The first section of Chapter 4 has advice on “how to live in order to please God”. Most people today are not interested in “how to live in order to please God” which is probably why they find it weird that some people are. But some people are.
The Thessalonians were. There is a repeated phrase in this passage. Paul tells them that they are living “in order to please God” but urges them to do this “more and more”. The same “more and more” recurs when Paul encourages them to “love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia” which they are doing – but he wants them to do it “more and more”.
This passage says that they are totally on the right lines, but they should ramp it up a bit and do what they are doing “more and more”.
So, what is that? How can one “live in order to please God”? I despise bullet points, but I think it’s about to happen:
- be sanctified
- avoid sexual immorality
- learn to control your own body
- don’t wrong or take advantage of others in this context
Christians sometimes get accused of having an unhealthy interest in the morality of issues pertaining to sex – but those things are not the issue at the heart of the issue.
The first real issue is holiness; that is the goal of the believer. (Or is should be.)
Secondly, there is a concern about the issue of consent and the wellbeing of other people.
Christians should live considered lives, moral lives – not out-a-control spontaneous and selfish lives. The self is for God – and the self should not take advantage of others.
Paul moves on from sex to love; he does not conflate the two.
He praises the Thessalonians for their love for each other and the extended church – and he urges them to do this “more and more” and then he gives his not-rocket-science life-advice:
“… make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: you should mind your own business and work with your hands…”
I think this is great. I love the clash between “ambition” and “quiet life”. If you think of an ambitious person, you don’t imagine they would be happy with a quiet life; a quiet life doesn’t have that bigger and better vibe you’d expect. Paul himself isn’t having much of a quiet life when he is giving this advice, running into opposition every time he opens his mouth. Minding your own business is also an interesting one – and an important one. The Christians are told how they have to live to please God; it does not say that they have to tell other people how to live. Their own business (apart from their literal businesses) was to be sanctified and to love people. To “work with your hands” is also important; no scrounging! He continues:
“so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
This links back to Paul and the team working while they stayed with the Thessalonians; Christians should not be a burden to people; there should be a work ethic.
When Christians try to figure out what God’s will is for them, I think verses like this are great. You can shut your eyes real tight, pray real hard and look for an exciting global mission – but if there isn’t a distinct calling, one should have the humility to take the advice of Paul in this verse about ambition.
The Thessalonians were to get on with living well. The rest of the letter talks about what they were expecting to happen – in terms of death and the end times – which perhaps explains why Paul was having to instruct them on how to live settled daily lives in the meantime.
For Christians, then, to live to please God involves behaving oneself, working hard and getting on with contributing to stability in society while taking others into account. Sounds like a good idea.