Living the Gospel

Dr. Brian Allison

On Monday night, teams of two go out from Unionville Baptist Church into the community to knock on doors and invite the residents out to the Church. As we go from house to house, sometimes we have the opportunity to engage in significant conversation, and even have the opportunity to speak the Gospel. We, as believers, are to speak the Gospel to unbelievers; but not only that, we, as believers, are to live the Gospel before unbelievers. Our lives are to adorn the Gospel. How we behave, how we conduct ourselves, should enhance the message of the Gospel. Our lives ought to be living epistles, reflecting the truth of the Gospel. Our lives should be exemplary, regardless of the roles we fulfil or the responsibilities that we undertake. We should be the best that we can be for the glory of God. If you are a doctor, you should be the best doctor that you can be. If you are a lawyer, you should be the best lawyer that you can be. If you are an engineer, you should be the best engineer that you can be. If you are a clerk, you should be the best clerk that you can be. If you are a salesperson, you should be the best salesperson that you can be; etc. As a Christian, you are to be the best in your particular role and capacity that you can be because that is your testimony to the world.

So, we are not only to speak the Gospel to unbelievers, but we are to live the Gospel before unbelievers. 1 Thessalonians 4:11,12 reads, "And to 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; so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need." This is a succinct statement of social ethics or a philosophy of social life. Paul states here in a pregnant sentence how we are to behave in society, how we are to relate to people, how we are to function in the work place, how we are to live in the community. The teaching and exhortation here is very practical. In order to appreciate the significance of verses 11 and 12, we must consider verse 10, which says, "But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to..." So, we are urged to produce a certain kind of behaviour, particularly in reference to others with whom we rub shoulders in society and in the work place.

We are to be ambitious

We are to be ambitious Christians – "But we urge you, brethren...to make it your ambition" (4:10). Think about that for a moment. Paul says, in effect, "I urge you to be zealous; I urge you to be on fire; I urge you to make it your passion; I urge you to aspire to something." Paul uses this term 'to be ambitious' only three times in the whole of his writings. The first time he uses it is in Romans 15:20, "And thus I aspired [same term in the original] to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man's foundation." Paul says in effect, "I was excited to preach the Gospel. It absorbed my energies and my attention." We find this term used again in 2 Corinthians 5:9, "Therefore also we have as our ambition [same term], whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him." Paul says, "We had a passion to please God." The third time Paul uses this term is in our text, 1 Thessalonians 4:11.

There are some things about which we are to be excited or passionate. I often come across Christians who do not get very excited about anything. They have little, if any, drive, motivation, or passion. Is that your condition, my friend? Is there anything that drives you, anything that excites you, anything that causes you to vault out of bed in the morning? I was speaking to a young man this past week and he asked me if I could find him some literature on stoking the fires of passion for Christ. He realized that in his own life he did not have a zeal for God. He is not motivated to live a life pleasing to the Lord. He is not driven to seek the Lord with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. He frankly confessed that he is cold and indifferent; and yet he is to be commended in recognizing that sad condition and trying to seek help. Do you have a passion about anything? Are you aspiring to anything? Paul says, "Make it your ambition."

We are to be ambitious for peace

Paul presents three very practical, social objectives for which we ought to be ambitious – "To lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands" (4:11). In achieving these three objectives, we will reach two goals – "So that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need" (4:12). The first social objective which we must pursue is "to lead a quiet life." Paul, in effect, urges, "Do not be a rabble-rouser; do not insight unrest; do not be contentious; do not endeavour to be a troublemaker." As Christians, we are to lead a tranquil life. I know of a Christian minister who (seemingly) was born to get into a 'fight'. He is always looking for a good fight – some issue to argue about, some matter to debate about, some enemy to take on, some cause to defend. Now, I think it is good to defend causes and to endeavour to stand for truth and justice, and to speak out against injustice, evil, and abuse; but I do not believe that we are to be continually militant (and even belligerent), looking for a fight simply for fight's sake, striving to have our opinions and ideas received and embraced, while being insensitive to people's feelings. Recently, I attended a meeting which addressed a controversial issue. After the meeting, I was speaking to a ministerial associate, a former student. He held one position on the controversy and I held another. As we interacted, I could not get a word in edgewise. Every time I tried to speak, he would cut me off – his position was apparently the right one. Another Christian brother who was standing next to me was kind and bold enough to say, "That is the kind of spirit that creates controversy. Why don't you give the man an opportunity to speak?" Too often we show such an ungracious and aggressive spirit. We do not yield and give people an opportunity to speak. We are too concerned about setting forth our own views and opinions, arrogantly believing that we are right, and that it is our calling to bless others with our extraordinary insight and understanding. And woe if we were ever to drop off the scene and others were to lose our invaluable input (forgive me the sarcasm).

Some people are perennial troublemakers, stirring the pot of contention and unrest, dropping an instigating word here, dropping a provoking word there; seeking, either consciously or unconsciously, to create disharmony. Are you one who looks for a good fight? Is that what you live for? Paul says, "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life."

We are to be ambitious for non-interference

The second social objective which we must pursue is to "attend to your own business" (4:11). And, of course, if we lead a quiet life, we will attend to our own business. Some people love to 'stick their noses' into everyone else's affairs, not only because they have a morbid curiosity, but also because they seriously believe that they can help the situation, or contribute to the cause. There are more than a few meddlers, those who interfere, those who have 'to give their two cents'. Paul urges, "Make it your ambition to mind your own business. Do not be a busybody." I was speaking to a young lady this past week; what a classic case of meddling. She asked me for advice, after having disrupted certain relationships. She said, "My friend had a falling out with another person, and I thought I could help. I took the liberty to try to resolve my friend's problem. So I went to speak to the various people involved in the situation, and guess what happened? Everyone now seems to be angry with everyone else. What do I do about it?" Well, the first thing she should have done was not to have said anything to anyone. It was none of her business. We are well-meaning, aren't we? We say, for instance, "Oh, I will just telephone that sister and see if I can help out here," or, "I will simply speak to that brother," or "Yes, I heard this, and I really think that person should know about this or that." That is not minding your own business. Deal with matters that concern you. Save yourself and others the headache from your meddling. Proverbs 26:17 reads, "Like one who takes a dog by the ears is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him." When you interfere, when you 'stick your nose' into someone else's business, it is like grabbing the head of a dog. You will probably have your hand bitten; you will probably be ripped apart (figuratively speaking) in the process. Such a reckless act would be stupid. You have enough in your life to look after. Mind your own business, and let other people mind theirs.

We are to be ambitious for work

The third social objective which we must pursue is to "work with your hands." Do not be afraid of labour. Do not be a loafer or a free-loader. Do not be a parasite, living off someone else, being dependent upon others to pay your way. Pay your own way. If you are old enough to work (and free from extenuating circumstances), then work. Do not try to get a free ride. Paul says, "Make it your ambition to work with your hands; do not be idle, do not be lazy, pull your weight." I heard a preacher a number of years ago, and the illustration in his sermon was, "Some people expend more energy trying to get out of work than that which would be required to actually do the work." Do you know people like that where you work? They will do anything not to have to pick up the broom or shovel, hiding here or running there. They will do almost anything to avoid looking after the paper work or attending to the orders. They get more exhausted trying to get out of work than if they would just do the work. Do not be afraid of work. Do not try to have a free ride, or you will get a reputation which will be very difficult to shake. Do not be a parasite. People do not like parasites.

These three social objectives are Christian duties – "just as we commanded you" (4:11b). These believers knew what was required of them; and we know what is required of us. We have received commandments from Christ. 1 Thessalonians 4:2 reads, "For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus." Apparently, these believers at Thessalonica had the misunderstanding that the Lord was to return immediately, and in preparation of that return they were failing to fulfil some of their social obligations and responsibilities. Apparently, they had sold their lands and had given away their possessions. They had stopped working, believing that the Lord's return was imminent. So, Paul reminds these believers to keep busy, to do what is required of them, to demonstrate the reality of the Gospel in their lives because that is a testimony to unbelievers.

Being ambitious with evangelism in view

In achieving the above three practical, social objectives – objectives that pertain to the work place and to community life – we will secure two goals. The first goal has in view the sinner; it is evangelistic in nature. The second goal has in view ourselves, and our immediate circle, and is economic in nature. First, in achieving these three social objectives, we will secure the goal of faithfully witnessing to sinners – "So that you may behave properly toward outsiders" (4:12a). We are to live in such a way that we do not disgrace the Lord Jesus nor bring dishonour upon His Word. Now, it has been sometime since I worked in a secular context; and yet I still remember some of the challenges. Some of you have to face certain challenges every week as you go to your place of employment and rub shoulders with unbelievers, especially unbelievers that know that you are a Christian. They watch you very closely; they scrutinize your actions. When that dirty joke is told, and you laugh, they take note. They take note whether you use foul language as they do. They take note whether you engage in the same office politics as they do. Is there a clear distinction between your conduct as a Christian and their conduct as non-Christians? You cannot argue that you are behaving in a way similar to non-Christians because you are simply trying to identify with them, and thus have an opportunity to share the Gospel. If that is your method of presenting the Gospel, you have disqualified yourself as a faithful witness. If you want to make a difference, and thus have an impact on unbelievers, then you have to have a higher standard. The unbeliever may not believe what you teach and model, but he or she will respect you for your consistent stand. Again, the unbeliever is watching to see whether indeed you are all that you claim to be.

How do unbelievers see you? This past week at the lunch table, did you present a faithful witness to Christ? When you spoke to that client on the phone, was your tenor, your deportment, becoming of a Christian? Even though you did not speak the Gospel, did you witness the Gospel in how you lived and behaved so that when people left your presence, they could say something like this, "That person was different. There was something unusual about him (or her)"? Do you stand out in the work place, in a good sense? We ought never to live in a way that people criticize our moral behaviour, or in a way that indicates that there is no difference between how we and unbelievers live.

I heard this past week of a Christian physiotherapist who works in a clinic in which the patients who come for treatment request her because she is so good; and she is that good because she views her proficiency in her job as part of her testimony. In that clinic she has endeavoured to be the best physiotherapist she can be, and her performance adorns the Gospel. She tries to live blamelessly. Are you blameless as a disciple of Christ? We are to behave properly towards unbelievers. Our behaviour and conduct ought to elicit the respect of our colleagues or co-workers. Do you have the respect of your colleagues or co-workers? They may not like your code of conduct, they may not like your lifestyle, they may feel uneasy in your salutary presence, but do they respect you because of your high standards and because you are unwilling to compromise, even when they criticize and humiliate you? How you live can win people to the Gospel. The unbeliever has no answer to the power of a holy and godly life. A holy and godly life is a convincing argument for the truth of the Gospel. It leaves unbelievers speechless. Do you preach the Gospel, loud and clear, by how you act and conduct yourself – at the counter, in the business meeting, on the telephone, on the bus?

Being ambitious with economic independence in view

Second, in achieving the above three social objectives, we will secure the goal of financial or economic independence – "and not be in any need" (4:12b). We do not often talk about this matter of being financially or economically independent, but the Scriptures talk about it. As you do an honest day's work for an honest day's pay, enjoying self-sufficiency, you will provide for the needs of yourself and your family. You need not be dependent upon someone else to pay the bills, someone else to continue to feed you money, but rather you can enjoy a healthy independence. Through honest, diligent labour, you can be materially self-sufficient. As we already mentioned, we are not to be loafers, we are not to be free-loaders, we are not to be parasites.

Now, admittedly, not everyone is able to work. Many elderly are not able to work. Many who are ill or sick are not able to work. Understandably, many who want to work do not always have the opportunity to work. We all understand these situations; but these cases are different from the case of the loafer or free-loader. Paul says, "Work with your hands...so that you may...not be in any need [so that you might be economically or financially independent, looking after your own needs, and the needs of your family]." Further, Paul is not here suggesting that there should never be a time when one may need financial assistance. There is much in the Scriptures concerning ministering to the poor and needy. Some legitimately need financial assistance.

So, we have three practical, social objectives and two worthwhile goals. This is how we are to live in society, in our community, and in the work place. Brothers and sisters, I challenge you to be a living epistle this coming week. I encourage you to be a walking demonstration of the Gospel; that you live your life in such a way that people stop and take note; that your behaviour and conduct emit a sweet fragrance which is winsome and appealing; that even if you do not say one word, you still preach the Gospel. That is our calling. Do you have a passion to live the Gospel? If you do not, would you pray about it? If you do not have an ambition to live in a certain way so that you, by your very life, adorn the Gospel, would you pray about it? Ask God to give you a new zeal, a new energy, a new excitement for His glory? God delights and rejoices when His people live the Gospel.