1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
“Seek to lead a quiet life, pursue your own affairs and do the work of your hands, just as we instructed you…” (1 Thessalonians 4:11)
Does that sound like good advice? Because many people, throughout the ages, have used it as their motto: keep your head down, live a quiet life, don’t say boo to anyone, and don’t rock the boat.
And the basis for that belief … are the words from the Apostle Paul: “Seek to lead a quiet life, pursue your own affairs and do the work of your hands, just as we instructed you…” Words that he wrote down for the benefit of the church at Thessalonica. And as a consequence, words on which many have modelled their lives.
Now does all that sound perfectly sensible and logical? Well, in one sense, yes. We would, probably, all like to live a quiet life. But, unfortunately, that’s not what Paul was saying at all.
Because taking that sentence (or part sentence) on its own and ignoring the context in which it was written, is to totally misunderstand what Paul was saying.
Because, firstly, in his letter, Paul had just commended the Thessalonians, not for their inactivity, but for their activity. He’d commended them for caring for each other within the church. He’d also commended them for extending their care to people outside of their local church—to include people in the rest of Macedonia. Furthermore, Paul encouraged the members not to rest on their laurels, but to strive more eagerly in their brotherly love for one another.
And only then, secondly, did he address a problem in the church to which these words were directed. Now Paul was aware of a situation in the church which was very unhealthy. There were people within the church who were living a very disorderly way of life, and who, if left unchecked, would have destroyed everything the church stood for. Consequently, it was to these people that his words were directed. “Seek to lead a quiet life, pursue your own affairs and do the work of your hands, just as we instructed you…”
Paul was not trying to teach believers that being quiet and inactive was an acceptable way of living. On the contrary, the exact opposite is true. But there was a need to bring order to the church, so that the church could focus its attention on what was important—the need to be active and to care for one another.
Now of course, knowing this, has implications for us today. Because it might help us understand those who think Christianity is all about living a quiet life and minding their own business. And it gives us a base from which to teach that we should be active, not passive; we should be outspoken, not silent; and we should be caring, not detached.
The words of Paul, again: “Seek to lead a quiet life, pursue your own affairs and do the work of your hands, just as we instructed you…” These words were directed to combat a disruptive element within the Thessalonian church. They were not designed to reflect a philosophy of life. And that means that, even today, we need to take seriously the context in which they were written, and to encourage one another to be active in the Christian faith.
Posted: 8th December 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis