Loving and loafing. 4:9-12
Paul has just reminded his readers that when he was with them he instructed them "how to live in order to please God", and now he writes to urge them to do so "more and more", v1-2. In v3-8 he deals with sexual immorality and now he encourages the Thessalonians toward brotherly love, v9-10a, practically expressed in a reflective, respectful and resourceful life, v10b-12.
v9. Brotherly love was certainly the mark of the Christian community in the first century. Tertullian, in his apology, put it this way: "behold how these Christians love one another." So, in writing to the Thessalonians Paul encourages them to practice brotherly love. In Greek society brotherly love was primarily sibling love, but in the New Testament the word is always used of love between believers. Paul doesn't need to write to the Thessalonians about this matter because they are a loving Christian community "taught by God to love each other." This teaching has obviously come through their study of the scriptures and so they don't need anyone to teach them about love. Paul is using the word "love" in the sense of self-denying compassion. God's character is defined by such love and the believer in Christ should aim at this God-like character.
v10. Paul notes that the believers in Thessalonica do exhibit love, in fact they have demonstrated this in their compassion toward the other churches in Macedonia. We don't know how many Christian communities existed at this stage in Macedonia. Missionaries like Silvanus, Timothy and Luke had worked in Macedonia and so other churches obviously existed. So, Paul recognizes the compassion of the Thessalonian believers, exhorting them to "do so more and more." He calls on them to abound, to excel, in love.
v11. It is possible that the Thessalonian believers had become overly enthusiastic about the second coming of Jesus and so when Paul encourages them to be reflective, respectful and resourceful, he may be addressing a situation where church members had left their place of employment and were a bit out of control. Creed, in his commentary, says that "the imperatives call up a fine picture of preparedness." Whether or not this was the situation, the exhortations are certainly worth applying. The opening phrase "lead a quiet life" means something like be happy, don't worry. Paul is encouraging the Thessalonians to live a life of reflective contemplation rather than be caught up in the busyness of life. The next phrase, "mind your own business", encourages the believers to worry about their own affairs rather than getting caught up in everyone else' affairs. Again simplicity is the aim. Finally he touches on self-sufficiency, the business of earning a living rather than sponging on the generosity of others. It's interesting how Paul makes a note of working with their hands. In Greek society manual labor was normally undertaken by slaves, but the New Testament is not ashamed of manual labor. We do well to remember that Jesus was a carpenter, so working with our hands is worthy and good, Eph.4:28.
v12. Paul now notes the social consequence of the behavior outlined in v12. Loving behavior wins the respect of the world around us. He makes particular note of the value of self-sufficiency. Living off the generosity of others is parasitic in nature, but an independent resourceful life evidences a healthy caring community.
Paterson Smyth records an incident that occurred in New England "of a day during one of those times of excited expectancy of the end of the world, when a sudden darkness at noon interrupted the session of the Assembly. Some cried fearfully: 'It is the coming of Christ: it is the end of the world.' But the old President ordered light to be produced: 'Bring in candles,' he said, 'and get on with your work. If the Lord is coming, how better can He find us than quietly doing our duty?'"
We are not sure whether the Thessalonian Christians were caught up in doomology, fearful that the end was nigh, but it is an ever-present element in the human psyche. In human evolution only the anxious genes survived, because carefree humans got eaten as they strolled through the jungle. Doomology is all around us today - climate change, peak oil, WMD, GFC, the collapse of Western society, .... Day after day we are told that the end is nigh. And well we know that a great and terrible day is coming.
Putting aside all this pessimism, how should we live in this moment between Christ's departure and his coming? Paul has identified brotherly love, compassion, as the defining quality of a Christian community. Of course, love is very ephemeral so Paul notes three practical expressions of love within the brotherhood:
i] A reflective life. A kind of be happy, don't worry life, a life lived in contemplation, in prayer and Bible study, rather than a life lived entrapped in busyness.
ii] A respectful life. A life lived attending to our own affairs rather than interfering in the affairs of others.
iii] A resourceful life. A life lived in self-sufficiency, rather than a life lived off the generosity of others.
As C.J. Dennis put it, the practical business of life is "living and loving." Let it be so.
1. If Christ's loving character drives brotherly love, how can we love one another more and more?
2. Apply the three practical expressions of love that Paul deals with in v11.
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