Here is another excerpt from the upcoming book that we (Stephen and I) hope to get published by the end of the year. This is a rough draft. Feedback is welcome!
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
Working with One’s Hands
9 Now concerning brotherly and sisterly love, you don’t have a need for us to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another. 10 For you also do it for all the brothers and sisters [who] are in the entire Macedonia. Now we urge you, brothers and sisters, to abound more 11 and to endeavor to live a quiet life and to busy yourself with your own affairs and to work with your [own] hands even as we commanded you, 12 so that you should walk respectably with the ones outside and should not be dependent on anyone.
Paul now moves into his next “correction”, but does so in a delicate manner. Paul starts with a little praise for the Thessalonians before he moves into the “correction” passage. The problem that we have here is that we don’t know exactly what was going on among the Thessalonians that leads to Paul’s “correction”. What we know for sure is that some of the members of the church, most likely some of the men, were not working for a living and were living off of others in the Church.
9 Paul starts this “correction” with a long Greek sentence that ends in the middle of verse 10. He writes: Περὶ δὲ τῆς φιλαδελφίας (Now concerning brotherly and sisterly love). Many translations have “brotherly love” here for φιλαδελφίας (philadelphias), but the word means in this context “love among the christian family”. In fact, outside of the NT, φιλαδελφία was “love for blood brothers/sisters” (BDAG, 1055). Paul is just extending his “family” language that he has used throughout this letter. φιλαδελφία is also an example of “inclusive” language that was used in ancient times to refer to both brotherly and sisterly love (Wanamaker, NIGTC, 160), thus the above translation. Another reason for the the use φιλαδελφία here is that Paul is setting up “how” he wants the Thessalonians to love each other and its not by depending on others in the church for their own needs (Fee, NICNT, 159).
The very next line is a bit of a problem as it reads literally: οὐ χρείαν ἔχετε γράφειν ὑμῖν (you don’t have a need to write to you). As one can guess, this has lead to many different translations as to what Paul really meant to say:
- NIV11: “we do not need to write to you”
- NRSV: “you do not need to have anyone write to you”
- NET: “you have no need for anyone to write you”
- ESV: “you have no need for anyone to write to you”
- KJV: “ye need not that I write unto you”
We have simply supplied “for us” in the above translation.
Paul then adds the real reason as to why the Thessalonians should love each other. It is because they are θεοδίδακτοί (taught by God). θεοδίδακτος is unknown before this letter in the Roman world and may have been coined by Paul himself, but that can’t be confirmed (Fee, NICNT, 159-160) (Wanamaker, NIGTC, 160)! Paul’s use of “taught by God” could either be an allusion to “Holy Spirit” teaching, that is teaching that was received by the Thessalonians by the Spirit when they received it, or teaching from the OT. The latter may be more inline here as Paul could be alluding to Isaiah 54:13 and Leviticus 19:18.
Isaiah 54:13 LXX:
13 καὶ πάντας τοὺς υἱούς σου διδακτοὺς θεοῦ καὶ ἐν πολλῇ εἰρήνῃ τὰ τέκνα σου.
13 and all your sons will be taught by God, and your children will be in great peace.
Leviticus 19:18 LXX:
18 καὶ οὐκ ἐκδικᾶταί σου ἡ χείρ, καὶ οὐ μηνιεῖς τοῖς υἱοῖς τοῦ λαοῦ σου καὶ ἀγαπήσεις τὸν πλησίον σου ὡς σεαυτόν· ἐγώ εἰμι κύριος.
18 And your hand will not avenge, and you will not hold a grudge against the sons of your people and you will love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
If Paul is assuming a “known knowledge” of the LXX among the Thessalonian Church, then he is appealing to teaching in which they already know from being around the local synagogue. Therefore, as Fee states “Thus in the end the emphasis on their loving ‘each other’ lies not so much on their need to do so, but on the way they should do so” (Fee, NICNT, 160). In other words, Paul is setting up his “correction” based upon the Thessalonians’ general knowledge of scripture. He will soon drill down to the problem itself and use the idea of “loving each other” for the basis of the “correction”.
Wanamaker brings up another valid point on Paul’s “coined” term θεοδίδακτος and its possible relation to Isaiah 54:13. “Isaiah 54 is an OT eschatological text that looks forward to an age of salvation when the children of Zion will be taught by the Lord God, who will reign over them” (Wanamaker, NIGTC, 160). It is possible that Paul linked this passage to the current “Christian” age were Christ had died and was resurrected ushering the “salvation” age. As a result, the “new” people of God were now being taught by God in this “salvation age”. Although this idea is a great one, we just can’t be sure if this is what Paul had in his mind when he wrote this passage.
10a Paul ends the sentence with a little praise for the Thessalonians, but in how he does it is a bit surprising. For he states καὶ γὰρ ποιεῖτε αὐτὸ εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς [τοὺς] ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Μακεδονίᾳ (For you also do it for all the brothers and sisters [who] are in the entire Macedonia). What they “do” is “love each other” as brothers and sisters. Now exactly how they do this in all of Macedonia is simply not stated. Based upon the fact the Thessalonica was a “free city” and a major trade city, it is possible that Paul is referring to visits to the city by other christians in the region and we know from 1:6-7 that the Thessalonians were examples “to all who believe in Macedonia and in Achaia”. Perhaps part of that example was the love that they showed for each of their brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus.
10b After the “set-up”, Paul now moves into the “correction”, but almost by surprise! In other words, after Paul’s setup, the correction that followed was sure the take some of the Thessalonians by surprise. After such praise, the Thessalonians certainly didn’t expect what was coming in the “correction”. Paul does so by writing a very long and complicated Greek sentence that ends with verse 12.
Paul’s first clause is built upon the former “setup”. Παρακαλοῦμεν δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, περισσεύειν μᾶλλον (Now we urge you, brothers and sisters, to abound more). What they were to abound in more was their love for each other, but as we will see, the offenders were “to abound more” in the way that they should love each other. Therefore, the phrase is two-fold: 1. the Thessalonians that were not in need of the “correction” were to strive to love each other even more and 2. the Thessalonians who needed correction were to love each other in the proper way. In other words, they had to change their actions in order to “love” correctly.
11 Paul now strings together a series of verbs and statements that need exploration. The first is φιλοτιμεῖσθαι ἡσυχάζειν (to endeavor to live a quiet life) which consists of two infinitive verbs. The first one, φιλοτιμεῖσθαι, is defined as “to have as one’s ambition, consider it an honor, aspire” (BDAG, 1059). What the the Thessalonians are to aspire to do is ἡσυχάζειν (to live a quiet life). Although the verb means to “relax from normal activity” and to “be quite”, in this context the idea is to “refrain from disturbing activity” (BDAG, 440). Thus, Paul is still setting up the situation in order to “correct” and to display “how” the Thessalonians should love each other. φιλοτιμέομαι also is closely related to φιλαδελφία (brotherly love) as it is compound verb based upon φίλος (beloved, friend) and τιμή (honor). “The conduct of one member of the community affects the welfare of the whole community; the reputation of the community suffers if a few member gain notoriety as idle busybodies, instead of minding their own affairs” (Bruce, WBC, 91).
It should also be noted that some commentators think that “to endeavor to live a quiet life” refers to political situations within the Thessalonian community as a whole and that the instruction here is for Church members to removed themselves from being involved in politics. The problems with this idea is that it is not even alluded to in this text and and would seem to be complete foreign to the context. For details into this idea, see Wanamaker, NIGTC, 162-163, and Green, PNTC, 210-211 as a build on the patronage practice.
Paul now writes what is expected in living a “quite life”. The “disturbing activity” involved here is described as καὶ πράσσειν τὰ ἴδια καὶ ἐργάζεσθαι ταῖς [ἰδίαις] χερσὶν ὑμῶν (and to accomplish one’s own things and to work with your [own] hands). The first phrase πράσσειν τὰ ἴδια (to accomplish one’s own things) is an idiom and has been translated as “to busy yourself with you own affairs”. The idea of the idiom is to busy themselves with their own work so that they will not need to be dependent upon others in the Church (Fee, NICNT, 162). The next passage builds upon the former “and to work with your [own] hands”. The idea here is they should provide their own “living” and not rely on others for their day to day needs.
Now what is interesting here is that we don’t know the circumstances around “why” they were “to accomplish” their own things” or “to work with their own hands”. Green offers a possible explanation as to what was going on in Thessalonica. He puts forth the thought that certain people in the Church were participating in patronage. The practice is as follows. “Clients were attached to patrons of higher status and economic solvency, hoping to receive from them benefits such as food and representation, while they gave their patrons honor and augmented their statue in society by showing up for the morning greeting at their home and giving them public support. The more clients a person would have, the more important he or she would appear to others” (Green, PNTC, 208).
Another idea that has been put forth is that some of the Church had stopped working due to Jesus’ return was soon to occur. As this idea may seem to be a good one, Paul in no way links this activity with his upcoming passage on the coming of the Lord.
Paul concludes this part of the passage with καθὼς ὑμῖν παρηγγείλαμεν (just as we commanded you). This implies that this was instruction that Paul, Silas, and Timothy gave to the Thessalonians while they were present with them. That is not being reiterated here.
12 The final clause of the sentence shows the result in which Paul is looking for in the Thessalonian who are in error. The clause is in two parts. The first of which is ἵνα περιπατῆτε εὐσχημόνως πρὸς τοὺς ἔξω (so that you should walk respectably with the ones outside). At the forefront is how one should live their lives respectably. εὐσχημόνως is defined as “to being proper in behavior, decently, becomingly” (BDAD, 414). What is interesting here is that Paul places the Thessalonians’ “living respectably” with the “outsiders”. That is, people outside the believing Church. The Christians in Thessalonica are to live in such a way as to present themselves as witnesses to outsiders and to not look foolish in their new-found faith.
The last clause in the passage gets to the root of the problem and is the most important of the results in which Paul is seeking. καὶ μηδενὸς χρείαν ἔχητε is translated above as “and (you) should not be dependent on anyone”. A literal translation would be “and you should have a need of no one”. In the end, no one among the Thessalonians should be living off other brothers and sisters in the Church.
In summary, the errant Thessalonians should supply their own needs and not be dependent on others within the Church. By living this way, they show proper love for each other and also live their lives as examples to those who are outside the Church.
Verse 9: Instead of ἔχετε (you have), 06, 010, 012, 044, 0278, 1739, 1881 has ἔχομεν (we have). Scribe(s) in later centuries tried to correct 01 from ἔχετε (you have) to ἔχομεν (we have) as well as correct 06 from ἔχομεν (we have) to ἔχετε (you have.
Verse 11: 03, 06, 010, 012, 044,0278, 1739, and 1881 omit ἰδίαις (one’s own). 01, 02, 33, and M have ἰδίαις. The editors decided to place the word in brackets to indicate that they are not sure if ἰδίαις is original or not. It makes no difference either way as χερσὶν ὑμῶν (your hands) implies “you own hands”.
Echoes of the Word
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
θεοδιδακτοι -taught by God, for the Holy Spirit leads us into truth.
God writes his word on the heart of the believer. The intent of that word begins to take shape on the soul of this creature of flesh, the image of God becomes clearer as that word has its way. The love of God poured out into these hearts is revealed in their love for one another. We begin to take on a more perfect image of God, taking our place in the body of Christ.
The Thessalonians are praised for their love and are encouraged to do more and more, just as the love of God is a continuous and growing stream that has no end. The fountain flows from his throne and is the river of life. What we think of love and how we love changes as we understand and embrace the love of God. When we were children we thought like children. As we grew, we put away childish things. The same applies to those who become children of God. We put away worldly things. It does not happen all at once, but it is a process that leads to maturity as we move toward final perfection.
The object of this love is “all of God’s family”. As brothers and sisters we are to love each other as brothers and sisters, for we are all born of the one Spirit. God’s love is poured out on all that accept him and love him with obedience. It is love that called us and it is love we are to hold out to others. To God’s family our love takes the form of caring, comfort, help, and joy that comes from life in Christ. To “outsiders” our love gives witness to that life and through that witness we express the offer of love that leads to salvation.
Paul reminds us that we are to tend to our own affairs. When Peter asked Jesus what was going to happen to John, Jesus essentially said it was none of his business. Each one of us has a unique journey with God. There are things we share in common, but no two paths are exactly the same, just as fingerprints reveal our difference.
One of our highest duties is to be an example for others. We bear witness to the Spirit when the fruit of the Spirit appears on the branches of our life. It is by this fruit that we know and others can see Christ, and through our lives the Spirit calls out to those around us. Though we are still present in our mortal bodies which resist and battle the Spirit, we are called to be holy and separated to God, his own people. Our walk should reflect a life transformed and being transformed by God’s love. It is the provision and work of the Spirit that makes this possible. Each one of us is a work in progress and progress is a journey. That journey of progress takes place when we walk with God, and that walk leads to eternal life.