1 Thessalonians 4:9–12 (ESV)“Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
It always impresses me that Paul expects so much from the converts at Thessalonica. We forget that these were new converts. We forget that they had received, at most, a few months of Christian teaching. Yet he calls them to a standard of behaviour that modern congregations expect of only a mature few (if they expect it of anyone). But he expects it of the Thessalonians; and (for the most part) they seem to be rising to his expectations. Their love extends beyond their own city to the entire region of Macedonia. But he does not want them to rest contented with what they have attained. He calls them to continue to grow in this regard (10).
As they grow in their brotherly love, he expects that the growth will be manifest in their lives.
Live quiet lives
He expects that they will seek to live quietly (“aspire to live quietly,” 11). The quietness intended here is not silence. It is not a matter of never speaking or making any noise. It is a matter of not making needless fuss. The late Raymond Kelcy quipped regarding this verse, “A man might be a boilermaker and still be in obedience to that command.” Today, now that boiler making is an unseen task, we might say, “A man could operate a jackhammer for a living and still live a quiet life.”
Mind your business
The opposite of the boilermaker living a quiet life would be a person who worked a quiet office job, but who was constantly making a different kind of noise. The verse also says, “mind your own affairs.” Although many in Thessalonica were making good spiritual progress, there were some who really needed this warning. In 2 Thessalonians the apostle will speak of those who are “not busy at work but busybodies” (2 Thessalonians 3:11).
Work with your hands
The Thessalonian Christians had also been told to “work with your hands.” Even if someone avoids gossip, and avoids causing trouble to others, that person’s life will still not bring glory to God if they do not work. These days, we are constantly told that we are “consumers.” Many seem to be living up to the name. Too many people consume. Not enough produce. Christians, of all people, should not live this way. We were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). At that point in the biblical record God had been seen primarily, if not exclusively, as the Creator. So, whatever else the “image of God” may mean, it certainly means that we are supposed to produce rather than consume.
Although the Apostle has been very complimentary toward the Thessalonians (9–10), he will later repeat the command “If any is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Evidently, there were some among them who were lazy. This should never be.
Lazy, self–indulgent behaviour on the part of Christians brings a reproach on the church (1 Timothy 5:5–7). Hard work, on the other hand, “adorns” the gospel (Titus 2:10). The context of that verse in Titus indicates that hard work on the part of a Christian, whether a slave or a woman working in her own home, will silence the criticisms of unbelievers and cause them to be more likely to listen to our message. The statement here in 1 Thessalonians 4:12 is not as detailed, but it points in the same direction. Christians who take care of themselves are a credit to the church. Christians who clammer for government assistance are a detriment to the church.
Talk is cheap
A lot of people claim to love their brothers. Before the pandemic, many went around hugging other Christians. But the real proof of love is less demonstrative and more mundane. A quiet, gossip–free life of hard work shows love for the church. Gushy claims of love prove nothing.
So let us hear (and heed) the Apostle again,
But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:10–12, ESV).
Matsapha, Eswatini, Africa