A Quiet Life

The apostle Paul, along with Silas and Timothy, called for quiet Christian living:

    But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need. (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12)

Sounds nice but a bit boring, right? Read on.

Later, when they heard that some in Thessalonica were living an “undisciplined life, doing no work at all.” Paul, Silas and Timothy again exhorted such people “to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.” (2 Thessalonians 3:12). Instead of using your energy to be a busybody, they wanted Christians to quietly stand on their own two feet. Instead of being lazy, they urged Christians in the very next verse “not to grow weary of doing good.” (3:13).

Years later, Paul had not changed his mind. He tied praying for authorities with the desire to lead “a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” (1 Timothy 2:2).

Meanwhile, Paul Silas and Timothy lived anything but a boring quiet life. They were literally all over the map preaching up a storm wherever they went. Paul in particular was vocal, provocative, bold and brave. He led a life that was perilous, painful, and controversial. Every time he entered a town, he headed straight to a synagogue, lecture hall, or marketplace to wrangle and reason with the locals over issues that often got him into trouble. He suffered multiple imprisonments and countless beatings, and was “often in danger of death.” (2 Corinthians 11:23). Take it from Paul himself:

    Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? (2 Corinthians 11:24-29)

And this was just one snapshot midway through his missionary career. In calling for a quiet life, was Paul advocating for a Christian life that looked nothing like his own? Maybe we should look more closely at the New Testament Greek word for “quiet” (hesuchos).

In the gospel of Luke, a form of the word hesuchos was used for what some faithful women did on the Sabbath just after Jesus was executed. They “rested.” (Luke 23:56). Filled with grief on Saturday, it must have been torture to rest quietly. Little did they know what God had in store from them (and us) on Sunday.

When Paul’s companions begged him not to go to Jerusalem where he would surely face trouble, Paul could not be deterred. His friends finally “rested” (hesuchos) their case and said, “The will of the Lord be done!” (Acts 21:14). Luke equated surrendering to God’s will with hesuchos.

The apostle Peter, a married man, praised the quality of hesuchios in Christian women. He admired “the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit,” (1 Peter 3:4), which is precious in the sight of God. Our culture may call this quality boring or repressive, but not our Lord.

So, whatever a “quiet life” means to you, for Paul and Peter (in context) it did not mean a lazy, passive, undisciplined, free-loading, isolated life. Paul wanted hesuchos to be our ambition! Excel in it (1 Thessalonians 4:10). Hesuchos means working hard to “attend” (an active verb) to our own business so we can be more effective in reaching outsiders (1 Thessalonians 4:12). It did not mean being complacent. To Paul, it meant being tireless in doing good (2 Thessalonians 3:12-13).

Clearly, Paul was not calling for a cushy life when he used the word hesuchos to challenge his readers. He was indeed calling them and us to a life of restful tranquility and quiet stability, but not without hard work, discipline, personal responsibility, and effective vocal and practical outreach to others.

I “rest” my case.

“Let those who love the LORD hate evil.”
(Psalm 97:10)

Donald Trump recently announced that he loves Mexicans. In context, he was doubling down on his previous controversial comments about illegal immigrants. I respect the distinction and I recognize the hope he places in the power of the word “love.”

When marriage was redefined by the Supreme Court, President Obama pronounced that we all finally realized that “love is love.” National opinion remains divided over whether love won or lost, but everyone is apparently still for love.

Preachers and celebrities alike claim to love “love.” All politicians claim to “love” America, including those who blame her for nearly every global ill and want her fundamentally transformed. Viagra advertisers also get much mileage from this flexible L-word that can pass as both a verb and a noun.

As overworked as the word “love” is, one aspect gets little respect– an aspect about love that is tied to God Himsaelf. Long ago, a Hebrew Psalmist wrote: “Let those who love the LORD hate evil.” (Psalm 97:10). Centuries later, Jesus revealed a good reason for hating evil, saying, “Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12). Wickedness is a threat to love.

The opposite of love is not hate, but evil. In fact, hate directed against authentic evil is a huge component of godly love.

Does it make you uncomfortable to hear words like love and hate used like this in the same sentence? If so, avoid the prophet Amos. He wrote: “Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. (Amos 5:15). The apostle Paul agreed: “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9). We are told in the book of Proverbs (6:16-19) that God Himself, the Author of love, hates six things; then seven are listed just for good measure:

  • Haughty eyes,
  • A lying tongue,
  • Hands that shed innocent blood,
  • A heart that devises wicked plans,
  • Feet that run rapidly to evil,
  • A false witness who utters lies,
  • One who spreads strife among brothers.

Over two millennia later, it’s time for love to get tough again.

But where do we begin? Racism? Corruption? Crime? Terrorism? Media dishonesty? Abortion? Political chicanery? Sex trafficking? Homosexuality? The national debt? Adultery? Gossip? Child abuse? Drug abuse? Grammar glitches?

All those evils deserve fierce opposition (please let me know of any grammar gaffes), but they are not where a Christian begins. We begin by hating the evil in ourselves. It’s called repentance and it is the soil from which real love grows. Jesus’ preaching message is summed up as, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17). When He sent out His disciples, “They went out and preached that people should repent.” (Mark 6:12). Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32). He laid it on the line: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:5). When sin breaks your heart, Jesus is able to get inside.

Real evil can be hard to recognize in ourselves, especially when covered by appealing words like “love.” It uses attractive bait and collects countless victims before they recognize it. That’s because instead of hating evil on the front end, most people just hate it’s bitter results. Jesus challenges us to hate our own evil before it bears rotten fruit in our lives. Even after it does, the offer to repent still stands!

Hating sin and loving sinners is exactly what God does with us. Once we repent and die with Jesus in our water grave (baptism), He raises us up fully forgiven and renewed under the grace of God. Then, we can gracefully stand up to many of the evils of our time. Just remember, we have no call to hate or harm people. The battle is against evil, not its victims. Our weapons of choice are the sword of the Spirit, the shield of faith, the belt of truth, the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness. Loving God and hating evil is like loving life and hating cancer.

Hating evil is a powerful way to love God as well as real people who need less evil in their lives. Okay, that’s everyone, including me.

The Magic 4-Letter L-Word

Remember the Beatles? They made a huge hit in 1967 out of the phrase, “All You Need is Love.” Okay, having a job helps too. In 1981, Crystal Gayle went deeper when she sang, “Too many lovers; Not enough love these days.”

Love is an easy word to spin. A male on the make will say “I love you” at the drop of a dime to have his way. I recently saw a colorful activist with a sign saying: “All love is equal.” I wondered if he had a job. The word “hate” is also useful. Just assault your opponent with the H-word and the conversation is over. If he retreats, you can say, “love wins!”

Jesus understood love. He commanded it and lived it. He knew how to make real love win. He achieved that victory on the cross where He sacrificed Himself on my behalf and yours. Having paid our debt, it is through Jesus that we are forgiven and reconciled to God. That’s love!

Jesus also knew what makes love lose. He preached, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12). He saw the rise of immorality as a threat to love, regardless of how you spin the word.

Ministers willing to change the wedding vow to say, “…as long as you both shall love,” are of the same ilk as ministers willing to say, “I now pronounce you wife and wife,” or “husband, husband and wife.” They are not worth their salt.

In tennis, “love” means you’re probably losing. Popular leaders learn quickly to play tennis with words like “love,” batting it around with little regard for its meaning. When they tickle our ears with “love,” it is game, set, match. Nice racket!

In politics today, “love wins” means marriage lost, at least as an institution that exists to ensure that more children will have a mom and a dad in their home. When marriage was redefined by the Supreme Court to nullify gender, President Obama praised those who worked so hard to accomplish this, claiming that they “made an entire country realize that love is love.” (June 26, 2015).

They did? So, prior to this ruling, we had not realized that love is love? Never mind that the President implied that activists swayed the Supreme Court. All that matters is how it felt when he uttered the magic L-word back to back.

Maybe Oprah had a point when she told us Barack Obama would help us “evolve to a higher plane.” Okay, maybe not.

God’s word teaches that “God is love,” (1 John 4:8). Thus, love is a sacred and transcendent quality, not a self-defining sentiment. The Bible also declares, “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). Real love begins with God, not Supreme Court decisions. In marriage counseling, I have heard adultery labeled as “love.” It’s a seductive spin that works like a charm on many, but not on God.

So much that is crucial about culture begins with children—how we raise them, teach them, train them, and love them. We owe children a culture that does its level best to make sure they grow up with a mom and a dad together in a loving home. Certainly, kids who don’t experience this design can cope and even thrive as we all work to love them where they are. But God’s intent was for marriage to manifest love between a man and a woman and elevate the mother-father partnership from which children richly benefit. America has officially departed from that design because we have replaced “God is love” with “love is love.”

The title of another hit by the Beatles in 1965 sums up what America needs now: