I ran into something interesting that I thought I’d share it here and dig into it a little bit more. I was looking for the exact wording of the famous faith, hope and love verse stated by Paul, “But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13), so I ran a query on Bible Gateway and noticed it hit three verses which complement each other and give more depth and meaning to the famous verse. In a fact, what they produce. Now I know Paul has a habit of explaining his thoughts across his epistles, but never noticed it for this one. The two complementary verses can be found in the first letter to the Thessalonians: “Constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father” (1 Thessalonians 1:3), and “But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8)
The Work and Breastplate of Faith
The work of faith is the work of God in you. Upon asked the question what to do so that you may know the work of God, Jesus answered: “‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’” (John 6:29). So it means believing in Jesus who was sent by God the Father so that He can be an example for you on how to be a missionary, and subsequently send you into mission. James says that you should to it “see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected” (James 2:22), where I would translate works here as your works as a missionary. This fits I think with the fact Paul also talks about the breastplate of faith, which is a reference to the whole armor of God, where he is instructing to stand firm and put on the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate provides essential protection for the most vital organs. Without it you are basically defenseless. The breastplate represents a righteousness received by faith in Jesus Christ. Having put on the breastplate gives us an awareness of your standing and position. So the work and breastplate of faith complement each other. With it you are ready to do the work, your mission.
The Labor and Breastplate of Love
The labor of love is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). The Greek work for labor is “kopos,” which means intense labor with trouble and toil. This in comparison to the word “work” from the work of faith, which is “ergon” and means to do business, a service which one perform or ought to perform. So there is a different connotation to it. To labor means to get your hands dirty, out of love. It’s again linked to the breastplate, because like a soldier who should not get out onto the battlefield without his breastplate, likewise a Christian should not be out doing his mission work without faith and love. To love is hard work. It is keeping and growing “the love which you have for all the saints” (Colossians 1:4), for “if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). It is keeping and growing the love to tend His lambs (John 21:15), to shepherd His sheep (John 21:16), and to tend His sheep (John 21:17). It is keeping and growing the love to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The labor of love is hard work, and it needs a breastplate to make it work. It needs a heart that is protected, so that we “do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15). We need a breastplate to keep the love of God in us, so that we do not love the world, but the people of the world.
The Steadfastness and Helmet of Hope
In all of this we should be steadfast in our hope. “But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (Romans 8:25). “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). Steadfastness in hope comes through perseverance. When Jesus is talking about the parable of the sower, he says about “the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15). I like the combination of the honest and good heart and to hold fast to it. I get this picture of the breastplate again. Everything that Paul says is so intertwined. In Romans 5:3-4 Paul talks about tribulation (persecution, a result of faith and works) bring about perseverance, which brings hope. So with some reverse engineering we could say that the more we do mission, the more we are persecuted, the more we should persevere, the more we will hope. And perseverance is given by God (Romans 15:5), so nothing is done by our own merits, so if we should boast we should boast in Jesus Christ who gives it all to us to do His work for Him. Now, why the helmet? The helmet protects the head. The helmet of salvation protects us against discouragement, against the desire to give up, giving us hope not only in knowing that we are saved, but that we will be saved. It is the assurance that God will triumph. Discouragement is one of Satan’s weapons, and it’s a messing with your mind. With the helmet your mind is protected from discouragement which leads to perseverance, which leads to hope.
Faith, hope and love are not static words. They are active and alive. Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Hope without works is dead (Luke 8:15). Love without works is dead (Hebrews 6:10). Let me close of with the words from Paul, “For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:5-7). Keep close to the truth. What is truth? The Word of God (John 17:17). And we need to be sanctified in it. Sanctification is the result of work in faith.