Thrust into the middle of his main exhortation to love the church family, Paul gives three somewhat unexpected commands. Have a gander at what I mean. In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 he writes,
9 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. 10 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, 11 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, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
It’s not immediately obvious how those three commands in (11) are related to the pursuit of brotherly love. Is it? Is brotherly love really only possible if we become rural reclusive manual labourers?
What did he mean?
- ‘To lead a quiet life’ doesn’t mean that we should retire to the country and settle into our forever house. Our forever house is in glory not in Glyndebourne, Glenridding or Guildford. A quiet life is the opposite of a noisy one. It’s not one in which we draw attention to ourselves by making a lot of noise. Contemporary culture is a celebrity culture in which people do precisely that so that we notice they’re there. It’s all about gathering a following. And social media now allows us to do the same. But who wants to be a minor celebrity when we could love our church family. We do judging by what we post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Isn’t much of what we post on there the virtual equivalent of being a ‘show-off’? If we did what we do online in real social situations it would be painfully obvious just how noisy and attention seeking we are. But we can’t love our church family if they’re simply our audience. We can’t serve them if what we’re really interested in doing is getting them to focus on us.
- ‘To mind our own business’ doesn’t mean that we can’t be meaningfully involved in others’ lives. We can. What Paul is prohibiting is meddling in other people’s affairs not providing them with the support, encouragement and occasional correction that we all benefit from. Minding your own business is about keeping other people’s private stuff private and not making it public. It’s about not gossiping or trying to get to the bottom of every rumour that comes your way. We need to be involved in each other’s lives for sure otherwise how else can we know what people need in terms of help? But we can’t love our church family when we’re little more than a nosey parker!
- ‘To work with our hands’ doesn’t mean that we need to become a potter, a chef or a horticulturist. Though you could. And that would be fine. The issue is working hard. It seems as though some of the enthusiastic well-meaning men of the church family were so captivated by Jesus’ imminent return that they decided to down tools in eager anticipation of that event. That’s fine, except that the rest of the church family had to compensate for their spiritual zeal by using their wages to put a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs and food on their tables. And that didn’t seem fair when they could work but wouldn’t. Working hard when we can to support ourselves and our families if we have one is good and godly. And working hard to have money to support those in our church family who can’t work for whatever reason is also a good and godly thing to do. But we can’t love our church family when we’re sponging off their generosity!
So there you go. Paul was right. Transgress over any one of these three boundaries and we stop loving our church family; whether we’re an attention seeking self-promotionalist, an interfering busy body or a work shy dosser. But keep within the line and we’re in a position to love our church family in a rich diversity of ways.