1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12 – 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.
Paul had a little bit of time to instruct the young church in Thessalonica before he was driven out of that city under persecution. But Paul wanted to be sure that the believers there were OK. After all, when he left them, it was hard to know how they would respond to his suffering much less their own.
Sending Timothy back to get a report, Paul found out that the church in this city was thriving, even in the face of hardship. That fact gave Paul joy, and it led him to want to remind them of some very simple instructions. We see things like a call to remain pure and avoid the sexual immorality so prevalent in their culture (4:3) and to continue to love one another as faithful brothers and sisters in Christ (4:9).
Then we see a three-fold bit of counsel which got my attention. Paul, writing to a young church about what they need to be doing, tells them to live quietly, mind your own affairs, and work with your own hands. I wonder, does this surprise you? When you think of the kinds of commands that you would send a church functioning under a bad government and facing persecution, do these come to mind?
The reason that this surprises me simply has to do with the way that it sounds so different than much of the language out there about what the church is supposed to be. Go to any denominational meeting. Go to any church growth seminar. Go to any big-time conference about building up a strong church. I assure you that this is not the counsel you will get. You will hear people tell you how it is your job to transform the world. You will hear people tell you that it is your job to become prominent in your community, an indispensable asset. They’ll tell you that you need to get your church branded so that people recognize you.
In other theological corners, we will find folks letting us know that it is our job to bring about political change. Perhaps we need to lobby Washington. Perhaps we need to march and protest. Perhaps we are simply going to transform the world through our powerful evangelism.
The truth is, I’m not against being a good neighbor in the community. I’m not against making sure people know that your church is there. I’m not against voting for good candidates, even campaigning for good leaders. And we have every right to join in appropriate protests. But, and this is what gets me, the commands that we see quite clearly in Scripture look different.
Love one another. Live pure. Then, as we see above, live quietly. When have you ever heard a pastor or church growth guru tell you to live quietly? Keep your head down and be faithful to the Lord. When does anybody say that? Mind your own business. Paul tells us this, but I do not see that modeled in our social engagement or in our social media engagement. Get a job and work hard to be as self-sufficient as you can in your society. I am starting to hear a little more of that command.
Share the gospel, that is a biblical command. Make life better for the persecuted and the genuinely oppressed. But do not forget the word of God that was actually written to churches in passages like the one above. Love God. Live pure. Love one another. Live a simple life, a quiet life. Mind your own business. Feed your family. And continue to faithfully worship the Lord together.
I’m not writing this to call anybody to abandon their heart for evangelism or for changing the world to the glory of Jesus. I’m just writing this to remind us that we want to follow the commands that we actually see in Scripture. Here is a church that is under bad government, facing persecution, in a world that is not welcoming to the faith. And here, God saw fit to give that church a calling that would never be embraced on any big platform in any big conference in modern evangelicalism.