Some of my favorite biblical commands are the ones that most counter our culture, and even our little Christian subculture. We find just such a series of commands near the end of 1 Thessalonians. There Paul tells this church to “…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands” (4:11). The ESV is nicely complemented by the NIV’s slightly different rendering: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you.”
When Paul says “make it your ambition” he indicates that this is the good, right, and honorable way for them to live their lives—and for us to live our lives. Over against all the other things we could aspire to, we are first to aspire to these, for these are matters of first importance. He highlights three godly ambitions for the Christian.
Live a quiet life. Paul first exhorts us to live a quiet life and to be content to live such a quiet life. What is this quiet life? It’s a life that is not obsessed with thrusting itself into the public eye. It’s a life that is content to be unknown and unnoticed if that is the Lord’s will. It’s a life that is measured not by popularity or platform but by faithfulness. In that way it’s also a life that avoids conflict, that avoids being contentious and is, instead, willing to forgive or overlook as a situation requires. Sure, we thrust some people into the spotlight and often for very good reasons. We need some people (like Paul!) to take on positions of prominence. But these ought to be people who have first proven their character in obscurity and who would be equally content to remain far out of the spotlight. Make it your ambition to be unknown—to be joyfully, contentedly unknown.
Mind your own business. And as you live that unknown life, mind your business. Whether in community, workplace, local church fellowship, or family, there is always a temptation to get involved in things that are not our concern. There is something in us that gives us arrogant confidence that we know how to live other people’s lives, do other people’s jobs, fulfill other people’s ministries better than they do. We are quick to get involved in things that are none of our concern. Paul says to make it our ambition to mind our own business. We need to give full attention to the few matters that belong to us and butt out of all those that do not. We love people best not by meddling but by staying far out of their affairs. Make it your ambition to stay in your lane, to humbly give your full attention to those few responsibilities God has called you to.
Work hard. And then there is the call to work hard. Each of us deals with the temptation to refuse to get involved in much of anything. Laziness haunts us. And yes, Christians can be embarrassingly lazy, refusing to “work with our own hands,” as Paul commands—to work hard at providing for ourselves and to work hard at having enough that we can provide for those who have true needs. There is great value in our work: “so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (4:12). Hard work has evangelistic value in showing unbelievers our refusal to lazily meddle and it has congregational value in that it frees us from being dependent upon others. Better still, it frees us to help those who need our help.
So, says Paul, be ambitious. But be ambitious first for the basic and lowly things. Master these few matters. Be content with these few things. This is a life that pleases God.