1 Thessalonians 4 Commentary Verses 9-12

1 Thessalonians 4 Verses 9-12

[S] In the past decade or so, a new term has been coined. I’m talking about the word “adulting”.

The linguistics journal American Speech has offered up these definitions for this word:

1. to behave in an adult manner; engage in activities associated with adulthood

2. to make someone behave like an adult; turn someone into an adult


The idea comes from the reality that individuals who are classified to be in the Millennial  generation (those born 1980 – ~2000) tend to experience what some call developmental delays. Not that they have a recognized mental or physical disability – but rather that things their parents did at a certain age they might not do for several years later – if at all.

Buying a house, getting married, having children, becoming a supervisor at work, etc. Those are all examples of things that tend to happen later in life for Millennials than for previous generations in this country.

I’m actually officially in that generation and I can attest to some of those dynamics in my own life. As several of you can as well.

And some amount of that stereotype is humorous. But for the Christian, if any of this characterizes you and is a result of personal laziness or a lack of love, then this is one area in which God can help you to be more loving and more responsible. With God’s help you can break free of the Millennial stereotype – whether you fall into that generation or not – and actually start “adulting” in a Christian way without having to mention to others the fact that that’s what you’re doing.

That transition of leaving behind laziness and embracing uncomfortable challenges starts with what we’re going to be considering this evening in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12. So, let’s turn there in our Bibles.

[S] We’re going to see in this passage the Apostle Paul urging his relatively new converts in Thessalonica with two main concepts: their love and their responsibility.

And this is the message for every one of us here: God wants you to grow in your loving actions toward other believers and the outside world by increasing in the area of your personal responsibilities.

So, let’s be challenged by this idea as we read the text and then attempt to explain and understand the content.


1 Thessalonians 4:9–12 AV 1873

9 But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.

10 And indeed ye do it towards all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;

11 and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;

12 that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.

1 Thessalonians 4 9

1 Thessalonians 4:9 AV 1873

9 But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.

But as touching

9 But as touching

9 Περὶ δὲ

Verse 9 begins in Greek with two words – that are found elsewhere in Paul’s letters – to indicate that the apostle was responding to certain questions that were asked of him by the recipients of his letter.

You see this phrase 6 times in the book of 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7:1,25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1, 12) where it delineates Paul’s answers to several questions that the Corinthians had sent to him.

For this letter to the Thessalonians, it’s certainly possible that as Timothy left the Thessalonian believers in order to go back to Paul in Corinth with Silas that those believers sent some questions back to Paul via Timothy.

Or it could just be that Timothy saw some areas of need in that church when he visited them and he mentioned those needs to Paul who then felt compelled to address those situations.

Whatever the case, the first question or issue that was addressed – even though it wasn’t introduced by the typical Greek phrase we’ve been talking about – was in verses 3-8 concerning sexual purity.

Now, the second issue that Paul needs to address with these folks is the matter of brotherly love and responsibility.

In the next section we’ll see him address the issue of those who have died before the Lord Jesus returned. That will end this chapter.

And then at the beginning of the fifth chapter of this letter, we’ll see Paul address the matter of the Day of the Lord for these believers. It appears that’s where the answering of questions ceases in this letter.

So, here in 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, we’re witnessing Paul’s response to the second issue that was brought to his attention concerning this church in Thessalonica.

brotherly love

brotherly love

τῆς φιλαδελφίας

It’s this matter of brotherly love.

This is one word in Greek that contains the concepts of “love” and “brother”.

In this case, the term “brother” is metaphorical. We’re not talking about loving your literal physical family members – though if those family members are saved, they’re included in this concept.

Rather, this idea of brotherly love in this passage is speaking of loving your fellow Christians – who are viewed by God as now being of the same family as you are.

Many of us are not related by blood in this room – we don’t share the same lineage. But we actually are related by blood – by the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed for us so that we now share the same Father and the same Brother, our Lord Jesus.

Jesus loved us enough to die for us so that our sins would be forgiven. And since our shared Lord and Savior loved each of us that much, we instinctively now love one another.

Having this brotherly love for another Christian involves honoring and preferring them (Rom 12:10). It’s something that God wants to be continuing in our lives – and not just be a one-time thing, but it’s rather something to continue to strive after (Hebrews 13:1). It’s a quality that’s to be unfeigned – you shouldn’t have to pretend to love your fellow-believers. It needs to be genuine. We’re not to be loving our brethren to their faces and then stabbing them in the back (1 Peter 1:22). And this love is also something that you can grow in – you add this quality and action and feeling to your growing godliness (2 Peter 1:7).

So, this matter of having and then demonstrating to other believers this genuine love is no small matter in your Christian life. It deserves some real attention and work from you.

But amazingly, Paul indicates to these Thessalonian believers that he really doesn’t feel all that compelled to say a whole lot about it to them…

ye need not that I write unto you

ye need not that I write unto you:

οὐ χρείαν ἔχετε γράφειν ὑμῖν,

Like a healthy person doesn’t need to seek a doctor, by-and-large, these Thessalonians generally didn’t need to be instructed on how to love one another.

•           After all, Paul and Silas and Timothy could recall constantly the love of these believers that resulted in concrete actions for one another (1 Thessalonians 1:3).

•           When Timothy returned to Paul and Silas from Thessalonica, the love of these believers is one thing he was very glad to report on (1 Thessalonians 3:6).

•           And yet, this was one matter which Paul ended the 3rd chapter of this letter with – wishing to God that the love of these believers – as present and active as it was – that it would increase and abound (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

So, actually, it seems like Paul maybe did need to write to them about this love in order to help them increase and abound in it. And certainly, there’s an aspect to this where Paul actually is writing to them about this matter. I mean, that’s what he’s doing in this section here in verses 9-12.

So, why does Paul say that he doesn’t need to write anything to them about brotherly love? It’s not because they’re perfect at doing it. It’s because God himself had already taught – and was at that very moment teaching – them about this matter of loving one’s fellow-believers…

for ye yourselves are taught of God

for ye yourselves are taught of God

αὐτοὶ γὰρ ὑμεῖς θεοδίδακτοί ἐστε

When were you taught this truth by God? That you ought to love one another?

This term that’s translated into English as “taught of God” is actually one Greek word. Literally, the Thessalonians were God-taught concerning this matter of brotherly love.

Isaiah 54:13 held out hope for the nation of Israel that one day when God would turn to them and be gracious to them once more – that all of their children would be taught by the Lord.

And Jesus picked up on this in John 6:45 where he was responding to those who thought he was just a mere human teacher – the carpenter’s son. And he quotes that verse from Isaiah 54:13.

What do you think his point was?

Isn’t this man who’s teaching us just the son of that carpenter, Joseph? – they said.

He responds – Look, the prophets foretold that you would be taught by God. And if the Father has given you to me, you come to me and I teach you.

What’s his point there? He himself is God. The God who would teach his people, Israel.

So, has Jesus taught you? Is he still teaching you through his word and his Spirit?

If the Father has given you to Jesus then you know he has both taught and will continue to teach you.

And one of the areas in which he did and does that is in this matter of how you think about and feel toward and act concerning your fellow Christians – your fellow believers in Christ…

to love one another

to love one another. 

εἰς τὸ ἀγαπᾶν ἀλλήλους· 

This is the new command that Jesus gave to his disciples – that we would love one another just as he loved us (John 13:34; 15:12,17).

If you do this, all people will know that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ (John 13:35).

To do this is to fulfill the whole law. All of God’s commands and precepts – at least as they relate to how you interact with people – boil down to this one command – that you would love one another (Romans 13:8). This is actually your debt to others. You owe this kind of love to your brethren.

The wonderful freedom that is yours through the gospel is given to you – not so that you would use that freedom to fulfill your own lusts and desires – but that you would genuinely love your fellow believers (Galatians 5:13).

None of this is news to anyone who’s been walking with Christ for very long at all. This is the message that you’ve heard from the beginning (1 John 3:11).

When the apostle John summarizes all of what God wants from you, it’s twofold: first of all to believe in the name of Jesus and second to love one another (1 John 3:23).

So, Paul the apostle acknowledges that there’s no need for him or anyone to write to the Thessalonians concerning how they ought to love their fellow-believers – because God himself has taught and is teaching them that very thing.

And apparently, the Thessalonians were – in some ways – doing a fine job of it…

1 Thessalonians 4 10

1 Thessalonians 4:10 AV 1873

10 And indeed ye do it towards all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;

And indeed ye do it towards all the brethren which are in all Macedonia

10 And indeed ye do it towards all the brethren which are in all Macedonia:

10 καὶ γὰρ ποιεῖτε αὐτὸ εἰς πάντας τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς τοὺς ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ Μακεδονίᾳ.

So, not only were the Thessalonians taught by God to love one another – but they were actually doing it.

They were doing it not just to one another in the city of Thessalonica. But their love for the brethren was spreading out into the entire surrounding region – which would have included Philippi and Berea at least.

This would be the equivalent of someone telling our church here that it’s evident to them that we are loving all the believers who are in all Wisconsin. I can’t think of a single church that I would ever have thought to describe in those terms – of loving all of the believers in their state or region. Maybe you can.

I don’t tend to think in those terms. I tend to think in terms of a church’s sending out missionaries. Or their preaching. Or their soundness as it pertains to lifestyle and doctrine and worship.

No doubt, the apostle was concerned about all of those matters. But he pinpoints here their love that was expanding beyond their locality and into the general surrounding region.

But what did that love actually look like? How would you know if a church is even close to reaching what the Thessalonians were doing in terms of brotherly love in their region?

We already know from the first chapter of this letter that the Thessalonian believers became examples to all of the Macedonian believers (1 Thessalonians 1:7). God’s word sounded out throughout Macedonia and even beyond that region (1 Thessalonians 1:8). So, maybe they were loving their fellow-Macedonians in the sense that they were proclaiming the gospel and mentoring and discipling new believers throught the region.

Perhaps, the Thessalonians were being hospitable to visiting believers who happened to be traveling through their city on business or for whatever other purpose. Maybe that’s how they were demonstrating love to others in that region.

The love of these Thessalonians impacted what they did with their money and how they provided for other believers in their need as well as providing for missionaries like Paul in their need.

Paul said in Romans 15:26 that it pleased the believers in Macedonia – including the Thessalonians, no doubt – to contribute to the needs of the believers all the way in Jerusalem. Their generosity and their love extended that far.

Paul boasted to the church in Corinth (which was south of Macedonia in the region called Achaia) that the believers north of them were given grace by God to love by giving generously – probably again to the saints in Jerusalem. And they did this even though they themselves were enduring a severe ordeal of suffering and were extremely poor (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).

Paul continued telling the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 11:9 that believers from Macedonia – surely including those from Thessalonica – supplied all of his need when he was in Achaia ministering to that church in Corinth. The Corinthian believers should have been providing for Paul while he was there. But they didn’t. The believers in Macedonia came down to him and in love they provided him what he needed to continue to minister there in that city.

So, this last aspect of financial giving is likely the aspect of love that the Thessalonians were so famous for. They generously gave of their own resources to see the gospel advanced and the needs of God’s people provided for.

Is that what our church is known for? Could it be? Could we become notorious for our love to other believers by providing their needs for the sake of gospel advancement?

In some ways, perhaps we could say that our church is already doing some of this. We support numerous missionaries and have taken on a few more since our family has been here just over a year and a half. That happens through your generous giving – your brotherly love.

But if you were to be able to ask Paul the apostle if what you’re doing is enough, here’s how he might respond…

but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more

but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; 

παρακαλοῦμεν δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί, περισσεύειν μᾶλλον, 

We’ve already seen Paul beseeching the Thessalonians to increase more and more in verse 1 of this very chapter.

Just like Paul and Silas and Timothy acknowledged back there that the Thessalonians were indeed living lives that pleased God – but that they needed to do more and more of that kind of living, so now they’re zeroing-in on this matter of the Thessalonians brotherly love. They’re recognizing that these believers do indeed love their fellow-Christians – in word and deed. But they need to do it more and more. They need to get better and better at it.

The authors of this letter then go on to fill-out what they mean by this desire for the Thessalonians to abound more and more in brotherly love in verse 11…

1 Thessalonians 4 11

1 Thessalonians 4:11 AV 1873

11 and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;

and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands

11 and that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands,

11 καὶ φιλοτιμεῖσθαι ἡσυχάζειν καὶ πράσσειν τὰ ἴδια καὶ ἐργάζεσθαι ταῖς χερσὶν ὑμῶν,

Paul describes this increasing brotherly love in three ways.

1.         Studying to be quiet

2.         Doing your own business

3.         Working with your own hands

Let’s take those one-at-a-time.

and that ye study to be quiet

What does it mean to study to be quiet?

This word “study” refers to making something your ambition or to aspire toward something.

•           Like Paul aspiring or making it his ambition to go and preach the gospel where Christ had not been named (Romans 15:20).

•           Or Paul’s aspiring and making it his ambition to live his life in such a way as to please the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:9).

So, the Thessalonians were to aspire or make it their ambition …  to “be quiet”.

The quietness enjoined on them is focused on social quietness. Paul was forbidding them from disturbing the peace – both in the assembly of believers and in the surrounding community.

It’s not a sign of brotherly love to be always agitated about something and spreading that agitation to others.

And personally, one big area of potential agitation is politics. Because everything seems to be political these days in our country, it’s hard to escape this potential agitation in your life.

Some Christians allow themselves to be carried away with their inner angst over the political situation – to the point where they’re taking to the streets and marching and demonstrating and protesting.

If Paul the apostle – and ultimately the Lord himself – were to confront these individuals about their actions, he would admonish them to stop. This is not brotherly love.

But to take in all of the social media and all of the news media and all of the political commentary – and to come out of it without being stirred up into a rage takes work. That’s what Paul already recognized in this passage. He said that this needs to be your study – your aspiration – your ambition.

Some people’s – and even some Christians’ – ambition is to create a stir. Apostolic teaching admonishes you to make it your ambition to live quietly.

This is part of loving the brethren. As you’re not stirred up against others – even believers – you will be able to better increase more and more in this area of brotherly love.

and to do your own business

The second way in which your brotherly love is to increase is in this matter of doing your own business.

It’s not love to be overly involved in other people’s business. God wants his people to be engaged generally in their own things.

Obviously, the Lord wants believers to be concerned for one another and what’s going on in the lives of their brethren. But idle meddling is not what’s called for.

Again, social media can challenge our resolve on this matter. It’s so easy to snoop and spy on others digitally without anyone’s knowledge. It’s so easy for minutes to turn into hours as you’re attempting to keep up with the Jones’ – maybe even the Jones’ of this church! But what happens to your own business as you’re feeling the pull to be constantly connected to other people’s digital lives?

That’s not brotherly love. The Lord wants your love for your fellow-Christians to grow – in part – by letting them have their privacy and space while positively you attend to your own business.

and to work with your own hands

Closely-linked to doing your own business is this matter of working with your own hands.

This wasn’t merely apostolic teaching – as important as that is. It was also apostolic personal example. Paul told the Corinthian church that he did this very thing – he worked with his own hands (1 Corinthians 4:12). Paul also commanded this activity to the Ephesian church – especially for those who used to steal for their living before trusting Christ (Ephesians 4:28).

There are a few alternatives to working with your own hands that would allow for your continued survival in ancient Greece.

•           The first I just mentioned – stealing. That’s ultimately not very sustainable.

•           Another option – as a believer – would be to presume upon the kindness of other believers and live by means of your brethren constantly providing your sustenance. After all, we just considered how generous Macedonian believers were. Generosity can be abused. It’s a possibility that a combination of laziness and a legitimate – if not extreme – hope for Jesus’ return caused some of the Thessalonian believers to stop working because they had hoped that Jesus’ return would be very soon. So, what’s the point of working?? And when those people started to go hungry, they perhaps approached their generous fellow-believers for assistance.

•           Yet another option that would have been available to survive in ancient Greece would be the lesser-known patron-client relationship. In that system, the patron was a wealthy individual in society who would pay or feed clients as reimbursement for the client’s support in various ways – showing up in the morning at the patron’s house to demonstrate just how important this patron was and how many people he was supporting, for example. The clients would also be obliged to support the patron in the public political sphere by voting for them in the demos or public assembly. (Green)

Whatever the Thessalonians were struggling with – and maybe they were struggling with all three temptations I just mentioned, and maybe others as well – Paul is admonishing them that this is not the way to live the Christian life and to love your brethren.

Stealing, free-loading, and the client-patron relationship – none of these is a loving way to live.

And the Thessalonians actually already knew this…

as we commanded you

as we commanded you; 

καθὼς ὑμῖν παρηγγείλαμεν

Paul had already commanded these believers about these matters. But apparently they needed a reminder – likely because some of them were still stuck in their bad habits.

This word “commanded” is related to a word in verse 2 of this chapter that started out this section of exhortation. There too Paul reminded these believers of what he had already commanded them.

I think we get a progression in our minds here.

1.         When Paul was actually with the Thessalonians, he commanded them these things.

2.         Now that he’s heard back from Timothy about how the Thessalonian believers are doing, he’s now taking the opportunity to once more remind them of his commands.

3.         And then we see in 2 Thessalonians that Paul gets a little more direct with the believers who still have not submitted themselves to act according to the commands that Paul gave them with the authority of Jesus Christ.

Now, there was a definite purpose – and still is today – of believers living this way – of aspiring to lead quiet lives, of attending to your own business, and of working with your own hands.

Here it is…

1 Thessalonians 4 12

1 Thessalonians 4:12 AV 1873

12 that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.

that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without

12 that ye may walk honestly toward them that are without,

12 ἵνα περιπατῆτε εὐσχημόνως πρὸς τοὺς ἔξω

To walk honestly is to live in an appropriate manner.

It’s the same concept that we find in the command in 1 Corinthians 14:40 to do all things decently and in order.

It’s the opposite of practices of dark living like carousing, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality, discord, and jealousy (Romans 13:13).

There’s an appropriateness or decency or decorum to being a hard worker who minds his own business – rather than causing stirs everywhere you go and being inordinately involved in the affairs of others and relying on others to support your irresponsible behavior and lifestyle.

And Paul wanted the appropriateness and decency of these ancient believers to be visible to those outside of the believing community. That’s the reference to “them that are without”. That’s not referring to those who lack something. It’s those who – from the perspective of born-again saved individuals – are outside of that experience and the community that goes along with it.

We don’t do our righteous deeds before men with the purpose of being seen by them and being praised by them. But we do need to do our good works before men with the purpose that they would glorify our Father in heaven.

This is one such area where we can bring glory to God – as outsiders see our appropriate and decent lives that are characterized by quietness and peace and diligence.

But there’s an even more practical aspect to this way of living…

and that ye may have lack of nothing

and that ye may have lack of nothing.

καὶ μηδενὸς χρείαν ἔχητε.

It doesn’t take an advanced degree to figure out that working is the way to provide for your needs. If you have needs, you need to work honestly and diligently. God has ordained that your needs be met by your diligent labor.

The phrasing in the Greek of this statement is mechanically, “and that you all may be having need of nothing”. Whether or not Paul the apostle intended this, it’s interesting to note that he started this section that we’ve been studying tonight with a note to the effect that the Thessalonians had no need for anyone to write to them about brotherly love. Now he ends this portion by encouraging them to continue to be without need – this time in the physical realm.

So, Paul says in effect: You currently have no need that anyone write to you about loving your fellow-believers. Therefore, to continue to have no need – even in this realm of material provisions – follow my instructions.

God wants you to grow in your loving actions toward other believers and toward the outside world – by increasing in the area of your personal responsibilities.

[S] And so, may the Lord help each of us to increase in our brotherly love by growing in this area of our personal responsibility.

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