In 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12 Paul encourages believers to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you.” Earlier in the letter, Paul commends the Thessalonians for their faith, hope, and love (1 Thessalonians 1:3). Those three are identifiable characteristics of maturity, so it was quite a compliment that Paul would say that the Thessalonians were demonstrating faith, hope, and love. In 1 Thessalonians 1:8 Paul observes that the Thessalonians’ faith was so strong that he didn’t need to instruct them about faith, but he sent Timothy to them in order to encourage them in their faith (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Timothy brought back good news about their faith and their love (verse 6). In fact, they were so effective at loving one another that Paul says he doesn’t need to write anything more (1 Thessalonians 4:9). But it is interesting that, while Timothy brought back news of their faith and love, Paul didn’t mention their hope.
The Thessalonian believers understood some important details of biblical prophecy (for example, see 1 Thessalonians 5:1), but in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5, Paul focuses his writing on encouraging them in their hope. They needed to be encouraged in their hope because they were going through difficulty (as we all do at times), and Paul wanted them to be able to be strong even in tough times. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 Paul explains that he didn’t want them to be uninformed about the future—specifically, what happens when a believer dies and what happens when Jesus returns. Paul didn’t want them to grieve as those who have no hope. Paul understood that, in order to be strong in hard times (like when a loved one dies), it is important to know and rely on God’s promises.
After commending the Thessalonians for their love (1 Thessalonians 4:9), Paul challenges them to show love even more. In the context Paul provides three reasons that we should mind our own business. In 1 Thessalonians 4:12 he offers two reasons: “So that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” As their testimony of faithfulness was evident, it would be good for people to see the Thessalonians taking care of their own responsibilities and further earning the respect of those observing. Paul wanted them to be a good testimony. Second, by minding their own business and working with their hands, they would provide for themselves and not be indebted to or reliant on someone else to do that work for them. By putting this exhortation in the context of being more loving, Paul is helping us understand that our taking care of our own responsibility is an expression of love toward others because we are not putting the burden for our welfare on somebody else.
Finally, there is a third reason Paul tells the Thessalonians to mind their own business and work with their hands. Apparently, there were some who thought that maybe the day of the Lord had begun, and they had stopped meeting their responsibilities. In 2 Thessalonians 3:7–11 Paul speaks against those who had done this. Part of Paul’s prescription for this bad behavior was to reiterate and further explain what he had told them in his first letter about the return of Jesus (in the rapture) and the day of the Lord (what follows after the rapture). The Thessalonians could have a strengthened hope by understanding what God was planning to do, and that would help them prioritize and use their time and resources wisely. The same thing is true for us today. By having a mature faith, love, and hope, we can make wise decisions and take care of what God has given us to take care of—we can mind our own business, focusing on what He has given us to do, and not be knocked off balance even when times are difficult.