So a friend asked me for some help in understanding 1 Thess 4:11 & 12 – so I thought I’d share my response – maybe it would be useful to someone else… 🙂
“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.”– 1 Thes 4:11&12
I re-read the whole book to get a feel of what the line of thought is for these verses….that’s really important – to understand things within their context… so here’s my expository on the passage…
Let’s take the verse 11 first:“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before.”
So – immediately I see “Just as we instructed you before” – which means that there was some prior instructions Paul had given… soooo – to understand what this is we need to back up a bit (which is why I read from the beginning again).
Earlier, Paul commends the Thessalonians for their faith and eagerness to spread the gospel… encourages them to remain strong in the midst of persecution, and expresses his deep love for them.
– The first part of v11 says – Make it your goal to live a quiet life…so what does that mean? What is our goal (or as some translations say – our ambition in life)?Well – in 2:14 he says – “our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our heart.” Also in 2:6 he says “As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else.”I think simply – this is what he meant by live a quiet life… to not seek after the praise of men – but to live your life humbly with God as the only approval that ultimately matters. We find our worth and “well done” from God.Also, it implies living peaceably as much as possible with the people around you. Paul wrote in Romans 12:18 – “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.”
– The second part – Minding your own business… (or do your own business as some translations put it)
So this one is pretty simple…stop looking at other people’s lives and comparing yourselves. The church in Thessalonica was vibrant and growing – with lots of people filled with the Spirit and the Spirit moving in mighty ways through people… it is easy for people to look around and get jealous at how God is using someone else… or tobe jealous of someone else’s spiritual giftings, etc… but the body is many parts, different roles – we aren’t all the same – and God will work in different and unique ways with each of us to will and to do His good pleasure.
Oswald Chamers said “Never make a principle out of your experience, let God be as original with other people as He is with you.” – so we’re to be careful not to turn other’s lives into the mold for your own. We have a God who is a Creator not a duplicator.
– Third part – working with your hands. We know the saying,”Idle hands are the devil’s playground”… In 2:9 Paul says, “Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that we would not be a burden to any of you as we preached God’s Good News to you.” – we’re called to work hard. Not to be lazy. He even re-iterates it later in 5:14 “Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy…” The christian walk more often than not is hard work! But it is worthwhile work – as we store up treasures in heaven… Paul reminds them of this heaven-set mentality later in chapter 4 & 5 when he talks about the end of days, etc… And tells them in 4:18 to “encourage each other with these words” – we work hard to attain our crown in heaven (which are the saved souls of men – see 2:19)
Working with your hands also implies that this christian life is meant to be lived out in practical and tangible ways. It’s not just mere sentiment – but love that leads to DOING something!
Also – We see in Ephesians 5:18 – that Paul says we are to be filled with the Spirit – then walk in the Spirit… this is active work. The greek is written both as present imperative (a continual ongoing command) and the passive voice. So it isn’t something we do once – we are continually seeking the Spirit’s filling always and repeatedly – however the passive element shows that God is the one doing it – giving us the power, desire and ability to accomplish His will. (Phil 2:13-15)
– Now in light of that – verse 12 makes sense:“THEN people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.”
People will respect you because your life will be dramatically different – as you are not seeking your own glory but “living a quiet life”, as you allow people to be uniquely used and you recognize your own specific calling in ministry “minding your own business” and as you work out your salvation “working with your hands” – it is a practical thing. A Spirit filled life will be a mystery to the unsaved – as it should look dramatically different from theirs! Your own life example can convict them of their own sin without even saying a word – and though they may mock you – people do respect someone who lives and stands up for something they believe in whole-heartedly. Especially if that is backed up by action.
“…and you will not depend on others” – you will depend on God. He is your source. Now – this doesn’t imply that you will not at all need human relations or cut off all supportive friendships, etc… Paul in 5:11 tells us to “encourage each other and build each other up…” -so obviously he doesn’t mean for some sort of lone wolf christian life… but rather that your ‘dependency’ will be on God. You’d base your self image, approval and worth on His view of you.
A good thing to note here in figuring out what the interpretation for this passage is that you use scripture to interpret scripture because CONTEXT is prior to CONTENT… We go back – examine the text as a whole – to understand the context of what is written. I truly believe that most of scripture is clear and there is one right interpretation – however depending on circumstances or when you read it – there can be several applications… and it is important to know the difference between interpretation and application.
Well – I hope that was helpful to you! I’d love to hear you guys thoughts on the passage also! Perhaps you have seen something I didn’t or have some more insight into it… I’m no bible scholar – so might be a good idea to look up some commentaries of your own also. But from how I read it in its context – this is what I got out of it. 🙂