3 Simple Commands
In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 the apostle Paul gets very practical about what brotherly love should look like. Paul gives us three admonitions—three commands that we are called to obey—and then gives us two reasons why these commands are important.
1. Live a Quiet Life
First, Paul commands us to live a quiet life (v. 11). Many translators have noted that this is something of an oxymoron. The word “quiet” here does not carry the idea of “not speaking” or “being restful” but of not intruding into the lives of other people, especially brothers and sisters in the faith, and so becoming a burden to them. Paul is instructing us to live our lives in such a way as not to burden others, but he is also warning us not to draw attention to ourselves.
Paul is instructing us to live our lives in such a way as not to burden others, but he is also warning us not to draw attention to ourselves.
2. Mind Your Own Business
The second command Paul gives here is that we are to “mind your own affairs” (v. 11), or as the NIV puts it, “to mind your own business.” Paul is talking about the kind of person who does not do his or her work but just hangs around while you are trying to do your work. So their not working creates a strain on the church both financially and relationally. Again this produces a situation that is not in line with the love that should be expressed within the community.
3. Work with Your Own Hands
Paul’s third command is to “work with your [own] hands” (v. 11). There are important connections here. Paul urges them to live a quiet life, which means they should mind their own business as well as work with their own hands. These commands in verse 11 are connected to a bigger problem in this church. There was something going on in the life of the church that was producing this situation. To be honest, we are not exactly sure what the cause was. But whatever specific situation caused this problem, Paul’s solution was the same: “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (v. 11).
We want to avoid the temptation of never helping someone when they are in need, but we also want to avoid the problem of creating a needy situation. We all have different personalities and different perspectives on life. We are all different in various ways. So let me present brotherly love to you like this: if you are the kind of person who tends to be nosy and you want to know everything that is taking place in the church, this passage is telling you to mind your own business.
On the other hand, if you are the kind of person who is very comfortable with your little world, if you do not want to bother others or others to bother you, then this passage is pushing you to move toward your brothers and sisters in a spirit of love. If you do not know what kind of person you are, ask a friend or ask your spouse. Or you could talk to a pastor or respected spiritual leader. However this manifests itself in our lives, this is precisely the way we are called to love one another.
Why Live This Way?
Paul does not give us bare commands—he also provides reasons why we are supposed to live this way, and in this case he gives us two. First, Paul tells us that we are supposed to live this way so that we might “walk properly before outsiders” (v. 12a). This is an important reason for the way we are called to live. Paul worked with his own hands as a tentmaker, and some scholars now think that the way Paul did evangelism was through his work. We are called to live and work in that same manner so that non-Christians can see how we live and how we work. That is the primary means of drawing people to Christ. They can see the reality of the gospel in the way we live and work. This provides a missional thrust to the entirety of our lives.
The second reason Paul gives is in the last phrase of verse 12: “so that you may . . . be dependent on no one.” Why does Paul give this command? I think there are two reasons. First, to be dependent upon someone else in the congregation is unloving. That has been Paul’s point since verse 9, and he presses the conclusion upon us: it is a loving act to be self-sufficient in regard to our own work. But perhaps Paul has another reason in giving this command. As Christians we are called to be dependent upon the Lord to provide our daily bread, and if we get in a situation where we are dependent upon someone else, it could cause us to compromise some Christian convictions. This could compromise our walk before outsiders.
Reflecting the Love of Jesus
Here is Paul’s point: if we live in a way that reflects brotherly love, it will be obvious to the people we come into contact with in our culture. We will not have to loudly proclaim our faith to outsiders, but they will see our lives.
In the city of Thessalonica, everyone would have noticed the change of lives in these Christians. They didn’t participate in religious ceremonies and sexual immorality in the pagan temples. They didn’t cheat each other or strangers. They worked hard, they took care of each other, and they loved each other. If you want your faith to be evident to those around you, Paul says, live in this sacrificial way, a way that reflects the love of Jesus to other people.
This article is adapted from 1-2 Thessalonians: The Hope of Salvation by James H. Grant Jr.