Encouragement to a persecuted church.

1 Thessalonians 4.9-12.

Though the Thessalonians appeared to be doing just fine, behaving themselves and living a holy lifestyle, Paul, Silas, and Timothy just wanted to reiterate a few things for their encouragement. It needed repeating.

Likewise we need to be reminded of such things, from time to time. Even though we may not suffering to any persecution remotely like that of the Thessalonians—and therefore have even less of a justification for not loving one another, loving our neighbors, and not living uprightly towards outsiders. (Not that suffering is any justification anyway.)

1 Thessalonians 4.9-12 KWL
9 As for loving one’s Christian family, we needn’t write you:
You yourselves are taught by God himself to love one another,
10 and you do it throughout the Christian family,
throughout the whole of Macedon.
We wish to help you, fellow Christians, so you can abound more—
11 to love the value of rest,
to do your own work with your own hands,
just as we commanded you.
12 Thus you might honestly walk to help those outside,
and none of you might be needy.

Under any pressure, people’s tempers get shortened, and we tend to turn on one another. Mostly that’s because people don’t love one another; we’re only looking out for ourselves. Even in families which supposedly care about one another, our self-centeredness, our self-preservation instinct, too often comes first.

But when we do love one another, persecution gets us to rely on one another, and care for one another, all the more. Self-preservation turns into group self-preservation: We recognize the other parts of Christ’s body likewise need to be cared for, and the weaker members all the more.

The apostles didn’t have to teach the Thessalonians this. God already had. They were θεοδίδακτοί/theo-dídaktí, “God-taught,” or as I put it, “taught by God himself.” We can’t deduce from the text how God taught it; was it a product of the Spirit’s fruit, or did the Holy Spirit have to tell one of his prophets to tell the rest? Maybe a little of both.

In any event it’s a good teaching, and the apostles didn’t feel the need to add to it. The Thessalonians had a good handle on how to love one another. Something we all need to do, whether times are tough or not. While times are easy, let’s develop it; when times get tough, we’ll absolutely need it.

Go above and beyond.

Same as they did in verse 1, the apostles in verse 10 wanted the Thessalonians to “abound more,” περισσεύειν μᾶλλον/perisséfein mállon. And same as they got specific about what to do better in verses 2-6, they got specific yet again in verse 11.

LOVE THE VALUE OF REST (φιλοτιμεῖσθαι ἡσυχάζειν/filo-timeísthe isyhádzein, KJV “study to be quiet”). This is one of those phrases Christians have historically mangled, ’cause we have the bad habit of interpreting it based on our own biases. Properly filotimeísthe isyhádzein means “to love [for yourselves the] honor to keep still.” But since those are two words we don’t usually see next to one another in ancient Greek literature, we feel it’s open to interpretation… and tend to interpret it to suit our biases.

In most English bible translations you’ll find they go with “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life,” as we find in the NIV. Is that accurate? Not really. Isyhádzein isn’t about leading a quiet life. It’s about rest. It’s about stopping work for a while, taking a break, taking a Sabbath. It’s about not working ourselves to death.

Living a quiet life, in contrast, is more about keeping our heads down and not making trouble. And sometimes we gotta make trouble. The good kind of trouble: We have to speak out against injustice, help the needy, resist evildoers, fight evil. Living a quiet life too often means we put up with all these evils because we’d rather stay out of it. God doesn’t call us to stay out of it; he calls us to be holy, and that’s not at all the same thing, despite how hermits and separatists have chosen to interpret it.

DO YOUR OWN WORK WITH YOUR OWN HANDS (πράσσειν τὰ ἴδια καὶ ἐργάζεσθαι ταῖς [ἰδίαις] χερσὶν ὑμῶν/prássein ta ídia ke ergádzesthe tes idíes hersín, KJV “and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands”). English-speakers tend to interpret the “do your own business” same as our idiom, “Mind your own business” (NIV): Stay out of other people’s affairs. And if you’re already interpreting filotimeísthe isyhádzein as “lead a quiet life,” there ya go, reinforcement: Keep your head down. Mind your business. Do your own thing. Don’t love your neighbor; they’re not your concern.

The “with your own hands” part gets split apart and interpreted as “Work with your hands,” (NIV) and used to teach Christians that manual labor is noble. Or that we shouldn’t be dependent on others; don’t take handouts. Be a self-made person. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and stop expecting the government to bail you out with tax breaks.

But properly, this is just in contrast with the previous, “Love the value of rest.” Don’t forget to relax… but this doesn’t mean we oughta set aside work. Don’t relax so much that you’re not actually productive. Don’t have your employees do everything when you can do for yourself; don’t get so wealthy and comfortable, you don’t know what honest work looks like anymore. Don’t be one of the idle rich.

To not be in need.

The end result of all these things was, as the apostles summed up, “Thus you might honestly walk to help those outside, and none of you might be needy.” 1Th 4.12 Thessalonian pagans should have nothing against Thessalonian Christians. They shouldn’t point to their idleness; they shouldn’t point to their cultlike fervor; they should have no reason to critique them. When they did hassle them anyway, and looked for reasons to justify their evil behavior—as bullies do—they’d have nothing.

These are instructions for Christians under persecution, but we’d do well to follow them as well. Not so we can cultivate a paranoid, bunker mentality of us-versus-them. We need to continue to love our neighbors, love our enemies, and accumulate their goodwill. As things currently go, we don’t. Hence we don’t have a lot of goodwill coming our way… and we use this excuse to justify bullying others.

True, we mustn’t get into the evil kinds of trouble. Avoid stupid public issues which don’t uplift, inspire, encourage, nor help the needy. Don’t aspire to be captains of industry… then wind up with a lot of disgruntled employees who don’t understand why we won’t share the profits, nor fund the things they consider appropriate job benefits. We have to behave in a manner which makes people not jealous of our success, but encouraged by our generosity, and think positively of us and our Lord.

Christians suck at this, ’cause we’d rather be right than liked. This, despite Jesus and his apostles’ frequent orders to be, as much as we can, at peace with all. Ro 12.18, He 12.14