A Joyful Jarring
Reading the Bible doesn’t always jar me. I wish it did. I know it should because the way of thinking recorded here is comes from the mind of Christ, whose thoughts are not my thoughts. I know it should because Scripture consistently exhorts me to learn and hear and understand – all which comes through the transforming of my mind. So any time I close the Bible with the idea, “yeah, that’s pretty much what I thought too” – I’ve missed it! When the Bible doesn’t jar me I have re-formed the message of Scripture to fit the contours of my own mind and the categories of my own culture. The ease with which this can happen terrifies me – because a biblical way of thinking is meant by God to produce a biblical way of walking. And this walk is my acceptable act of worship. So you could say that my right thinking about God and therefore my acceptable worship of God depends on my being jarred out of “normal” patterns of thought when I pick up the Scriptures. (What a gift of God’s grace the Bible is when we see this!)
On my good days, I remember everything that I just wrote before I open the Bible. And so I pray that He would give me eyes to see and the grace of jarring! He did just that this morning. As I began Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, I read this, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thess. 1:2-3). There are three things here that Paul remembers about these believers; their work of faith, their labor of love and their steadfastness of hope. These are things that they do. One of the purposes of recording them here then is that I would now enter into this work with all my heart. This is the work that I must do (see 1:7 they have become an example to all the believers).
But the fact that Paul makes this three-fold work a focus of his thanksgiving to God clues me in that there is more to the story. It comes in verse 4, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction.”
The first word of this verse makes clear the connection with what he just said in vs 3, “For.” When you see a “for” in Scripture you can think, “here comes the foundation.” The believer’s work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope is grounded in where Paul goes next. And where he goes is God’s love for the believers, God’s choosing of the believers, and God’s indwelling of the believers by His Holy Spirit so that they carry the power of full conviction. God’s work causes and sustains their work. You can see the relationship between our work of vs 3 and God’s work of vs 4 if we lay it out like this:
You do the work of faith FOR God has chosen you.
You perform the labor of love FOR God has loved you.
You remain steadfast in hope FOR God has filled you with the power and full conviction of His Spirit
In each instance our work is preceded and empowered by God’s work. This is why Paul can say, “I am thankful to God that you are doing the work of vs 3!” It is only because God is working that you can work!
This is jarring to my American sensibilities that so desperately want to make me, in the words of William Henley, made central to the recent movie Invictus, “the master of my fate and the captain of my soul.” But it is a joyful jarring. It is a gospel jarring. The work of faith is real. The labor of love is hard. Cultivating a steadfast hope demands daily vigilance over my soul and a moment by moment fixing my eyes on Christ. And when the day is done, I can remember that my faith is a result of His choice, and my love is a result of being love by Him, and my hope flows from the power of His Holy Spirit! So my prayer as I long to see myself grow in faith and love and hope is something like, “Lord, give me the gift of faith, make me experientially aware of your love, and give me more of your Holy Spirit!”