Online Bible Commentary
Love and Respect
1 Thessalonians 4:9 But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; 10 and indeed you do so toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; 11 that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, 12 that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing. (NKJV)
In this passage, Paul exhorts the believers in the church at Thessalonica to love their brothers and sisters in Christ and to be respected in the community among non Christians. He begins by writing of “brotherly love”. This kind of love is from the Greek word “phileo” which is a love of friendship, affection, or to kiss. It has a different meaning than the other two Greek words for “love” found in the Bible. “Agape” is a love of affection or benevolence. “Phileo” is a love of the heart, while “agape” is a love of the head. “Agape is the word for love found most often in the New Testament. “Thelos” is a love of choosing or preference. Thelos is found only once (Mark 12:38).
The Greek word translated “brotherly love” (v. 9a) is “Philadelphia”. This is the reason for the city of Philadelphia being called the city of brotherly love. So Paul is calling for Christians to have a love of the heart for one another, in addition to “agape”, a love of the head. We are not to love our fellow Christians only because of head knowledge but out of our heart. This “heart” love is not a passionate love but it is more than just a head love, “agape.” There is a different Greek word for “passion.”
Next Paul writes that we have been taught by God to “agape” each other (v.9b). So Paul uses both Greek words for love in verse nine, and writes that he does not need to teach them of this love because God already has. The “love” of the Fruit of the Spirit is “agape” love (Gal. 5:22). The Holy Spirit that indwells every Christian teaches us to both “phileo” and to “agape” our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to love them with our heart and our head. Since Paul does not need to teach the believers to love (v.9), he simply encourages them to increase their love for one another (v.10).
Now that Paul has given instructions on how to act around other Christians, he instructs them on how to act around non Christians. Christians are to “aspire to” do three things: “to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands” (v. 11). In doing this, we will earn the respect of, and will not be dependant on, non Christians (v. 12).
The literal Greek for the phrase translated “aspire to” is “to try earnestly.” In writing these words Paul understands that it is not always possible for Christians to do these three things in the presence of the world. The Bible teaches that Christians are to impact the world. Impacting the world requires going out into the world and preaching the Gospel. Paul’s life was anything but quiet. Paul caused uproar and chaos. He shook up the world, the status quo, with a new religion, as did Jesus. They did not always lead “a quiet life”, but they tried earnestly to do so.
Not only that, they did not always mind their own business. Paul went into the din of idols, Athens, and told them who their “unknown god” was, Jesus Christ. By the same token, Jesus went into the temple and turned over the tables of the money changers. Jesus and all of his disciples were rabble rousers. Changing the world required drastic measures and they were up to the task. They did not always “mind their own business”, but they tried earnestly to do so.
Also, Christians that work may, at times, be dependant on others. The literal Greek for the phrase translated “and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” is “and of nothing need you may have.” God will provide all of our needs. But He sometimes depends on others, Christians and non Christians, to provide these needs. His ministries have always depended on others for their earthly needs. The disciples were provided food and lodging often, wherever they ministered. Paul was able to work very little as a tentmaker because he was doing the Lord’s work. So he accepted financial support from churches and individuals so that he could devote his time to the Lord’s work. Christians shared their possessions with one another, so that no one would be in need. So there also are times when Christians must depend on others for their needs. God blesses us when we give of our finances to meet the needs of our fellow Christians.