Bible Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
Is life truly experienced to its fullest on a mountain top of a great victory or in day to day humble living nowhere near the mountain? #ThisIsLiving #DareToVenture
- Life Group Discussion: Is it Really So Hard to be Humble?
- Find a Life Group: In-Person Groups • Virtual Groups
It’s interesting when you study eastern religions and even some ancient Greek philosophy. One of the common denominators is they all realized for life to truly be experienced we have to get outside of ourselves and live humbly. Humble living is not exclusive to the Bible. It is universally understood throughout time as the way to truly experience life. That is to truly feel like you’re living!
Therefore, we shouldn’t be shocked when we read a passage in the Bible that calls us to humble living! If God made the universe to work this way then the Bible should certainly point us to it. The difference however is religion demands our practice but the Bible equips us for it.
Today’s passage is going to describe to us what Biblical humble living is and in so doing we will see the gospel secret to actually experiencing it! Will you stand with me as we read God’s word,
9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you,12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (4:9-12)
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 gives us 4 descriptions of humble living.
The first description of humble living is that …
Humble living is focused on loving one another. – 4:9
9 Now concerning brotherly love (philadelphia) you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love (agapao) one another,
So in the first 8 verses Paul has talked about what would be considered “eros” love, and how that love is and isn’t done in holiness. Eros belongs in marriage and anything outside of a man and a woman in marriage is not of God and is a disaster! It creates a reality that is opposite of living. He now changes focus and is basically saying some of you needed me to remind you of where and when eros love belongs and doesn’t. But, on the other hand, when it comes to “brotherly love” you guys don’t need my direction. You guys got this down great!
Brotherly love is how people treat one another in a family. How they are supposed to anyway. And Paul says to the church in Thessalonica, you guys know how to do this because God Himself taught you the highest form of love. Agape love! That is a love that chooses to love people unconditionally!
How did God teach them this love? The Gospel!
The Gospel exposes us to our lostness and sin.
The Gospel exposes us to the price that was paid in Christ for that lostness and sin to be forgiven. The horrific sacrifice of Christ whereby He willingly gave His life as the payment of our sin!
The Gospel exposes us to the love of God that goes beyond simply eliminating our debt, but that the debt is eternally eliminated so that we can be adopted as God’s children. His favored children, so that we are not just forgiven and turned loose but reconciled into a relationship with Him whereby He will never not fully love us and treat us as a favored child! Where we get to know Him forever!
He treats us this way despite the fact that our faith is at best the size of a mustard seed and our repentance of turning to Him and following Him is at best always present by our rebellious hearts that are prone to wonder and ironically leave the God we indeed love!
In the Gospel we find a love that never stops convicting and disciplining us to rescue us from our foolish rebellious hearts but at the same time never stops loving us either! We are brought into an eternal relationship with a father who loves us enough to rescue us from our depravity. Not for His pride of conquering us, but rather for His love to save us. To bless us with life even though we toss it back in His face over and over again!
The Gospel drives the knowledge of that kind of love (AGAPE) into our heads and hearts so that we can love that way. And if we can love that way, then treating each other as family just comes naturally. Because we are family. He has literally made us family and we will be family forever!
Christians who truly love one another this way cause the lost world to want to know why!
In the third century Tertullian once reported that the Romans would say about the Christians, “See how they love one another.” Long before that we have words from a man named Justin Martyr that testify to this,
Justin Martyr explained Christian love this way: “We who used to value the acquisition of wealth and possessions more than anything else now bring what we have into a common fund and share it with anyone who needs it. We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.” Christianity spread rapidly through the Roman world because of this love. We do not have records of missionary programs or evangelistic programs from that era. But we have examples of this type of love, and the world noticed, just as Jesus said they would.
So humble living is only truly humble living if we are loving one another as family! But specifically, the humble living that Paul is speaking of is the Gospel version of it where we are loving others in our local church as the eternal family they are. That we are loving them the same way our Father Loves us!
Paul brings this specific thing up more in the next chapter so let’s keep moving.
The 2nd description of humble living is that …
Humble living is never impressed with its performance. – 4:10
10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more,
This one should be really easy and expected. At no point does a humble person ever believe they have hit the pinnacle of success. A humble person is able both to self-evaluate and see error and opportunity for improvement. A humble person by nature never sees themself as the greatest.
True Christian humility does not mope around in false conviction and overinflated criticism of our self where we just feel like we never live up to God’s expectations and that our love for others is just not good enough. That’s not at all what this is implying. But rather humble living just wants to keep loving and wants to figure out how to do it better! To better build others up, to better bring life to others and to better reflect the glory of God that saved them!
Paul says to the Church in Thessalonica that they are loving each other in an awesome way! Make no mistake, if they were not, Paul would have blasted them! Paul was never afraid to call believers out for their sin! So this is not the modern day give everybody a blue ribbon for participation thing, but rather an honest endorsement of how well they truly love each other. But, then He follows it up with keep striving to do it better!
Prideful living can only handle a compliment, especially if they are doing something well. Prideful living rejects being coached in victory. If we won, don’t tell me how we could have won bigger. This ends up being a terribly foolish place to be, not to mention an arrogant place to be. Because it assumes perfection which is impossible!
So the humble person loves the victory and longs for the experience of victory to be even greater, so they embrace coaching. They are willing to give more of themselves. They love criticism because it gives them a chance to do things even better. In this case it’s building each other up and giving each other life! It’s being the eternal family that God has made us to be, not just in name but in the experience of it!
The 3rd description of humble living is that …
Humble living doesn’t create or look for drama. – 4:11a
11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs,
The notion that one is “to aspire to”. In other words, to love and pursue honor for oneself and family, was as much a part of the Gentile world within which and for which Paul was writing as was the air that was breathed. School children are still taught today about the Roman cursus honorum, literally the “course of honor,” by which one progressed through public and political life to fame and fortune. That “course of honor” is the ultimate example, in the Roman imperial context, of the very aspiring that this very word suggests. On another societal level, the word was used among trade associations and within workshop settings regarding such rivalry and competition as would attend the pursuit of power and honor. The verbs that follow directly upon “aspire” could not be less expected. Aspire “to live eagerly, in the broader public eye, competing with ‘brothers’ in your own workshop or from your same trade to gain a higher position”—such would have been the expected directives following “aspire.” Paul presents virtual opposites or, at the very least, alternatives, akin to the alternative understanding of “assembly,” “Lord,” “peace,” and “kingdom/empire” already presented (in 1:1 and 2:12).
Gordon Fee explains that it could literally be translated, “strive hard to live quietly.” He also points out that the word “quiet” here does not carry the idea of “not speaking” or “being restful” but of not intruding into the lives of other people, especially brothers and sisters in the faith, and so becoming a burden to them. Paul is instructing us to live our lives in such a way as not to burden others, but he is also warning us not to draw attention to ourselves.
The fact that Paul is bringing this up means at least somebody in the church of Thessalonica was drawn to drama. Drama puts you at the center of attention. Drama is when you create a bunch of noise with your life so as to demand that everybody around you focuses on you.
Sometimes life brings drama to you and you shouldn’t feel bad about it bringing people around you to help. Paul says strive to not have a noisy life/dramatic life, but we need to know sometimes it will happen. When it does we need to humbly accept and appreciate the family love that’s given.
But that is entirely different than living your life with such noise that you are always bringing people to your rescue even when there is no need to be rescued. That is the opposite of humble living.
Furthermore, stop creating drama in other people’s life! Which ironically is all about you when you do it. People who are always up in other people’s business end up making a bigger issue of what was already going on, bring attention to something in a way that those involved didn’t want or need. They do it not out of love for the people, but out of the arrogant need for everything to be about them. If I don’t have drama in my life that gets everybody orbiting around me, then I will infuse myself into your life and create drama that brings everybody around me at your expense!
The irony is, this is not only exhausting to everybody around you, it not only makes people not trust you, or want to be around you, but it’s exhausting to you! I’ve never met a single solitary person who always creates drama for themselves or others that is also happy, joyful and living life!
The 4th description of humble living builds off of this to something very specific…
Humble living works hard to supply your own needs. – 4:11b-12
and to work with your hands, as we instructed you,12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
It’s interesting to note the context that Paul places this. Everyone in the church should work hard to supply for their own financial needs so that their testimony to those who are not in the church is intact!
But why exactly is Paul brining this up? Well there are different theories.
“There was something going on in the life of the church that was producing this situation. To be honest, we are not exactly sure what the cause was. There are several options. Some have said there was a shortage of work in the city. But the problem seems to be, as John Stott says, that the “idle are unwilling, not unable, to work.” Others argue that the church had accepted the Greek disdain for working with your hands, and what developed was a super-spiritual view of life that claimed Christians should be preaching and teaching and studying and evangelizing, not wasting their time working. Others point out that these Christians were confused over the second coming of Christ. Since they thought he would come back quickly, some quit their jobs, sold their homes, and waited for Jesus to return. But when he didn’t come back, the church had to help these Christians get their lives back together. One recently discovered possibility related to patron-client relationships within the church. This is based on the idea that there were wealthy people in this church, according to Acts 17:4. Some women were apparently wealthy, and Jason was probably well-to-do since he had the room to house Paul, Silas, and Timothy. When some in the church are wealthy, it is often tempting to take advantage of them. Since they have money, we reason, surely they would not mind helping us out with our struggles.
Now again, in life there may come a time that circumstances have left you truly unable to provide for yourself. If we truly love one another we won’t make a person beg for help in these situations, but we will gladly and willingly serve!
However, living with your hand out expecting others to take care of you is an obvious opposite to humble living. It’s arrogant living when we live with a sense of entitlement to what others have. This includes their time, money, emotional support, etc.
This is epidemic in our culture, and I’m not just speaking about people who refuse to make personal sacrifices to work their way off of welfare. But rather the massive amount of people born into middle income America who are still living off their parents with little to no effort. They have no desire or plan to do otherwise. In many cases, with a sense of entitlement that their parents ought to be doing this for them!
And here’s where the rubber hits the road when it comes to living. People who live entitled lives are never happy. They are never satisfied, they always feel slighted. They always feel others are not treating them fairly and they always feel they are being left behind. Those are not feelings that describe a positive view of living! Those are feelings of envy and jealousy and they are sin, because they are not life! They are literally feelings of death, Sin! So Paul’s encouragement to the church to learn to work hard and supply for your needs is not only an important command for us to be effective in reaching the outside world with the Gospel, but ironically it’s vital for us to truly experience living! You and I will experience peace and joy living off the little money we make from our own efforts than we could ever experience by expecting it to be given to us by others!
Challenge: Humble living equals peaceful and joyful living. Arrogant living equals drama filled frustrated living. The Gospel equips us to live humbly, therefore how are you living and what does it say about how your heart is being transformed by the Gospel?
As I said in my introduction, so many religions strive to discipline their followers into humble living because creation itself testifies that peace and joy are experienced in living that way! The problem is, religion leaves it up to us to figure out and discipline our arrogant hearts into not being arrogant. The Gospel however transforms us. When we live in true glad submission to God, because of the knowledge of the gospel our hearts are steadily transformed and melted by his love for us. That is, in a relationship with Him, our knowledge of His love moves beyond the words we read in our Bibles to an actual experience in our life! If we are truly growing in our knowledge of the Gospel, then we will truly grow in humility. This will drive us to find joy, not in our success or applause, but in his love for us that is so much greater than anything in this world! The Gospel doesn’t demand that we live humbly, it blesses us to rescue us out of foolish arrogance and into glorious humility!