Walking Properly before Outsiders

“Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

- 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12

Brotherly love characterized the Thessalonians, so Paul exhorted them to continue in such love more and more (1 Thess. 4:9–10). And while in the same text the Apostle says that the Thessalonian Christians did not need to be taught the necessity of love or even how to love one another, the immediate context does include teaching that actually serves as guidance for exercising love. When we avoid sexual immorality, for example, we show love for others by not taking another person’s spouse and by maintaining standards of purity that keep others from falling into sin (vv. 3–8).

The guidance Paul gives in today’s passage also provides a way to love others inside and outside the church. We read that we are to “aspire to live quietly, and to mind [our] own affairs” (v. 11). The words in this verse are used elsewhere in Greek literature to commend not making trouble in society. Essentially, Paul tells us to be good neighbors, to mind our own business, and not to be nuisances in the community. Christians must not cause unnecessary social problems. We dare not look for trouble with others or with the culture’s institutions, though we must seek justice when necessary (see Mic. 6:8).

Paul also writes that Christians should work with their hands (1 Thess. 4:11). Let us note two things about this instruction. First, given that Paul addresses matters related to the return of Christ in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, many commentators believe that his emphasis on labor here and in 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12 means that many in the Thessalonian church had stopped working because they expected the world to end soon. If so, they reasoned that they did not need to waste time working when all was about to end anyway.

Second, the phrase “work with your hands” (1 Thess. 4:11) refers to manual labor, which recognizes the dignity of such work. The ancient Macedonians looked down on those who worked with their hands, but manual labor is a noble Christian calling. Of course, we can extend the Apostle’s instruction to all forms of lawful work. John Calvin comments, “What [Paul] says as to hands is by way of synecdoche [using a part to represent the whole]; but there can be no doubt that he includes every useful employment of human life.”

Minding our affairs and working hard show love to others because these things free the church and society from having to support us. By them, we have a good witness to the world and “walk properly before outsiders” (1 Thess. 4:12).

Coram Deo

If we are able to work, we must seek to work. And we must seek to live quietly, not putting ourselves in situations where we do not belong. These things commend the Christian life to others, and God uses them to make the gospel more reasonable to those whom He has chosen. If we want to be good witnesses, let us work hard and be good neighbors. And when opportunity comes to share the gospel while doing so, let us share it.

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 16:28
Ecclesiastes 5:12, 18
Ephesians 4:28
1 Timothy 5:9–16

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