This year’s theme for the church that the elders wanted us to focus on was called Together. We have looked at how we can improve our relationships with each by looking at the commands in the scriptures describing what we are to do for one another. We considered how we are members of one another who are to bear with one another, serve one another, have humility toward one another, honor one another, speaking to one another properly, confessing and praying for one another, encouraging one another, submitting to one another, and forgiving one another. I hope that this series of lessons through the year has been profitable for you and has encouraged you to grow together with each other as God’s family. Our final command that we will look at is one that is critically important for Christians to show — that we love one another.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35 ESV)
The characteristic of love is to be seen in everything we do as disciples of Christ. Just as Jesus has loved us so we are to love one another. We recognize by this comparison that we are called to deeply love one another sacrificially just as Jesus did for us. This love is supposed to be so transforming that all people will know that we are disciples of Jesus because of the love we show others. Peter tells us that we are to love one another with a pure and sincere heart (1 Peter 1:22).
The apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about the need for them to love one another.
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. (1 Thessalonians 4:9–10 ESV)
What an amazing introduction to this topic! The apostle Paul writes to them about loving one another but tells them that he does not need to write to them about it because they have been taught by God. These Christians understood that loving one another was a critical characteristic. If we do not love one another, then we are not disciples of Jesus. “All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children” (Isaiah 54:13 ESV). “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7–8 ESV). Not only were they loving each other, they were loving Christians all throughout the region of Macedonia. But there are ways that we show love to each other that we may be neglecting. Sometimes we can have a shallow picture of what it looks like to love one another. Since Paul has no need to write about all the reasons why the Thessalonians need to love each other, since they are doing this already, Paul teaches them some deeper applications of what it looks like to love each other. Listen to what Paul says further in verses 10-11.
But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to 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 4:10–12 ESV)
Jesus said that the world would know that we are disciples of Jesus because of how we love one another. What this means is that how we live our lives Monday through Saturday has an impact on what people think about Jesus and about us. Loving one another is not something that only happens inside of these walls. What we do when we are at home has an impact to the world. What we do while at work sends a message to other people. What we do when we are engaged in our hobbies and chores will say something to the world around us. Paul is observing this truth in these verses. So what does Paul urge these Christians to do?
Aspire to Live Quietly (4:11)
Make it your ambition to live a quiet life. Loving others means living peaceful lives that are free from hostility and conflict toward others. We live quietly, not drawing attention to ourselves. We live in a world right now that really encourages us to make a lot of noise and draw lots of attention to ourselves. But Christians are not looking for a crowd. We are not looking for attention. We are not desiring people to look at us. We do not cause conflicts and make problems. People get along with us. We do not stir the pot. We do not make matters worse. What Paul says is that we make it our ambition to be quiet. Think about this in the life of Jesus. Consider who he is and what he came to do, he did not make a lot of noise. He did not draw a lot of attention to himself. Jesus did not seek to cause trouble or bang a drum everywhere he went. Trouble came and attention came because he was doing God’s will and showing the glory of God through his teachings and actions. But he did not make a display of himself intentionally. Neither should we make a display of ourselves. Make it your goal to be quiet and live a quiet life.
Mind Your Own Affairs (4:11)
Second, Paul says that we show love by paying attention to our own affairs. We do not meddle in the affairs of others. We are not nosy, desiring to know everything that is going on with everyone else. Meddling is not love. We can have a preoccupation of wanting to know what everyone else is doing. We want to know what is going on in their lives. We want all the gossip. We want all the details. It is not that we are showing a genuine care for the person but we are gratifying our own desires of wanting to know and be in the loop. We want to be “in the know.” But this is not love. Let people open up to you. Do not pry into their lives. Let them reveal what they will about themselves as they get to know you and trust you. Build a relationship of love and trust so that you can share your lives with each other. No one wants others prying. There are some things that we are just not ready to share yet. There may be some things that we just cannot speak about yet. All of us have pains and hurts and we work through those things with each other in different ways with different people at different times. We have to recognize this with each other. Be there for each other but do not dig or pry. Unsolicited advice is terrible. We saw this when we studied the book of Job. How often the friends of Job would tell him what they would do if they were him! But you are not Job and you do not know his circumstances. It is high arrogance to tell someone what you would do. If people ask you can tell them what you did. But do not be proud as if you have all the answers. Mind your own affairs. Attend to your own business.
Work With Your Hands (4:11)
Third, we are to work with our hands. Being idle and doing nothing is how you get in a lot of trouble. I have counseled many people who were struggling with sins and one of the reasons why they were struggling was because they were idle. They were not working. They were not keeping active. Work is something God has given to men and women. Sometimes people think that work was the product of Adam’s sin and the fall. But before sin was in the world listen to what God did.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15 ESV)
All humans are to work. Now this does not mean that everyone has to have a corporate job or else they are sinning. But men and women are to keep busy with work. Listen to what Paul taught the women to do.
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3–5 ESV)
We are to keep ourselves busy with work. Doing nothing is bad in God’s eyes. Whether we stay at home or are retired or have some sort of physical difficulties, God tells us that we need to be doing something to keep ourselves occupied. We even have an old English proverb that says similarly: “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.” The proverb was originally rendered, “Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” The Proverbs in the word of God are filled with warnings about idleness and laziness leading to life problems. We always need to be looking to do good works, whether it is on the job, in the home, or in the church. But we must not allow our hands to grow idle. Idleness is dangerous to our souls and does not show love to others.
Purpose: Walk Properly and Not Dependent (4:12)
Paul now states the reason for these instructions. “So that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” God’s purpose is that we would stay out of trouble and not need others to support us. Live quietly, mind your business, and work with your hands so that you will not cause problems to those who are outsiders and will not be in need for others to have to financially care for us.
We need to hear these words because our culture is moving toward a way of thinking that was similar to the Greco-Roman world. We think people should take care of us. Why do I have to work? Why do I have to do anything? Let others take care of me. This way of thinking is wrong in God’s eyes. We are not walking properly before the world if we think this way. When we do not intrude or gossip and display diligence in our work, God says that we make the gospel credible. We are showing another facet of love when we do these things. We are to live our lives in such a way to not assume others to have to care for us.
A few years ago we needed to have surgery for Grace, putting an implant in Grace’s arm. So we go through our insurance and come to find out that we were going to owe over $5000 for this implant (insurance covering 80% and we had to cover 20%). So I asked for your prayers for this and many of you all desired to help with this need. Now we knew that she was going to need this implant for years to come. In fact, she is scheduled for this implant surgery again this December. Imagine if I came back to you the next year and said we have to pay $5000 again. Then imagine last year I did it again. And then I came to you this year and said we owe this again. At some point you are rightly going to say that you knew this was coming and you should have made preparations if possible, rather than depending on others to bail you out. The first year was a surprise. But the second year was not. And the third year was not. And this year is not. This is what Paul is talking about that we do not live assuming on the kindness and grace of others. We do not take advantage of the kindness and generosity of others. We work with our hands so that we walk properly among outsiders and are not dependent on others because that is what loving others does. If I love you, then I do not want your money. I do not want to have to borrow from you and receive your gift. I want to do my best to care for myself, not taking advantage of you.
This is the balance we see in the first century church. Yes, people were selling their possessions and property to help each other who had need. But this was not to be a replacement for working with your own hands so that you would not have to rely on others financially. To do this would be sin. In fact, Paul addresses this even stronger in his second letter to these Thessalonians.
For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. (2 Thessalonians 3:10–11 ESV)
We are ready to help but we do not enable idle hands. Love others means we will aspire to live quiet lives, mind our own affairs, and work with our hands so that the world will see that we are Christians. All people will know we are Jesus’ disciples because we love one another. This is another way we show this love. Walk properly before those who are not Christians and be dependent on no one. Loving others goes far deeper and much further than we sometimes think. Everything we do, even Monday through Saturday, must show our love for God and for one another.