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Steadfastness of Hope, Part 1

May 29, 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.

Focus

We live in a time of increasing hopelessness. Yet genuine Christian faith leads to “steadfastness of hope.” How is this possible? How can we have hope in today’s world? Christian hope isn’t optimism or positive thinking. Rather, it’s looking forward with joyful confidence to the future, when Jesus will bring the fulness of God’s kingdom. That kind of hope doesn’t pull us out of this world. Rather, it motivates us to invest in the work of God’s kingdom now, knowing the wonder of what is yet to come.

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

Devotion

Last month, an article in the The Atlantic caught my attention. It dealt with hope, or the lack thereof. According to this article:

The United States is experiencing an extreme teenage mental-health crisis. From 2009 to 2021, the share of American high-school students who say they feel “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26 percent to 44 percent, according to a new CDC study. This is the highest level of teenage sadness ever recorded.

Since 2009, sadness and hopelessness have increased for every race; . . .for students in each year of high school; and for teens in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

An epidemic of hopelessness among our youth is a matter of deep concern. But it isn’t just the young who lack hope these days. A January 2022 article from the APM Research Lab featured this sobering paragraph: “Eighty-four percent of Americans say they are either extremely (55%) or very worried (29%), compared to the 42% of Americans who describe themselves as extremely (18%) or very hopeful (24%). And, roughly one-quarter of Americans (26%) report that nothing makes them hopeful. . . .” Nothing gives hope to a quarter of American adults. That’s chilling, don’t you think?

Of course, the hopelessness so common across the age spectrum has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. But the downward trends found in research were present before we faced COVID-19. Hopelessness is growing like a cancer in our culture and, often, in our hearts.

Thus, when we come to the third Thessalonian virtue for which Paul and his associates thank God, “steadfastness of hope” (1:3), it can seem like something far, far away, something we can’t imagine having ourselves. So many of us have little hope if any. What sense does it make to talk about steadfastness of hope?

In today’s devotion, I’ll begin to answer that question. My answer will spill over into tomorrow’s devotion as well.

Perhaps the most important thing we should see about hope in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 is its object. Paul and his colleagues are not talking about generic hopefulness, about always looking on the bright side. They’re not suggesting that the Thessalonians were incurably optimistic people. Rather, the hope for which Paul and Co. thank the Lord is a very specific kind of hope with a very specific focus. It is “hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3, italics added).

The Thessalonian hope “in our Lord Jesus Christ” is oriented to the future. We see this a few verses later when the Thessalonians are described as those who “wait for [God’s] Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). A similar perspective comes later in the Thessalonian letter: “For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:9). Thus, the hope to which the letter writers refer in 1:3 – “steadfastness of hope” – is quite specifically hope in the future when Christ comes, bringing with him the fulness of salvation.

There was a time when Christians cared a lot about that kind of hope. Preachers talked all the time about heaven, about the age to come, about the day when God’s kingdom would fully and finally prevail. These days, preachers seem more interested in the here and now, in seeing people’s lives improved, in advancing the cause of divine justice on earth. Many of us, preachers and congregants, seem to assume that hope of the sort mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 isn’t terribly relevant to how we live today.

In tomorrow’s devotion I’ll suggest one way that hope in Christ for the future makes a difference today. I want to wrap up today’s devotion by pointing to a curious and surprising verse in another of Paul’s letters. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul goes to great lengths to explain how our physical bodies will be redeemed and transformed in the future. He is deeply concerned about what happens to us after we die. “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ,” Paul writes, “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Then, he lays out in some detail what we will experience in that day when we participate in the “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). All of this has to do with the future, with the fleshing out of our hope in Jesus Christ.

But then Paul adds a shocking conclusion. He writes, “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Our hope in God’s future doesn’t just make us feel better. It also motivates us to excel in the world of the Lord now. Why? Because we know that our “labor is not in vain.” Our hope in Christ doesn’t take us out of this world. Rather, it energizes us to invest in this world—believing that what we do matters, not just now, but for eternity.

Tomorrow I’ll talk a little more about how our hope in Christ makes a difference right now. Today, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.

Reflect

When you read the phrase “steadfastness of hope,” what comes to mind? What thoughts? Memories? Images? Feelings?

Do you consider yourself a hopeful person? If so, in what sense? What helps you to be hopeful? If not, why not?

How often do you think about the salvation that is coming in the future, not just your own personal salvation, but God’s salvation and restoration of all things?

Act

Take some time to think about how hope figures in your life. Talk with God about what you’re thinking.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for the example of the Thessalonian Christians. Thank you for their “steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Lord, sometimes it’s hard to know what to think about hope. Hopefulness can seem so naïve, so unrealistic, so privileged. How can we have hope in a world that seems to be unraveling all around us? How is hope even possible?

Help me, Lord, to have hope that is focused in the right place, or, better yet, on the right person. May I have hope in Jesus Christ, in his ultimate victory, in his future reign, in the kingdom, he will one day bring in all fulness. And may this hope, dear Lord, inspire me to live today in light of the future. May the certain promise of your victory stir me up to live for you and your purposes right now, knowing that in you, my labor is not in vain. 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: Best of Daily Reflections: Labor of Love


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