Meditations in 1 Thessalonians
Part 3 : 17. The Quiet Life
1 Thess 4:11,12 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, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
We live in a day of noise, of opinions, of twenty-four hour news. Some may seek for a quieter life by not having loud music on all the time, by not reading papers, and by not watching the news. Perhaps that is like some of the Christians from earlier days who went into monasteries or went and lived in the desert to escape worldliness. But many people would like ‘the quiet life’, the life free from trouble and upset – but it evades them. Arguments ensue, family members get into trouble, there is pressure at work, things break down, accidents happen. Anxiety, worry, stress are familiar.
Now come on, says Paul, you don’t have to have that sort of life, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” Put another way, make it a goal of your life to be restful, content and at peace with the world. How could they go about doing that? Well, he goes on, “mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you.” Make your own life the focus and ensure you are living that well. In an economy that was neither concerned with theory, ideas, paper nor the Internet, work was primarily physical. To get on with life meant get on with the family business, usually working with your hands.
Paul certainly would not say that today, but that was how it was then. Perhaps to let these three things sink in a little more it might be good to think of the opposites. Live a quiet life, he started out. i.e. don’t be a noisy, loud-mouthed, over-bearing assort of person. Mind your own business, he continued, i.e. don’t be a busybody interfering with other people’s lives, pushing in where you are not wanted, being a know-it-all. Work, he said finally, i.e. don’t be a lazy sponger on others, don’t be a scrounger, don’t be a benefit grabber. One thing all those three sorts of people exhibit is lack of self worth The noisy loud mouth is so often covering up what they really feel about themselves. The busybody is trying to be important to make up for what they feel about themselves. The lazy sponger has lost all self-respect and has little sense of self-worth.
But then Paul comes out with two other reasons to live as he’s said – quiet, self-esteemed, and hard working. First, “so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders.” (v.12a) Do you remember Jesus taught, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) Our lives are to reveal the Father and His love and goodness. The way we live out our lives on a daily basis should be such that as we express, love, care, goodness, kindness, gentleness, wisdom and grace, others see and wonder and we win their respect and their openness to the Lord.
But there was a second reason: “so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” Why is that such a bad thing? Well God is a giver and a provider and He doesn’t want us, as far as it is possible, to become reliant on other people rather than Him. However this is not to be taken to extremes for we know that in the early days of the church they were inter-dependent and thus we find, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need,” (Acts 2:44,45) and later, “There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 4:34,35) There clearly were there those who were needy and they were reliant upon others in the church to care for them. Some in that society would naturally have such needs and this became clear when a problem arose: “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1) Widows and orphans are a natural grouping of those who would need to be reliant upon others.
The fact that the second coming has been mentioned so often in this letter, and more details follow these verses, may be an indication that in those early days they all expected Jesus to be returning at any moment and the temptation, therefore, was to say, ‘well, why bother to work if our future is limited?’ The truth is that we will not know when Jesus is returning. Jesus asked his followers, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8). Faith is as much about letting your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heavenas it is about anything. That ‘letting your light shine’ is also as much about how you lead a quiet life, minding your own business and working at providing for yourself and for your family as anything else as well.
Do we catch the import of these verses before us here? By doing this we will not only NOT be a drain on others but we WILL be a testimony to others. Also perhaps in so doing, we may become those who resource others instead of them having to resource you. They sound such mundane words but they are fundamental to the sort of people we are: 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, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” May it be so!