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, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
(1 Thessalonians, 4 v 11 & 12)
Ambition? Those who have known me long and well will assure you that I never had any, and they will be right. This little verse from Thessalonians might have been written for me, as Paul encourages the believers in that church to be diligent, to be content with what they have and to let their quiet daily faithfulness speak of their faith and the God whom they trust. I love days when there are tasks to be done, but no pressing deadlines, so that I can be fully conscious of what occupies my mind and hands, not thinking ahead all the time to the next job and wishing it was all over! I can take no credit for this desire for quietness, it is natural to me, a gift for which I am deeply grateful to my maker. But Paul is advising the Thessalonians to adopt this attitude even if it does not come naturally to them, why?
I wonder if there is a connection to the teaching of Jesus here, to the many times when the disciples grieved his spirit by their competition for the place of honour, whether on earth or in his coming kingdom. In every account of Jesus life, we find him turning their understanding of status and honour upside down. Time and again, they are told that in God’s eyes, greatness is nothing to do with social standing, wealth, race, gender or age. Jesus welcomed the children, honoured the disregarded women, engaged with the foreigners, commended and comforted the repentant sinners and infuriated the elite of the religious establishment by denying that they had any authority or special status. Towards the end of the gospels, each one in turn makes a clear statement about this issue, these words are from Matthew 23 v 11&12.
The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
A servant, one who seeks only the pleasure and approval of the master, and is content to do any appointed task for no other reward. That attitude requires the death of pride, of self- regard, of the spirit which claims authority over my own life and rejects God’s claim on me. If I am to be such a servant, to be ambitious to live a quiet life, then I must die to that self which seeks the approval of my peers in order to be satisfied, which looks for material prosperity, or security as a sign of my personal worth.
We have the example of Christ in this, as Paul reminds us in his words to the Philippian church :-
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (Philippians 2 v 5-7)
Perhaps this is why Paul stresses the ambition for a quiet life, because it indicates that pride has been conquered in a believer’s life, that they are growing more and more like Christ, and His life in them is shining more clearly. This work of being made Christ-like is one which lasts all our lives, and which will not be complete until He returns in glory and raises us to new life. But we can take courage and hope that the work continues, and can rejoice when we are able to see signs that it is progressing. For me, the quiet days are such opportunities, when I find myself content with small and private service of others, prayers and works of love which only God sees, domestic chores which will need done again very soon, noticing of small tokens of grace and goodness and rendering thanks to the giver.
May we learn more and more to be content with the tasks appointed, seeking only our Lord’s approval, and rejoicing in the quiet riches of a life free from fretting ambition and the need to impress others.