1Thessalonians 4:9-12 – Mutual love and daily work

1Thessalonians 4:9-12






When God created the world and place mankind on it there were two instructions that he gave. 1st was to be fruitful and increase in number and he gave heterosexual marriage as the context for this activity. 2nd he gave instructions for work – rule over the rest of the created world. [Genesis 1&2].


In this chapter 4 of his letter to the Thessalonians Paul picks up both of these issues. The overall theme of this whole section is about pleasing God. The basis upon which we are to please God is not adherence to a long list of rules and regulations. It is in fact based upon a personal relationship with God and a desire to do what pleases him.


ILLUS. Can you remember what it was like when you first fell in love. How you undertook long uncomfortable journeys – tired and hungry – in order to spend time with your beloved. Nothing was too much trouble. The desire to please the one we loved made any hardship or inconvenience worthwhile.

As you got to know each other you knew instinctively what to do to please and what to avoid.


This is the kind of relationship that God wants us to develop with him so that we develop a spiritual sensitivity – a desire to please Him that overtakes the desire to please ourselves.


Going back to the level of human love-relationships. We do not achieve a deep level of love and instinctively knowing what pleases the other at the outset of a relationship.  It takes time to get to know each other and to develop the relationship – a key is, of course, communication. In other words the relationship has to grow. The same is true with God.


Thus Paul is quick to commend the Thessalonians Christians for their strong faith and desire to please God and at the same time to urge them to “do it more and more” – i.e. ‘to grow’!


Pleasing God is not just about praying, reading the Bible and singing hymns. Our relationship with God is to be reflected in our relationship to others people – both believers and unbelievers.

In verses 3-8 Paul has talked about sexual morality – thus pleasing God is to be seen in the most intimate relationship there can be between a man and a woman. Showing unselfish care, respect and love for your spouse is pleasing to God.

It is also seen in our relationship with fellow-believers [brotherly love. v.9] and with the community at large [respect of outsiders. v.12].




1 Thessalonians 4:9-10

9 Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. 10 And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more. (NIV)


Paul does something in this verse that is quite diplomatic. By actually saying he doesn’t need to tell them about brotherly love he is in fact doing just that. What he achieves in this way is to commend them for their love for each other and encourage them to develop in areas that need more attention.


The word the Paul uses is ‘philadelphia’ – [love for a brother] – it was originally used to refer to the love between siblings. In no way does this word carry any connotations of homosexual love as a recent Hollywood film starring Tom Hanks entitled Philadelphia may suggest.

Given the Christians from the earliest times have referred to each other as ‘Brother’ and ‘Sister’ it is easy to see how this word came to refer to the mutual love that fellow-Christians are to have for each other.

Paul commends the Thessalonians for their evident love for each other AND for the fact that their love has extended beyond the city of Thessalonica. 1 Thessalonians 4:10 …. 10 …, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia.

1 Thessalonians 1:7-8 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia — your faith in God has become known everywhere.


What a wonderful testimony for a church to have!

This mutual love that the Thessalonians have for each other is no new phenomenon. This is something that was required of God’s people in the OT – Leviticus 19:18  ” ….. love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD. (NIV)

It was taught by Jesus in the NT – John 13:34 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (NIV)

However it seems that what Paul has in mind is a much more personal instruction that each believer has had from God by the Holy Spirit —–               1 Thessalonians 4:8 8 …. God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. (NIV)


Every believer has within them the Holy Spirit who, if we are sensitive to his voice, instructs us – and also empowers us to please God.


This mutual love is not simply a nice warm feeling – it has its practical outworking in the very mundane things of life like ‘WORK’.




Brotherly love – ‘philadelphia’ – has implications for those inside and those outside the fellowship.


1 Thessalonians 4:11  Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, (NIV)


Who does Paul have in mind and what exactly is he driving at? He is responding to what he has heard from Thessalonica. Some have suggested that he is addressing three different groups of people.


Problem People:

  • Fanatics who seem intent on stirring things up
  • Busybodies who keep interfering in the lives of others
  • Loafers who avoid work and sponge off others

Others suggest that he is making three points to everyone but with specific troublesome people in mind.


It is possible that there were those in Thessalonica who had become so excited and obsessive about the fact that Jesus might return very soon that they abandoned their jobs. Their thinking was “What is the point of working for material things like homes and food if Jesus will return soon?” They possibly became disruptive within the fellowship and no doubt irritated their pagan neighbour who probably thought they had ‘lost it’ anyway.

They were over excited about Jesus’ return and Paul is telling them to calm down a bit and get back to work.

I don’t believe that Paul is telling them to be like timid Church mice in their Christian witness – after all he was accused of “turning the world upside down”


It is also possible that the kind of people Paul has in mind are those who because of their activities in the public arena are bringing unwanted and unnecessary attention on the Church. If this is true then Paul is telling them to be very careful about the kind of activities they as Christian engage in.


Bear in mind that Paul is dealing with this in the context of brotherly love. In other words what Paul is saying is that the decisions Christian make in regard to their involvement in the wider community / work-a-day world ought to be significantly influenced by ‘philadelphia

The principle therefore is that for the Christian genuine love and concern for others will influence, if not determine, an individual’s decision about work / public activity.


In some countries today – as would have been the case in Thessalonica – Christians are a persecuted minority. For example, Muslim countries or places like China. Public attention on one member of the Church can result in the spotlight been shone on the whole church bringing much hardship and difficulty.


In counties like GB there is a long history of Christian tradition and a certain amount of respectability is given to the Church. Thus the circumstances and application might be different but the principle remains. Christians are to avoid circumstances and activities that will bring the Church into disrepute or cause unnecessary difficulties.


What Paul clearly doesn’t mean is that Christians should in anyway water down their faith in order to placate hostile unbelievers. It is far more important that we are faithful to God and please him than impress unbelievers.  HOWEVER we need to avoid behaviour that needlessly brings disrespect on the gospel or the church.


Paul’s Practical Appeal:


So what is Paul’s practical advice to them?

11 Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, ….

He does want them to be blobs – that is the last thing Paul was – and Jesus was certainly not. He is not asking us to be boring little people who go to work from 9 – 5 and watch TV every evening and have a two week holiday by the seaside once and year – and never do anything else!!

What he is saying is don’t be disruptive and go around looking to stir things up.


…. to mind your own business ……


Paul picks this up again in his second letter so clearly it was a problem in Thessalonica 2 Thessalonians 3:11  We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. (NIV)

There is a difference between ‘brotherly love’ and meddling in people’s lives. Sometimes we can get the two confused.

….and to work with your hands,…

The Greeks despised manual work and regarded it as degrading for free men – only fit for slaves. The gospel was in direct conflict with this view. Paul was a tentmaker and worked with his hands – Jesus was a carpenter! The Bible is quite plain the laziness is not pleasing to God – work is a gift from God.


Paul’s Particular Purposes:


1 Thessalonians 4:12 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (NIV)


In this verse Paul brings together the two communities in which Christians are to live – the church and the wider world. His desire is two fold, viz. that we command the respect of outsiders and that we are not an unnecessary burden to the church.

1 Peter 2:12 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (NIV)

Colossians 4:5 5 Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (NIV)


Contemporary Application:


We need to be clear that Paul is not here talking about those who are unemployed and who cannot get work. The problem of unemployment in contemporary society is symptomatic of economic downturns and is usually a devastating personal experience for those out of work.

Paul is not condemning the unemployed – (those who want to work but can’t find it) – he is condemning idleness – (when there is work available but people don’t want to do it).


Work of course can take many different forms – The world of 1st C Thessalonica is very different to the modern workplace.

Clearly as Christian we have a responsibility to work in order to support..

  • ourselves
  • our families
  • AND those who are unable to support themselves

In the context of brotherly Love – Love is expressed in supporting those who are in need BUT it is also expressed in supporting ourselves if we are able so as not to be an unnecessary burden on others.


The two main themes of this chapter are ‘pleasing God’ (holiness) and ‘brotherly love’

How does this impact upon our work life?

There are many related issues – the occupations we choose – the salaries we earn – the lifestyle we live etc…


For Christians there are some jobs that would be unsuitable – e.g. Adult entertainment industry / gambling industry.


More and more in our culture a person’s worth is measure not by the quality of their character but by the quantity of their material possessions. Consequently high-paying jobs are more highly valued than low-paying jobs

What is our attitude to work? –

ILLUS.: A recent survey among USA church-goers found that people who make a lot of money by working hard are admired more than those who take lower-paid jobs in order to serve people.


I don’t mean to imply that those who are well-paid are automatically less concerned about serving people. Life is never that simple!!

It is also a matter of lifestyle choices – it is a matter of attitude. What am I pursuing? A bigger house in a better areas? A certain make of car with the right badge on the front? The clothes one wears! The places frequented! The clubs one belongs to! Etc…


Ultimately it is really about attitude!

  • It is possible to earn a low age and be very materialistic and selfish.
  • It is possible to earn a high salary & be non-materialistic & serve people.


It is so easy to be swept along by the cultural tide of consumerism. However God calls us to make decisions about how we work and spend what we earn on the basis of what pleases him and in the context of ‘philadelphia’ (brotherly love) – bearing in mind that ‘philadelphia’ influences our relationship with believers and unbelievers.


God help us to be conscientious in –

–         our daily work

–         our concern for the needy

–         our lifestyle (the careers / jobs we choose & how we spend our money)

–         our relationship with outsiders

–         our relationship with our fellow-believers





1 Thessalonians 4:9-12




  • Ø Commanded by God in the OT

” .. love your neighbour as yourself.  Leviticus 19:18

  • Ø Taught by Jesus in the NT

“A new command I give you: Love one another.” John 13:34

  • Ø Enabled today by the Holy Spirit

“. God, … gives you his Holy Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 4:8




Problem People:

  • Fanatics who seem intent on stirring things up
  • Busybodies who interfere in the lives of others
  • Loafers who avoid work and sponge off others


Paul’s Practical Appeal:

  • lead a quiet life
  • mind your own business
  • work with your hands


Paul’s Particular Purposes:

  • win the respect of outsiders 
  • [do] not be dependent on anybody


Contemporary Application:

  • Pleasing God and ‘philadelphia’ have practical implications for the jobs/careers and lifestyles we choose.

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