Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Now, about Brotherly Love, Part 2 (Ministry in Thessalonians #18)

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. 
- 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12

Ever since I wrote the last post on Ministry in Thessalonians, I've reflected on these next two verses and came to realize that I really should have included them in that post on brotherly love. The thoughts are so closely connected that some versions don't start a new sentence at verse 11.

The Thessalonians were taught by God to love, and were successfully loving other believers. As part of his challenge to them to "do so more and more", Paul lays out three specific actions that facilitate love within the body of Christ:
  • Be ambitious about the right things. The New Testament consistently warns against "selfish ambition" and cautions believers about elevating themselves above others. Jesus taught that greatness is measured by the degree of servanthood, so pursuing what looks like worldly success actually moves us away from heavenly greatness. Here, Paul gives a specific "goal" for appropriate ambition: Lead a quiet life. The phrase is used elsewhere in the New Testament to mean "remain quiet" and "rest"; its root means "tranquil". It's a phrase used in contrast to "running hither and thither" (honestly, that's part of the definition). The quiet life is marked by a trust in God (that keeps us from taking on too much), relationship with Him and others, Biblical rest. It's a quietness of soul. Goal-oriented, ambitious people in the body of Christ can love well by focusing their ambition on rest and relationship. 
  • Mind your own business. We chuckle at this, knowing almost immediately what it means (or at least what we think it means). Certainly there is the element of avoiding gossip, as Paul clearly spells out elsewhere. But Young's Literal Translation captures the nuances of the Greek a little better: "Do your own business". Another translation reads, "Attend to your own affairs." In any case, the idea in mind is that we don't let our responsibilities slide ... an apt command given that the previous one focuses on quietness and rest. We are so prone to extremes: "Rest? OK. Great command. I can get into this quietness and rest thing. Can't do the dishes, gotta rest. Can't help out my neighbor, gotta rest." But when we truly grasp all that God is for us in Christ, we not only have quietness of soul, we also have fullness of purpose in the life He gives us. We can contentedly and peacefully take care of our own business - those things we are personally responsible for - without anxiety or stress. 
  • Work. Paul instructs them to work with their hands. The context clearly refers to work that earns a living. We often forget that work preceded the fall. The result of the fall was sweat and toil, thorns and thistles - the difficulties of work. But work itself is God-ordained. 
As believers grow in love for each other, with lives that are consistently marked by quietness of soul, personal responsibility, and hard work, two things happen: Outsiders respect our daily lives, and we are not dependent on anyone. (Certainly, there are times when we step in and help each other, or even where disability or illness lead to dependence - that is not what this passage refers to.) Our love continues to grow as we each increasingly do our part, at home, within the body, at work, and generously share with each other our time, talents, and treasure, within a context of mutual love and submission.

Love at work. It's a beautiful thing.

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