|As a young Christian, these two verses always intrigued me: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).
And even now as a “middle-aged” believer, these verses somehow draw me in, give me pause and compel me to consider more fully what Paul—and the Holy Spirit—wanted to communicate.
Paul obviously wanted the Thessalonians and other readers throughout the centuries to be responsible and not have to rely too heavily upon others. By those actions, Paul stated, our “daily life may win the respect of outsiders …”
People outside the Christian community would be “won over,” so to speak, by the faith and actions of the relatively new Christ followers … at least that was the intention.
These verses became even more compelling to me last month when my oldest sister lost her three-month battle with cancer. The few months between her diagnosis and her passing were much too swift, and these devastating life markers always have a way of making us introspective.
As I was reflecting on my sister’s life, these verses kept coming back to me. For the first time, Paul’s words felt grounded in something that wasn’t just literary, something that replicated and described real life.
In our media-saturated, 15-minutes-of-fame culture, the descriptors “quiet” and “win the respect of” rarely get as much attention as the “make yourself known” and “don’t disrespect me” attitudes. Yet it’s rarely the latter approach that impacts, challenges and makes positive contributions to other people’s lives.
As you can guess, my sister was quiet, reserved, respectful, always willing to put others ahead of herself. Our family will always fondly remember how Deb’s personality became even more pronounced during her illness. Her put-others-first mentality didn’t recede while she was in the hospital; it actually became more prevalent: making sure others were comfortable, not feeling “put out” or feeling as if they were having to do too much stuff for her.
I think that’s what Paul was referring to when he talked about winning over those outside of the faith. Our attitudes, behaviors and the way we approach others often tell more about us than any words, descriptors or anything else could. Someone taking care of you while you are sick speaks more to this person’s love than if that person just told you she loved you but didn’t help in your time of need.
It doesn’t matter if we’re wildly popular or completely unknown; it doesn’t make a difference if we are blessed with a thousand friends or three or four. Our lives might be filled with travel, popularity, adventure and wealth. God blesses each of us in difference ways.
Yet what really matters—on this earth and eternally—is how we treat those around us and how much we love God. This defines our lives and makes them memorable and influential long after we leave this temporary realm.
In fact, that’s what Jesus told the Pharisees when they asked Him what commandment is the greatest: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).
My sister’s life communicated many things to me—things that have and will continue to shape me for the remaining years I have left.
Paul’s challenge to the Thessalonian believers—always a bit hazy to me before—has now become more clear: to love the Lord, to love others and—with however He has gifted me—to make sure my life in some way influences people to become more aware of the Father.
How about you?
Scott Noble is the editor of the Minnnesota Christian Examiner.