Zacchaeus was killing it. As a Roman tax collector, he learned the art of extortion. He knew he was asking for more than Rome required, but what were his victims going to do about it? He could just turn them over to the authorities for tax evasion.
His tactics paid off—financially, at least. He was raking in money. But his scheming wasn’t earning him any friends. No matter how much wealth Zacchaeus built, his shady life continually undermined his financial success.
If you’re not careful, the same will be true of you. Your successes and accomplishments can be easily overshadowed by a disingenuous life. This is especially important for followers of Jesus, whom Paul refers to as “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20) because their very lives are making an appeal to others for God.
If you want to represent God well and point people to Jesus, Paul has three pieces of advice for you.
The Quiet Life
In his first letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul writes,
We urge you, brothers, to [love one another] 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. (1 Thessalonians 4:9–11)
Paul’s goal here is to instruct believers in how to live in a way that pleases God (1 Thessalonians 4:1). Now, “pleases” is different than “appeases,” as Tim Keller points out. The Christian doesn’t have to do anything to appease God. That’s been done through Jesus’s atoning death on the cross that paid for our sins and allowed us to receive His righteousness.
Instead, the Christian aims to please God through living a life worthy of the calling they have received (Ephesians 4:1). They desire to live this way because it makes God happy, not because it earns His favor (it can’t).
Living in a way that pleases God, according to Paul, includes loving others and living a quiet life. The Thessalonians didn’t need more instruction on loving well, Paul said earlier in the letter. But they did need further instruction in living a quiet life, and I think we do too. His advice for living the quiet life includes staying calm, minding your own business, and doing your own job.i
In the phrase “aspire to live quietly,” Paul seems to contradict himself. Aspire “means to be zealous and strive eagerly, even to consider it an honor,” notes John MacArthur, whereas live quietly “means to be silent, not speaking out inappropriately, remaining at rest and tranquil.” This means that Christians are to “lead peaceful lives, free of conflict and hostility toward others,” MacArthur adds.
The words “peaceful” and “free of conflict” don’t always describe my life. “Frenetic” might be more appropriate. I’m often involved in a flurry of activity as I race through my days. There are times when I tweet first and think later, times when my tongue is sharp and my cynicism biting. I linger over the crazy comments on Facebook because train wrecks are hard to look away from. They’re also hard to stop talking about.
Then there’s my performance mindset. I think I have to produce a certain amount to earn respect. So I make myself crazy busy and pick up side hustles and try to fit work into the margins of my day.
To all of this, Paul says, “Stop! Stay calm.” Instead of leading a chaotic life, “lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:2). And once you calm down, it’s time to mind your own business.
Mind Your Own Business
We know from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10–12) that some of them were “busybodies”—people that generated a lot of noise but did little work. They were busy meddling in other people’s affairs.
This is a message for us today, when there’s an entire “entertainment industry” whose goal is to tell us what other (more famous) people are doing. But we are as guilty as any industry. Office gossip, Facebook stalking, hushed conversations about what someone’s wearing or what they did. These reveal hearts that are concerned not with our own affairs, but with the affairs of others.
The problem with meddling in everyone else’s life is that you have little time to do anything productive in your own. We should spend less time judging others, knowing that each of us will be judged by God (Romans 14:12–13), and instead keep our heads down as we strive for godliness. This striving for godliness includes how we do our work.
Do Your Own Job
Besides meddling in others’ affairs, there was another problem with the busybodies Paul was addressing: they weren’t doing honest work. John Piper says, “Some in the church seem to be idlers, lazy, not working for a living, mooching off of others.”
Paul is not addressing people who want work but can’t find it, but people who could work yet aren’t. Dorothy Sayers wrote, “A human being must have an occupation if he or she is not to become a nuisance to the world.” In other words, without work, you will become a piece of work.
By telling the Thessalonians (and by extension, us) to work with their hands, Paul is telling them to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Along with staying calm and minding their own business, Paul knew that this would serve a very important purpose in God’s mission.
Why Lead A Quiet Life?
You might be wondering why you would want to lead a quiet life. After all, aren’t you supposed to be building your platform and promoting your brand? After telling the Thessalonians how to live quiet lives, Paul tells them why it’s so important. He writes,
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 4:11–12)
The point of living a quiet life to be a good witness for Christ. Staying calm, minding your own business, and doing your own job is all about evangelism. And your witness is connected to your integrity.
John Macarthur explains that “when believers display diligent work attitudes and habits and live in a loving and tranquil manner that respects others’ privacy and does not intrude or gossip, it constitutes a powerful testimony to unbelievers and makes the gospel credible.”
Ready to Live A Quiet Life?
If you’re ready to lead live a quiet life and make the gospel credible, consider starting by making this prayer for “restoring public peace at home” part of your time with God:
O ETERNAL God, our heavenly Father, who alone makes men to be of one mind in a house, and stills the outrage of a violent and unruly people; We bless your holy Name, that it has pleased you to appease the seditious tumults which have been lately raised up amongst us; most humbly beseeching you to grant to all of us grace, that we may from this time on obediently walk in your holy commandments; and, leading a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, may continually offer unto you our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for these your mercies towards us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.ii
Photo Credit: Unsplash
Editorial Note: Check out today’s article on Gospel-Centered Discipleship, posted in tandem with this article.
i. These phrases are adapted from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of 1 Thessalonians 4:11 in The Message.
ii. This is my updated version of “A Prayer for Restoring Public Peace at Home” from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.