1 Thessalonians and 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.

Quiet LifePaul 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 Judeo-Christian work ethic.)

Third, Paul says that the Christian is to “be dependent 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.

How could this vision of a “quiet life” transform how we do ministry in America?

19 thoughts on “1 Thessalonians and the “Quiet Life”

  1. In 1 Thess 5:12-14, Paul talks about living in peace amongst each other, and respecting others out of love. Living at peace is a general rule which encompasses many things. It includes minding your own business, working diligently, and being independent on no one but yourself; which is summarized in the blog post. To live oppositely from these things would be a life of being obnoxiously confrontational, lethargic and a parasite to others/ society- which obviously would not lead to a peaceful life. When thinking about American life today, it lays out a pretty clear format for doing ministry. By minding our own business, I do not think Paul would commend individuals from a particular church picketing soldiers’ funerals with large signs about “God hating homosexuals” or thanking God for “dead soldiers”. Nor do I think he would commend an attitude of “we don’t know when Jesus is coming back so there is no point in working.” Both of these examples paints a very unattractive picture of Christianity for unbelievers. When keeping in mind a life of peace, ministry in America should be proactive without being overtly offensive. Polhill discusses that one’s goal in becoming a Christian should not be a drastic change in life’s circumstances as the priority, rather the priority should be being content with one’s lot and make devotion to Christ the top priority (Polhill, 241).

  2. Having become a Christian just a little less than four years ago, contemporaneously as long as I have been attending church, I have experience something along the lines, which Polhill quotes as “indolence” (pg.192). Primarily, Christian “indolence.” If we know anything about the word indolence, when translated back to its original root in Greek, we come to find out that it literally translates to the words “insensible” and “laziness.” Paul’s advice to the church in Thessalonica, fittingly, in regards to living the “quiet life,” then, holds a great deal of weight in painting the American Church and its concurrent way of ministering. As Polhill quotes, “His (Paul) urging them to lead the “quite life” and to “win the respect of outsiders” may indicate that some of those who were not doing their fair share had become socially disruptive in their indolence” (pg. 192). We ask ourselves, why does the Church receive so much negative attention? Well, the answer rests solely of the premise of 1st Thessalonians 4:9-12. We are not living up to the expectations in which Paul urged us to act upon. We are “insensible” and “lazy” to the problems arising around us.

    One of the biggest issues we find in most Christian’s nowadays is, like noted above, that most Christians do not live up to the expectation in which we are given biblically. Therefore, a negative impact is then tainted within the body of non-believers, forcing us further away from the truth. If only we lived by the words of Paul to live a “quiet life,” could we make a difference within our surrounding communities. If we started focusing on showing more compassion among ourselves, instead of bickering with each other, then we could potentially arise positive eyebrows within non-believers. This translates to working hard and showing one another compassion, in order to achieve the greater goal in the upward call in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14).

    There are two quotes that come to mind when I contemplate the ambiance of this situation: the first comes from one of the greatest Civil Rights Activist, Martin Luther King Jr.:
    “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry, He should sweep street so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

    The second, from an author named Ray Bradbury, best known for his novel Fahrenheit 451 once quoted:
    “I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true—hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it.”

    Firstly, as Martin Luther King Jr. plainly puts it, we are to fully embrace our calling and work hard to achieve its greater purpose that has been given to you by God. Secondly, as Christians, we are to comprise the very meaning of what it means to be part of God’s family. The greatest commandment is to, “Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The second, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:34-40). Consequently, if we can incorporate these ideals as the Church of God, then we can fully minister (with complete functionality) and live out the full expectation that the Word of God, illuminated through the Apostle Paul urged us to undertake.

    P.S.- I would like to apologize for the 600 words that it took to complete this post. Hopefully it won’t be cumbersome to evaluate what is basically 3/5 of a paper.

  3. This notion that struck me most was the idea of minding your own business. This is something that many Christians need to learn. Many would likely react rather violently to the idea of minding their own business especially when it comes to their faith. Many feel that they are charged by God himself to go out and tell people what to do and back it up with vague Bible references. In fact, Christians charging out headlong into the world to witness and solve every problem without much of a clue about what they are doing has resulted in much ridicule against Christians. Hence Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourselves to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who who correctly handles the word of truth.” We must have wisdom, an attitude of humility, preparedness, and the leading of the Spirit as we seek to share our faith.

  4. In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22, Paul talks about how they are to “keep peace among yourselves”. I think reading through this list is very insightful, and it really made me think about how if we were to really lead the “quiet life” today in ministry, how effective this would actually be. One of the biggest things that struck out to me was the point of seeing that “no one repays anyone evil for evil”. (ESV). I think this struck me, because we have heard before, and we have even said the saying “an eye for an eye”. This really makes me think about how effective the ministry of the church would really be if we were able to look past the “wrong” that others have done to us, or even “fighting” for the spotlight like we so often do in ministry, and we just let God take control, live by His word (1Thess 5), and live the “quiet life”.

  5. If we could learn to live quite lives, our job as Christians would be so much easier. The problem is that, as human beings, living quietly is difficult for us to do. I remember as kids, whenever my brothers and I would be working on something whoever knew the most about what we were doing never failed to do a little gloating. We would take up the attitude of: “I know how this works, and you’re doing it wrong”. I feel that too often we have that same attitude as Christians. We have been given the truth, and we love to use it to point out the faults of others. Just as Jesus explains in Luke 6:41-42, it’s always easier to see the sin in someone else’s life than it is to correct it in your own. So, we picket and condemn the sin that we see in our nation, not realizing that the world is smart enough to see through our hypocrisy. As a result, many of them want nothing to do with Christianity, making our task to witness to them that much more difficult. We should live in such a way that when unbelievers see us, whether or not they agree with our beliefs, they cannot help but respect us. In doing so, not only will we be living lives that honor God, but we’ll be making it that much easier for others to come to Christ also.

  6. If we as Christians really began to implement Paul’s concept of living a quiet life, it would not only effect the community in a positive way, but also change the status of our own hearts. When we practice living a quiet life, our approaches to sharing the Gospel become a lot more genuine and a lot more effective. It takes a lot of humility to live a quiet life, and the more humility one has, it makes sharing the Gospel a desire, rather than a debate that you want to win. Also, WE become much more approachable to non-believers. Say you start a new job, and nobody there knows that you are a Christian. If you continue to live the quiet life by working hard and keeping to yourself, people will notice that you are different, even if they don’t know anything about your faith. It is so important that we are living a lifestyle that is desirable to non-Christians.

  7. In the fourth paragraph you talked about how Paul basically said that we should mind our own business. I think I can understand what he means by this, but at the same time I question what it means. Don’t nonbelievers sometimes need us to step in and correct them? Otherwise they may not realize the “wrongness” of what they are doing. At what point should we stop minding our own business and step in? I am also a little confused by the independence thing as well. Don’t we need to rely on others sometimes? Not all independence leads to wrong motives, at what point is being dependent okay?
    I think the contemporary American church does the opposite of the ‘quiet life’. It seems like churches are always looking to be the biggest or the best or the most hip and new. They seem to want to be recognized for the good works they do in their cities and towns and on the mission trips they do. And many ‘Christians’ only show up for service on Sunday and that is the only evidence of them being a Christian.- there maybe no sign at all of living the quiet life. Polhill touches on this a little bit when he says, “His urging them to lead the “quiet life” and to “win the respect of outsiders” may indicate that some of those who were not doing their fair share had become socially disruptive in their indolence” (Polholl 192). Polhill also talks about how Paul mentioned that there is no place for Christian parasites (192). I think if the church realized that if someone is only going to Sunday service and that there is no other evidence of Christianity in their life, then maybe that person isn’t really a Christian or they need someone to come alongside them and mentor them. I think if the American church embraced and lived out the “quiet life” Christianity would not be so frowned upon. The majority of people who look down on Christianity do so because all they see is Christians arguing amongst themselves and contradicting what they say and believe. And if we lived out the “quiet life” we might actually not argue amongst ourselves so much, so then outsiders wouldn’t be able to look down on that – they’d see something different! Overall, outsiders would actually see a difference in Christians (a good difference!) that would make them think and wonder why we are like that! If we lived out the quiet life, we would be more humble, and not coming off as proud of being a Christian (proud in a bad way).

  8. Our society today has almost completely lost the virtue of working with our hands. We are a people who will do anything to avoid having to work hard, and if we can find someone else to do work for us, we will. It becomes even more frightening when you look at how easy life is, particularly in american society. Lives have become about convenience, and the quest to get the most done with the least work. Pursuing the “quiet life” may, in some cases, look a little like actually working hard. A good example of this virtue is short-term church missions trips. More often than not, they involve the people on the trip doing a few days of hard physical labor, followed by a couple days of “touristy” relaxation (at least that is how they describe them when they come back to church and tell everyone what happened). It’s funny that for the teens on these types of mission trips the amount of physical labor they do is, often, more than they do in two months living at home. I’m not entirely sure what it would look like for a modern christian to pursue a “quiet life” by working with their hands. But, one way i think that we can turn towards making a positive influence in society, in this, is to actually work. As a christian in a secular workplace, why not instill this value, and work just a little harder than the other people there. Work hard all the time. It’s sort of a “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” (1 Corinthians 10:31) idea. In order to positively influence society for God’s glory, strive for “Godly excellence”. Strive to do the best you can possibly do in order that God might be glorified in it, and people start to question what it is that drives you to work so hard all the time.

  9. The idea of leading and living a quiet life could really change how ministry is done in the US if we grasped onto of the concept. Many people look down on churches for being overly judgmental, if we mind our own business as Paul says, then that issue would begin to dissipate. Instead of being so worked up over the mistakes others make, we could focus on our own lives and discipline ourselves, this would, in turn, make the world wonder about us. A group of people leading fulfilling lives under the Lordship of Christ. People who work hard and are disciplined, who try to keep unity and bring justice to the world around them. This could be revolutionary. If we, as a church, began to live like this, then we could make huge leaps in ministry. Too often we leave ministry to the full time pastors without realizing that our lives in their essence are ministry. Everything we do can go on to have an impact on somebody (positive or negative) the goal is to focus on Christ, work, hard, and make a positive impact on the world through both word and action.

  10. The vision of a quiet life could transform so much and alot, if not most, of how we do ministry in America. I feel that ministry in America is all about getting out there and making some noise and standing out. I’m not saying that those things are good or that we shouldn’t do them, but I feel that we need to understand when living quiet will do more good than trying to stand on a street corner. I think that it is biblical to live a quiet and peaceful life. The Bible gives commands to be sure that we are at peace with one another, and to forgive our neighbor, and to be an example in how we live. If we aren’t living a peaceful life or aren’t striving to be peaceful in our community, then it will be hard to reach people with the Gospel. When people gossip and do things that isn’t minding our own business, it causes trife within people and the community, not just with other believers, but with non believers as well. We are often also too dependent on others or on the church instead of allowing others to be dependent on us and our resources. As stated in the post, Paul’s argument is that we should be self sufficient so that no one can accuse us of bad or impure motives. If we are living our quiet and peaceful lives, then no one can bring any valid charges up against us.

  11. Living the “quiet life” in America is something that we Americans are not used to. The same things that Paul tells his readers, we can tell Christians in America. The first thing Paul tells them is to “mind you own business”. This is true for Americans today; so many churches are trying to tell people how to live their lives. If Christians did not tell other people how to live their lives, but rather showed how to live by living out their faith, than more people would be open to the message of Christ. Then less people would be turned off by the messages that the modern churches are sending. The second message is to “work with your hands”. We have lost this virtue in American society. People take the fastest or easiest way to get things done, and often that means paying someone else to do it for them. However, hard work is essential in society and we need to get back to that in America. The third message is to “be dependent on no one”. You said in the post, “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!” (P. Long). I think this is true for America as well. Work hard and be independent of other people. The question is why do Christians need to live the quiet life? The answer is found in verse 12 of 1 Thessalonians 5, where it says, outsiders must respect our life style. The way they can respect us is if we live a “quiet life”.

  12. ‘Quiet Life’ around here what?

    Here in a America its a ‘Loud Life’. So loud we sometimes cannot hear God speaking to us. Our culture is built around noise and busyness. Television, music, sports, entertainment, transportation, and diverse forms of communication. People in the bible had these things but not to the extremes we have them today. I think that the Loud life has molded us to having a very interesting relationship with God, and has also made getting distracted from God a whole lot more attractive. Ministry in America seems to only be getting louder(i.e. music, advertisements, television, money, popularity) screaming at people to listen. In my opinion you can only scream at people so much until they become deaf it. While leading a quiet life will will never lead someone to be deaf, it will only lead people to listen more carefully. Never depending on others, being self sustainable, never screaming or forcefully telling others how to live. Being hard works, who live simple lives. No there is no reason to go and be Amish. No do not take it to that extreme all I am asking is that your not Screaming Christianity into someones face. Don’t be the type of person who says I am a Christian, just had to tell you. Keep some mystery in it. Let your life have this mysteriousness about it, a quietness that will lead people to ask questions. People will pay attention to something different, and something they don’t understand, it will intrigue them to ask more questions? Observers will take notice, and will have respect for you and your quiet life. The quiet life sort of ministry would change America from being such an individualist sort of culture to being more of a collectivist sort of culture. Away with the culturally hip Christian evangelist with the new Rob Bell book and punch card card from the new coffee joint, and perhaps bringing in the guy who is just here to serve and to meet the needs of people. The quiet life would do a lot of good for ministry in America, and that good is quite late from arriving.

  13. Living a quite life in America today i dont think would exactly work like it did back in Paul’s time. When Paul talks about being quite in his time makes sense since the culture was very much against Christianity. With the Jews and the Roman government not fond of them, having a quite life would be very practical. In today’s world, I think that our society is very self reliant and mind your own business. I think that we take it to the max. A battle for the churches is to not offend what the world is advocating as ok like gay marriage or abortion. These are issues that need to be addressed to a point and with the mind your own business, we could find ourselves not addressing issues that may need to be.

  14. Polhill writes, “His (Paul) urging to lead the quiet life and to win respect from the outsiders may indicate that some were not doing their fair share” (Polhill 192). Which can be easily said in today’s world. There are many who depend on the government for money, and who doesn’t do anything but sleep and play on the computer all day long. Paul is right everyone should be working hard every day in something. It says in 1 Peter 4:10, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” God gave every one of us gifts for us to use down on Earth. We shouldn’t waste the gifts that God has given us; we should all pitch in and help, and not rely on others.

  15. It seems that we as contemporary Christians do not often take seriously the imminent return of the Lord. For example, I believe and know Christ will return, but I am not living in a manner that suggests I believe He is coming soon. I plan and live out my life fully expectant to be here on earth in the next twenty to fifty years. While we cannot know when exactly Christ will return, it seems that if Paul was encouraging the church in Thessalonica to live the “quiet life” in anticipation of Christ’s return then so should we. By this “quiet life” Paul includes valuing and working hard, strive for sufficiency, and lead a peaceful life. Polhill also suggests that the “quiet life” could also have come from those who were being socially disruptive and could have caused concern to the non-Christian community about this new group of Christians were a threat to peace and security (192). In this way Paul addresses that outsiders see how you live and it can have an impact on others. In the same way we need to live a life that points to Christ.

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