This is one of Paul’s earliest letters, perhaps his earliest, written during his second missionary journey. It was written to the church in Thessalonica, and many things that Paul alludes to in this letter can be found in Acts 16-17, from his troubles in Phillipi to all that happened when he started the church in Thessalonica.
When you read Acts 17, you find out that he was forced to leave Thessalonica much earlier than he had probably wanted to because of some troublemaking Jews who despised the gospel, and who as a result, got him in trouble with the local authorities.
Because of this, and perhaps because of persecution these new Christians were going through from their own countrymen, Paul had been worried that perhaps they were starting to falter in their faith. And so he sent Timothy to check on them, and to his relief, he found that despite their afflictions, they were doing just fine.
And so from the very beginning, he tells them how much he thanks God for all of them. But in doing so, I think we see the marks of a genuine faith. What are they?
We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (3)
1. A genuine faith doesn’t simply sit. It produces fruit, namely good works. Jesus said, “You can tell a tree by its fruit. A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.” (Matthew 7:16-20)
2. A genuine faith is prompted by its love for God and for others. It doesn’t do things because it feels obligated or forced. It delights to do these things.
3. A genuine faith has hope for the future, that Jesus will come back and that all that is wrong in the world will be made right. And because of that, it can endure all things, including any trials or persecutions that may come.
That’s what Paul and others saw in the Thessalonians.
But there is more.
4. Genuine faith comes when people hear the gospel, and the Holy Spirit convicts their hearts of sin. In short, people cannot claim to have genuine faith and willfully continue in sin. Rather, they understand how bad it is, and the price Jesus paid that we might be forgiven. (5)
5. Genuine faith comes with the power to change through the Holy Spirit, who not only convicts us of sin, but renews our hearts so that we can live a new life. (5) He in fact, comes to dwell within us and renews us day by day.
6. Genuine faith is also filled with joy through the Holy Spirit, even when facing trials. (6)
7. Genuine faith makes itself known to the those around them. People around us can tell there’s a difference in us. (8)
What kind of difference? That we no longer serve the gods of this world, whether idols, money, possessions, sex, or other such things. That we now in every way serve the true and living God. As a result, our focus is no longer on things of earth, but on things of heaven. And with that comes love, hope, and inexpressible joy, which brings us right back to our first three points.
What kind of faith do you have?