January 24, 2017

Another Look: Paul’s Disappointing Approach to the Christian Life

Room at Spring Mill

 Make it your goal to live 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.

• 1Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NLT)

• • •

This may be one of the most neglected texts in the New Testament regarding the Christian life.

The context finds the Apostle Paul encouraging the believers in Thessalonica to live out their faith in Christ “in a way that pleases God” (4:1). After instructing them in the matter of sexual purity (4:3-8), Paul turns to the subject of how Christians should love one another (4:9ff). He reminds them that it is God himself who teaches them to do this, that they are already experiencing this in their lives, that he has heard reports of their loving practices and he encourages them to keep it up.

When it comes to the “how” of loving others, the Apostle gives us 4:11-12 (the text above). I don’t know about you, but when I read his instructions, it’s a let-down. I’m kind of disappointed.

In today’s church, we might have expected Paul to give a list of doable activities that one could perform on behalf of others to express love.

We have this thing about being “practical,” and we want to know the “steps” of “application.” We value creative ideas, instructions, a manual with directions to follow. We want to know which books to read, which videos to watch, which seminars to attend, which websites to consult, which counselor can help us make the breakthroughs we need to live this out more fully. Paul does not oblige.

In today’s church, we might have expected Paul to give examples or tell a story that touches our hearts about how someone showed extraordinary, exemplary love for another, how a person showed sacrificial generosity toward another — perhaps an unworthy recipient — and how God blessed as a result. 

Perhaps the person who received love opened his or her heart to Christ. Or maybe the person who sacrificed received back abundant blessings from the Lord for showing such love. Maybe a marriage was saved, a prodigal came home, a life turned around. Perhaps a video clip would be shown of people extending themselves in remarkable ways to serve and bless others. But Paul gives no such heart-tugging motivational example or story.

In today’s church, we might have expected Paul to exhort us about being more involved in the life of the congregation.

After all, how can your love for others grow if you are not participating with them in the fellowship of the church? Are you attending church regularly? Are you in a Bible study, learning God’s Word with others? Are you in a small group, sharing your life and praying with others? Do you have an accountability group to help you keep your motives and actions in check, so that you are staying pure and living a life of holy love? Are you actively partnering with others in Kingdom service? Paul does not point out any of these things.

Wheel at WindowPaul’s encouragement, instead, must seem remarkably lackluster and ordinary from the point of view of those who invest so much in spiritual engineering and technology, motivational methods, and churchianity.

Make it your goal to live 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.

There it is, friends:

  • Live a quiet life.
  • Mind your own business.
  • Work with your hands.

The best way to show Christian love to others? It almost sounds like a prescription for a small, selfish life! Yet this is how the Apostle, by divine inspiration, encourages us to live.

Paul commends a life that is the very opposite of activist churchianity.

Instead, he advocates the way of Christian vocation — Walk humbly and quietly with God. Don’t think it’s your job to change the world. Quit sticking your nose in everybody else’s business. Do your work and do it well. Let Christ’s love for others grow naturally out of that soil. Earn the respect of your neighbors over time as you live your life in Christ. Slow down. Get small. Run quiet. Go deep. Grow up. Keep on keeping on. Stand on your own two feet. Become a mature human being.

Not sexy at all. Kind of disappointing.

Maybe when the video curriculum comes out, it will be more practical.

Comments

  1. It’s actually comforting to me to know that God wants me to be a good human being, that I should just live my life and be my best self. All the theology I have learned and my grandiose ideas are not really the destination, rather it is a simple, humble, faithful life. His yoke is easy, His burden is light.

  2. Robert F says:

    Ordinary time —
    play with the cat, and water
    the thirsty flowers.

  3. I like to read these verses in conjunction with the end of the 5th chapter of I Corinthians – that is, don’t waste your time being the morality police for the nonbelievers, instead live quietly and without reproach and work and save some as to be ready to help those in need.

    Which is also a reading that is disappointing to many evangelicals. :-/

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      It is so very different to have someone’s respect than it is to “win”/convert/evangelize/etc… them.

      There is much more room in this description of life for laughter, good food, and lazy summer evenings. The best kinds of things.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      –> “…don’t waste your time being the morality police for the nonbelievers…”

      But, but…
      …we need to DRAW LINES IN THE SAND!
      …and PLANT THE FLAG!
      …and TAKE A STAND FOR TRUTH!
      …and DIE ON *THIS* HILL!

    • Danielle says:

      Your comment reminded me of this short story that appeared the other day at Daily Science Fiction. It is not aimed evangelicals, but rather with the current-day obsession with being outraged at everyone else:

      http://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/religious/stephen-s-power/for-our-light-affliction

      I’m pretty sure this is applicable to everyone with an internet handle.

  4. Steve Newell says:

    As Christians, we have lost the beauty of Vocation. We are called to live out our Christian faith in the daily activities of life. For myself, I am to live out my Christian faith as a father, husband, employee, son and friend. Many times, it will be done in the mundane activities of life: mowing the lawn, completing a work assign to the best of my abilities, covering for a co-worker who needs help without being asked, etc.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > As Christians, we have lost the beauty of Vocation.

      I am sympathetic to the ‘theology of vocation’ .. but in the end I still feel that it is a reach beyond what is said.

      Minus Spiritual Warfare we have to create the Spiritual Worker? Do the verses used for Christian Vocationalism even support that? Do we have to end up *again* at spiritualizing maintaining my home, being responsible at my job?, etc…? If so then nothing has really changed, this becomes the same thing from a different angle.

      There is no Spiritual Merit [whatever that is] to my job, there is barely any Civic Merit. I do my job in order to get paid – like 99.44% of workers in the world. Trying to turn it into something noble… nah, I just can’t get there, it starts to smell like yet-more-rhetoric. But should I endevour to live a life where I am respected by my neighbors and co-workers? Yes. But shouldn’t one ‘naturally” desire that out of respect FOR one’s neighbors and co-workers? The call/need for a contrived ‘spiritual’ reason bothers me; it indicates something is already wrong.

      • My wife is an engineer and often expresses similar feelings to me. Is there any merit in trying to extend Moore’s law? Maybe, maybe not. But she has close friendships with many of her coworkers, Christians and nonChristians, and serves those she works with by doing her work on time and well. We take the money and give some of it away and spend some of it on a house where we (sometimes) practice hospitality. Unless God (not people) call you otherwise, that seems good enough to me.

      • Danielle says:

        I wonder if there are two ways to approach this, with differing results. Or perhaps I’m engaging in word play?

        1-We can hyper-spiritualize work. Work is never just work. We’re not “really” working. We’re actually sneakily doing something else, something spiritual. Work matters mainly because it furthers some abstract goal.

        2-We can say that work is exactly what it is, work. We can say that its merits, rewards and frustrations are common to everyone (not only Christians or others taking a ‘spiritual’ view of it). And we can say that this work -actual work, not spiritualized work – has spiritual value and can be a means of grace.

      • I don’t believe this is “spiritualizing” work as much as it is instruction for a spiritual LIFE. There is no need to “sanctify” our jobs as some God ordained profession but the ONE thing for which we have control is how we REACT while in that job. Our attitudes and behavior are what sets us apart from the work-a-day drones whose only goal is to take home the cash.

        We STILL work to take home the cash but how we function in this capacity is what matters. Sorry you are not happy in your work…

        • Klasie Kraalogies says:

          Well said Oscar.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > I don’t believe this is “spiritualizing” work

          Perhaps not, the comment may be referring to something more general. I was speaking to the Theology/Meme of “Christian Vocation” which does – even if it does not claim to.

          >There is no need to “sanctify” our jobs as some God ordained profession but the ONE
          > thing for which we have control is how we REACT while in that job

          We are in complete agreement.

          > Our attitudes and behavior are what sets us apart from the work-a-day drones
          > whose only goal is to take home the cash

          Or what *should* set us apart. 🙂 But everywhere, nothing exclusive about the office/factory/etc…

          > Sorry you are not happy in your work…

          I am not unhappy, but it is about the paycheck. If the paychecks stopped coming, so would I. With that overarching looming absolute truth – – – the concept of ennobled labor just seems kind of flim-flamy. I can claim all the other motives I want, but really, it is demonstrable that I am there for the money. The experiment to demonstrate this would be trivial. And could I be happy without it [the work]? Certainly, although it probably just means I would do something else – days must be filled. Some days are beautiful and there is joy in what I do, others not – in this I suspect I am no different than anyone else.

          And there is humility, IMO, in honestly simply admitting that work is about: the pay day. I cannot honestly claim a reason concerning my occupation which pretty much everyone else cannot claim.]

  5. Does “working with your hands” include playing golf? If so, I’m good.

  6. David H says:

    “…spiritual engineering and technology”

    Lol, classic.

  7. >> . . . minding your own business and working with your hands . . .

    There’s nothing particularly Christian about that value and it is indeed most flagrantly ignored by some Christians, especially the minding your own business part. Perhaps this verse is the antidote to all the current pee-pee theology and legality going on. Well, probably not. The article above right on Finding Jesus at Work greatly interested me. It is about a growing trend of corporate and business hiring of Chaplains for the workplace. Encouraging. There are now companies whose sole business is providing Chaplains to other companies. I would think this could be a ray of hope for those who invested in a seminary education and then crashed and burned in a church setting.

  8. These words from Paul have long been a balm to my soul. After 20+ years of pastoring, I have come to the conclusion that the evangelical church reminds me a lot of the WWE: 90% hype, 10% actual content. We run around in a blur of spiritual-boosterism that usually produces more fatigue than fruit.

    Thanks for this great reminder, Mike.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Thanks for your pastor’s perspective, K Lo!

      Which is a reminder to maybe NOT follow pastor’s who are 90% hype, 10% content.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I have come to the conclusion that the evangelical church reminds me a lot of the WWE: 90% hype, 10% actual content.

      “Just like Wrestlecrap.com, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”?

    • “We run around in a blur of spiritual-boosterism that usually produces more fatigue than fruit.”

      Yes. I was thinking this very thing–thinking of how most churches operate, the word that came to mind was “busyness”. We have drastically curtailed the time spent at church and doing church activities. I came to the conclusion that it was taking us away from participating in the life of our wider community; we share life with all of our neighbors, not just those at church.

      • “I came to the conclusion that it was taking us away from participating in the life of our wider community; we share life with all of our neighbors, not just those at church.”

        My goodness. Aren’t you concerned about ‘contamination’?

        • Ha! And I know you speak in jest but, at least in my church experience, much of the busyness and church activity is to accomplish just that–to maintain our purity so as not to become “unclean”. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a conscious effort. Rather, it’s the natural outgrowth of a theology that emphasizes sin, holiness and judgment instead of a theology that emphasizes grace, love and forgiveness.

          • Rick Ro. says:

            True story…

            A retired gentleman (in his 70s) at my church had an A-ha moment last year, realizing that ALL his friends and acquaintances were Christians. He said it wasn’t a conscious thing, it just sort of happened.

            So this past year, he made a conscious effort to CHANGE that, to make sure he began interacting with non-Christians. He joined a senior’s writing/poetry group as one way of expanding into non-Christian territory. I think he’d say that the change has been good, for him and (he hopes) for them.

          • I told my wife a few months ago that I was friends with exactly three non-Christians (I work at home and don’t get out much 🙂 ). We bought a boat a while back and began making friends with the ‘heathens’ at the marina. It makes me think of the old joke about the preacher who gave up preaching and took up moonshining. When asked why, he said he makes more money and runs with a better class of people! I hate to say it but our new friends are more genuine, honest, and far less pretentious than most of the church folks we’ve know over the years.

  9. Rick Ro. says:

    Great post, CM, and great comments from the iMonk community.

  10. Stephen says:

    Mind your own business?!?

    Think of all the people who would be out of a job!

  11. Whenever I think of the ideal of the ‘Christian life’ I am reminded of Abraham (pardon the anachronism). He’s just a common guy, raising his flocks, raising his family (or waiting for one), making mistakes, and living his life. He is also VERY much a product of his culture. We’re never told he preached a sermon, passed out a tract, picketed an abortion clinic, or told anyone ‘about Jesus’. Yet he is called the friend of God, and the father of the faithful. Go figure.

  12. Randy Thompson says:

    “Activist Churchianity.”

    If I remember nothing else from this post, I’ll remember (and use) this phrase a long time.Thanks.

  13. James Mac says:

    Spent a few days recently in a little town in Canada called Elmira, seventy-odd miles from Toronto. Elmira is the heartland of the Canadian Mennonites, who want to embody living a quiet life (but because some of the Old Order Mennonites still travel around in horse-drawn carriages, they have become something of a sideshow).

    I’m not sure I could ever be a Mennonite, but those I met and spoke with (who were not Old Order) have something that is undoubtedly attractive.

  14. Heather Angus says:

    I like the post very much, Chaplain Mike. But I wonder about how much Paul’s instructions are tied to his belief (and the beliefs of the early Christians) that Jesus’ return was imminent. The world was going to end within their lifetimes, so naturally Christians wouldn’t be advised to start a lot of new projects. Not even marriage.

  15. That Other Jean says:

    Live quietly, love God, help your neighbors, do your work well. What? Where’s the excitement/glory/passion in that? It’ll never sell! /sarcasm

  16. Christiane says:

    ” . . . live a quiet life, minding your own business . . . ”

    so much for proselytizing with wretched urgency, handing out Chick tracts, and running around saying you’re not a Christian if you vote for Hilary

    thank you, St. Paul . . . you have been much misunderstood by fundamentalists

  17. charlie says:

    I had this (above) ‘aha’ moment about 12 years ago–just about the time ‘small groups’ became popular…and it seemed like, whoa, do Xians really need one more thing ‘to do’ and ‘be involved’ with? (read: Saddleback, which is near me)
    This reference and Psalm 46:10 resonated with me, and I began a journey that, well, to say the least, didn’t set well with my evangelical family and friends. Hence, the walking away from evan/fundie, and the ‘what are you doing/serving’ gospel.
    I was so exhausted with all the hype, entertainment, etc at church, the watered down or no gospel AT ALL, that seemed to me so contrary to the early church, and to OT/ NT writings.
    DONE. The freedom was incredible; set me free to ‘serve’ or to be who God made me to be and to do.
    My husband has a name for it now: organic ministry–do what’s in front of you, just do it. doesn’t have to be at church or thru an organization or far, far away. Live what’s right in front of you, like Jesus did. It’s been a big influence on a number of people who are willing to listen and think about it…he’s had positive input on how it’s changed how they ‘do life’.

  18. After all, it’s life on a farm.

  19. flatrocker says:

    …land spreadin’ out so far and wide,
    keep Manhattan just give me that country side.

    haiku, schmaiku. Now that’s some real poetry!

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