"We always thank 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." -- 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
Perhaps you have heard the story of President John F. Kennedy's visit to NASA as part of his ongoing efforts to inspire the nation to rally behind the Apollo missions. He happened to see a janitor either mopping the floor or cleaning his mop. Legend has it that JFK asked him what his job was at NASA, to which the man replied, "I'm helping send a man to the moon!"
Whether or not this story is true, it does help us with perspective and seeing the big picture. Perspective was something Paul praised in the Thessalonian believers, because what he remembered about them was their embodiment of the three most celebrated Christian virtues – faith, love, and hope. These are characteristics on which Paul elaborates in varying degrees and in numerous letters (cf. Ephesians 4:2-5; Colossians 1:4-5; Romans 5:1-5; 1 Peter 1:3-8, and 1 Corinthians 13).
Faith is directed towards God. Love is focused on others. Hope is fixated on the future, particularly the second coming of Jesus Christ. Paul seems to emphasize the fruit of these characteristics exemplified by the Thessalonians. He commends their "work of faith." True faith in God leads to good works, after all, "faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:17).
The Thessalonians' labor of love also is praised. A genuine love for others motivates us to serve them. Furthermore, a firm hope that looks with anticipation to Christ's return produces endurance in spite of persecution – something with which the Thessalonians were quite familiar. Their example of faith, love, and hope caused the word of the Lord to sound forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place their faith in God became known (1 Thessalonians 1:7-8).
Recently, I was reminded of another legend about a man who visited a stone quarry and asked three workers what they were doing.
"Can't you see?" said the first one irritably. "I'm cutting a stone."
The second replied, "I'm earning a hundred pounds a week."
But the third put down his pick and proudly said, "I'm building a cathedral."
Prayer: Lord, help us to remember the importance of our work of faith, our labor of love, and our steadfastness of hope as we seek to live lives of purpose, vision and passion.