“Make it your goal to lead a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 NLT).
As the new year begins many of us are considering goals–specific targets for where we want our lives to go. Some of us are focusing on fitness goals like losing those extra pounds, implementing a healthy eating plan, and employing a new workout program to get into shape. Others are setting financial goals like achieving debt reduction or portfolio balance. And then there are those who want to set goals relating to their spiritual life like depth of study, constancy in prayer, and boldness in outreach.
Paul’s words to the Thessalonians suggest spiritual goals many of us may have overlooked. Leading a quiet life, minding our own business, and working to earn a living are specific goals he urges these Christians to set. To be honest, these behaviors don’t have a very spiritual ring to them, do they? And yet the apostle writes “make it your goal.”
Before we conclude this is an endorsement of America’s rugged individualism and living a walled-off life, we need to realize what is happening in Thessalonica. Some of the Christians have stopped working and adopted a lifestyle of idleness. Why? Maybe they were anticipating the return of Jesus. Perhaps they were affected by cultural pressure; after all, many Greeks looked down on manual laborers. Whatever the reason, they quit working and began looking to people for handouts (“sponging off your friends” as rendered by Eugene Peterson in The Message). In any culture when you have no job-related time constraints, you have plenty of time to meddle in the lives of others. And that is exactly what was happening.
Today this passage challenges Christians to be responsible in financial stewardship, including finding and keeping a job so we are not dependent on others; calls the homemaker to live a responsible, respectable life, working hard to fulfill the needs of the family; teaches Christians to be devoted workers, whatever your job, and not become the office busybody; reminds retirees to avoid spending endless hours on the phone gossiping about the lives of other people; corrects the minister who uses church support to live a carefree life with no job interference rather than working diligently for the Lord (Who respects that? Personal thought on ministry: As for my job, I am not paid to be a full-time husband, father, beekeeper, or fisherman. I am a full-time minister who not only should be faithful in my “day job” but also involved in after-hours volunteer ministry just like the rest of the congregation. And I must be trustworthy with all the personal life information to which I am exposed rather than using it to become a busybody).
So as we set our goals for 2006, let’s consider the goals Paul put before the church at Thessalonica. Working hard to be personally responsible and minding your own business may not sound to us like lofty spiritual goals, but they appear pretty important to the apostle in this text. By implementing these goals we will go a long way toward winning the respect of those outside the body.