“Membership has its rewards.”
That’s how many companies advertise their special offer of the month. And truthfully, I like those kind of programs, because they make you feel like you’re getting something for nothing. You receive benefits – either frequent flyer miles or hotel points– when nothing extra is required of you. You don’t have to pay a monthly fee, you don’t have to recruit other people to join the group.
Membership itself just has its rewards. What about membership in the local church? Certainly it has its rewards. From a family of fellow believers to those who will help us bear our burdens, we are benefitted greatly by this relationship. But membership also has its responsibilities. We cannot expect to obtain something for nothing. There is a requirement that accompanies our commitment. When Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, he mentioned three words that he had elsewhere famously linked together: “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” (2 Thess. 1:3). Faith, hope, and love. We recognize this trio from 1 Cor. 13:13 as well as Col. 1:4-5. But notice the words which precede them in this context: work, labor, and steadfastness. Together, they testify to the responsibilities that come with membership.
In consideration of all that God has done to make us members of the body of Christ, what response is required on the part of every member?
“Work of faith.”
Paul commended the Thessalonians because “in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything” (1 Thess. 1:8). They had a faith, but not a faith that stood still. In fact, their faith had a reputation in other parts of the world. But how would the world have known about their belief unless it was something that they had put into practice and worked out?
As someone has famously said, “Christianity begins in the head, travels to the heart, and exits in the hands and feet.” Our faith must have action with it or it is no faith at all. James 2 was not written just to give us something to hand to our denominational friends who believe in salvation by faith alone. This epistle was first handed to the twelve tribes dispersed to remind the Lord’s own people that believe by itself is dead. What “work” has your faith produced? Remember, membership has its responsibilities.
“Labor of love.”
The word “labor” means “toil” or “work” and can be used in the context of laboring through some difficulty or trouble. The church in Thessalonica had “received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6). But even though the gospel had produced hardships and trials in coming to them, it was still received joyfully because it was considered their “labor of love.”
Love and labor aren’t words that we usually put together. Not everyone loves what they do for a living. Sadly, sometimes our labor for the Lord leaves that same impression. Do you love what you do for Him? Just because it is a responsibility doesn’t mean that it has to look like one. And even when hardship is involved in carrying this work out, consider it all joy and a privilege to labor for a Master who loves you.
“Steadfastness of hope.”
The apostles encouraged the Thessalonian brethren to “wait for His Son from heaven… who rescues us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). “Hope” is looking forward in confident expectation. This hope produces a steadfastness or, as some translations have it, “perseverance” or “patience.” Such was needed as the early saints waited on the Lord for final vindication.
Hope is what gives us something to hold on to in our ever-changing world. That’s why it’s described as an “anchor for the soul” (Heb. 6:19). It comes with the realization that we’ve not reached our final destination. We’ve started our journey, we’ve weathered some storms, but we’re not there yet. We must wait, patiently and with expectation, that the Lord will bring into reality all that we have hoped for.
On that day, membership will certainly have its rewards. Until then, let us be about our responsibilities in His service.