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Make It Your Ambition to Lead a Quiet Life (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

Make It Your Ambition to Lead a Quiet Life (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

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Paul said, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). Read this chapter from Work and Rest God’s Way to learn how to lead a quiet life and work with your hands.

Work and Rest God's Way: A Biblical Recipe for Finding Joy and Purpose in All You Do Front cover
Work and Rest Gods Way Family Guide author Scott LaPierre

The text in this post is from my book, Work and Rest God’s Way, and the audio is from the audiobook. I am praying God uses the book and accompanying Family Guide to exalt Christ and encourage you as you serve Him.

Seek Great Things in God’s Eyes, Such as Leading a Quiet Life

Samuel, the prophet, was a godly man, but he made a mistake when he was sent to anoint David to replace Saul. Jesse’s sons stood before him, and 1 Samuel 16:6–7 records:

So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

When each son was rejected, “Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all the young men here?’ Then he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep’” (1 Samuel 16:11). God chose David, the son whose name Jesse didn’t even use, and who wasn’t even invited to the anointing. Why? God sees things differently than man sees them.

Consider Moses unleashing the plagues on Egypt, David killing Goliath, and Elijah defeating the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. God was pleased when these events took place, and they’re some of our favorite accounts to read in Scripture. In that sense, they look great in God’s eyes and man’s eyes. But this isn’t the case with everything in the Bible. Some things that look great in God’s eyes might look bad in man’s eyes, such as service, humility, and forgiveness. Conversely, some things that look great in man’s eyes are not great in God’s eyes—at least when they become idols or are used sinfully—such as fame, riches, and power.

Baruch’s situation is another example. He found his job unfulfilling and miserable. Being Jeremiah’s scribe was unattractive and unglamorous to him. But in God’s eyes, he was doing a great thing. He was writing the very words of Scripture and serving one of God’s faithful prophets!

As we think about our work, the question is never, “How does this look to man?” The question is, “How does this look to God?” When we can answer the second question, we can correctly evaluate our job.

Let’s consider some people who sought great things in God’s eyes. Their examples can encourage us and help us rightly view our situations.

Moses Pursued Greatness in God’s Eyes

By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible (Hebrews 11:24–27).

Moses “[saw] Him who is invisible,” referring to God. This doesn’t make sense, does it? We can’t see what’s invisible. The beginning of the chapter says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is seeing what is invisible, which means Moses’ faith caused him to turn his back on Egypt and all it represented.

Moses’ life was charted. He could have grown up in Pharaoh’s house with luxury, fame, safety, and ease, but he rejected all of that for a life of mistreatment and oppression. Moses knew the “pleasures of sin” were “fleeting” and temporary, so he embraced “the reproach of Christ.” He didn’t know Jesus as we do, but in identifying with the suffering of Christ’s people, the Hebrews, he identified with Christ Himself. He did what we discussed earlier and focused on the eternal, keeping his eyes on heaven and “looking to the reward.” While Moses’ actions must have looked foolish in man’s eyes, he did a great thing in God’s eyes.

Jonathan Pursued Greatness in God’s Eyes

We know David replaced Saul as king, but nobody expected this, including Saul’s own son, Jonathan, who grew up expecting to be the next king. Saul failed as the king, but Jonathan was a godly man who wouldn’t repeat his father’s mistakes. He was ready to receive the throne and become the king his father never was and do the job his father should’ve done. But something happened. God said, “I want David to be king.”

The great thing Jonathan spent his life looking forward to wasn’t going to happen. He could’ve gotten angry with God. He had every reason to say, “Why are you treating me like this and punishing me for my dad’s sins? I’m not like him. What did I do wrong? I’ve served You my whole life. I would do a better job.” Jonathan also could’ve gotten angry with David: “Why should he be king? He was a shepherd. His father, Jesse, was a nobody. Why does he get to take the throne from me?” But if Jonathan hated David and was jealous of him, then he would’ve been just like his father. Instead:

When [Jonathan] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. Saul took him that day, and would not let him go home to his father’s house anymore. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt…

[Jonathan] said to [David], “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that” (1 Samuel 18:1–3, 23:17).

I don’t think it’s too much to say that Jonathan experienced one of the biggest disappointments in Scripture. When you spend your life desiring something and then find out it’s going to someone else, you’re discouraged. Embracing God’s will meant giving up the great thing Jonathan wanted his whole life. To his credit, not only did he accept God’s will, he did everything he could to see it fulfilled.

Becoming the second king of Israel would’ve looked great in man’s eyes, but Jonathan’s actions probably looked bad because following others is typically frowned upon. As the saying goes, “Second place is first place’s loser.” But in supporting David, Jonathan was doing a great thing in God’s eyes.

John the Baptist’s example is similar. He had a large following. When Jesus’ public ministry began, John’s followers began following Jesus:

[John’s disciples] said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!” John answered and said, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:26-30).

John the Baptist was to Jesus what Jonathan was to David. Jonathan knew that for David to increase, he had to decrease. John knew that for Jesus to increase, he had to decrease.

In deferring to Jesus, John’s actions looked poor to man. We know that because his disciples warned him about what was happening. But John’s actions were so great that Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).

John and Jonathan did great things in God’s eyes, because they fulfilled His roles for them. Similarly, regardless of what anyone might think about our jobs, the greatest thing we can do is fulfill the roles God has for us. This is the case even if the jobs are despised by man.

Despised Jobs that Please God

The Babylonians destroyed the temple when they conquered the Jews. They rebuilt the temple decades later when they returned to the land. Some of the Jews saw Solomon’s temple before it was destroyed, went into exile in Babylon, lived through the exile, and returned to Jerusalem for the rebuilding. When they laid the foundation for the new temple, “Many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes” (Ezra 3:12). They wept because they thought the new temple wouldn’t compare with the previous temple. God rebuked them with two questions He asked through the prophets:

  • Haggai asked, “Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing? The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former” (Haggai 2:3, 9). The new temple was inferior to Solomon’s temple in man’s eyes, but in God’s eyes, it would be greater.
  • Zechariah asked, “For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the Lord, which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth” (Zechariah 4:10).

The prophet wrote, “These seven…are the eyes of the Lord,” but this doesn’t mean God has seven eyes. Since seven is the number of completion this refers to God’s omniscience, or complete knowledge, which allows Him to see “throughout the whole earth.”

A “plumb line” is a builder’s tool, and God “rejoiced” to see it in the hand of Zerubbabel, the Jews’ leader. As the Jews rebuilt the temple, they “despised” it as a “day of small things,” but in God’s eyes, the work was great enough to cause Him to “rejoice.”

This applies to us because we can despise our work and see it as days spent doing small things. Our jobs can seem insignificant, which might lead us to think God isn’t pleased with what we’re doing. If this happens, we should encourage ourselves with Zechariah’s words to the Jews. God rejoices in the seemingly small things we do.

We shouldn’t despise small things, because if they cause God to rejoice, then they aren’t small things. They’re great things because they please Him and bring Him joy. Great things are defined by God’s pleasure.

Jesus said, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10). Our faithfulness in little things is important because it reveals that we can be faithful “in much,” or in great things. If we can’t be faithful “in what is least,” we won’t suddenly become faithful if we’re given more. When we give our children small tasks, if they don’t do those well, we don’t give them bigger tasks and expect them to do better. Likewise, when God, our Father, gives us, His children, tasks, He’s looking for faithfulness in small, despised things before He’ll entrust bigger tasks to us.

In the parable of the talents, the master commended the first two, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21, 23). Similarly, in the parable of the minas, the master said, “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:17). In both parables, the master didn’t commend faithfulness over great things. Instead, He rewarded faithfulness over “very little” and “few things.” These small areas of faithfulness might have been despised by the servants throughout their earthly lives, but this is exactly what pleased the master, brought him joy, and earned the servants rewards.

Make It Your Ambition to Lead a Quiet Life

Paul said, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). Instead of “seeking great things” and “despising days of small things,” we should “aspire to lead [quiet lives].” The world tempts us to crave fame, attention, and recognition. Can you imagine anything less attractive in society’s eyes than a quiet life?

What God wants from us is the opposite of what the world promotes. In God’s eyes, little is more impressive than simple, humble, lives of obedience, often filled with small, ordinary routines. The days are far from glamorous. While this might sound discouraging, it should be encouraging, because it frees us from striving to become big, noticed, and heard.

First Corinthians 10:31 says, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Why did Paul mention eating and drinking? Because there aren’t many “[smaller] things” than these! What could be simpler or more routine? Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Whatever we do, no matter how small or insignificant, can be done for God’s glory and pleasure!

Most of Us Will Be a Thaddeus or a Baruch

The judges were important, but could most Christians tell you what they did? They could probably discuss Samson and Gideon, maybe Ehud and Othniel, but would they even remember the names of Tola, Jair, Elon, or Abdon?

Consider the kings. People could tell you about David and Solomon, maybe Hezekiah and Josiah, but would they remember anything about Amaziah and Jotham?

Consider the prophets. Most people know who Samuel, Elijah, and Jeremiah are, but do they know anything about Amos and Obadiah?

Consider the apostles, the most important men in the New Testament, second only to Jesus. If you ask people which apostle they most identify with, they’ll probably tell you Peter. One reason is he was known for opening his mouth when he should’ve been quiet. Since James 3:2 says, “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body,” most of us identify with Peter because we have the same problem. The other reason we can relate to Peter is there’s so little written about the rest of the apostles that we can’t identify with them!

Judas, the son of James, is also known as Thaddaeus to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot. He’s mentioned in the lists of the disciples (Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:16, and Acts 1:13), and John 14:22 records, “Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, ‘Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?’” (John 14:22). He’s in the lists of the disciples, and he asks Jesus one question. That’s all that’s recorded about him.

Besides Peter, James, John, Judas, and Thomas (only because of the account of him doubting), what do we know about the other apostles? Ephesians 2:20 says the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles,” and Revelation 21:14 says, “The wall of the [New Jerusalem] had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles.” Could anything make the apostles sound more important? Yet most people couldn’t name half of them.

I’m not criticizing people’s Bible knowledge, but I am making a point: how famous are apostles, judges, kings, and prophets if people hardly know anything about them? Even the people in Scripture we tend to think were extraordinary were very ordinary. This should reassure us, because if we’re going to “live quiet lives” filled with “small things,” we’re going to be more like Thaddaeus, Tola, Jair, Jotham, and Amos, than Peter, Gideon, David, and Elijah.

The Premier Example of Leading a Quiet Life

As far as leading a quiet life and being faithful in small things, nobody modeled this better than Jesus. When you strip away the miraculous and supernatural, you see His life was characterized by modesty, humility, and simplicity. There was a lack of extravagance and glamor.

Why did the Jews reject Jesus? They thought the Messiah would deliver them from their oppression like Moses delivered Israel from Egypt. He’d be a great military leader like David—after all the Messiah was “the Son of David”—and give them victories over the Romans like David gave Israel victories over the Philistines. He’d be a great king and restore the nation to their Golden Age when they were wealthy and powerful like they experienced under Solomon. Instead, they had a Man walking around on dirt roads with “nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). Jesus couldn’t have looked less like a rich, glamorous king, and most of the time, He couldn’t have lived a simpler, quieter life.

Moses, Jonathan, and John the Baptist’s examples in humbling themselves are challenging, but how much greater is Jesus’ example? Philippians 2:6–8 says:

[Jesus] being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Jesus could’ve lived like a king and experienced the best the world offers, but He was content to obey His Father and live a simple, modest life. In John 4:34, He said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” His “food,” or very existence, was a life of unassuming submission. This should be our food too. We find purpose in our work doing the will of God the Father.

At this point, we’re encouraged to seek great things in God’s eyes, which means living simple, quiet lives. But this introduces a question: What does that look like for each person? Surely it can’t be the same for men, women, and children. So, in the following chapters we’ll consider what it means for each person to work God’s way.

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