1 Thessalonians 4 v 11 And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with
The Apostle Paul has been calling in a letter to the Christians at Thessalonica to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. He is interested in their Sanctification – the process of their transformation from heathens in a godless society – to Christians who were different from the people around them. This 4th Chapter has been about 3 areas of life – there has been:
1. A Call to please God – verses 1 – 2; these Christians were different now – they had abandoned their idol worship and worshipped only the Lord God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. A call to holiness and Purity – especially in the realm of morality and relationships – Verses 3 – 8; These Christians were different to their neighbours and even some of their family. They had abandoned their immoral lifestyle in order to keep God’s word in sanctified relationships.
3. A call to brotherly love, which we thought about last week – verses 9 – 10; They had abandoned their selfishness and had begun to think about the needs of others – again showing themselves to be different to the world around them.
The 4th and last call that Paul makes in this first section of chapter 4 is this
4. A Call to Work!
This call continues from the previous one to Brotherly love. We know this because of the beginning of verse 11 – the word AND appears –
11 And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; 12 That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.
It may seem strange to us that Paul feels the need to call the believers to work! Did they not have jobs? Were they not already an industrious people? Thessalonica, as we have noted before, was a busy port and commercial centre. There would have been much to do – it was unlikely that there was an unemployment crisis in those days.
What then was the problem that Timothy had told Paul about on his return to Corinth?
It would appear that there were some in the Church fellowship at Thessalonica who were imposing on the generosity of their fellow Christians. Paul points out that this was not a loving thing to do – to be spongers and loafers! Putting it the other way round the exhortation to brotherly love carries with it the necessity of providing for one’s own needs – so that each believer ensures that no undue strain is put on another brother or sister.
What were these people playing at?
It seems that they had a condition which we could call PAROUSIA HYSTERIA! What is that, you may ask? Is it a medical condition or a psychological illness?
No – it was a spiritual problem in Thessalonica which was characterised by the thought that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming back very soon in mighty power – because He said so. Accordingly for some at Thessalonica they decided that there was no point in continuing in their steady jobs. – They would be about the business of proclaiming that the end of the world was very near. If they had need of anything in the meantime – well, they would depend on the other brothers in the church who would come to the rescue when the money ran out! What was happening was this. Some in Thessalonica were so taken up with the excitement and spectacular near approach of the Lord that they were passing over the important things of every day life.
This phenomenon has been repeated many times down the centuries of Christian history. There have been sects and cults who have sold everything to join a commune of others who had worked out precisely when the world would end. They sat together praying and waiting for the expected date and time – and did no work whatsoever.
Paul has these brothers in mind as he speaks in these 2 verses. And as we embark now with some explanation of the details of Paul’s words let us say straight away that Paul was speaking about IDLENESS. He was not thinking about those whose inability to work was through unemployment or disability – circumstances beyond their control. And neither do the things about work that we discuss this morning apply to those in our congregation whose circumstances, in God’s sovereignty, mean that they are unable to work.
The loafers in Thessalonica needed to be admonished and shamed into a return to work – our friends who cannot work need our brotherly love, understanding and support.
Paul begins then with this –
1. Lead a Quiet Life
It seems to me that the aim and ambitions of ordinary people today is to follow a course of striving to excel in order to reach a goal of personal success and distinction. We live in a target achieving culture. Everything is measured to see whether it is effective or not. Results are important – but it doesn’t seem to matter how the results are achieved. It can be a very noisy and busy existence. It can be ruthless – it can be vicious.
The Christian is taught to resist this.
i. We need to be quiet.
The Christian should be at rest. The Greek word is HESUCHSADZOH. It means to be silent – as when Jesus spoke to some lawyers –
Luke 14 v 3 And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?
The lawyers “held their peace”. They were silent. Or in Acts 11 Peter went to Jerusalem to report to the Jewish party about Gentiles who had been converted. After he had explained what had happened we read in verse 18
When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.
But this does not mean that we are to be silent – it means that we are to be sober, steady and those who do not make a fuss. Those who are gentle, peaceable and quiet in our own souls.
The other word with it is PHILOTIMEOMAI a word that means to “love honour” hence to be ambitious or to concentrate on something. One translator renders it “strive restlessly after”
So putting the two together it is this “Make it your ambition to live a quiet life.”
Satan wants to disquiet us. He wants to upset, annoy and he wants to see if he can trip us up and tip us into dishonouring the Lord. Perhaps we can understand what Paul is saying when we think about our word for being upset – being disquieted – apprehensive, edgy, wary of something or some situation. We therefore need to do something to counteract our discomfort – to STUDY to know how to be quiet in our lives. Isaiah speaks of quietness – in Isaiah 30 v 15
For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.
Proverbs 17 v 1 Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.
The quietness that Paul recommends is the very opposite of the fanaticism practised by the loafers. He means tranquillity of life – not inactivity – but to be active in work and in God’s service and still be at peace in one’s soul. Some of the converts were far from this simple life – and so Paul pulls them back and calls them to calmness. And the best way for them to do this was to go back to their work.
In the pioneer days of New England and the settling of the American Colonies a day came in one township when there was an air of excited expectancy of the Lord’s return and the end of the world. People assembled in the Church to wait. But at Midday a great darkness fell and interrupted the assembly. Some cried our in fear, “It must be the coming of Christ: it is the end of the world!” But the old president of the Assembly ordered lights to be produced. “Bring in candles, “he said,” and get on with your work. If the Lord is coming, how better can he find us than quietly doing our duty?”
There is something else to say about this group of people in Thessalonica. In Chapter 5 v 14 we read of them again.
Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.
The loafers are described here as the UNRULY. The Greek word for unruly is ATAKTOS and it has an interesting usage in classical Greek. They used the term ATAKTOS to describe undisciplined soldiers who broke ranks instead of marching properly; or were insubordinate. They also used the word to label those who did not show up for work – absentees. It was extended to any undisciplined or irregular behaviour.
From this same word comes a medical expression that describes a kind of paralysis or sluggishness induced by tranquillising drugs – called ATAXIA.
A Greek Manuscript has been found that outlines an example of an apprenticeship contract with a weaver. In AD 66 a father signed this contract on behalf of his son. In it he undertook that if the boy played truant and missed any work days, then he would have to make them up to the employer. The verb for PLAY TRUANT is ATAKTEO and reflects an irresponsible attitude to the obligation of this fit young healthy man to work.
So these ATAKTOI – who had given up their work needed to be exhorted to get back to work.
We must never fall into this trap ourselves – of ceasing to work because of a religious notion that it is not worth it – because the Lord is coming. It is true that the Bible does say this –
Lamentations 3 v 26 It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.
But that doesn’t stop him from working in the meantime. The Lord Jesus Christ led us from the front in this when He said in John 9 v 4
I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.
So how are believers to live these quiet lives working for the Lord?
ii. We need to be focussed.
and to do your own business,
Or MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS! It would seem likely that the ones who had stopped their employment in order to wait for the Lord’s return were disturbing the peace of the church. They were interfering with the affairs of others. But worse than this they were attempting to interfere with the running of the church by interfering with the work of the church leaders.
You may have noticed if you have come from other churches or have heard about such things, that people who become gripped with novel or unbalanced ideas, usually cannot keep their ideas to themselves. Everyone else has to know. Their restlessness drives them to invade the privacy of others. They are often arrogant and strident. Such people are usually those who do little in the church and seem to have time on their hands. The expression, “The devil finds work for idle hands to do” is very appropriate here. People who are inactive because of idleness are inclined to become busybodies, venturing uninvited to the affairs of others. They often create hurt and disruption wherever they go. Paul wanted to see this plague rooted out of the church in Thessalonica.
My friends when we are focussed – first of all on our own work and responsibilities – and then on our roles and responsibilities in the church and community – then there should be no time left to us to be busybodies! I am glad that we do not suffer in this way in our fellowship here. It is good that we can have the common purpose of being salt and light in our community making the Lord Jesus Christ known.
Nevertheless we will be wise to be on our guard against being busybodies – Satan loves to use such situations to bring strife in any church, if he is allowed to! Let us all stay focussed – and if you are not busy enough – then our deacons will be delighted to find you a job – there is much to do for the King and His kingdom here!
iii. We need to be industrious in diligent labour.
and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;
As has just been said the antidote to a meddlesome and restless life is one of diligent labour. Paul calls the loafers back to work – to work with their own hands. He implies that the most fervent expectation of the Lord’s return is no reason to abandon our responsibilities. The best way to prepare for the Lord to come back is to be faithful in the work that he has given us to do. The Lord Jesus Christ spoke of this in Matthew 24 v 45 – 51
45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? 46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. 47 Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. 48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; 49 And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; 50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, 51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Paul had been a good example to the Christians at Thessalonica while he had been with them, a tentmaker by trade, Paul had worked with his own hands to provide for his own needs while in the city – and he provided it seems for Silas and Timothy too.
We need to understand that the cultured Greeks of Macedonia despised manual work of any kind. They employed slaves or labourers to avoid doing the manual work themselves. They believed manual work to be degrading.
At this point in Thessalonica Christianity clashed with the culture. The believers were different now. Christianity dignified manual labour as an essential part of God’s purpose for man. The Christians refused to take their standards from the community in the midst of which they lived.
Even before he sinned and fell Adam, the first man, was given work to do. In Genesis 2 v 15 we find that
the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
This was work. While he was still perfect and walking and talking with God, he had work to do. When Jesus worked as a carpenter He was as much doing His father’s will as when he was preaching and teaching and healing. The father said that He was pleased with the Lord Jesus Christ before He started His ministry – pleased with the ordinary work that he had done in the carpenter’s shop.
Whatever our work is then all must be done to the glory of God. Even if we do not have paid employment there is work to be done. The unemployed, the sick and disabled have rich opportunities for work of a different kind for the Lord. While others are concentrating at their desks, their building sites, in their hospital, or their shop, these believers can be in their homes in prayer and prayerful concern for the kingdom. These friends can be bearing their burden faithfully before a watching world and bearing testimony to God’s grace in their situation. Joni Eareckson was paralysed from the neck down in an accident – yet for many years she had an international ministry encouraging others. She painted cards with a brush in her mouth and raised money for the Lord’s work. She taught in Sunday School – she developed a ministry of encouragement to other disabled people. She worked and worked and worked for the Lord. She would have loved to have had her full bodily faculties. But she gave the Lord what she had – not what she wished that she had.
May God help us all, whatever our situation, to glorify the Lord God in whatever labour we are called to do.
Now we come to verse 12 –
That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.
Verse 12 has two thoughts for us.
1. We are to lead respectable lives. 2. We are to lead independent lives.
Becoming a Christian changes everything about your life! There are new perspectives, attitudes, habits and aims. Becoming a Christian improves any human being from what they were before. Firstly then
1. We are to lead respectable lives.
That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without
Without here means outside – people outside the church. Honestly – respectably.
What is meant by a respectable life? To be respectable is not to be posh – upper or even middle class.
To be respectable is someone who is able to be respected! Christians are to live such a life that they win the respect of outsiders. Now it is true that we will never be able to please our unbelieving neighbours in every respect – we are taught that followers of the Lord Jesus Christ will always be refused and rejected by the world and its ways. In fact to want to be accepted, inevitably leads to compromise of some sort.
But Paul is clearly saying here that Christians should live in such a way that they win the respect of the watching world. When a man or woman, boy or girl becomes a Christian a change for the better happens – and goes on happening throughout the rest of the life. If a true work of grace has come about then the difference will be noticeable – an improvement can be seen. The gospel makes men into better fathers and husbands; women into better wives and mothers. The Lord Jesus Christ makes people into better citizens and neighbours. Often I was asked as an Army Scripture Reader by Commanding Officers why they should give me access to their men to preach the Gospel to them. My answer was invariably like this. “Well sir, if I speak to your men about the Lord Jesus Christ, and they believe in Him and are converted, then they will become better soldiers or airmen – they will be punctual, they will smarten up, they will become willing, they will stop being clock-watcher and they will never report for duty drunk or hung-over. Such will be the change that Christ will bring about in their lives – they will be better workers.” What Commanding Officer would not give permission if those things really happened to their men? By God’s grace some men did experience that Gospel change in their lives and became a credit to their Heavenly Master in a service environment.
Peter was driving at this when he said in his first letter –
1 Peter 2 v 12 Having your conversation (behaviour or lifestyle) honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
It is as plain as this my friends – unbelievers should be able to look at the way that Christians work, behave and live, that they go away deeply respecting them. Furthermore they should be convinced that the gospel makes people more – not less – responsible in the practical affairs of life.
Lazy, fanatical busybodies of Christians create a barrier to conversion that should never be there. But quiet and diligent lives, that can be respected, can make the most degraded pagan look again at his gospel and his saviour – and wonder at such changes.
Are we such genuinely respectable Christians my friends? Can the neighbours who see us every day point fingers at us and have genuine reason to fail to respect us? They have seen us – the way we talk to each other or to our spouses, or children. They have heard the sharp word; they have seen the grumpy attitude – they have noticed things we do or don’t do. Can they respect us even though they don’t agree with us?
There was a Christian family who lived next door to an unmarried couple. After about 5 years of neighbourly contact with an occasional opportunity to witness or give Christian literature the couple were both converted. The Christian father asked the man what had brought them to the Saviour. “We have been watching you and your family and listening to you as well. We knew that you were believers right from when you moved in. We have seen you faithfully go off to church on Sundays and midweek. We saw how kindly you spoke to each other and how well your children treat you – and we began to ask questions of our own life – we fell short. We have Christian relatives and began to seek answers to our questions. We now know your saviour too!”
My friends never underestimate your quiet witness. You never know who is watching or listening. Endeavour to secure the respect of your neighbours and work colleagues by godly living for the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. We are to lead independent lives.
and that ye may have lack of nothing.
This is the second reason for living a quiet and diligent working lifestyle – that the individual believers would not be dependent on anyone else. Paul is thinking about dependence on others for basic necessities – food and clothing. “Work,” says Paul, “so that you will have no need of anyone to help you. You will be able to stand on your own 2 feet – independent, because no Christian should be a parasite.” Those in Thessalonica, who were behaving as parasites and refusing to work when they were perfectly capable of doing so, were a bad witness to the outsiders and a burden to the church. There would have been those in the church there who were in genuine need – the injured, maimed or diseased + the elderly and widows who could not work – the church would help such. But the parasites would drain the church’s resources and thereby prevent help to the needy. It is an expression of love to support others who are in need – but it is also an expression of love to support ourselves so as not to need the support of others.
Quiet, focussed and industrious – respectable and independent. Paul’s call to us all to work – for there is so much yet to be done and so many to be won for the Lord Jesus Christ. May the Lord teach us these Biblical principles and enable us to honour Him and show love to Him and each other.