Inspired by Hope
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
In our epistle lesson today, Paul says, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:18). Paul writes this to the Ephesians from a prison cell. Yet he dares to speak of hope? Clearly, Paul saw life through a different set of eyes, the eyes of faith. So what does Paul see from his prison cell to inspire your joyful song? How can you sing of hope?
Not only did Paul sing of hope, but he also taught others to sing of it—like these Thessalonians. Or, shall we say, the Spirit taught them; as he taught Paul, and as the Spirit teaches us too. If we allow the Spirit to lead us, we too sing God’s song of hope, we too are inspired by its beauty. Because what we have is a hope that “does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rom 5:5). Today, then, God’s Gospel comes so that you may be “inspired by hope.”
And our hope in Christ is inspiring. Hope had inspired these Thessalonian Christians, even to the point of suffering for their faith (v3). Paul’s sequence (work . . . labor . . . endurance) builds in intensity: From “work” to “labor” (“toil” involving hardship), to “endurance”(hardship sustained). Are we so inspired by this faith as to suffer for it? This reading gives us an opportunity to examine our own faith: Where have we veered from the real Gospel into false hopes because we want to avoid the disapproval of our neighbors and embrace the comfort of keeping the Gospel to ourselves?
But Paul’s life fueled by a living Hope in Jesus inspired Paul and his co-workers (vv 2–3). Even as the Lord, who would “show [Paul] how much he must suffer for [Jesus’] name” (Acts 9:16), hope would also inspire the Thessalonians to bless and encourage Christ’s messenger and turn Paul’s sufferings into blessings. Hope inspires others and us. The Christian’s quiet acts of committed love and service may not receive public fanfare, but they often make deep and lasting impressions, one individual at a time, and leave the beneficiaries “thank[ing] God” (v 2).
So many accomplishments are inspired by hope that don’t even involve the Gospel. One can imagine the mental battle of the marathon runner drawing near the finish line. Just as the body is loudly screaming, “No more!” the heart and mind overrule it and even call to pick up the pace. And all for the sake of a prize (cf 1 Cor 9:24)! And in famous examples like the one told in the classic film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, the ranking officer inspired hope in the captive lives of his fellow British prisoners of war by giving them a purpose for living—the construction of the bridge. So Christ has redeemed our lives from hopelessness and given them a purpose and a meaning that is secured by his grace and grounded in eternity.
But hope in Christ can motivate us to even greater feats of love, and it had inspired these Thessalonians to work, labor, and endure for the sake of the Gospel. And their efforts, in turn, had inspired Paul, giving him yet more evidence of the power of God’s life-giving Gospel (cf 1 Cor 1:18–25). Theirs was an inspiring hope that came from God himself, and freely, in Jesus Christ. And this is what makes our hope greater than and more strong than any that could motivate us to run a race or build a bridge. Our hope in Christ is God-given. God has given us powerful Good News! The Gospel of Jesus is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16; cf Rom 10:17). Jesus born, crucified, and resurrected for the redemption of sinners is The Holy Spirit’s tool (1 Corinthians 2; 12:3) for imparting life, hope, and peace. Effectively employed by God’s faithful people, we see the results of the Gospel at work in the lives of the Thessalonian people in the depth of their conviction, a conviction willing to withstand suffering (vv 5–6).
This Gospel that worked mightily in the Thessalonians calls us today and makes us God’s beloved and elect (v 4). (Luther’s explanation of the Third Article: “The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.”) Working through the Gospel and the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit brings us to saving faith and sustains us in faith. God works out our whole salvation, from first to last. We are made invited to share in Christ’s kingdom (vv 10; 2:12; cf Mt 5:11–12). And precisely because it does not depend on what we are supposed to do, but on what Christ Jesus has already done (Jn 19:30), nothing is more sure or certain than the Christian’s hope in Christ (Rom 8:22–25; Heb 11:1). This hope “does not disappoint us” (Rom 5:5). It comes from God, is grounded in Christ, and is inspired by his Spirit. With such a hope to inspire us, we join with Paul and the Thessalonians, with angels and archangels, in an inspired and inspiring song of praise.