ephesians 2:8-10).

Peace in Scripture includes the absence of conflict as well as deep inner tranquility (Philippians 4:6-7). But God’s peace touches far more than this. The best definition of biblical peace that I have found is based on the work of Cornelius Plantinga:

Biblical peace, what Scripture calls “shalom,” is “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.” It is “a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed.” Ultimately, shalom, “the way things ought to be,” is found in Jesus Christ, who is our peace and who makes peace through the cross. (Quotations from Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, p. 10)

Peace is the world as God intended it to be, the world as it will be when God’s kingdom comes in all of its fullness.

When Paul greeted his letter recipients with grace and peace, he wasn’t just showing people how clever he could be. Rather, he was wishing before God that they would actually know these priceless gifts of God. Those who had already begun to know grace through Christ had so much more of God’s unmerited kindness to experience. Those who had already begun to know the miraculous peace of God had so much more peace to experience, not just in their hearts, but in their relationships, their churches, their communities, and beyond. They would experience this peace, not only as recipients of God’s grace, but also as peacemakers in the world.

Today, our hearts yearn for genuine grace and genuine peace. We want to experience these gifts of God in our own lives. And we want those we love to experience them as well. Moreover, as we feel the brokenness of our world, we cry out for God to grant, by grace, the peace that only God can give, the peace that comes through Jesus Christ (see Ephesians 2:11-22). Grace and peace, therefore, aren’t just greetings at the beginning or end of a letter. They are some of our deepest desires.

So, let me close this devotion as I would one of my letters. Remember, I’m not just repeating empty words. I am praying for these things to be real in your life, and through you in the world.

Grace and Peace,

Mark

Reflect

When you hear the word “grace,” what comes to mind? What do you feel?

When in your life have you experienced God’s grace in a profound way? How did you respond? What difference did this make in your life?

When you hear the word “peace,” what comes to mind? What do you feel?

If biblical peace describes the world as God meant it to be, when have you experienced some approximation of biblical peace?

Act

Be ready to extend grace to someone today. And then do it!

Pray

Gracious God—yes, I often pray to you as “gracious” because grace is so much a part of your nature, your way of being, your way of relating to me. You have been good to me far beyond anything I deserve. Most of all, you have poured out your grace upon me through Jesus Christ. Thank you, dear God, for your grace.

Thank you also, God, for your peace. We catch glimpses of true peace in this broken and conflict-filled world. But we know there is so much more of your peace yet to come. We long for the day when your peace fills the earth. In the meanwhile, we thank you for those glimpses of peace, and for the gifts of peace you give in our hearts and in our relationships.

May we be people who not only receive grace and peace, but also who pass on your grace and peace to others. Amen.


Part 5: Encouragement to Be Thankful

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.

Focus

The Apostle Paul and his colleagues consistently thanked God for the Christians in Thessalonica. Their example encourages us to give thanks on a regular basis for the people who matter to us. God can help us to see these people clearly and to sense how much they are gifts from God to us. Then, gratitude flows from an aware and full heart.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.

Devotion

After greeting the Christians in Thessalonica, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy continue their letter by writing, “We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers” (1 Thessalonians 1:2). In his other letters, Paul commonly offers thanks for the recipients and often mentions other occasions for gratitude in the body of his letters, so what we see in 1 Thessalonians is pretty typical.

Of course, when Paul and his colleagues say they “always” give thanks for the Thessalonians, they don’t mean this in an overly literal way. They aren’t going through the whole day doing anything but offering prayers of gratitude for the Thessalonians. “Always” in this case means something more like, “Every time we pray for you” or “Very often.” The Message gets the gist, I think: “Every time we think of you, we thank God for you.”

As one who has been a Christian for a long time (almost 59 years!), I’ve tried throughout my life to imitate the example of Paul and Co. in this passage and others like it. I’ve tried to thank God regularly and consistently for God’s gifts to me, especially the gifts of people. When I was young, my efforts to be like Paul failed miserably. It’s not that I wasn’t thankful for people in my life. But I struggled to build regular gratitude into my devotional life. (And, for that matter, I struggled to have a regular devotional life.) Plus, I was focused on things like studying and work, which often took away time from things like prayer and thanks.

Today, I would not claim to have mastered the imitation of Paul when it comes to regular gratitude. But, by God’s grace, I find that I do thank the Lord consistently for all sorts of things, mainly, in fact, for the people in my life. I say “by God’s grace” because I can’t claim to have accomplished this by my own efforts. Rather, the Spirit of God helps me to see people more clearly, to feel their impact on my life and the lives of others more deeply, and therefore to find gratitude welling up in my heart. When I was young, for example, I spent most of my time in meetings paying attention to the agenda and trying hard to impress others with my great insights. Now, I often sit in meetings and marvel at what great colleagues I have. I’m not working at this. It just happens.

I wonder if this is partly a function of age. I’ve known many people who become more thankful as they get older. Yet, this isn’t always true. Other folks seem to become more bitter and less thankful in their latter years, more apt to complain and less likely to feel or express gratitude. So, I don’t believe thankfulness comes naturally with aging. It does seem to me to be a work of God in our hearts.

Nevertheless, I don’t think we’re helpless when it comes to growth in gratitude. We can always work on building expressions of gratitude into our lives, whether in our daily devotions, our prayers before eating, or randomly throughout the day. I often find that my feelings of gratitude come, not before, but after I give thanks to God. If I were to wait around to say “thanks” until I felt thankful, I might be waiting a long time.

There is something else that often helps me both to feel and to communicate thanks to God. I’ll talk about this in tomorrow’s Life for Leaders devotion. For now, let me encourage you to reflect on the following questions and to go ahead and imitate Paul and Co. by thanking God for the people in your life.

Reflect

How often and in what contexts do you thank God for people in your life?

What gets in the way of your expressions of gratitude to God?

What helps you to give thanks regularly?

Act

Set aside enough time to thank God for the people who make a difference in your life.

Pray

Gracious God, first of all, I thank you for the example set by Paul and his colleagues. Their expressions of gratitude both challenge and encourage me to give thanks for the people in my life who mean so much to me.

So, in imitation of Paul and Co., I want to thank you for . . .

In these people, Lord, I experience your goodness in my life. Thank you. Amen.


Part 6: Encouragement to Share Your Thanks with Others

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.

Focus

In the New Testament book known as 1 Thessalonians, we see an example of people who thank God for others and then tell the others about it. When we share our thanks for people with those people, it encourages them. It strengthens our relationships. And it reminds us that the people who matter so much to us are gifts from God. May we learn to thank God regularly for people and then to let them know.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.

Devotion

In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we were encouraged by the example of Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to thank God for the people who matter to us. The apostle and his colleagues “always” were thanking God for “all” of the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:2). Their example inspires us to do likewise as we pray.

It also encourages us to let the people for whom we are thankful now. Paul and his co-workers didn’t only thank God for the Thessalonians. They also told the Thessalonians that they were doing this. I believe we should imitate their example.

Why should we tell people that we thank God for them? I can think of several reasons. I’m sure you can add a few of your own.

First of all, when we tell people we thank God for them, they feel seen and valued. I’m sure you can relate to this. It’s great when someone says, “Thank you.” It’s great in a different way when someone says, “I thank God for you.” Letting people know you’re grateful for them is a wonderful way to affirm them and nurture your relationship with them.

Second, when we tell people we thank God for them and others, it’s likely that we are encouraging them in their own expressions of gratitude. I remember a time from my years as pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church. In a Thanksgiving Eve service, we had an “open mike” time in which people could share with the congregation those things for which they were thankful.

Larry, my associate pastor, thanked God for “Johann Sebastian Bach.” As he did, two things happened to me. First, I realized that I had never before thanked God for Bach even though I was a lover of Bach’s music. Second, I added my quiet, “Amen, Lord. Thank you for Bach.” As I did that, I felt my heart swell with feelings of gratitude for a brother in Christ – Bach was a strong Christian – whose music had made such a difference in my life.

Third, when we tell people that we thank God for them, this reframes our relationship with them in a special way. If I say “Thank you” to you, which is a fine and wonderful thing to say, it reflects the relationship between the two of us. But if I say, “I thank God for you,” this reframes our relationship as something that includes God. In fact, it implies that God is somehow responsible for and sovereign over our relationship. This can be a fine reminder of God’s grace. It can also encourage the people for whom we are thankful to consider the people in their life who are gifts from God to them.

Fourth, telling people we thank God for them models the kind of gratitude that is both commended in Scripture and supportive of healthy, strong relationships. If we and the others in our Christian community regularly share our thanks with each other, we will all grow in gratitude. This strengthens the Christian community and, of course, it glorifies God.

May God help us develop the regular practice of thanking God for the people in our lives and sharing our gratitude for them with them.

Reflect

Can you remember a time when somebody told you they thanked God for you? If so, how did you respond? How did you feel?

How often do you let others know you thank God for them? If you do this often, why? If you don’t do this often, why not?

Who are some of the people in your life who matter greatly to you?

Act

In light of your answer to the previous question, thank God for the people who mean so much to you. Then, let at least one of these people know about your gratitude.

Pray

Gracious God, again I thank you for the example of Paul and his colleagues. They model for us how to let people know that we are thankful for them. They inspire us to do the same.

I ask, Lord, that you help me to be grateful for those who make such a difference in my life. I fear I can easily take them for granted. May I see clearly who they are and what they mean to me. May I offer thanks to you for them. Then, in the right time and way, may I share my thanks with them.

Help me, dear Lord, to be a truly and consistently thankful person. Amen.


Part 7: Work of Faith

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.

Focus

Genuine faith isn’t just something inside. It is expressed in action, in words and deeds, even in our daily work. Even if our colleagues at work don’t know that we are Christians, they should see in how we live that something is different about us. Our lives should express our faith no matter where we are or what we are doing.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians.

Devotion

When Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy pray with gratitude for the Thessalonian Christians, they mention in particular what you might call the Christian trinity of virtues: faith, hope, and love. A few years after writing to the Thessalonians, Paul will write a letter to believers in Corinth in which he highlights once again “faith, hope, and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). In that setting, Paul emphasizes the superiority of love because it lasts forever. In 1 Thessalonians however, Paul and his colleagues focus not so much on the relative virtues of faith, hope, and love as on how faith, hope, and love shape and motivate the lives of Christians.

For example, the writers thank God for the Thessalonians’ “work of faith,” not just their faith, but their work produced by faith. It’s important to remember that we are not saved by our work or, as it often says in the New Testament, our works (plural). But our salvation by grace received in faith necessarily leads to a life of good works. We see this most clearly in Ephesians 2:8–10:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Paul and his colleagues understand that genuine Christian faith is not just a matter of what we believe, though believing the good news of God‘s salvation in Christ is essential. True faith doesn’t remain inside of us. It touches and transforms what is outside and public as well, our actions, aspirations, words, and work. If we have put our faith in God through Christ, this should be obvious in the way we live each day. Our lives will show what Paul and Co. refer to as the “work of faith.”

One crucial area of life where this “work of faith” shows up is our daily work. In the past, the relevance of faith to ordinary work, both paid and unpaid, was not often emphasized in the church. Faith had to do more with our individual relationship with God, our ministry in the church, and what we did in our private life. But, several decades ago, a number of visionary Christians began a movement that was called the “faith at work” movement. They emphasized the relevance of faith for “ordinary” work, for teaching, plowing, building, leading, cleaning, and you name it.

During my time at Laity Lodge in Texas, I had the privilege of working with Howard E. Butt, Jr., who was one of the early proponents of “faith at work.” I learned from Howard that during the first years of this movement it received lots of pushback from Christians, most of all from pastors. They were often afraid that the “faith at work” movement might somehow lessen people’s commitment to the church and its particular ministries. (In my pastoral experience, by the way, the opposite was true. People who got excited about living their faith at work usually became more involved in the church.) I suppose there are places in the church today that continue to resist the relevance of faith for daily work. However, the persistence of people like Howard Butt and his colleagues has led to a much wider embracing by the church and its leaders of the fact that our faith should be lived out in the context of our daily work. In the past fifteen years, I have spoken with hundreds of pastors about the relevance of faith for work. Less than one percent have resisted what I was sharing with them.

These days, we don’t tend to use the phrase “faith at work” as much anymore. We have come to realize that the relationship between faith and work is more complex than this. For example, work is one of the major contexts in which our faith grows and matures. It’s not just that we can express our faith at work, but that our work actually helps to shape our faith. Today, those of us who are committed to the connection between faith and work tend to use phrases like “faith and work“ or “the integration of faith and work“ or “whole-life discipleship.“ Our language might be different from that of the “faith at work” founders, but we share the vision of people like Howard Butt. (If you’re interested in a contemporary expression of the relationship between faith and work, I’d recommend the wonderful book by my De Pree Center colleague Michaela O’Donnell. Last year she published Make Work Matter, which takes the convictions of the faith at work movement and brings them home to people in today’s world and language.)

The prayer of Paul and his colleagues in first Thessalonians 1:3 encourages us to scrutinize our own lives. Is our faith in Jesus Christ being translated into action? Does our trust in Jesus affect the way we live each day? If people around us did not know we were Christians, would the way we live each day – including how we function at work – suggest to them that we have put our trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord? If Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy knew us, would they thank God for our “work of faith”?

Reflect

When you think of someone living their faith actively each day, who comes to mind? What motivates that person or those people to live their faith each day?

In what ways does your own faith get lived out in action?

In what ways does your faith in Christ make a difference in how you do your daily work, whether paid or unpaid?

Act

As you think about the next 24 hours, choose to do something as an intentional expression of your faith in Christ.

Pray

Gracious God, first of all I want to thank you for this letter to the Thessalonians. There is so much in it that teaches us, inspires us, and encourages us.

Today, I am encouraged to think about how my faith in you is expressed in action. Help me, Lord, to live my faith, not keeping it inside. Give me wisdom so that I might do that in a way that is appropriate, edifying, and respectful. Show me, in particular, how my faith can impact my work today.

Dear Lord, in all I do today, may I present my body to you as a living sacrifice. May I worship you through my words and deeds this day. Amen.


Part 8: Labor of Love

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.

Focus

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.

Devotion

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 mane 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.”

Reflect

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?

Act

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.

Pray

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.


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