First Thessalonians 4:11 states, “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.” The following verse offers us an explanation: “So that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (verse 12).
This instruction from Paul is for the Thessalonian Christians—and us—to embrace a quiet life, avoiding unnecessary drama, meddling, and idleness. The opposite of a quiet life can be seen in the many examples of scandalous behavior depicted in the media, but it can also be found among anyone who refuses to work and instead indulges in idle gossip, becoming a nuisance to others. Christians are called to abstain from these behaviors by focusing on their own affairs and being productive. This way of life gains the respect of unbelievers and fosters independence. The specific instruction of “working with your hands” comes under the broad principle of leading a quiet life.
Work is an integral part of life, and though the fall made this activity more challenging (Genesis 3:17–19), it existed prior to the fall as a responsibility of humankind. As soon as God created Adam, He gave him a job: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). God instituted work as a part of human existence, and we should celebrate that by being efficient in whatever legal and ethical profession we have. Paul’s instruction in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 goes back to creation, and, when we work, we achieve one of God’s purposes for making humans.
Work is honorable, and Scripture affirms that being productive may garner the respect of non-Christians. If we are to be hated for anything, it should not be our lack of a proper work ethic. Our conduct is important in sharing the gospel, including our approach to work. Who is more likely to reach his employer with the gospel, the diligent employee or the slacker?
Work also provides income to meet our needs and support our families, ensuring that we depend on no one. The lazy individual will become a nuisance to others, and, if the lazy one is a believer, it can affect his gospel witness. Laziness reveals a lack of character and is a path to ruin. As the biblical proverb states, “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 10:4). Common sense confirms that hard work is a better path.
Numerous proverbs in the Bible extol the value of work and caution against laziness (see Proverbs 6:6–11; 12:24; 20:4). Additionally, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul addresses the issue of laziness in the community, “For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thessalonians 3:10–12, ESV). Furthermore, in his instructions to Timothy concerning widows, Paul lists idleness as a reason against enrolling young widows in the support program, preferring that they remarry (1 Timothy 5:11–15).
A caveat here: some individuals may be willing to work but are unable to due to illness or lack of employment opportunities. These individuals should not be considered lazy but rather supported until they can regain their independence.
To summarize, working with our hands earns respect, fosters financial independence, promotes the gospel, and is a wise course of action.