1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
The sky over Germany in 1941 was as blue as it had ever been. Dark green shoots struggled through the soil, then spring awakened in bursts of color. The sun cast its rays among the birch and alder leaves, lighting them to electric green. Spiders spun webs while finches scavenged sticks and grass for nests.
The heavens seemed unaware, even mocking in the routine march of the seasons while the long winter of hardship saw no end for the Jews who were laboring and dying in Nazi concentration camps. They scratched for survival. They died alone, frozen behind a hut, shot in a ditch, gassed in an underground chamber. Still the sun shined on and the rain fell, predictably, as it always had.
Yet within the human heart stirs a tenacious determination to find meaning, to discover purpose even in the midst of meaninglessness. And in the darkened hole of suffering, when the universe seems out of control, the human soul searches desperately for even the smallest pebble with which to build an altar of hope.
Under the gaze of Nazi guards, a group of Jewish men was assigned to carry stones form one end of the camp to the other. It was rumored that they were going to construct a building. Others whispered that he stones were part of a road project. Day after day, the men hauled stones, their backs aching, their bodies groaning against the load. Then finally, they completed the task. The stones were piled in an enormous mass, ready for use. The men stretched upon their bunks that night with a slight flutter of accomplishment.
Their new assignment was to carry the same stones to the other side of the camp—back where they had been in the beginning. With dampened spirits, they began.
It became apparent that the task was meaningless. The stones were moved back and forth, without purpose. And as the men realized that they were acting in futility—that they and their work were meaningless—they began to waver and then to die.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, urging them to live by God’s standards. His constant plea was for Christians to live a holy life, worthy of God’s name. Yet Paul was aware of the hostile atmosphere and the persecutions faced by all believers. He was aware that evil seems to prosper and righteousness seems to suffer. So he was quick to link the present with the future. Today makes sense only when eternity is kept in our sights. Live in holiness and obedience now, for “the Lord himself will come down form heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God…And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thess. 4:16-17).
Paul’s concern for the church surfaced in 3 areas:
1. Paul told these believers to be ambitious toward a quiet life.
He used and electric word (ambition) and coupled it with a low-energy word (quiet). Paul wanted them to see that a tranquil, restful life does require effort. It is easy to get carried away in spiritual excitement and emotional issues, but we must purposefully aim toward balance and calm.
2. Second, Paul turned to the problem of meddlesomeness. He admonished, Mind your own business. Every person’s first priority is to handle his own affairs and responsibilities.
When you mind your own business, you believe that, in one sense, life is just between you and God. You are accountable to God alone. You care about others, but you carry your own load.
In Galatians, Paul wrote, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). A little later he adds, “Each on should carry his own load” (Gal. 6:5).
These verses seem contradictory, except the word, translated “burdens” and the one rendered as “load” have very different meanings. One concerns carrying the pain of others and the problems they face. We should pitch in and help them carry that load. The other word focuses on personal responsibility and the load of accountability that each person has before God. In this case, no one can help us. Here we stand alone.
3. Third, he instructed them to work with your hands. This is not a divine command for everyone to do manual labor. Paul’s intention was to keep these people responsible in their daily living.
Work is a reflection of our Christian life and ethics; it must not be neglected.
Why all this fuss? Why Paul’s concern about whether they were working or idle? Two reasons:
1. First, because Paul wanted to win the respect of outsiders.
He was not concerned about popularity. Nor did he need the unbelieving community to validate or approve the church. Instead, he wanted us to realize that how we live is noticed…and remembered. If we are habitually late for work, or gain a reputation as the office gossip, it hurts the name of Christ. Unbelievers do not separate our faith from our behavior—nor should we.
If the church is to be slandered, let it be without grounds. Our desire as believers should be to live exemplary lives.
2. Second, Paul was concerned that these believers not be dependent on anybody.
This was a call to financial independence. We are not to make ourselves a burden to anyone.