For a long time now I’ve had a fascination with what we might refer to as ordinary Christianity, Christian living for the rest of us. This kind of a life stands in contrast to the demands of so many of today’s bestselling Christian books, books that tell us we ought to live extraordinary lives, crazy and above-and-beyond lives. Some of these authors tacitly (or even blatantly) suggest that ordinary must be synonymous with apathetic and that all these comparative and superlative terms—this-er, that-er—are synonymous with godly. But when I look to the Bible I just don’t see it.
The Bible gives us those well-known big-picture commands, the meta commands for the time between Christ’s resurrection and return. “Go and make disciples of all nations.” That Great Commission tells us the what but does not give us a lot of instruction on the how. How do we do that in our daily lives? How does this look in the home and in the office and in the church? Can normal people living normal lives do all of this?
Answers come all through the New Testament and I find it fascinating that concern of the biblical writers is how to be ordinary, how to be normal. In their minds being ordinary offers challenge enough and to be normal is to honor God. Ordinary Christians carry out a Great Commission in ordinary ways through their ordinary lives.
In 1 Thessalonians Paul addresses a group of Christians he loves. He had received an encouraging report about them and sends them a letter to address some of their specific concerns. Many of these concerns are related to daily life. This is a mature church, Christians who had embraced the gospel with enthusiasm and who had preserved that gospel, growing in maturity, growing in strength. And when Paul tells them how to live a satisfying, God-honoring, Great Commission-fulfilling life, he writes about things that may seem so mundane: sexual purity, love between believers, diligence in all of life.
It is this final command that jumps out at me. Paul tells them, “Aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you.” When he tells them to aspire to live quietly, he is essentially telling them, “work hard to live quietly” or “make it your ambition to be without ambition.” At our guilty worst we might want to hear him say, “Sell everything you own, move to the most difficult of all mission fields, give up your life for the gospel’s sake—that is Christian living.” But he does not. He tells them to live a quiet and unremarkable life, to be content to be unnoticed, to avoid meddling in other people’s affairs, and to settle into a life of hard work. To do all this is to please and honor God.
But if this is how Christians are to live, how will we reach the world? How will we carry out the Great Commission? Remarkably, Paul tells them that this quiet life will help them do that very thing. “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.”
This kind of a life is respectable before both Christians and non-Christians, before those inside the church and outside. This quiet, hard-working life displays love to Christians because it allows the Christian to avoid dependence on charity and, far better, allows him to extend it to those who genuinely need it. This quiet, hard-working life displays the power of the gospel to unbelievers as a model of a respectable and proper kind of life marked by dignity and industry. Paul assumes that this kind of life will model gospel living and provide opportunities to share the gospel with others.
Paul does not hold this out as a bare minimum kind of life, he does not hold it out as a good enough kind of life. He holds out this ordinary life as the life that pleases God and fulfills his Commission. He demands nothing more.