1 Thess 4:1-8 – The Quiet Life

The issue of the “quiet life” may be the big issue that Paul has to deal with in the letter.  It comes up again in 5:13-14 and in 2 Thess 3.  In general, it appears that the some in the church believed (rightly so) that the Lord was to return very soon.  If the Lord was to come very soon, why not stop working and live off the generosity of the church until the Rapture.  Perhaps they were doing this to devote themselves to the ministry, but that is not at all clear in this passage.  It is possible some saw the soon-return of Christ as an opportunity to not work.

Paul says that the “quiet life” is to be an ambition.  This is something of a paradox, since the phrase might be translated “study to be quiet,” or “be ambitious about being unambitious.”  The first century Jewish philosopher Philo said the quiet life was the goal of the righteous.  “…while those who pay due honor to excellence cultivate a tranquil, and quiet, and stable, and peaceful life” (Philo, On Abraham, 27). Paul reflects this thinking by saying that the goal of the Christian should be to lead a quiet, peaceful, tranquil life.  What Paul means is that we should strive for the following attributes, that we should seek a peaceful life without conflict with our community.  It is not enough to print “quiet life” in t-shirts and to trumpet as a slogan, one has to (ironically) be diligent at pursuing a quiet life!

Paul describes the “quiet life” in several ways.  First, he tells his readers to “mind your own business.”  Paul’s exhortation here is that the believers should not go out into their town telling everybody how to live their lives.  This is very practical advice, considering the church was under persecution from the civil authorities as well as the Jews.  By “laying low” and minding their business, they avoided an increase of persecution.

Second, Paul tells his readers to “work with your hands” (Be diligent!)  Of the three, this one sounds the most Amish, working with your hands is in contrast to the traveling “teachers” of the ancient world that lived off of a few rich patrons, and wandered around producing nothing of value.  In fact, in the Greco-Roman world, manual labor was somewhat to be looked-down upon.  If you were a person of substance, you had “people” who did that sort of work for you.  (The Jews valued hard work, Paul is probably reflecting that sort of thinking; eventually it becomes the Judeao-Christian work ethic.)

Third, Paul says that the Chrsitian is to “be dependant on no one.”   If one is self-sufficient, no one can charge you with impure motives.   If the church was thinking that the Rapture was coming very soon, they might very well have had many people that wanted to avoid work and live off the church, perhaps devoting themselves to prayer and ministry. The problem was that if too many people did this, no one would be supported since no one was actually producing anything like food and shelter.   Paul’s argument is that if you are self sufficient, no one can accuse you of having impure motives (as they had Paul.)  Don’t be like the world, looking for the cheap way out, work hard and be independent so that you do not look like the world!

Why lead a quiet life?  The “quiet life” will earn the respect of outsiders (v.12).   This is the justification for living the quiet diligent life, those outside of the church will see and hear, and they will respect the church for the way that they live their lives. This does not guarantee that they will be rushing into the church to join up, but it is the initial step, someone realizing that the church is actually doing what they say, and that the people in the church are really living a satisfied life rather than bickering among themselves like spoiled children.

Christianity ought to impact the lives of those that claim to be Christians in such a way that they in turn impact their culture and community in a positive way.   The question is not whether we will impact our culture and community, that is a given.  The issue is whether that will be a positive or a negative influence.  This vision of a “quiet life” could potentially transform how we do ministry.

20 thoughts on “1 Thess 4:1-8 – The Quiet Life

  1. I love the practical straightforward advice that Paul gives in 1 Thess. 4: 9-12. I wonder how our campus would look if we put these principles into practice. Plong mentioned, “Christianity ought to impact the lives of those that claim to be Christians in such a way that they in turn impact their culture and community in a positive way.” As we are being trained as Godly individuals prepared to serve Christ in church and society, I would hope that we would begin with affecting our community here at GBC and in the neighborhood. I definitely see areas where I can grow based off of Paul’s advice. In regards to how the “quiet life” would transform how we do ministry, I think that if we simply had the perspective of knowing that as Christians we are either going to be a positive and negative influence, we would be much more active in seeking out positive avenues to affect the community. If we lived in such a way that is independent and gains the respect of those around us, our ministries will be more fruitful, because we will have the opportunity to potentially meet and affect more people. We need to be industrious in our daily life and have compassion on those around us. Polhill said, “There is no limit to Christian compassion, but there is also no place for Christian parasites.” (192).

    • Emily could not have said it better! I am challenged by the bit of avice we recieve from Paul in this letter. I am reminded of how our campus is in dire need of a spiritual reformation. Think of what impacts it would have to our student body. I love that the goal of Grace Bible College is graduating godly individuals prepared to serve Christ in church and society. We need to be more concerned about impacting those around our community with Jesus Christ. If we had the mindset that as Christians we are going to have either a positive or negative influence on others, then that would completely transform that way we do ministry in that we would strive for more positive ways of building those that are around us up. I feel like if we are going to impact people with Jesus Christ, then it has to start with ourselves. we need to root ourselves in scripture and bath ourselves in prayer.

  2. I am often concerned about the influence I have on others (especially not yet Christians). What do they see in me? Or rather, who do they see in me? Living a quiet life seems to point to actions as a means to influence more than words. Paul’s idea of influence here seems to be a way of life (the quiet life) rather than a ministry or a hat you can put on and take off whenever you like. It is holistic. It is what you do speaking out what you believe and hold to be of value. Its daily (1 Thessalonians 4:12) and its transformational.

    In response to Emily, I think we already have some sort of an impact on our community and the neighborhoods we find ourselves in. I think the intentionality needs to come in understanding what kind of an influence we have and how it can be bettered. Its not about finding influence or becoming an influence but rather refining that influence (be it positive, negative, or somewhere in between). The quiet life seems to become a practical reality when we embrace and hone the skills/gifts we have been given. What Paul says here really isn’t that hard? Or is it?

    I wonder about this idea of minding our own business though. First of all what does this look like? And are we really to do it as to avoid persecution like the Thessalonian church?

  3. Anna, I so very much agree with your though, “Its not about finding influence or becoming an influence but rather refining that influence (be it positive, negative, or somewhere in between).” I feel it’s obvious that we have influence or impact wherever we go, whether it be for God’s glory or for our own disgrace. Everything we do is measured and compared. Our motives behind these actions are what, I do believe, Paul is trying to get at. Polhill says,”They wanted to know the limits of this “brotherly love” Paul’s answer was that there was no limit to Christian compassion, but there is also no place for Christian parasites.” (Polhill, 192) When he says “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you,” (1 Thessalonians 4:11) he’s not asking simply to *do* these things, he wants our hearts to follow that pattern of servant-hood. Our attitudes are what define the results of our presence and what ultimately bring glory to God.

  4. Here is a passage that is not often preached on. It sounds as if Paul is giving advice that is the opposite of other passages in the Bible such as “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). But in the context of warning against sloth and taking advantage of others it makes a lot more sense. I think it is important to remember what P Long said in the above post, “This does not guarantee that they will be rushing into the church to join up, but it is the initial step…” So, we seek the quiet life. This shows the world that we have our act together and they respect us for that. The portion of he passage where Paul says we should be diligent and independent don’t seem to be as big of an issue for today’s nonbelievers. I don’t know of any nonbelievers that say the church is lazy. They would say that we put our energy into the wrong things such as the all of the stupid protesting instead of just showing those around us love. This would fall under the first part of the passage where Paul’s tells the church to mind their own business. I think that that is a big thing that many of today’s churches really need to work on.

  5. I love what Cody says here about the part of minding our own business. So many Christians today take think their role as a Christian authorizes them to go around condemning non-believers of their sins, and telling them how they should be living their lives. Jesus wanted us to tell the world about him. That doesn’t mean that we do that by pointing out sins and condemning people for them. It means sharing the good news of the gospel and showing other sinners (because we are all sinners) the same love and acceptance that Christ showed them.

    Paul also speaks of non being dependent on others. No one who is an able person should be reliant on others (Polhill 192). Polhill writes of how many of the Thessalonians may have been relying on the welfare system of the Romans (Polhill 192). I don’t think the idea here is to condemn the idea of welfare, but more of laziness, and dependence to others. As Christians we should really be dependent only to God, relying on his providence and trusting in that providence. God also wants us to be hard workers. Sloth is after all one of the seven deadly sins.

    I think these verses really need to be understood along with the rest of scripture, just as Cody pointed out. At first glance it may seem like they are contradicting other Biblical passages, but this is not the case. They just need to be understood.

  6. Our culture is all about independence or at least looking independent. This independent mindset is brought to light at times such as when a teenage gets their full license. We prize the feeling of being on the open road in a car. Basically, we like to be in control. In reality our culture is very dependent on a lot of things like computers and cell phones. If Christians are as dependent on God as we are on our “I-phones” and “Mac-books” the Christian faith in the world’s eyes would be seen in a much different light. I think living a life as different as that would actually shed a positive light on Christianity because there may be a more tangible difference between a unsaved worldly person and a saved Christ follower. Yes, there are plenty of unsaved people who want nothing to do with technology but, there is plenty of people, myself included that gets very carried away with technology. I am not saying that we should get rid of technology. I do think that we as Christian’s need a blatant reminder that the tools shouldn’t be the focus instead it should be the project. This project that occurs over our whole life is way more important than the tool it takes to make it. We can always get more tools. This project is giving glory to God through evangelism and sanctification.

  7. Over viewing some of the students responses, I see the commonality of a few things: living a quiet life, the influence we have as Christians either positive or negative, affecting our community, and from the first two responses reflecting on the GBC mission statement.

    What I don’t see; however, is the mention about the rapture and how the Thessalonians lived their lives because they thought Jesus was coming back soon. Long writes in the first paragraph, “It is possible some saw the soon-return of Christ as an opportunity to not work.”

    I would like to say this is the issue being addressed in the main post, and the responses to the post dealt more with the three applications listed. Just an observation I am seeing.

    From personal experience when I first learned about the return of Christ, the sense of urgency was immanent. I felt as though nothing else in life really mattered if Christ were to return in that very day. Work didn’t matter, school didn’t matter, my own family really didn’t matter… The only thing that mattered was to go out and preach the gospel, and well.. that’s about it. And I think this is what Paul is addressing here. In view of Christs return Paul says to live a quiet life by: (1) minding your own business, (2) continue to work diligently, and (3) a Christian is dependent on no one.

    What I love is this statement in the post, “Paul’s exhortation here is that the believers should not go out into their town telling everybody how to live their lives.” If I would’ve read this before I went out and preached to every person I knew, this would’ve been some helpful advice because people get defensive if one comes off in this approach.

    In Thes. 3:7, Paul exhorts followers of Christ to follow his example. In verse 8 he mentions that he kept working so that he would not be a burden to others. He did not eat others food without paying for it. In verse 12 he then tells the people that aren’t working to work and eat their own food. In a very practical matter I would say this is the application here that I didn’t see much communication on. Polhill writes on page 198, (paraphrased) that for one to work and provide in this way they are in return promoting a positive community way of life.

    In view of Christ’s return instead of leaving everything behind, continue to devote yourself to work in order to not be dependent on anyone. Paul gives us this example in his own life and ministry.

  8. As Christians we are a real life, true example of Christ, or at least we are suppose to be. The impact that a Christian can have is astounding. I have found myself impacted greatly by those who choose to lead a true and wholesome life. Like Tuttle said, we do not need to get rid of technology but put it to better use. Those distractions can be harmful and allow a Christian to falter. We are to be in the world but not of it (John 17). Living a life for Christ that is real and wholesome, can be seen by all and is a perfect example of what God wants from us.

  9. What I had never understood before in my reading of this 1 Thessalonians passage is the anticipation of the believers in Thessalonica. I had never thought of it in the sense that the Thessalonians are earnestly awaiting the return of Jesus. Using that as a lens to read this passage makes so much sense. The second thing that I really liked about this post was when PLong said, “By ‘laying low’ and minding their own business, they avoided an increase of persecution.” That is another thing that I do not take into account when I read this passage. Usually when I read “Work with your hands” (1 Thes. 4:11), I think that the Thessalonians are just a very lazy people, but when PLong clarifies, “In the Greco-Roman world, manual labor was somewhat to be looked-down upon,” it makes a lot more sense.
    So what is the application of this passage? Many before me have talked about the application in the sense of Grace Bible College, but does not any movement start with one person? How can I apply this passage to my own life? How do I “mind my own business?” I could avoid persecution, but I could also go with the cliché avoid gossip argument too. How can I “work with my hands?” This one is obvious I guess, and it goes with “being dependent on no one.” I have to keep working my job and taking as many hours as I can to make sure that I do not have to take out any loans or at least be able to pay them off. I guess if I was actually able to live all of these out then “Those outside of the church will see and hear, and they will respect the church for the way that they live their lives” (PLong). That is a pretty interesting challenge. On a larger level, would we be able to get all believers to live this out so that Christians everywhere would be respected? Is it possible?
    “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

  10. This is an interesting post because I just heard this passage of scripture used in a sermon this morning. Paul’s advice in 1 Thessalonians 4 describes the humble approach to life we are to maintain as believers in Christ. Our Christian community and the way we treat one another should be in sharp contrast to way the world operates. This alone will cause outsiders to question our way of life and what it is that makes us act the way we do. For example, the call to “mind our own business” is rejected by a world full of people who are quick to judge and condemn one another even to the point of hypocrisy. Furthermore, believers must realize that those outside of Christ have no way to discern what is best from God’s vantage point because they are not spiritually alive (Ephesians 2:1-3). Working with our own hands and not depending on others when we can do things ourselves is also becoming a foreign idea. It seems instead that the popular line of thought would be to work only for things that cannot be provided freely. We have seen this with the state of welfare and financial government intervention in our country. The advice from Paul is a new form of the same theme that rings true throughout scripture, a call to live in a way that causes outsiders to question the reason for the hope that we have (1 Peter 3:15). This opens the door for us to tell them about Christ with kindness and respect.

  11. I try as often as I can to see myself from other’s perspectives. There are times that I feel like others would know I was a Christian by my actions, and also times where they would probably think the opposite. This worries me, and I can imagine Paul’s worry in this passage is a lot like mine. I know in Christian circles there is always some debate whether evangelism should be done with actual words, or with how you live your life. I’m not saying that Paul isn’t for verbal evangelism because that’s what he does all through his ministry, but he’s supporting being a light with your life in this passage. It would be nice if all Christian’s could live out this life in a way that other’s would find Christianity appealing, but from what I see that’s far from happening, and I’m a guilty party in that. I found the “mind your own business” particularly interesting. “Paul’s exhortation here is that the believers should not go out into their town telling everybody how to live their lives”, (P. Long). We see the opposite of this in the world these days, where everyone tries to impose their beliefs on others. How can this be eliminated? Can it be eliminated from the world? I think it can be, but not until people let down their pride and speak truth in love and have Christ at the center of their message and not “change by force”.

  12. The three implications from this passage on living a quiet life (mind your own business, work with your hands, and be dependent on no one) still apply to us as believers today. At first glance, I wondered how this would apply to us because in that day, the Christians there clearly thought the day of the Lord was going to come very soon so some of them quit everything they were doing. As P. Long pointed out , they thought that since the rapture was coming, there was no point to working (maybe as an excuse). However, I feel like in this day and age, there are not many people who think that. I think that most people today are caught up in the now, and not thinking about the future and how God could come back at any time. I think that we, myself included, get so involved in the latest and best thing that we forget the big picture.

    Colossians 3:2 says to put our minds on things above, to remember who we are in Christ. And so our response should be to live a quiet life, as Paul said. Instead of getting caught up in controversy, we are to mind our own business. Instead of spending all we have for the now, we should be diligent. Having the attitude of a Heavenly citizen here on earth should lead us to live a life worthy of Him. Paul says to live a quiet life that wins the respect of others. It is not a lifestyle that draws attention immediately, but it is a positive influence.

  13. When Paul says to “lead a quiet life” in 1 Th 4:11 some may interpret this as urging the believers to live a life of solitude and only keeping to oneself. But I do not think this is the case. A life away from others is not Christ life. Therefore, if we must be around others we should know how to act. I believe that Paul means to try to stay at peace with those around you.

    This passage reminds me of my father. My father makes a point of getting to know the different people that live next store to us and offers his assistance (usually car help) as often as he can. He gains the respect of our neighbors by his hard work, his ability to keep the peace in his household, and his refusal to get into silly arguments. When he gains their respect, he often asks them to come to church and engages in spiritual conversations. If he had not gained their respect before their conversations I do not think that he would be as successful. Some of our old neighbors who are non-Christians still ask my father for his advice on certain things. This is the kind of impact that Paul tells the Thessalonians to impart on others. Love is not nosy, selfish or easily angered but is hard work, kindness, and usually respected by others. (1 Corinthians 13)

  14. In todays society ervything is do what is nessasary and do it fast. Yet, if you move at a high speed you misss the little blessings in life that you would have received if you had gone through life at a slower speed. What Paul describes in 1 Thes. is so beautiful and it stands out so much from the world. We are called to be salt and light to this world. Salt hurts if there are wounds and light that shines into shadows reveals things that are hidden. Following what Paul instructs us to do makes us stand out so that the glory of the Lord draws others t HIm. It also us to let go of the stress of the caos that this world throws at us and be more free to do His will.

  15. This message was so needed during the whole Harold Camping May 21st Rapture stir-up! I can’t imagine how many people probably sold their possessions and left their jobs in order to spread the word! They needed to hear this message from Paul – keep working, live an independent life, don’t give up on your daily activities just because the Rapture is near. Then maybe they wouldn’t have looked like quite as big of fools and Christ wouldn’t have gotten quite as bad of a name.

    My family used to be all into trying to figure out when the Rapture was. It was fun, but it really didn’t do anything good. I always felt somehow holier and more committed to God than everyone else, like I was the insider actually studying God’s Word and figuring these things out, and everyone else was just sitting at home doing schoolwork and playing video games. I am so glad we stopped guessing and ended this unfruitful endeavor!

  16. The quiet life of Paul is a life filled with hard work, purity and brotherly love. This “quiet life is to be lived out by the Christian until the day that Jesus returns. I like how you put it in the post Professor Long “If the Lord was to come very soon, why not stop working and live off the generosity of the church until the rapture”. Paul instructs us to use our hands to work diligently as apart of living the quiet life. Polhill says that many of the Thessalonians may have been from the impoverished working class. “A majority of the Thessolonians may have come from the impoverished working class (Polhill 192)”. This was a way to make the quiet life come to life for them and saying that working with your hands was a good way to relate to them.

    I wonder as well when Paul says, in 1 Thessolonians 4:11 “…as we have instructed you…” what he means by this. Was he talking about a specific trade that they taught the Thessolonians? Or was it more an instruction saying to simply work hard?

  17. While all of these aspects that Paul argues in 1 Thessalonians 4 are very valuable to the church, it is good for us to remember not to take them too far. If we as Christians “mind our own business” too much, we won’t be reaching into the community or setting out to be selfless and help others. We won’t be able to grow if we don’t get outside our box enough. If we are too “diligent,” we could be seen as “workaholics.” Even though we are not really supposed keep the Sabbath as Law anymore, I believe that God still wants us to take some time to rest and enjoy life. If we are too independent, unbelievers could see us as aloof/high-and-mighty/holier-than-thou, and won’t want to accept us or our Christ.

    While these things are virtues are good to gain respect in the community and soften persecution, Christians need to maintain balance. We need to be caring, but not intrusive or be gossips. We need to be able to rest and enjoy the life God gave us, but we must take care not to be lazy and unproductive. We need to be able to depend on others to an extent, but not so much as to become “social loafers” or moochers… While it’s good to earn respect, we should also do our best to show an interest in people’s lives and hearts in order to reach all that we can.

  18. I liked your connection to the Amish with this quiet living idea. I lived very close to an Amish community when I lived in Pennsylvania and they fit all three ideas of quiet living that you present very well. They are a good example of a quiet life they do not rely on others, they work with their hands and they mind their own business. They even fit in the aspect of earning respect and influencing their community in a positive way. I also like what you said about being quiet refering to not getting attention from persecutors. The question is how do we apply this in today’s culture. Does it mean that we, as Christians, should mind our own business and not get involved in politics?

  19. The quiet and peaceful life is the life in a religious order where they also work with their hands in raising their food. It is not the calling for everyone.

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