1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
by Bob Burridge ©2020
Back in the early 1500’s in Heidleberg, an armor maker had a son he named Philip Melanchthon. He was known for his modesty, but also for his ambition as an outstanding scholar. He believed that since the Bible is God’s word, it’s very important to study it. He worked hard to develop the skills he needed to find out what that inspired word said.
When he was only 16 years old he published a textbook on Greek Grammar (there wasn’t much publishing going on back then). At age 21 he became Professor of Greek at the University in Wittenberg! People called him “the teacher of Germany”.
His studies of the Bible drove him to the teachings of the Protestant Reformation. He became a close friend of Martin Luther who stood by him and encouraged him when persecutions came along.
He knew how to work hard for what he knew was important! He said, “diligence is the virtue by which we are disposed steadfastly and firmly, for God’s sake, and the common welfare, to perform the labors belonging to our calling, with the aid of God, who has promised aid to those that seek it.”
Melanchthon understood the importance of ambitious diligence. He made faithful use of his time and talents because he knew that both came from God. He also understood that the divine giver was the power behind all human success.
The Apostle Paul had seen brotherly love in the new believers at Thessalonica.
He realized that it was God who had implanted that love in them. When he wrote to them he encouraged them to excel still more in that love. He said in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, “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. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more,”
Our sanctification doesn’t only effect ourselves, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. It also impacts the whole of society around us. We’re to live a responsibly godly life in it. As Christians we should be diligently responsible in all our duties and work. When we’re being responsible, we display our respect for God, and provide for our own needs. Therefore Paul challenged the believers in Thessalonica in verses 11-12.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, “…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.”
Christians who appreciate the need for brotherly love should have ambitious aspirations.
The Greek word here for “aspire” in verse 11 is “philo-ti-me-omai” (φιλοτιμέομαι). The first part of the word is “philo-” (φιλο-) which means “to love”. The second part is “ti-me-omai” (-τιμέομαι) which is a form of the verb which means “to honor, revere”. Together they literally mean “to love honor.” It’s often translated as “ambition/aspiration” It parallels back in verse 9 with another thing we should aspire to. We’re to aspire to have “brotherly love”. The Greek word for that is “phil-adelphia” (φιλαδελφία).
Here in verses 11 and 12 we’re told to aspire to three specific attitudes. We should aspire to “live quietly”, that is to avoid drawing attention to ourselves. We should aspire to mind our own affairs. We should aspire to work with our own hands. We’re to love the honor of doing good work. Basically, we should aspire to achieve excellence in what we do. We’re to strive to excel more and more in all these things.
I translate verses 11 and 12 this way, “and love aspiring to be quiet, and to attend to your own things, and to work with your own hands just as we advised you, that you walk in good form toward those outside, and have need of nothing.”
Being complacent is harmful. Aspiration and ambition are the opposites of laziness, or “complacence.” We shouldn’t be idol, sluggardly, or slothful. These problems are common in fallen societies and easily show themselves in our still imperfect nature. Growth in Christ includes being responsible in every part of life.
The book of Proverbs repeatedly teaches this lesson.
Proverbs 13:4 “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.”
Proverbs 24:30-34 “I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”
It’s important to understand the three things we’re told to be ambitiously aspiring to here.
1. We should “aspire to live quietly” – or more literally – “love aspiring to be quiet… “. This doesn’t mean that we should never say anything, be inactive or complacent. Paul’s concerned is that we shouldn’t be loudmouthed, or directing attention to ourselves. Proverbs 17:27-28, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.”
Instead of trying to impress others by bragging or by loud talking, we’re to be content to be working diligently for the glory of God. Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men”
The virtuous person is ambitious in his actions, he doesn’t just talk about what’s good. We should be ambitious in our quest to live quietly.
2. We must be ambitious “to mind your own affairs” – or more literally – “to attend to your own things”
We’re easily tempted to be busy judging everybody else’s lives, while neglecting our own duties. We often call such people “busybodies.”
The virtuous Christian isn’t a busy critic of the work of others. He makes sure his own job is done well.
3. We must be ambitious “to work with your hands” – or more literally – “to work with your own hands”
Again, Paul’s concern was about our own responsibilities before the Lord. The lazy spend their time complaining about their work load. They are good at making up excuses to keep their own hands at rest and expect others to do all the work.
Proverbs 26:13-16, “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!’ As a door turns on its hinges, so does a sluggard on his bed. The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth. The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.”
This proverb is about a person who always has an excuse. He doesn’t go where he should go, and blames it on lions! He sleeps a lot. Turning on his bed like a door on hinges. He’s so lazy he has a hard time lifting his food to his mouth! He thinks he is wiser than others, so he doesn’t pay attention to their lessons and warnings.
Today our whole system of care of those in need is in trouble because of sluggards. Some are in need because they’re content not to work if they can live off of others. Some lie and cheat to get more than their fair share. Others inflate the value of their work to defraud the system. It’s a problem in the church too. Some come for personal benefits but fail to be a responsible part of the church family. It’s easy to pray for missionaries but fail to be witnesses bringing the gospel message to others. They see someone going through a rough time, but don’t try to be an encouragement to them.
When there is a problem or a need, the virtuous Christian gets busy being part of the solution. He does all he can to get the job done. We need to be busy with solving problems, not just sobbing about them.
Paul is reminding them of what they had been taught:
He said, “as we instructed you” (ESV) – or more literally – “… just as we advised you…” The Greek word in the original text is “par-aengeil-amen” (παρηγγείλαμεν). It means to come alongside a person with an important message, with good and helpful counsel, sound advice. But we don’t just give our personal advice. We’re to bring God’s counsel about what’s good and right.
Paul wanted the Thessalonians to remember the teachings the Apostles gave them. We also need to remember the advice God’s gives us as we read and study his written word. Only then can we know what goals are good, and how we’re to work toward them. That’s where we learn what ways are honorable for accomplishing our God-assigned goals.
Paul points out two important goals as we aspire to develop these virtuous attitudes.
1. Our selfless aspirations can be a testimony to those outside God’s covenant.
1 Thessalonians 4:12a, “so that you may walk properly before outsiders …”
The word translated as “properly” is a compound word in the original text. It’s “eu-schaemonos” (εὐσχημόνως). The prefix “eu” means “good”. The next part “schaemonos” relates to our word “scheme”. Here it means we should walk in “good scheme”, or in “good form”m carefully thought through. More literally it can be translated, “that you walk in good form toward those outside,
The way we live should not only testify within the Christian community, but also to those outside the church. When we aspire to live quietly, attend to our own affairs, and work responsibly, we show the qualities God works in us by his grace. This different attitude can influence those we work with, study with at school, compete with in sports, shop beside in the stores, and get together with as friends. It’s a testimony to what it means to be set free from bondage to sin by the work of Christ.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
This “appropriate life-style” shows that we work for Christ’s kingdom and our love for its King. If we’re bragging, self-centered, or lazy, we dishonor the glory of our King. Our claim that Christ our Lord is seen as hypocrisy. We should humbly admit that whatever is good in our lives is because of God’s grace working in us.
If Christ is really there, and we are made alive again spiritually …
– we will have a sincere faith in God’s promises and principles,
– we will honestly admit when we do wrong and repent of it to Christ,
– and we will strive to obey the principles that we know please God.
We won’t do these perfectly. But we will diligently aspire to these qualities.
2. Responsible, godly living also provides for our needs without expecting others to do the real work.
1 Thessalonians 4:12b, “…and be dependent on no one.” (ESV), or more literally, ” and have need of nothing.”
God set up this world so that our provisions are ordinarily supplied by the work he gives us to do. In Eden, God told Adam to oversee his creation which produced his food (Genesis 1:26-29). That continues to be our duty. We work with what God’s provided to bring forth our daily provisions. God alone provides our opportunities and blesses our efforts. But it’s our duty to carry them out diligently and obediently.
It’s tragic when we get lazy. We should be sure that our responsibilities and duties aren’t delayed, left undone, or done poorly.
Failing to “work with your hands” keeps us from enjoying the many rich blessings God can give us. The rest we get from laziness is a temporary reward that’s soon regretted. It’s directly disobedient to God and dishonoring to Christ and his message to leave our work to others.
Our duty as believers in Christ is to behave in a quiet, responsible, and diligent way.
This is how God has designed for our needs to be met, and it’s a testimony to those who don’t submit to God’s instructions. We should work ambitiously to excel more and more for the honor of our King in everything we do.
God lovingly warns us here in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, “… love aspiring to be quiet, and to attend to your own things, and to work with your own hands just as we advised you, that you walk in good form toward those outside, and have need of nothing.” (RNB)
(Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)