Prayers of Thanksgiving
“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.”- 1 Thessalonians 1:2–3
Paul begins his first letter to the Thessalonians with an expression of thanksgiving for the Christians in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:2). The conventions of letter writing in the ancient Roman world often included words of thanks at the beginning of the correspondence, but 1 Thessalonians stands out for including expressions of thanksgiving in the body of the epistle as well (2:13; 3:9). Some commentators believe that this indicates the Thessalonians had some doubts about the authenticity of their faith. They needed to know Paul’s gratitude for them and for their virtues to be reassured that they had the fruits of true faith in their lives. Paul says that he offers these prayers “constantly” (or “continually” or “without ceasing” in other translations; 1:2). The idea here is not that Paul spends every waking moment offering these prayers but that he habitually and regularly thanks God for the Thessalonians.
The Apostle thanks God for the Thessalonians’ “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3). These three virtues—faith, hope, and love—appear together frequently in the New Testament as the defining marks of the Christian (e.g., 1 Cor. 13; 1 Peter 1:20–22). “Work of faith” (1 Thess. 1:3) should be understood as the “work produced by faith,” reflecting the biblical pattern that good works follow authentic faith as its fruit. Our faith and works do not go together as means of our salvation; rather, we lay hold of Christ by faith alone, and we are then empowered by Him to do good works, which demonstrate tangibly the authenticity of our faith (Eph. 2:8–10; James 2:14–26).
“Labor of love” (1 Thess. 1:3) refers to hard works motivated by love. In other words, Paul talks not about small acts of love here, no matter how important they may be. Instead, Paul means sacrificial demonstrations of love for fellow Christians. The love the Thessalonians showed was a costly love. “Steadfastness of hope” means that their hope in Christ produced perseverance in faith in the midst of trials. Here, as elsewhere in the New Testament, hope is not wishful thinking but the confident certainty that Christ will accomplish all that He has promised (Col. 1:5; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:13–20).
That Paul thanks God for these virtues informs us of their source. John Calvin comments that Paul “makes use of thanksgivings, that he may put [the Thessalonians] in mind, that everything in them that he declares to be worthy of praise, is a kindness from God.”
One commentator notes that Paul’s statement in 1 Thessalonians 1:2–3 shows us that Christian prayer gives first place to thanksgiving to God and to others’ self-interest.Paul thanked the Lord regularly for the Thessalonians and for His good work in them. We should similarly thank the Lord continually for the fruit He produces in others’ lives, asking Him also to increase that fruit.
Passages for Further Study