In our study of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians we are in a very practical part of the study. In Paul’s letters you see a familiar pattern: he starts with theology and then moves to the practical outworking of that theology in our daily living. That’s a pretty good practice: know what you believe and then live on the basis of that belief.
The last two chapters of 1 Thessalonians are filled with practical instruction. In the first part of chapter four, Paul told us to abstain from sexually immoral behavior, and to control ourselves because our sexual sin always hurts someone and is therefore contrary to the command of love. And it is this concept of love where we pick up our text.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 there are two primary commands: the command to practice brotherly love and to set our ambition on three different things.
9 Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.
11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
THE PRIMACY OF LOVE
The first command is to love each other. Notice several things. First, Brotherly love is taught (9). Paul told the Thessalonians that extensive teaching about love was unnecessary. Jesus taught a great deal about love. The apostles teach a great deal about love. We should certainly understand that God wants us to love each other. We are to love each other as brothers and sisters. We should view fellow believers as part of our own family. Let that sink in. As believers, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. As we love members of our family, so we should love one another. Because He loves us, we should love each other.
Brotherly love must be practically expressed (10) Paul contends that this love is not just a concept or a feeling; it is practical. True love is evidenced by what we do. Practically then, we love one another when,
- We take time to sit with a grieving friend
- We bend down to tie the shoe laces of a child
- We work to spotlight the good things others are doing
- We forgive an offense
- We help to clean up a neighbor’s yard after a storm
- We take time to listen, to weep, to share a joy
- We take food to someone who is sick or grieving
- We take the kids of a single mother to give her a night off
- We take time to check the facts before we pass on gossip
- We recognize that people have bad days and cut people them some slack
True love is practical.
Brotherly love can always be improved (10b) Paul urged the Thessalonians to express their love in even better ways. In other words, we never reach that point when we can say, “OK, I’ve got this love thing down . . . I can concentrate on something else.”
By nature we all struggle with true love. We want to be loved but we don’t want to have to put ourselves out in order to love. We see this in marriages, in families, in neighborhoods and yes, even in churches. To love means to take our eyes off of ourselves for a little while.
We love because God is love. We love each other because people are created in the image of God and are by nature valuable. We love because Jesus loves and He calls us to follow His example. We love because it is the right thing to do.
DEVELOP A HOLY AMBITION
Paul tells us to, “11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands,“ Paul could have said “adopt this vision for your life” or “make this the purpose statement of your life”. Let’s be honest, it’s not exactly what we would have expected in a “purpose statement”.
To Lead a Quiet Life
The first thing he encourages us to do is to lead a quiet life. That seems like an odd command doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we be more vocal? Isn’t there a greater need for Christians to be bold in our faith? I don’t believe Paul is advising us to stop sharing our faith whenever and however we can. Instead, I think Paul may be addressing three different problems.
The first is that we should be quiet rather than hurried. This is the spirit of busyness that keeps us always running and never taking the time to rest in, or trust the Lord. In this case the quiet life is the one that refuses to be governed by calendars and schedules but instead governs their calendars and schedules by the Lord.
Second, we should be quiet rather than anxious. Instead of constantly being upset about he circumstances of life, we should be people who trust that God is in control, He loves us, and He will never make a mistake. It is the quiet that comes from perfect trust. It is that sense of peaceful quiet like a child sound asleep in the arms of their father during a thunderstorm because they know their father will protect them. We can know that quiet of heart that comes from resting in the character of God’s greatness.
Third, we should be quiet rather than obnoxious. Paul wants us to be steady rather than fanatical in the way we live our lives. You’ve met these fanatics haven’t you? They may be excessively zealous about politics, sports, faith or any number of things. When you see these people coming you generally want to hide. These people push everyone away because they are so aggressive. Obviously, this kind of attitude is harmful to the advancement of the gospel.
It wasn’t very long ago that I was coming over the bridge from Burlington and I was startled by the fact that right over me . . . flying rather low . . .was a B-2 Bomber, better known as a stealth bomber! I found myself transfixed by this majestic vehicle.
The key to these airplanes is that they are black which means you can’t see them at night. They are shaped in such a way that during the daytime you can’t easily tell what direction they are traveling. The engines are buried deep in the plane so that they are incredibly quiet and they have minimal exhaust. Heat seeking missiles can’t find them because the heat from the engine is cooled before it leaves the plane. The plane is designed so that radar signals will either be absorbed or bounce off of it in a strange and undetectable manner.
I sense that Paul is urging us to live more like stealth bombers. He wants us to be used powerfully by God to make an impact, but not in a noisy way. We don’t have to engage in an “in your face” Christianity. God wants us to impact our society with our active love, our consistency in our behavior and attitudes, and with Christlike wisdom. We are to be steady, not out of control. I think this is the way Jesus approached life. He was direct, but also loving.
To Mind Your Own Business
The second thing we are to strive for is to “mind our own business”. How often have you wanted to say this to someone? When people ask nosey questions, when they butt into private conversations, and when they give unsolicited advice we would love to say, “Mind your own business”! Since in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians he talks about busybodies this may be what he has in mind here. He wants people to stay out of other people’s business.
There is a positive side to this also. By minding our own business Paul may be encouraging us to focus our energies on what God has called US to do. Instead of criticizing what other people aren’t doing, are doing, or should be doing; we are better served by focusing on what God wants us to do. Instead of being concerned about the rate of spiritual growth in someone else, we should be working on our own spiritual maturity. We should be developing our own relationship with Jesus Christ.
I don’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t care about other people. I don’t mean we shouldn’t care about the growth of the people around us. We are brothers and sisters in Christ of course we should care. However, instead of putting all the focus on other people we should work hard at our own spiritual lives. We must combat the tendency to sit on the sidelines while we criticize what someone else is doing.
I only served as an umpire one time. I admire the work these people do during ballgames. No matter what they say (especially if you are behind home plate) people criticize you. During summer ball these people who are being criticized are usually donating their time! I sympathized with the occasions when an umpire has walked over to the fence, took off his equipment, threw them over the fence and said, “You think you’re so good at this? You come out here and I’ll criticize you for awhile!”
So here’s the question: when was the last time you stopped complaining about others and asked, “What is it that God wants ME to do for the building of His Kingdom?” If we all did what God wanted us to do, we would be as effective as a well-tuned engine.
To Work with Your hands
The third thing Paul tells us is that we should make it our ambition to work with our hands. Paul is not saying we should all desire to be blue-collar workers. He is simply telling us that people should earn their own living. In other words, we should not be a drain on society. We should not be people who are always looking for a handout. We should not be those who expect to be given things we didn’t earn. We should resist the “entitlement” mentality.
It is possible that there were people who believed Jesus was surely coming soon as they neared the end of the first Christian generation. Some believe that there were people in Thessalonica who quit their jobs (in order to serve the Lord more fully) and were now proving to be a drain on the Christian community.
Listen to the word of God
- Proverbs 18:9 One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys
- Proverbs 24:33-34 33 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— 34 and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.
- Proverbs 10:4 He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” 11 We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.
Paul says believers should be “pulling their own weight”. We should be people who work hard understanding that we are serving the Lord. People who “work the system” are really no different from the scam artists we all hate.
Why is it so important to work? Is it because this is the way we earn our salvation? No. We aren’t made right with God by doing the right things but by entering into a vital and living relationship with Jesus Christ. We are saved because we turn to Him alone for salvation and new life. We cannot now or ever earn our salvation by our good deeds.
The main reason we are to be diligent workers is because this is what God designed us to do. Back in the Garden of Eden, before sin entered and corrupted the world, God put Adam to work. Labor was never meant to be drudgery, it was meant to be a way for us to fellowship with God and to share in the care of His creation. God wants us to work with our hands because it helps fulfill His purpose for us.
OUR PRACTICAL GOALS
If we keep working at loving each other and work hard to be people who are quiet, focused on doing what we can do, and who give our best to our jobs, Paul tells us what will happen.
We will win the Respect of Outsiders
Think about the people you respect the most. Who is it that you admire? Why do you admire them? I would venture to suggest that for most of us, we admire and respect the people who are just like Paul describes. They are people who genuinely care, but aren’t pushy or nosey. They are steady, consistent and dependable. Most of these people will “fly beneath the radar” of life. They don’t make a lot of noise when they enter a room but their impact is unmistakable. People are drawn to them, not so much because of their arguments, but because of their character. Most likely these are people who work hard. They are not working for the money, they work because they take pride in their work. They are working for the Lord. These are the kind of people Paul says we will become if we pay attention to what he is saying. Though none of these things are flashy; people will notice. It may not make you popular, but it will earn you respect.
Finally, Paul tells us that we “will not be dependent on anybody.” To put it positively, we will be independent. We will be free in a most wonderful way. We won’t be tossed back and forth by the circumstances and obstacles of life; we won’t panic when interests rates or gas prices rise; our identity will not be tied to the latest public opinion poll. Instead we will know the quiet peace that comes from placing our trust in the One who gave His life for us. We will be anchoring our life to the Truth. And it is that Truth that will make us free in a way that is greater than any election could every produce or any law could every guarantee. It is the one who alone is True who will cultivate love and compassion in our hearts; joy in our labor; diligence in our focus. And it is that Truth and that Truth alone that will change the world.
So please examine your own heart. Are you a follower of Christ or are you merely a consumer of religion? Is your confidence in Him or in what you believe you can do in your own strength? Are you diligently serving God, or are you just a heckler on the sidelines? Are you a giver or a taker? Do you love others or do you just expect others to love you?
These are important questions. Please take some time to examine your purpose statement or vision for life. Compare it with the vision of Paul and then make whatever corrections are necessary.