One of the striking aspects of Paul’s letters to early churches, as I’ve written before, is his choice of familial language to address his readers and the familial images he turns to in order to explain what the Christian life of love, generosity, and compassion is to look like. Within the church, we are to love each other like family.
But Paul is also concerned with how we look to the outside world. Note what he says in 1 Thessalonians 4:
But we encourage you, brothers and sisters, to do this even more, to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may behave properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone. (1 Thess. 4:10b-12, CSB)
Paul is still talking about brotherly love, but now he’s showing us what this love looks like outside the church. In the midst of our tumultuous times, Paul gives us instructions on how we are to act towards those around us to seize the opportunity to shine God’s light to the world.
Loving Others to Glorify God
First, Paul says, “do this even more,” meaning—be generous with other believers and continue to share God’s love with others outside the church, not just within the church. Give, share, love, with all people. The love you have for your church family, have also for those around you in the world.
Paul states the purpose of these commands: To behave properly in the presence of outsiders and to not depend on anyone; in other words, to shine our light before others, not being a drain to others, that they will see our good deeds and give glory to God.
Your life adds credibility to your witness, especially in times where people feel afraid, or fall prey to cynicism, or can’t see hope beyond the horizon. On the flip side, your life can take away credibility from your witness if you act contrary to the example of Christ.
Paul wants to make sure that we’re not just standing out from the world in a few obvious ways, like how we worship together on Sundays (corporately or, in these days, through streaming). He also wants us to stand out in a way that shows the church to be a place of flourishing and peace and blessing. If we’re living in the manner that Paul lays out here, our presence should not be a drain on the city, but should make our city a better place to live.
Quiet Life of Faithfulness
Then Paul says we should “seek to lead a quiet life.”
What does that mean? Does it mean we never speak up against injustice? Does it mean we never raise our voices? Does it mean we never join protests? Does it mean we never resist or defy unjust orders? The thundering of the prophets throughout the Old Testament sounds anything but “quiet.” But even in all their boldness and truth-telling, the prophets are settled. And when Paul speaks here of a quiet life, he is not advocating quietism—the view that Christians would never speak truth to power or exercise their civic responsibility. He’s referring to a rootedness, a quietness that does not seek the spotlight or succumb to fruitless anxiety, but works hard at resting in the sovereign goodness of God.
We live faithfully, quietly, restfully, even in the times we join with others in protest. In a time of worry and fear, we have a quiet confidence in the Lord where we know who we are and the family we belong to.
When Paul and Timothy were first trying to plant the church in Thessalonica, a riot broke out. Political unrest resulted when people assumed Paul and his friends were trying to undermine the Roman regime. Perhaps Paul’s admonition here to live a quiet life was part of a larger vision of a church that would transcend the political unrest of the moment—a people who would show by their faithful and humble lives that their ultimate aim is the glory of God and the welfare of others, believers who resist the urge to engage in performative activism that stokes our self-righteousness but leads to little or no lasting change in the communities where justice is most needed.
No Power Without Prayer
In 1 Timothy 2:2, Paul wrote:
I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
There again, Paul says “a tranquil and quiet life,” and again he’s talking about governments and people in authority.
The greatest thing we have to offer our country in this time is the gospel of Jesus and a demeanor that adorns that gospel— an example of godliness and dignity that expresses love through cries of lament over racism and violence, prayers for our government and leaders, and the channeling of righteous anger into proposals and solutions that spread both personal and public righteousness, so that injustice is rectified and peace will reign.
How is this possible?
How do we avoid the danger of a quietism that would lead us to silence when we are called to speak? How do we avoid the danger of an activism that would sweep us into the maelstrom of current events and political fervor? Both dangers mute our witness. Both dangers drown out a distinctive Christian voice—the first because we are silent when we should speak, and the second because we speak but sound just like everyone else.
Surely we need prayer in this moment. How else do we have the wisdom to live faithfully? Prayer for those around us. Prayer for discernment. Prayer for those in leadership. Prayer for those suffering from injustice. When suffering and chaos descend upon the world, Christians are called to enter the places of pain and lift up a broken world to the One we call “Our Father.” Prayer is not the end of our action, but the beginning—the only way we will be able to respond with truth and justice during times of crisis.