In the next portion of this letter from Paul, we find a marvelous balance between our daily mundane concerns and our ultimate eschatological concerns. A taunt is sometimes leveled against certain Christians that they are “so heavenly-mined that they are no earthly good.” But this not how it works, actually.
C.S. Lewis sums the situation up nicely when he says this:
“If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next . . . It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
“But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing. But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:9–18).
Summary of the Text
So Paul begins the next section by saying that he does not need to teach them about brotherly love—for God Himself had taught them about that (v. 9). And they were practicing what they had been taught to do, loving all the brothers throughout Macedonia (v. 10). Paul’s plea was that they do what they already knew how to do, but to do so more and more (v. 10). However, this active love is not to be understood as a busybody love. It studies to be quiet (v. 11), to mind its own business (v. 11), work with its own hands (v. 11), as Paul had commanded. The reason for this ethic was so that they could walk honestly before outsiders, and not lack anything (v. 12).
He does not want them to be in the dark over what happens to fellow believers who “fall asleep in the Lord” (v. 13). They should not sorrow over them in the same way as those who have no hope (v. 13). For if Jesus died and rose (v. 14), even so those who have fallen asleep will be brought by God (v. 14). For Paul assures them by the word of the Lord that those who survive to the Lord’s appearing will have no advantage over those who have died beforehand (v. 15). The Lord will descend from Heaven with a shout, an archangel’s voice, the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will be the first to rise (v. 16). Those alive at that time will follow after (v. 17). These are to be words of comfort (v. 18).
Tend to Your Own Knitting
Now the great Pauline principle here is “mind thine own business.” You do this, not because you are telling the rest of the body to get lost, but rather because you need to acquire something before you can give it. You cannot give what you do not have, and you cannot have something to give unless you came by it honestly. Paul says something very close to this in Ephesians, when he tells the thief to work with his hands instead of pilfering with them. The reason is so that he might have something to give (Eph. 4:28). Loving more and more means gathering more and more, and it also means being generous with it.
We give in order to get, in order that we might be enabled to give even more. When it comes to good works, you need to maintain a positive cash flow—and you can’t be a good works miser, and you can’t be a good works spendthrift.
Notice how this works. Paul tells the Thessalonians that they were already loving all the brothers throughout all of Macedonia, and he urges them on. Do this more and more, he says. With this as the basic baseline charge, what is the action he then demands? Study to be quiet. Mind your own business. Work with your hands. Conduct your business honestly. Save your money.
And do all your mundane work with the Second Coming on your mind. This is a juxtaposition that has radical implications for societal transformation. In addition, keep in mind the fact that even if the Second Coming does not happen in your lifetime, which seems likely, all of us here are going to meet our Maker within a hundred years or so.
Comfort One Another
As Paul moves seamlessly into his next topic, we learn that Monday morning in the workplace and the end of the world are actually all part of the same subject. He is not really changing the subject.
In the short time that Paul and the Thessalonians had been acquainted, some of the saints in the Thessalonian church had already died. Perhaps this was the result of persecution, we don’t know. There was therefore some concern among the Thessalonians that these departed saints were somehow going to “miss out” if the Lord came. What is going to happen to them? Paul says that the benefit actually goes the opposite way. When the Lord comes, the dead in Christ will rise first, and then after that those who remained alive until that glorious day would be transfigured. That is when we will all be together with Lord, and we will be with Him together forever.
In an earlier message, we noted that not every Parousia in Scripture refers to the Second Coming. But this appearing unmistakably does refer to the end of the world. If you have any doubts, look at the events that surround it. There is a general resurrection of the dead. The living are caught up into the clouds. There is a great shout, probably that of the archangel. There is the last trumpet blast. The Lord descends from Heaven. This is not the demolition of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
Think of a great king coming to visit a city. The dignitaries of that city would come out to meet him, but having met him they would not all go away. No, they meet him as he comes and then escort him back into the city. This is how it will be when the Lord comes. He appears with great fanfare, the dead rise first, the living are transfigured and catch up from behind, they all meet the Lord in the air, and then return with Him to earth. And so we will ever be with the Lord.
Heaven and Earth Kiss
This is not a loss of Heaven; it is the remarriage of Heaven and earth. So in the work of the saints in this life (1 Cor. 15:58), we should be able to see God’s declared purpose of bringing heaven and earth back together (Eph. 1:10). The Fall was the point where Heaven was “removed” to an almost infinite distance. But in and through Christ we are privileged to learn that Heaven is close, and by grace can be opened to us, and it is merely one short dove flight above the Jordan. So when the Lord descends from Heaven, He will come down to your shop, your office, and your kitchen. He will come down to inspect His workmanship (Eph. 2:10), and He will look at your work as part of that (1 Tim. 6:18; Tit. 2:14; 3:8,14). This is because your work is part of His workmanship, and all of it is under a thick layer of grace, grace upon grace.