1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
A brief recap: The church at Thessalonica was maturing, they were growing in “the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), and Paul was aware of it. Spiritual growth is progressive and should never be stifled or assumed to have come to completion in our lives as long as we breathe on this side of heaven. Paul’s desire was for these folks to continue growing in their love for and obedience to Christ.
In our previous study, I talked about Paul’s encouragement and exhortations for these believers to “excel still more” in what they already were practicing, brotherly love. Paul knew something that we need reminded of: there is always room for improvement!
In the following two verses, Paul gives more instructions on how they ought to conduct themselves, but this time concerning those outside the church. Remember, in our last study I pointed out that two themes emerge (Love of the brethren and their behavior among those outside the church), and two groups are now mentioned (insiders and outsiders). Paul here begins addressing our second theme and its relation to those outside the church.
11 and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we instructed you, 12 so that you will [a]behave properly toward outsiders and [b]not be in any need.
FOCUS ONE: What ambitions do you have for your life? What goals are you seeking to accomplish? Do they include any of these Paul mentions in verse 11?
- Live a quiet life.
- Mind (attend) your own business.
- Work with your hands.
Before we move on in our study, we need to understand what Paul means by these three things. Paul is not saying that believers should take a vow of silence and not verbally communicate with others. He implies that believers should actively pursue living a less frantic life, not a less involved one. Not a silenced life but one undistracted from their walk with God. (1) “A person who is constantly on the move is frequently a bother to other people as well as somewhat distracted from his/her own walk with God.”
By minding your own business, Paul is expressing the obvious. Proverbs 25:17 says: “Let your foot rarely be in your neighbors house lest he become weary of you and hate you.” This instruction is connected to the latter in that a meddlesome spirit often accompanies a hectic life! We are to be active in keeping our affairs in order, not meddling in others.
The third instruction to work with your hands implies that idleness was becoming a problem among the Thessalonians. They lived in a Greek culture that degraded manual labor, while Christianity “viewed it as an honorable pursuit.” Since most of the Thessalonians earned their living with their hands, Paul encourages them to continue to do so and avoid the snare of idleness.
FOCUS TWO: What appears at first to be a change of topic, from loving others to behavior, actually isn’t! Paul seeks to help these believers understand that everyday habits of living manifest love or the lack of it towards others. Such behavior towards those on the inside manifests love for one another in how we esteem each other more highly than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Paul also knows that such behavior does win the respect of non-Christians (outsiders). People appreciate those who do not take advantage of them.
To sum this up, Paul seems to be advocating for personal responsibility in the Christian life. Personal maturity is powerful evidence of a maturing love for others. Those on the inside as well as those on the outside!
From the subject of love to what seems quite different and unrelated-how we live in our communities, we find that they are not as diverse as we thought. Perhaps nothing disrupts peace and unity within a church more than its member’s unwillingness to participate in and shoulder their part within the local community. How does it impact a local body of believers when some of its members make no effort at their own support while taking advantage of other member’s generosity? It appears that Paul gave these exhortations because some of these folks may have been misapplying the truth’s taught by Paul when he was with them concerning the Lord’s return. But Paul makes it clear that our Lord’s return is never an excuse to evade our current responsibilities.
Paul wants their love for others to mature, and so he pens these goals for them because he knows that they are worthy objectives that will help them mature in this area of their Christian walk. These goals are worthy objectives for us today as well.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT:
- If you were to evaluate your life outside the walls of your local church, would your testimony be helpful or hurtful to non-Christians in your community?
- In light of Paul’s divinely inspired words, how might your current ambitions need to be adjusted for you to grow in gospel love for others?
- What other biblical goals might you add to this study that will help you mature in your walk of faith?
- Thomas Constable commentary on 1 Thessalonians