The eighth message in the 1 Thessalonians series is called “Honouring Him in ordinary life.” We do not live in isolation, but in society. We have colleagues, neighbours, family, as well as our brothers and sisters in Christ. Most of the time we are simply engaged in ordinary things. Yet we honour Him in the ordinary and we display Him to society around.
The video is below followed by notes.
Some Christians give the impression that their lives are full of miracles and that they live on some higher level of Christianity than most of us. They will talk about God speaking to them and leading them several times a day. But for many of us, life as a Christian is pretty normal.
Is there something wrong with us? No. Abraham had some precious and life-changing encounters with God. But the life of Abraham in Genesis covers 100 years. So, the vast majority of Abraham’s days were ordinary. He would be looking after his livestock, spending time with his family, eating and sleeping. Just very ordinary things.
So, there is nothing wrong with us when things are ordinary. God is still at work in us in the ordinary things.
The passage before us today is about ordinary life: in the church, loving and serving one another; and in the world, getting on with our work, family and community life.
I) More and more (v1,10)
Before we get into the details, there is something that we need to go back to from last week, because it is repeated in today’s passage. v1: “Just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” v9-10: “You yourselves have been taught by God to love on another… but we urge you to do this more and more.“
They are already pleasing the Lord (v1) and sharing brotherly love (v9-10). It is part of their new life in Christ. We would say, “Well done! Keep going!” But Paul is not satisfied with stopping at one level of obedience and love. He pleads (v1,10) that they do this, “more and more” – that these things in their lives abound/grow a huge amount.
This shows us that there is always room for growth. We have not arrived. Even though something is good, we can grow more until the day that we are perfected. We should not be thinking, “I’ve made it,” but rather praying, “Lord, help me to grow.”
II) Love (v9-10)
The word translated “brotherly love” (which includes sisters) was used by Greek speakers for love within a family. Paul is reminding the church that they are the family of God.
He says they are, “taught by God.” This is not to deny the fact that the apostles taught, but the ultimate teacher is God. How?
- The example of the cross. For God so loved the world…
- The teaching of the word (v10). Paul’s urging is apostolic teaching. God’s word truly taught is God speaking.
- The work of the Holy Spirit (v8). Such mutual love needs divine empowerment.
A better translation is, “You are God taught”, which suggests that this is ongoing. To love in this way (a sacrificial love for all of the church, even for those who we would not normally be drawn to), and to love “more and more”, means we need His continuous help, through His word and by His Spirit
This love should be seen at two levels. Firstly, the local church – “to love one another (v9).” Scripture gives us many ways in which that love can be expressed, for example: caring for each other, praying, forgiving, carrying each others’ burdens, accepting each other, being gentle and patient with each other.
Secondly, the wider church (v10: “all the brothers throughout Macedonia”). Love therefore calls us to support mission and to encourage other churches.
III) Life (v11)
Paul follows his exhortation to mutual love in the church to speak about how we are to behave towards the world around. He’s not here talking about evangelism, he does that in 1v8. Rather, he is talking about our behaviour.
He says, “aspire” (make it your aim) to “live quietly” and “mind your own affairs” (v11). He is saying we need to live in a way that doesn’t draw attention to ourselves. We are, as far as it is possible, to be good citizens, to be good neighbours, focusing on the things that we are responsible for: our families, churches, neighbourhoods, and jobs. We are not to break laws or to agitate, but to obey so as not to draw attention to ourselves. Change will come through the gospel changing people who then change society, not through trying to overthrow what is there now.
This is not saying that we should never protest or complain. Paul protested when beaten without trial. Peter and John preached when they were told not to by the authorities. However, while there are great challenges to the church and great moral issues, the normal thing is for us to get on with our lives as Christians, as respectable citizens, as far as is possible without compromising the gospel. Where the expectation of society doesn’t challenge the gospel and isn’t unrighteous, Christians should fulfil the expectations of society.
For example, if you get on public transport after 15 June, you need to wear a face covering. That is not a gospel issue, so we “live quietly”, we obey the government.
Over the last week, the issue of racism and police brutality has led to protests around the world. Should Christians protest? This is a gospel issue – racism denies the truths that we are made in the image of God, that we are all sinners in need of a Saviour and can be saved through Christ alone.
For this reason, many pastors and believers have spoken up. It is not wrong for a Christian to engage in peaceful protest. But we must do so prayerfully, with humility, avoiding all forms of violence, with gentleness and respect even for governments that are getting things wrong. So, even when it is right to speak out, to fulfil the command to “live quietly”, we need to do so with humility and respect.
IV) Work (v11)
Another “ordinary” thing that these are called to is “work.” We are called to earn and not be dependent (v12).
In Greek society, manual work was seen as demeaning; a good Greek should be involved in culture and have other people do the work for them. Today there is this discussion of “non-skilled” vs “skilled” work. But there is no such distinction in the eyes of the Lord. To sweep the streets is as honouring to the Lord as managing a large company.
This exalts work as something that is pleasing to God – you are serving the Lord as you work even if you are not involved in “full time” ministry.
In the current context, it is important to say that Paul is not addressing the issue of unemployment. To be unemployed is a tragic thing and something that is a growing issue for many today as companies lay off staff. He is not criticising the unemployed, but challenging the idle. The call for the Christian is not to settle for unemployment. Your “work” if you are unemployed is to seek work and to pray for work and to not give up even though it is so discouraging – and that brings honour to the Lord.
Nor is Paul criticising those who are legitimately not working, such as the long-term sick, disabled or retired. Under these circumstances, it is our attitude that is important. We can still ask the Lord to make us fruitful in different ways.
Paul’s reason for the call to work is in verse 12 – that they be “dependent on no-one.” The main reason for this is that it was normal in that culture for people to attach themselves to “benefactors” who would sponsor them so that they didn’t have to do manual work. This created a culture of dependency and would be a huge issue if the benefactor then demanded the Christian renounce Christ. So, he is being wise to encourage them to avoid dependency.
Perhaps also he was warning people not to take advantage of generosity from within the church. While love demands that we are generous, it also demands that those who receive the generosity do not take advantage.
Therefore our aim, although there are legitimate reasons why people cannot work, is that we should be productive and fruitful.
V) To adorn the gospel (v12)
“Walking properly before outsiders (those who do not know Christ).” Giving no cause for criticism.
The gospel may create scandal and outrage, but we should not be producing scandal and outrage through our behaviour.
Rather, Christians should be the best workers, the best neighbours, the best shoppers, the best drivers, the best patients. We are called to live in such a way that Dan 6:5 could be said of us.
These are ordinary things, but these things bring honour to the Lord.
- Our love for each other – a love which is demonstrated by our service and care..
- Our behaviour in society – being a good neighbour, being a good employee, showing respect when we go shopping, paying our taxes and not being an agitator or militant, stirring things up.
- Our work. In whatever form – our work as an employee, or our work in support of others as those who are retired.
These are the “bread and butter” of Christian living by which we point people to Him. Everyday life is for the glory of God.
Living for God’s glory in your ordinary life, pleases Him. Sometimes we think, “I’m not very much, I’m not a great preacher, I’m not a great evangelist, I don’t seem to do very much at all.” But if you are working as an administrator or a bus driver or a shop assistant as a good employee for His glory, you are pleasing Him.
If you are standing in the playground waiting for your child to come out of school, and you are not one of those parents who are constantly complaining about the school, but are positive and encouraging, you are pleasing the Lord.
If you are looking after your elderly relative, which means that you haven’t got time for anything else, even most church activities, that service is pleasing to Him.
Ordinary life, in God’s purposes, is something truly glorious. It is very ordinary, but in the eyes of your Father who has saved you through Jesus, it is extraordinary.