In his first letter to the Thessalonian church, St. Paul commended the people as follows: "We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith and your labor prompted by love..." [1 Th 1:3]. Many times, when reading the Bible, it’s tempting to zip past sentences which we believe ‘aren’t saying much’ in order to get to what we consider to be the real ‘meat’ of the text. But when we do this, we miss out on important truths which God desires us to learn.
If we take a close look at what St. Paul wrote in the above verse of Scripture, we will see two things which must be evident in our lives if our faith in Christ is genuine and our love for Him is real: work and labor. According to St. Paul, if we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, then this faith will produce ‘works’ or deeds. Saint James also wrote along these same lines when he wrote to the church as follows: "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him...? Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by deeds, is dead." [Jas 2:14;17].
Genuine faith will produce deeds - deeds of obedience to God’s Word, deeds of righteousness, and deeds of service. Genuine love for God and others will result in labor. Many men and women today identify themselves as Christians, yet, when their lives are examined by others, people are hard-pressed to find any proof of that profession.
Beloved, being a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ entails more than Mass attendance. God is looking for obedience to His Word. If I call myself a ‘believer,’ attend Mass faithfully every week, yet live a life that completely contradicts what is stated in the Word of God, then I have been deceived. If I call myself a ‘believer’ who loves God and others, yet never go out of my way to serve them, sacrifice for them, or labor in their behalf, again, I have been deceived. In the sight of God, my ‘faith’ is dead. Faith must be backed up by deeds; otherwise it does not exist.
Satan has deceived many into believing that they are free to live however they see fit without any regard for obedience to God’s Word or living a Christ-centered life. As long as they mentally acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, they are ‘in Christ.’ Clearly, this is not the message taught by Christ and His Apostles. Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will obey what I command." [Jn 14:15]
In refuting those in the church who believed that mental acknowledgment of Christ alone was sufficient proof of one’s faith, St. James challenged them as follows: "Show me your ‘faith’ without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder." [Jas 2:18-19]. In other words, Satan himself believes, knows, and understands that there is one God, but does this mean he’s ‘saved?’ Are the names of demons written in God’s Book of Life simply because they mentally acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God? Does this mental acknowledgment alone deem them as followers of Christ? Of course not, for their deeds defy the Word of God. According to St. James, this same principle must be applied to all who identify themselves as disciples of Christ. Intellectual acknowledgment of Christ alone is not enough when it comes to faith. Faith must be backed up by deeds of obedience; otherwise it is dead.
If we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, then the proof of this faith will be a life that is obedient to His Word, centered on Him, living for Him, and continually working for Him using the gifts He’s given to us in order to do so. This faith will also be manifested in a life that is daily being changed by the Holy Spirit so that Christ is reflected more and more in that life.
The Thessalonian believers had genuine faith in Christ, a faith that manifested itself in all of the above-mentioned ways, and it is for this reason that St. Paul commended them.
What about love? Whether we want to accept this truth or not, the same principle which applies to our profession of faith must apply to our profession of love. If we have genuine love for Christ and others, that love will manifest itself through labor. Anything less than this renders love as a hollow four-letter word.
Unfortunately, we all know people who profess to love God and others, yet never go out of their way to serve anyone but themselves. Life is all about them. I don’t think there is anything that disturbs me more than to see a ‘believer’ who spends all of his time attending Bible studies, religious concerts, or church services, yet gives nothing back to God or others in return for what has been given to him. Clearly, this goes against the words and example of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who instructed us as follows: "Freely you have received, freely give." [Mt 10:8].
Such individuals have been deceived into believing that Christ’s call upon their lives is simply to sit and be served, but Jesus hasn’t called us to spend our days focusing on our own spiritual needs. Rather, He is calling us to give back to others that which He has given to us.
When I read the Word of God, and His Spirit imparts knowledge and understanding of something I have just read, I have a holy obligation in the sight of Christ to share that knowledge with others, and for this He has given me a writing and teaching gift. If I spend all of my days reading the Word and learning from God, yet hoard this knowledge, keeping it only for myself to enjoy, how am I unlike the man in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents who took his gift and buried it in the dirt?
Brothers and sisters, if we call ourselves followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we need to honestly examine our lives before God to see if deeds of obedience and labors of love are accompanying the faith we profess. God hasn’t called us to be religious; he has called us to obedience and service. The Bible makes it very clear that anything less than this is not faith.
Many years ago, on a cold, snowy evening, my husband desperately needed a ride to the local shop to pick up his car. At the close of the work day, he approached a co-worker who identified himself as an evangelical Christian and asked for a lift to the shop. "Sorry," said the evangelical Christian, "but I have to attend a prayer meeting. If I give you a lift, I’ll be late to the meeting." Another co-worker, who didn’t profess to be ‘religious’ at all, overheard the conversation and offered my husband a ride, even though he lived in the opposite direction of the shop. I ask you, who was more pleasing in the sight of Christ that night? The evangelical Christian who neglected an opportunity to demonstrate Christ’s love to a co-worker in order to attend a church prayer meeting or the man who actually put love and service into practice?
In this, I am reminded of the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which the Lord taught in Luke 10:25-37. In this parable, a man was severely beaten and left to die by the roadside after he had been robbed. A priest walked by, saw the man, and just kept walking. Perhaps he was on his way to perform some holy deed at the Temple and didn’t have time to be the loving arms of God. Later, a religious Levite also came to the place, but he too passed by to the other side and just kept walking. Perhaps he wanted to spend time studying the Torah and praying to God, but assisting the half-dead man would have deterred him. One can only speculate. Eventually a Samaritan, who was despised by the religious people in Jesus’ day, came along and gave the man the help he needed. According to the Lord Jesus Christ, it was the despised Samaritan who did what was right and pleasing in the eyes of God; the other two religious individuals who were too busy or selfish to put their religion into practice were an offense in His sight.
Love isn’t a feeling; it’s something that we do. If we are going to put love into practice in our lives, this will not happen apart from deliberate self-denial and a daily dying on the cross. I cannot emphasize this truth enough. If we wait until warm and fuzzy feelings wash over us before we step out and love others as Christ commands, then our victories in this area will be few and far between. Our obedience to Christ in this regard must be deliberate; feelings have nothing to do with it.
The Lord is always ready and willing to forgive us when our lives fall short of His commands. Not only this, but He is always ready to pour out His abundant grace upon our lives when we make up our minds that we are going to live life His way, rather than our own way. Perhaps this is an area in which you need to repent. Truth be told, we’ve all stumbled before God in this area many times throughout our lives, but His love and grace always draw us back to Him, do they not? It’s up to us, however, to be open to that grace and love, by responding to them in the way that God desires.
In St. John’s letter to the church, he wrote to them as follows: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." [1 Jn 1:10]. The Lord will never drive away any who come to Him in genuine heartfelt repentance. If this is an area in which you need to repent, don’t run away from Him and hide as Adam did when He transgressed against the Lord. Turn to Him and make your way back to His tender mercy. See the love in His eyes for you and hear the rejoicing in Heaven because one who had gone astray has now returned. His arms are outstretched for you, beloved...
...all you need do is run into them.
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