“The Work of Your Hands”
Paul knew well the audiences of his letter-writing. So what was behind his exhortation to the Thessalonians to “…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thess. 4:11-12, NIV) “And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you…” (1 Thess. 4:11, KJV) Does Paul want us to only concern ourselves with our own life and faith and neglect others in the process? No. He is not so much giving instruction for knowing God as he is directing our daily labors in the world, highlighting how our actions affect our faith community and our ability to know God.
Be peaceful and “study to be quiet.” The Thessalonians were excitedly anticipating the imminent return of Christ. Instead of abandoning their daily work in excitement, Paul advised them to channel their enthusiasm into their work. By “study,” he means to aspire from a love of honor to strive eagerly for something to come to pass. The idea of “striving to be peaceful” is somewhat paradoxical–be ambitious to be quiet!
Consider the quietness of Psalm 131:1-3: “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” Also in Isaiah 30:15: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'” How do we go about living quietly? Tend to your own business, Paul says. Busy yourself with your own things. His use of the present tense implies that this is a continual duty! Attend to your own concerns, not ignoring the needs of others. Do what you have been called to do.
The context of Paul’s admonition to “work with your hands”: Greeks found manual labor to be degrading, though Jews found dignity in all labor. “Be industrious,” Paul says. “The work of your hands” is an idiom that focuses on deeds, not manual labor. “The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands.” (Dt. 2:7) “They have harps and lyres at their banquets, pipes and timbrels and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands.” (Isaiah 5:12)
What work has God called you to do quietly and diligently before him? “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Ps. 46:10) “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:17)