todd braye

“Christian Ambition”

 

“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, 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, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

1 Thessalonians 4.9-12

 

Introduction

As we resume our studies in this epistle, I draw your attention to verses 11 & 12. We’ve been working our way through this letter to the Thessalonian believers. It’s a marvelous letter. It drips of grace, speaking much of its effectual workings. It describes the excellent church and the exemplary ministry. We’ve seen how a people and its very first pastor were knit together in heart. We’ve seen how these people became a people by the Word of God clothed in power from on high. These people were a Word-centered people. They were a spiritual people, new creations, imitators of the apostle and the Lord Christ Himself.

It is indeed the Word that bound Paul and people. Whenever there is this binding of souls, this knitting together of hearts between Christian people, it is always because of the Word. Find any true Christian fellowship and you will also find the Bible at the center of that fellowship. The older I get, the more I find this to be true: In the middle any true mysterious joining of Christian hearts, the Word is present and exalted and exulted over. Paul and his people savored, I mean truly savored and treasured Christ, the Word, the Word to whom the word gives testimony. The first three chapters speak of such things, and more besides.

But in this chapter, in chapter four, Paul turns from expressions of commendation and longing affection to practical instruction and exhortation. Pleasing God is the concern. Sanctification is at issue. He takes up the matters of sexual purity. Abounding in love for the brethren, wherever they may be found, is pressed. And here in these two verses, verses 11 and 12, Paul tells of Christian ambition. He exhorts Christians to aspire to certain things.

 

Concerning Ambition

I wonder what your ambitions are. I wonder what they might have been, what your aspirations, your aims in life are/were? Are they grandioso? The very words themselves make us think big, don’t they? AMBITION! ASPIRATION! The words speak of success on a grand scale, of hard, focused, in it for the long haul work, self-consuming, making a name for oneself, of fame, fortune, of … Frank:

 

Start spreading the news

I am leaving today

I want to be a part of it

New York, New York

 

…I want to wake up in that city

that never sleeps

And find I’m king of the hill

Top of the list

Head of the heap

King of the hill.

 

But the ambition and aspirations Paul urges upon us are nothing of the kind. In these two verses, he tells us to –

Live peaceably and independently.

What does he mean by that? Well, let’s look at it.

 

Live peaceably.

First up, he urges believers to live quiet lives (v.11). “Aspire to live quietly,” Paul urges. The apostle tells us to direct our hopes and ambitions toward achieving a certain kind of living. A quiet life is a tranquil life, free from a certain kind of noise. It’s a disposition, a certain arrangement of life. There’s an unmistakable calmness about the one who so lives. He doesn’t get too excited about things. Contentment marks him; he’s satisfied with his lot.

There’s also an undeniable ‘steady as she goes’ quality about him/her. He knows his course, his business, his path in life, and he sticks to it. There’s no abrupt turning to the left or right, no being tossed to and fro by every wind of providence.

What’s more is that the quiet life does nothing to draw attention to itself. It’s seldom seen if at all heard. It isn’t that it’s absent. That’s not it. But there’s a certain stealthy-ness to it, almost as if under the radar.

Furthermore, it isn’t demanding. There’s nothing quiet and peaceful about one who makes demands, selfish demands, on others. That life is a noisy life. It isn’t peaceable; it’s pouty. Nor is unruliness peaceful. You know what unruliness is. An unruly life isn’t subject to discipline and authority. It’s disruptive, disorderly, and lacks self-control. It seeks its own interests. It pays little or no attention to the interests of others.

Perhaps three pictures are helpful to us.

First, the quiet life is not given to contention. The argumentative life is not a peaceable, quiet life. Paul isn’t forbidding contending for truth. He’s not telling us to not engage in thought-out argumentation where Scripture or matters of truth are concerned. The faithful believer does in fact contend for the truth [and there’s only one truth, one faith delivered once for all to the saints!]. What Paul urges upon us is not to not argue per se, but to live peaceably, which means to not live with an argumentative spirit. There is a world of difference. One is constructive and means to edify an correct. The other is simply disruptive, divisive, and unbecoming, if not a serious nuisance.

The second picture is that of submission. A submissive wife is a wife with a gentle and quiet spirit. She lives peaceably with her husband, as far as it depends on her.

The third picture is that of a troublemaker. Living peaceably is at odds with causing trouble. It’s to keep aloof from strife and not even stir it up. It’s the refusal to pour gasoline on the fire of conflict, real or perceived. “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out” (Prov. 17.14).

Water unleashed is destructive. We’ve been reminded of that again and again. The levee is easier built good and high than repaired. Once a dike is breeched, the damage is done. We’ve all seen the pictures from “Katrina” and now “Sandy”. There’s nothing peaceable about the Jersey Shore and Lower Manhattan these days.

Strife is like water. One drop, one provoking word brings on another and another and another until it’s far too late and the thing is ruined. Water damage sometimes takes years to undo; just look at New Orleans. And sometimes strife destroys friendships irreparably. ‘An arrogant man [or woman] stirs up strife…’

Wisdom dictates that the time to quit is not during the fight, but before the fight ever begins. We must control ourselves at the very first, kill proud estimations of ourselves, and seek to be as Christ is. Writes one: “…nothing can be so unworthy of a well-composed soul, as to pass away life in bickerings and litigations, in snarling and scuffling with everyone about us” (Prior’s Life of Burke).

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Heb.12.14-15). 

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom. 12.14-21).

This is a quiet, peaceable life. And Paul urges us to aspire to it.

 

Live faithfully.

Secondly, Paul tells us to make it our ambition to live faithfully. Live peaceably, and live faithfully. Aspire to “mind your own affairs” is how he puts it.  Arguably, to mind one’s own affairs is a manifestation, if not application, of living peaceably and quiet. Just think about for a minute. If one is busy tending to his own business, being faithful to his own responsibilities, he will not be so interested with the affairs of others. He will, in fact, mind his own business, as it were. He will not have the time or energy for any snooping or creeping into the affairs of others. “Those who are busy-bodies,” writes Matthew Henry, “meddling in other men’s matters, have little quiet in their own minds, and cause great disturbances among their neighbours.

But attention to one’s own duties and not interfering or meddling in the lives of others is the exhortation. The exhortation is to be diligent, endeavor, aspire to be faithful to our own concerns. Parents parent. Raise up your children in the fear of the Lord. Husbands, love your wives. Be providers and protectors. But lead; lead your family to Christ, first and foremost. Lead into the deep things of Christ. Be a godly example, an example of what a believer is and looks like. Wives, respect and love your husbands. Love your children. Be self-controlled, pure, workers at home. Everyone: Keep the bills paid. Take care of your body. See the doctor when you need. Make the tough calls YOU need to make. And let others alone to do the same. Whatever is on your plate, be faithful. Get it done. Deal with it. Pay attention to it. Don’t neglect it.  Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” Translation: If it ain’t your problem, don’t play with it. You’ll get teeth marks somewhere.

There’s a clarification needed here. But before we make it, we should not underestimate how quiet and peaceable our lives would be if we endeavored to keep our noses to ourselves. What if everybody refrained from sticking their noses where they don’t belong? I’m convinced life would be a lot less problematic if everyone minded their own business.

Now, clarification is needed. Paul does not mean to hinder or forbid that type of intervention required for the spiritual welfare of others. There’s far too much Scripture against such a notion. Faithful ministry requires a certain degree of intervention. One case in point: Galatians 6:1 – Paul there instructs the spiritual ones to restore one caught in sin. Elsewhere, the church is admonished to put unrepentant sinners out of fellowship. The very act of preaching is of itself a kind of intervention. God Himself, in the Person of Christ, intervenes into our lives. And for this we are grateful. So it’s not that Paul forbids all intervention/interference without exception. Christians are in fact their brothers’ keepers. The activity Paul strongly encourages here does, however, engender a certain respect for the boundaries of others. Remember boundaries? Fences aren’t all bad. In fact, I doubt they’re bad at all. Erect a fence and there’s no guesswork. This is mine. That’s yours. And all is well. “Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you” (Prov. 25.17). Overzealousness, or undue interest in the affairs of others is unfitting.

 

Live industriously.

Aspire to live peaceably, live faithfully, and third, live industriously. “Work with your hands,” he says. Be productive. Achieve something. Make a living. Get and keep a job. Work is a good thing. Work is a very good thing. Apparently, evidently, God’s sovereignty and providential care for us is no reason to not get up and go to work everyday. That’s an aside. But let me share a quote with you:

Leland Ryken – “…the Puritan view that God calls all workers to their tasks in the world dignifies all legitimate kinds of work. Above all, the Puritan doctrine of vocation sanctifies common work. William Tyndale said that if we look externally “there is difference betwixt washing of dishes, and preaching of the word of God; but as touching to please God, none at all.” Baxter explained how this could be: “God looketh not … principally at the external part of the work, but much more to the heart of him that doth it.”

I think that’s very good. Whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord. Be industrious which is to say, ‘Don’t be a sloth.’ Don’t be a slacker! Do the work!

Paul amplifies this in his second letter. He writes:“ Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.  For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.  For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

 As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.  If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.  Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother (2 Thess. 3:6–15).

Let’s sum up- Live peaceably, live faithfully, and live industriously, and do so day in and day out. Do it daily. Wake up. Go to work. Mind your business. Be quiet. Go to bed. Get up. Go to work. Mind your business. Be quiet. Come home. Have supper. Go to bed. Get up. Go to work….and on and on it goes til death, or Jesus comes back, whatever comes first. There’s an unmistakable routineness here isn’t there. It’s really a simple life. It’s ordinary to be sure. There’s no fame, no making a name, only much of the same again and again. It’s like the sun that rises in the morning, runs its course all day long, sets in the evening only to do it all over again the very next day.

 

The Exhortation’s Purpose

Why Paul urges these things is stated in verse 12. Walking properly before outsiders [i.e. unbelievers] and independence is why. Whether or not this is the reason for all three exhortations or just the one about work is a matter of debate. But I see no reason to limit the reason to just one exhortation.  The force of the entire passage then becomes: Be ambitious to live peaceably, faithfully, and industriously, as we told you, so that your life before unbelievers is proper, and you aren’t dependent on anyone, including outsiders. Be a blessing, not a burden. That’s what Paul was when he was among them.

How we live before unbelievers is, therefore, a matter of significance. God cares a great deal about this evidently. How we present ourselves before them – and they are in fact watching – how we present ourselves before an unbelieving world [at work, at school, in town, wherever] is a thing of which to be mindful. Believers are to be above reproach in things such as these. There’s a certain decorum and respectability we are to have in their eyes. Do our unbelieving family and friends and co-workers respect us? Do we live peaceably and quietly? Or are we troublemakers, constantly stirring up strife? Are we faithful in our own affairs? Or are we gossiping, interfering busy bodies? Are we hard workers? Or do we hardly work, willing be to be a tax burden, on welfare, or even freeload? That’s the idea here. Paul urges that we be ambitious to be outstanding, peaceable, quiet, contributing citizens among all citizens.

 

The Believer’s Power

Let’s be what Paul calls us to be. Let’s be what God calls us to be, to be ambitious in these things. And lest we forget: God does not call us or command us to do that which He Himself does not work in us. He has given and gives His Holy Spirit to us. All believers have regenerate hearts. But that’s not all they have. Within every believer this side of Calvary, Christ dwells. “He has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.” Therefore, we can do, and we will do, because of His presence within, all that He wills.

 

I want to wake up in that city

that never sleeps

And find that we’re peaceable

Faithful to our tasks

&

 working

that our King who died on the hill

would be seen working His will

even in me.

 

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/todd-braye.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) is the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blacke, Alberta, Canada. After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary, he served a Baptist church in eastern Ontario for six years before coming home to Alberta. He has been SGBC’s pastor since October 1, 2005.[/author_info] [/author]
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About Todd Braye

Todd Braye (B. Mus., M.Div) After graduating from the Canadian Theological Seminary, Todd served a church in eastern Ontario for six years before returning to Alberta to serve as the pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church in Blackie. Presently, he labors for Action International Ministries for "Pastoral Leadership Development."