“…. make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you….” -1 Thess. 4.11
Isn’t it remarkable that the same man who gave us the most transcendent statements about the resurrected and ascended Lord could be found making such earthy statements as this one? The same man who declared that we are “seated with Christ” in heavenly places also instructed the churches in the most menial of matters which pertain to the daily grind of life, and I am convinced that it has everything to do with establishing true foundations in the Church.
There is something crucial about the day-to-day reality of life, and how we function within it, that determines the degree to which we will rule and reign with Christ in the age to come. There is a subtle form of Gnosticism in the Church, which sees all matters unearthly as positive, and all matters earthly as negative. It seems right in the beginning, but it actually negates the ultimate intentions of God, who longs to unite heaven and earth rather than to exchange one for the other. In fact, at the end of the age restoration, both heaven and earth will be reconfigured and made new, and God will manifest Himself fully and permanently, abiding forever in the great reality of that union.
When we think of earthly matters as inherently unspiritual, we confine the faith to religious categories and functions, and before long we have chopped up our hearts into compartments that fail to pulsate with the life of God. We begin comparing ourselves with other men, striving for higher spirituality, more esteemed religious positions, and a type of asceticism creeps in.
The apostle Paul, who likely had more spiritual revelation than any man in his day, was also a very nuts and bolts type of man. He could raise a boy from the dead one day, and get blisters from making a leather tent the next day. He could receive prophetic revelation and powerful gifts in a church gathering, and maintain the spirit of prayer and faith while engaging in tasks that we would consider a drudgery.
Paul knew that this unhealthy idea of spirituality could move into the churches, and from time to time he was required to address it.
One of the last hiding places of our carnal ambition is found in our desire to be considered spiritual by other men. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were guilty of this, and ultimately it comes down to the fact that we have not adequately sought the glory which comes from God. We are looking for recognition in an earthbound way, though it is disguised with a spiritual facade.
I have met many men, usually young like myself, who are filled with anxiety and even depressions over the fact that they desire to be in “full-time ministry,” but no door has opened yet. Very often, they are recently married, or fathers of young children, and very often also, they lack a value for their calling as husbands and fathers, and their devotional lives are inconsistent as well. While the Lord may call and send young men to remarkable works, I am convinced that for most, the Lord would have them to focus firstly on learning to walk with Him in the kinds of tasks that we consider menial.
It doesn’t seem like a heroic ambition to “lead a quiet life,” but perhaps one of the greatest hindrances to the Church’s witness in the earth, is that we are too quick to speak and too slow to listen. We want our ministries to be known, our distinctives to be recognized, our names to be exalted. Paul told the saints to be content to lay low, and to allow the Lord to form Christ in us in the hidden places of life so that our public proclamation would bear the weight of heavenly reality.
It doesn’t seem incredible to “attend to your own business,” but this is a necessity for the life which would be built on a true foundation. If our finances are out of order, our children are not rightly loved and disciplined, our spouses are neglected relationally, our devotional lives are sparse, and our work ethic is dishonoring to the Lord, why should we look for the greener grass on the other side? Do we assume that “full-time” ministry will fix all of these issues? We need to “attend” to our own business, and allow the Lord to bring His government into our lives in the nit and grit of daily decisions and activities, or else we have rejected Paul’s apostolic instruction.
Lastly, he calls us to “work with our hands,” which is something both Jesus and Paul did. Can it be said that the hands of Jesus would not have had such healing effect in His ministry had He failed to abide in the Father during His carpentry days? If Jesus was totally submitted to the Father for His entire earthly life, then His carpentry days were just as ordained as the cross and resurrection themselves, but do we ever see it in this way? We are more likely to highlight the raising of Lazarus or some other dramatic event in Jesus’ life, and that is understandable. But the daily grind of sweat and labor in the carpentry shop was just as much a revelation of God as anything else in Jesus’ life, and He means to bring us into an experience and view of the same kind. When we view our “menial” tasks as unspiritual, we open our souls to a numbness towards sonship, and we are more apt to fall into a spirit of complaining or a depressive attitude. But if we make it our ambition to love the Lord and honor Him in the midst of the monotony and grit of daily events, we will see the glory of it in the same way that Jesus did.
However the Lord calls you to work with your hands, the point is that Paul is calling us to a faithfulness in the practical affairs of life, and if we have been unwilling for that, we are not likely to function as leaders in the Body, nor to rule and reign at higher levels in the age to come. The great majority of believers will not be pastors or prophets, teachers or missionaries by occupation, but will function on grounds that seem unofficial spiritually. But if it is in the intention of the Father it is holy, holy, holy, and He calls us to an intimate union with Himself no matter where we are or how we are positioned.
The purposes of God are served in the formation of His servants when they give themselves to labor that is monotonous and predictable, that lacks any kind of flamboyance or charismatic excitement, but requires a steadfast patience and faithful performance, day after day.
…. we need to serve our apprenticeship in the things that are ordinary, unseen and undistinguished. We need to show ourselves faithful in those places so that we can be faithful in the true works of God. This is the sublime wisdom and requirement of God.
(Art Katz, Apostolic Foundations, Burning Bush Press: Bemidji, MN; 2009, p. 16)
Are you surrendered inwardly to the Lord in the unseen and menial tasks? Do you trust Him in hiddenness? Are you willing simply to honor Him by being responsible and faithful with the work He has before you today, even if no man thinks you are spiritual or worthy of esteem? The way that we maintain communion with the Lord in the daily grind, the way that we steward our money and our work, and the way that we treat people when no immediate reward is in view- all of this determines whether or not we are moving into a true experience and expression of the Kingdom of God.
A man may be neck-deep in the work of modern ministry, engaged in all types of seemingly spiritual labors, yet totally out of touch with God who has called him. This is not what the Lord has intended for you. But if we know Him vitally in the midst of the menial and mundane affairs of life, we have come to know Him indeed.
Bryan Purtle is a firefighter and author that carries a jealousy for historical revival, the salvation of Israel, and the recovery of apostolic proclamation and living through the revelation of Jesus Christ. Visit his website at thoughtsuponrising.com.
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