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We live in a society marked by unrest, controversy, and hostility. More and more the church is feeling the pressure that comes with that. The cultural table isn’t giving Christians a lot of elbow room, and soon we may find ourselves banished from the table altogether. In these times, we need to be careful to understand what God’s will is because there’s a dangerous tendency in our hearts to abandon ourselves to something other than the privileges that belong to us in Jesus Christ.
Paul knew that tendency in the Christian heart. The Thessalonians were a remarkable church. Their lives had been turned around by the ministry of the Word, and they were examples of faith, love, and hope. But their daily routines were also lived in a context of hostility and suffering for the sake of Jesus. That’s why in writing to them, Paul wanted them to know how to honor God. How does a Christian living in an aggressive world please God? In part, Paul says, by aspiring “to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (1 Thess. 4:11).
It’s hard to imagine an Apostolic command that is more mundanely practical than this. God’s will for our sanctification is lived out in the ordinary routines and habits of life. But this isn’t easily achieved. That’s why Paul says we should “aspire” to it—to desire very strongly and strive eagerly. One might rephrase Paul and say we are to make it our ambition to live life in this way.
First, he says we should live quietly. We sometimes think of quiet in terms of volume. But here it means keeping still. There’s actually a brilliant oxymoron in Paul’s thought: We are to eagerly strive to be still or be ambitious about living calmly. It’s not our place as Christians to be antagonists and seek out trouble and quarrels. And when they do come, we don’t need to be riled up and lose our minds. After all, Jesus said our inheritance is one of peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). Even when the world gnashes and thrashes, the Christian is commanded to quietly repose on God’s character and promise as united in Jesus Christ.
Second, Paul says we should mind our own affairs. It’s interesting that the Apostle Peter cautioned that when we are insulted by the world, we should be sure that it’s for the name of Christ and not for being a meddler (see 1 Peter 4:15). He was saying that when we suffer, we need to be sure we are suffering for the right reasons. In a hostile society, it’s easy to borrow troubles that don’t belong to us and to insert ourselves into fights that we don’t need to be in. Solomon warned, “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears” (Prov. 26:17). Positively, Paul’s admonition means minding what is your business. There’s a demand here to concentrate on your own life—yourself, family, church, work, and community.
Third, he says we need to work with our hands. Work was woven into our creation and is an expression of our re-creation (see Gen. 2:15; Eph. 4:28). It’s likely that many of the Thessalonians were employed in some kind of manual labor. But the heart of Paul’s command isn’t about the kind of work a Christian must do; rather, the emphasis is on continued usefulness and productivity even in a society that is contentious and inhospitable. After all, while we labor in the world, we work ultimately not for men but for the Lord (Col. 3:23).
It’s important, however, that a quiet life, minding your own business, and working are means to an end. Paul went on to say: “. . . so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess. 4:12). Not only is the Christian to earn his own living (see 2 Thess. 3:12), but this is the way to appropriately live toward and around those who aren’t Christians. The hostility of the world doesn’t exempt us from this pattern of life. It’s one of the distinguishing features of Christianity. We’re often tempted to think of our evangelism in programmatic ways. But Paul says these ordinary routines themselves bear the evidence of God’s transforming grace.