We have been exploring the last few weeks the supernatural creation of a Christian and of the living organism called the Christian Church.  Last week, we looked at the model church in Thessalonica that the Apostle Paul said was founded upon Christians who were known for three things: faith, love, and hope.  Today, I would like to finish up this series on the church by drawing from the construct of faith, love, and hope so that we can see how these virtues are foundational not just for the church as an instrument of peace but for each of us to be at peace with God, ourselves, and with others.

If we were to explore the letters of the New Testament, we would find that the virtues of faith, love, and hope were central to Paul’s presentation of the gospel message and his encouragement of Christians and the early Christian Church. These three attributes of the Christian life and the Christian Church either together as three or in groups of two come up again and again in Paul’s writings.  Consider just a few examples.

  • 1 Thessalonians 1:3 - 3 We 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.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:8 - 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
  • Ephesians 3:17 - 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love.
  • Colossians 1:5 - the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel.
  • 1 Corinthians 13: 13 - And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.

In addition to these references, we saw the foundational nature of these attributes expressed by Paul in his letter to the church in Rome when Paul wrote, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hopeAnd hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:1-5).

          Faith, hope, and love are the key ingredients, if you will, to living out a God-centered, a Gospel centered life individually and then corporately as a church.  Paul was encouraging Christians to see their lives lived through a combination of “faith in God’s grace, love given by God through the presence of the Holy Spirit, and hope in Christ for all things.”

Faith in God’s grace is that deep belief that no matter what God is good.  It is a deep belief that God has seen to our greatest needs, not our most desired wants, our most pressing need.  God did that by removing us from the world, giving us an identity as His children, and guaranteeing us eternal life.  And we have a hope that no matter what we may face we will endure and prevail in our relationship and our destiny with God. Faith, hope, and love are presented to us as indispensable.

          We also heard the words of the Apostle Paul that showed our faith, hope, and love come from the actions taken by God.  Paul wrote, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless (hopeless), Christ died for the ungodly (you and me). Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we (you and I) were still sinners, Christ died for us (to give hope)” (Romans 5:6-8).

Paul saw Jesus as the unmerited demonstration of God’s love sent to us in the hope.  God did not send Jesus as a reward for us getting our act together.  God sent Jesus, to proclaim the good news of freedom from sin for those who would believe in Jesus (faith) and that Jesus died to take our sins even while we were still not yet believers.  Jesus came in and as hope.  But why and how do faith, hope, and love make such a profound change to a believer’s life. It is because faith, hope, and love are the ingredients that produce an understanding that, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Paul’s words are powerful because at first Paul was not at peace with God.  Paul believed in God, but he did not believe in goodness of God expressed through Jesus.  So adamant was Paul in his unbelief that Paul tried to destroy those who did believe in Jesus.  Paul incited people into mobs to kill believers.  Paul helped drag other believers from their homes and sent them to prison simply for believing in the goodness of God expressed through Jesus.  Then Paul’s life was touched by Jesus and Paul realized just how wrong he had been.  A remarkable thing happened to Paul when Paul came to understand God’s love and by faith Paul accepted Jesus.  Paul life of anger and hatred, self-righteousness, and pride gave way to a life of hope and together faith, hope, and love produced peace with God. Paul stopped his warring madness when he came to be at peace with God.

When I was considering this week the virtues of faith, hope, and love, I was reminded of a sign I saw on the desk of one of my coworkers years ago when I worked for the federal government.  The sign said, “Good, Fast, and Cheap.  You can have any two.”  The meaning of this sign was that if you wanted to purchase a product you could have it “Good and fast, but it would not be cheap.  Or you could have it Good and Cheap, but it would not be fast. Or you could have it Fast and Cheap, but it would not be good.”

As I returned my thoughts to the three virtues of faith, hope, and love leading to peace, I saw the wisdom in Paul’s writings that you must have all three faith, hope, and love to have peace with God first, peace with ourselves, and then peace with our neighbors.  Having just two out of the three virtues of faith, hope, and love is just not enough to produce peace.

Peace, or the lack of it, has been very much present on our minds as we have seen the horrors that come from people lacking in faith, hope, and love.  The murderous rage in Gaza with killings and kidnappings demonstrates on a global scale those terrorists are not at peace with God. The parades in New York City in support of those who killed and kidnapped shows the demonstrators are not at peace with God.  We know we don’t need to look at war to see people who are not at peace.  We have people committing acts of domestic violence who are not at peace with God.  Those who foster hatred pitting one group against another are not at peace with God. Why are they not at peace?  They are not at peace because they are lacking in either faith, hope, or love.  All three virtues are required to have peace, first with God, then with us, and finally with others.

For when we are at peace with God, we are then able to live a Gospel centered life that is free to do what God wants us to do.  In that freedom, we can be compassionate toward others and relieve their burdens and encourage them in a future in Jesus.  In that freedom and compassion, we can be forgiving people. Over and over, Jesus, God’s love gift to the world, urged all who would listen that to forgive one another.  To forgive is to be transformed from our natural self to the image of God, the person of Jesus.

Paul described a transformed life as one that had been “justified.”  To be justified means we are made right before God.  A way to think about it is that our record of sin has been exchanged for Jesus’ record of no sin, which makes it right for us to be in God’s presence.  Being right with God bring peace.

Now, what happens, how are we to think about things, if we do not feel at peace with God, ourselves, or with our neighbors?  Why might we not be at peace?  Most often the source of disquiet in our life, a lack of peace, comes from how we deal with suffering.  But we need to be clear about this point.  The lack of peace we experience does not come because we suffer, it comes from the way we respond to suffering.

Suffering is the condition of going through pain, hardship, or distress.  Suffering is part of the human condition.  No one ever lives their entire life without experiencing suffering.  Not even Jesus, God’s own son, escaped suffering, yet Jesus did not lose his peace with God amid the suffering.  And because Jesus did not lose peace with God, Jesus also did not lose peace with himself, and with others.  Jesus was able to live through suffering this way because he had the foundation of faith, love, and hope within him. 

In our New Testament reading from Romans today in which Paul spoke about faith, love, and hope, Paul also spoke about suffering.  Paul said, “We also glory in our sufferings.”  Paul gloried in his sufferings.  Paul accepted his suffering as part of his transformation into the image of Christ.  Although Paul did not wish for suffering upon himself, Paul did work through the suffering that came and gloried in his suffering as a unique moment of faith in God.  How is that possible?

Where suffering comes upon us, we often feel defeated and left to feel that there is no plan for our lives.  Suffering occurs in those spaces formed in our lives.  Suffering happens where something should be but is not.  We suffer over the death of a loved one; what should be is not there.  There is a space in our life in which pain can now reside.  We suffer when our bodies are ill; what should work does not.  We suffer when others choose vengeance towards us, trying to separate us from the comforting routines of life.  Space is created within our lives where distress can reside.

How then are we to have peace amid the suffering?  How was Paul able to glory in his suffering?  I believe it is possible to maintain our peace amid suffering by drawing from the well of faith, hope, and love of the Christian Church.  Suffering, as we know, strips us down and depletes us often physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  We can become exhausted.  It is when we are hurting that we need the uplifting presence of the church, other believers who are at peace with God.  The church is there to remind us that in our suffering, we can boast that God who is faithful, loving, and full of hope did not cause the suffering nor can such suffering chase God from us.  Suffering is a powerful faith moment.  Later in Romans, Paul came back to suffering and wrote, “18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). Paul realized that suffering is a force of life that separates the natural person from all he or she holds dear. Yet, not for the Christian who has been transformed by the love of God.  Paul said, “In all these things (sufferings) we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39). Suffering does not and cannot separate us from God and so we boast not for our sufferings but amid our suffering for God is with us.

Paul saw suffering as part of our transformation into the image of Jesus.  He said, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

The church, our brothers and sisters in Christ, through the exercising of their faith, love, and hope towards us in our suffering help us give way to perseverance; that inner strength that keeps us focused on the prize or the goal that lays ahead.  Paul would put it this way, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Our church helps us renew our faith and reliance on God. Our church helps us to keep our eyes focused on Jesus.  That perseverance develops within us a character that is stronger in faith than the weakness our suffering brings to us. 

Sometime ago, I spoke with a mother whose daughter died in a traffic accident.  As some of you know firsthand and others could imagine, it was a devastating loss that produced much pain and suffering.  In the immediate aftermath of that tragic moment, this mother did not feel the presence of God and, in some ways, asked, “Where were you God?”  Suffering can cause us to question everything about our life.  Over the weeks and months that followed, as she received support from those who could share faith, love, and hope, this mother came to see again that God was not the cause of this suffering and that indeed God has been present walking with this person each minute, hour, and day of intense grief. This mother is now patiently working with God to sooth the pain.  This person is certain that their child is safely in the arms of Jesus and that they will be reunited again.  This is how one can glory amid suffering, but it most often requires the strength of the church to help us through our suffering.  It is for this reason that I see those who suffer most are those who are without church.

To live a Gospel centered life is know the love of God, to be transformed by it so that in all circumstances we may live a life of hope.  And even if we suffer in a world hostile to God we will never be separated from God. This gives us the patience, the power, to keep our eye on the prize, forgetting what is behind us and straining forward to the light and glory of Christ.  Therefore, we should live as people of hope and invite others to walk with us in the hope of Jesus our savior, and encourage one another along the way. Amen and Amen.