May 24, 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.
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.
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”?
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?
As you think about the next 24 hours, choose to do something as an intentional expression of your faith in Christ.
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.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. A video on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Why Faith at Work is Important, from Every Good Endeavor Author Katherine Alsdorf (Video)
Subscribe to Life for Leaders
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
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.