A Life That Pleases God
1 Thessalonians 4:9–12
How to live a life that pleases God is the overriding theme of the first 12 verses of 1 Thessalonians 4. Verses 1–8 speak about sexual purity, and verses 9–12 provide practical instruction on how to maintain right relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as with unbelievers.
Christians should strive to maintain moral purity, love the brethren, and live godly lives. Verses 9–10 emphasize the centrality of loving other Christians, and verses 11–12 remind us how vitally important it is to maintain a good testimony in our walk, work, and witness.
The apostle Paul wrote, “But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another” (v. 9).
The word but abruptly changes the subject from sanctification to brotherly love. Although it can be interpreted “and,” “now,” “but,” or “on the other hand,” it is best to interpret the word as “now.” The text should read, “Now concerning brotherly love.”
The phrase brotherly love does not refer to love within one’s family but, rather, sincere affection for one’s brothers and sisters within the church. We see an example of such love in the first church in Jerusalem: “All who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need” (Acts 2:44–45; cf. 4:32).
Paul knew from his coworker Timothy’s report that the Thessalonians were sincerely loving one another because he wrote, “You have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another” (1 Th. 4:9). Notice, no one had taught them about love; they were “taught by God” through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. This is how all believers in every age should be taught. The major teaching was for all these believers “to love one another” (v. 9; cf. Rom. 5:5). The apostles continually reminded believers throughout the New Testament to practice “love.”
Paul confirmed the Thessalonians’ loving attitude when he wrote, “And indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia” (1 Th. 4:10). He did not have to urge the Thessalonians to love believers in the Macedonian churches because they already were doing so. They had many opportunities to show their love to their Macedonian brethren because Thessalonica was the capital of the Roman province and attracted many visitors.
It is Christ, living and working in believers through the Holy Spirit, who produces love. It is Christ who causes us to excel, overflow, or possess a superabundance of God’s love for others. Only through the enablement of the Holy Spirit can we love someone who persecutes us. The Thessalonians had Paul and Silvanus as examples, even though their stay in Thessalonica was brief. In Paul’s absence, new believers imitated the model of love he originally communicated to them.
Years after Paul wrote this epistle, the apostle John elaborated on our responsibility to love our Christian brethren: “For this is the message that you [Christians] heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 Jn. 3:11). The word beginning refers to when Jesus told His disciples to love one another.
John wrote often about God’s nature and His attribute of love (cf. Jn. 3:16;
1 Jn. 4:7–8). This is one of the first messages they received from Christ and one of the last messages Jesus taught them before His departure (Jn. 13:34–35; 15:12, 17). The word love appears in the present tense, meaning love should be manifested continually throughout our lives.
Love for other believers is one indication we possess eternal life: “We know that we have passed from [the] death to [the] life, because we love the brethren” (1 Jn. 3:14). The words have passed are in the perfect tense, meaning we possess eternal life the moment we receive Christ. Our love for other born-again believers provides evidence (not the means) of our salvation.
Notice, the verse does not say we are to love some of the brethren. We are to love all the brethren. Believers who are truly in fellowship with God will love all Christians.
Of course, the supreme example of real love is Jesus Christ, who voluntarily gave His life for us: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16). Believers in John’s day, as well as today, already knew of Christ’s self-sacrifice and supernatural love for mankind (cf. Jn. 10:15–18). His action was the greatest expression of true love the world has ever seen, and love binds all believers together as an ongoing witness to the world. Jesus said, “By this all will
know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (13:35).
Paul then exhorted the Thessalonian believers to show love toward nonbelievers in the work-a-day world: “That you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing” (1 Th. 4:11–12).
Some believe these verses connect to verses 9–10. Others believe they raise an entirely new thought on one’s relationship to coworkers. It would seem that verses 11–12 connect to brotherly love no matter what the context.
First, Paul said, “Aspire to lead a quiet life” (v. 11). There seemed to be a restlessness among the Thessalonians because of a misunderstanding concerning Christ’s soon return. (The next section of chapter 4 deals with that subject.) We must not allow the expectation and excitement of Christ’s return to keep us from carrying out our daily obligations.
We must strive to live peacefully with saved and unsaved alike. We must rest in the spirit every day as we anticipate Christ’s return. It is our continual obligation to do so.
Second, Paul said, “Mind your own business” (v. 11). This is an exhortation not to pry into other people’s business. Meddling is totally out of the will of God and can disrupt, divide, and sow discontentment within the body of Christ, as well as blemish our Christian testimonies.
Third, Paul said, “Work with your own hands” (v. 11). This is an exhortation against idleness. It also means not to be so heavenly minded at work that we neglect to do the jobs we are being paid to perform. Poor job performance leaves a poor testimony among believers and nonbelievers alike and can tarnish the entire work of a local church.
Honest work habits come instinctively with habitual holy living on the job. For example, Paul worked long hours making tents, a trade he learned as a young boy. (Jewish fathers in the first century always taught their sons a trade.) Paul maintained a good testimony on the job and used his trade to support himself while spreading the gospel during his missionary travels (cf. Acts 18:2–3).
Paul added, “As we commanded you” (1 Th. 4:11). Paul and Silvanus personally had taught the Thessalonians this principle when they established the church. Thus, these Christians had no excuse for being restless or idle at work or for meddling in others’ business.
Paul provided two purposes for his exhortations:
- “That you may walk properly toward those who are outside” (v. 12). The word walk refers to how we behave each day before nonbelievers. We need to win their respect by living blamelessly before the unsaved world.
In most cases, unbelievers will not understand our lifestyle and will ridicule us. But over time they usually come to respect the strong moral stance for what is right. Without a good testimony before the unbelieving world, we become a reproach to the cause of Christ and can be snared by the Devil (1 Tim. 3:7).
- “That you may lack nothing” (1 Th. 4:12). The implication is that we should pay for whatever we need in life. It also speaks of believers being self-sufficient, rather than depending on others for support or care. God does not want us to be like parasites or freeloaders who sponge off others rather than working to support ourselves. Christians who depend on others for their daily needs when they are physically and mentally able to work broadcast a bad testimony to the unsaved world.
We all need to take inventory of our Christian walks and ask ourselves, “Am I showing love to believers and unbelievers alike? Am I living a life that is pleasing to God?”