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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Day 330: Work, Labor and Endurance

Today's Reading: 1 Thessalonians 1-5, 2 Thessalonians 1-3

Paul, educated in the very best schools of his day, is masterful in his writing. His letters each read like mini dissertations, encouraging, arguing, explaining and pointing people to a more accurate way of following Christ.

The letters to the church at Thessalonica is packed with information about life together, death, resurrection and endurance. One could spend a lot of time in these letters. One could stuff them in one's pocket and take them out, reading and re-reading them.

Once again, a phrase, or should I say, as trio of phrases lept out at me. Right from the start, I was blessed by this statement:
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For the early church, much of prayer was remembering each other before God. While in prayer, a parade of people marched through the disciples' minds. They lifted up these dear ones to "our God and Father."

I was fascinated by Paul's "faith, hope, love" trio in this verse. The order is changed from the 1 Corinthians 13 passage to "faith, love, and hope." These three seem to be the major attributes of Paul's understanding of discipleship.

As I pondered this phrase, I noticed something in the English translation which did not make sense to me. Paul remembers in prayer the "work," the "labor," and the "endurance." "Work" and "labor" seem synonomous to me. What is the difference?

Back to the Greek I go.

The word for "work" is ergon. This means what I would think the word "work" implies---enterprise, employment, business. The work of the disciple is "produced by" faith. In other words, as the disciple moves into the "harvest fields" (as Jesus called them), the work is not necessarily the sweat of the brow and the toil of the muscles, but the sweat of faith, the sheer belief in the power of Jesus Christ and the certainty of the backing of the throne of God. It is trusting that whatever is done in the name of Jesus Christ and by the will of the Father is not in vain. Faith is the fuel which powers the believer in their ministry of work.

So, then, what is "labor?" To the English ear, it sounds just like "work," but in the Greek it means "a beating," "trouble," "grief and sorrow," and "weariness." "Labor" was a constant in the early church. Persecution was on every side. Believing in Christ was dangerous to one's family, one's body and one's life. Sacrificial love sustained this kind of labor. As God birthed the church, the disciples labored like a womb's muscles. They were pressed, squeezed and cramped up at times. There was great pain which evoked great cries to God. Only love continued their participation--love for their Savior and love for the lost.

How could they continue in this "work" and "labor?" Hope. Hope inspired by the very person of their Lord Jesus Christ. Those who caught the vision and essence of the gospel knew the labors were not forever and the work was not in vain. Though they might not live to see the results, they knew by hope the fruits of their work and labor would come to full maturity. Thus, they could endure, patiently waiting with constancy and steadfastness.

Grow in me your faith,
and hope.
I long to be a part
of the birthing of your will.

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