This is the tenth part of an ongoing series going through 1 Thessalonians. The first part can be found here.
"Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and 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." - 1 Thessalonians 4: 9-12
"Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other." Again Paul and the others have written of the love of the Thessalonians before, and here they say that God has taught them this love. What a beautiful thing to think of, that God is at work teaching His children!
"And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more" More love, more love. Don't we all need more love? No matter how much love we may have, we need more love. The letter writers are affirming here that the Thessalonians are already loving the Church in Macedonia but encourages more. This is not a reflection on the Thessalonians failure to love but on their ongoing transformation to God's nature, which loves in abundance.
I felt this little phrase deserved regarding on its own: "and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life." That is so very different from the message of the world and let's face it sometimes the message of our hearts. We often ache for excitement and the truth is that is an ache that will be satisfied. Nothing you could experience in this world could be more exciting than the one who created it, right? And we will have eternity with Him. God is not a boring God, no matter what lies have been told about that. However, God tells in a very countercultural claim to make our ambition a quiet life. Ambition is so often touted in our modern society, both in America and maybe even more so here in India where every parent's child seems to want their child to be a doctor or an engineer. Ambition is often seen as a good thing, but if you ask yourself about how it's often applied in people's lives it is a frequent justification to use or abuse people in order to promote oneself. However like all God given traits there can be holy applications and this reveals one, that we apply our ambition towards living a quiet life.
"You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders" Don't you love a verse that tells people to mind their own business? Haha. Truthfully though, this is a Biblical behavior. We are urged to work with our hands, for as another verse teaches idle hands are not good things! These are teachings the writers had already given the Thessalonians and they are saying that if they follow these things their lives will garner respect from outsiders. Now understand that the reason to do these things is in order to live a godly life, not to earn the praise of man, something that other passages we've already studied from this letter make clear. This verse could be used out of context to justify that if one's life is not respected you're violating this. However we know that while Jesus did earn the respect of many, such as His disciples, He also was despised, mocked, and killed. If you're following a godly ambition to a quiet life and some respect you, that is a fulfillment of this verse, but if others despise you well that is just a fulfillment of many, many verses about how we are to suffer.
Lastly it says "and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." Do understand Paul is talking to a Church, not to an individual when He says that. That is important because while all individuals have a call to do the work that God has given each of us in our time and place in life, Acts and many epistles make it clear that the Church is to take care of each other and meet each other's needs. There is absolutely an inter-dependence within the Church. Acts says of the early Church "There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need." This duty for us to meet each other's needs is emphasized through out the New Testament, God definitely does not call us to be independent from our brothers and sisters but to a beautiful interdependence like the organs in a body. Yet I do see a very unloving attitude applied far too often, especially amongst American Christians, and it grieves my heart. This attitude is that a poor person must be a lazy person, which is akin to the "prosperity gospel" heresy. I think it's because in the West we are very individualistic and we apply the above verse, and ones akin to it, to individuals instead of to the Church as it was meant to be applied. What the verse is saying is that if the members of the Church mind their own business and work hard they won't be dependent on others. However, if in a month a brother or sister is struggling it is definitely expected that the rest of Church will lift them up. That is not the dependence spoken against here, for a gift from your Church family is obviously from God. No, it is speaking of dependence from outsiders in the way Abraham denied the gifts of the king of Sodom so that no one could say Abraham's riches came from anyone other than the Lord. (Genesis 14:21-23) If the members of a Church do their duty, then as a Body, the Church should be able to meet its own needs and even to give to other's ministries, the way Paul talks of other churches helping fund church planting efforts.
The Church's needs I speak of here not only are the business like needs that 21st century churches talk of (building rent or mortgage, pastors and other paid minister's salaries, supplies for music worship, etc) but the needs of the people as the people are the Church. Now this verse and others do encourage us to reprimand lazy Christians who aren't working, but it should also be understood that just like in all things God can see work differently from the world. We shouldn't be judging each other's efforts but instead praying to God about if that person is doing what He wishes at the time. For example I have seen the world call many a stay at home mother someone who isn't working due to her lack of income, but God wouldn't do that. I think each Christian should be asking God what work He has for them, and applying themselves to it, whether that work earns money or not, understanding God will provide for their needs. Remember Paul emphatically tells people that his ministry does deserve a salary but he chose to lay it down and tent make instead in order to earn a better reward. Therefore we shouldn't require all serving the Lord to "tent make" but instead to meet their needs, though if they choose to tent make, it is noble. And for those of you who have abundance remember when you look at your brother or sister who doesn't that it may be God has called you to recognize their need not to judge them but to give to them. However this is all gone about, God desires our obedience and for us always to act in love.