1 Thessalonians 1:1-9
The Christian life is one of waiting and of working.
Advent puts us in mind of the waiting. We look not only to Christ’s first coming, but ahead to His second coming, to judge the living and the dead.
Here is how Old Testament saints waited for that first coming:
“I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. 8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.” (Psalm 130:5-8)
The long-awaited Lord did indeed come to redeem Israel from all their iniquities. But His first coming does not do away with waiting.
Paul explains this in 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 (the passage from which our phrase originates). He narrates the conversion story of the Thessalonians:
“Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)
The Christian waits for Christ to come again. We don’t wait nervously for ‘Judgement Day’, unsure of the outcome. No, through His first coming Christ delivered us from the coming wrath. We wait confidently as those who love Him and long to see Him face to face.
When I was engaged to my wife we were on opposite sides of the planet. In fact our relationship was ‘long-distance’ for over a year. But here’s what kept me faithful to her – and more than that, here’s what kept our long-distance relationship positively vibrant: We were waiting for our wedding day. And that expectancy shaped virtually every minute of our lives. Simply waiting for this future rendered any notions of infidelity unthinkable. Waiting was not an absence of activity. It wasn’t a lack that needed filling. It was not a nothing preceding a something. It was a something of enormous substance. Waiting in this sense is a tangible reality.
So it is with the Christian. We wait to see Jesus.
But how do we wait? Like the picture above? Scanning the sky for signs of His coming? Scouring the newspapers for clues to His advent?
We’re called to be on the welcoming committee, but many want to be in the planning group. It’s something Jesus refuses to bring us in on. Just before He ascended His followers wanted to get an eschatological timetable from Him:
“When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8)
They wanted to know times and seasons. Jesus says ‘That’s not your job! Your job is to be witnesses to the ends of the earth.’
We do not wait by worrying about when. We wait by witnessing.
It’s interesting how Acts 1 continues. Jesus ascends to heaven, the disciples are – understandably, you’d think – gazing into the heavens. But angels appear to tell them to stop gawping at the skies (Acts 1:10-11). The posture of the church, as we wait for Christ, is not stationary, faces heavenwards. Instead our posture is shaped by Acts 1:8 – we’ve been given our marching orders and out we go – to the ends of the earth as witnesses of Christ.
And so in the same chapter that tells us of the Thessalonians “waiting for God’s Son from heaven” Paul also gives us this description of their current life:
“[We remember] without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3)
Here again is Paul’s famous trio: faith, hope and love. Our faith looks back to Christ’s first coming and it inspires work. Our hope looks forward to Christ’s second coming and brings patience. And love is the atmosphere of our present lives – confident of the salvation Christ has won, and expectant of the cosmic redemption He will bring. Now we are free from having to build our own identity or secure our own future. Now we can love. And this love will be a busy, active thing. It is a “labour of love.”
We’re not working towards our vindication, our joy, our purpose in life. We’re working from that sure gift from Christ. Therefore Christian work is a “labour of love.”
Are your Christian efforts “a labour of love”? If they’re feeling more of a “millstone around your neck“, then these aren’t the kind of labours that will honour Jesus. Let me suggest that you may have forgotten the other two elements of the trio. Remember, we have a sure faith, grounded in Christ’s first coming. And we have a certain hope, expectant of His second coming. If you want to rekindle the love: look again to Christ this Advent – His faultless work for you and your expectant wait for Him. A fresh vision of Jesus turns labour into “a labour of love.”