Please read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 in your Bible. I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.
Once in a while a fictional story draws an exceptionally accurate picture of life and you’re pleasantly surprised to learn something and be entertained. I had that experience recently reading James S.A. Corey’s book Babylon’s Ashes. Early in the novel he wrote,
“All through human history, being a moral person and not being pulled into the dramatics and misbehavior of others has caused intelligent people grief.” (p. 88)
The rest of the story went on to prove this point.
Lesson learned: the “dramatics and misbehavior of others” can lead us into grief just as much as our own “dramatics and misbehavior.” My opinion is that life inflicts enough drama, we don’t need to go around creating more for ourselves or others.
I’d better explain this message’s title. When we think about ice cream, many of us think about “D.Q.” or “Dairy Queen.” I saw a t-shirt once that co-opted the Dairy Queen logo but used the letters to refer to “Drama Queen!”
So my question is, which kind of D.Q. do you prefer? One’s sweet, the other is sour. Be careful how you answer, lest your life disprove what you claim.
In spite of the feminine noun, a drama queen is anyone – male or female – who acts in an overly-emotional way. They habitually blow things out of proportion, brewing a “tempest in a teapot.”
The very best demonstration of a drama queen is a Dutch TV commercial made about seven years ago. It begins with mom driving her daughter to school. Maybe the little girl is moping because she doesn’t want to go to school that day.
A policeman’s lights and siren interrupted the mother’s lecture why the she must go to school. After she pulled over, the policeman said she was speeding and instructed the mom to get out her license and registration.
As mom pokes through her purse, the policeman notices the girl in the back seat and says, “Mom is in a hurry today, isn’t she?”
The somber little girl quietly replied, “She’s not my mother,” and held up a note she scribbled on her pad of paper which read “HELP!”
That is a drama queen. Regardless of their motivation, drama queens cause a lot of problems at home, work, and church. They leave behind them a lot of burned bridges and create an area of negativity all around them as they careen through life, feeding on the unhappiness they cause.
Not surprisingly, God does not want us to be a drama queen. Instead, He calls us to a QUIET LIFE. We will see this morning God’s way to building healthy relationships.
First, let’s note the context of this passage: Paul explained every disciple’s primary ambition is to please God. He Paul offered three steps to achieve this ambition.
First Step = Remember your INSTRUCTIONS (1+2).
INSTRUCTIONS in this case being the commands of Jesus Christ to love God first, others second, self last. This is part of the Gospel that Paul had given them, the foundation of their church and life in Christ. As there is always room for improvement, he urged them to follow those INSTRUCTIONS MORE AND MORE.
Second Step: Love God by being holy (3-8).
In people and objects, holiness means to be set apart to God, exclusively working to fulfill His purpose. In people, holiness also means moral purity. That’s why Paul urged them to practice self-control. Disciples of Jesus are distinguished from the world by their HOLY and HONORABLE behavior.
Third Step = Love others by avoiding drama (9-12).
God teaches His children how to LOVE EACH OTHER (9-10). Paul encourages them first, congratulating them on their love. The love these church folk had for one another was known throughout MACEDONIA.
Though he didn’t NEED to write them about their love, as any good teacher would, that’s exactly what Paul did. For, just as he said in v. 1, Paul repeated in v. 10, to love MORE AND MORE. I know we can get tired of hearing that; the call to improvement can become exhausting and discouraging. But, as Paul observed in v. 8, God gives us HIS HOLY SPIRIT, so we get the power to love from Him; we don’t rely on our own strength.
God keeps calling us to growth in Christ, to become MORE AND MORE like Him. One benefit of making this our priority is that we keep praying, keep relying on God, keep turning back to Him for strengthening. Besides, this is the definition of ambition, isn’t it? Ambitious people never quit, are never satisfied, and are always looking to do more or better?
God’s children enact love in their ambition to LEAD A QUIET LIFE (11-12). It sounds strange to combine the words AMBITION and QUIET, doesn’t it? Most of us experience ambitious people as loud or bossy, drawing attention to their self. How do these words work together?
In general, A QUIET LIFE means an end to “drama.” Life creates enough drama to satisfy a reasonable person. It makes no sense to go around creating more strained relationships and negative emotions. Godly people seek a QUIET LIFE to please God and find out that it is also pleasing to others and themselves.
Paul offers two specifics of what a QUIET LIFE involves. One, MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS. Being a “busybody” is identified in the Bible as a sin. A busybody is not someone with a high energy level or a hard worker; this is someone who involves themselves in other people’s lives without permission. No matter how we may rationalize it, offering unsolicited advice or comments of any kind is to be guilty of the sin of being a busybody. God has identified this as a sin because busybodies have a negative effect on relationships and organizations. Their intrusive and negative spirit makes everyone nervous around them and discourages creativity and/or risk-taking; all behaviors that might be good and necessary but are contrary to the busybody’s sense of the way things should be.
Two, WORK WITH YOUR HANDS. One cure for busybodies is for them to MIND their OWN BUSINESS, as we’ve seen. Another cure is to WORK WITH their HANDS because busybodies tend to be idle people. This must’ve really been a problem in Thessalonica, because Paul addressed this issue again in 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12:
We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat.
I’ve heard church folk eagerly cite this verse as evidence against government welfare programs and flatly ignore the gossip and complaining they do as busybodies. WORK WITH YOUR HANDS is a figure of speech for “honest labor.” This is a cure for busybodies because instead of wasting their time and energy on negative incursions into other people’s business, they fruitfully expend themselves on doing good.
Working together is good for a church. The old maxim is still true: “Votes divide, service unites.” Churches that work together build up their unity. Honest work is a way we can serve God and others and it prohibits us making convenient but sinful distinctions between our “work life” and “church life.” That’s hypocrisy, bud.
There are two aims with respect to the QUIET LIFE, two good reasons to make it our AMBITION. One, to WIN THE RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS. A frequently-used excuse for not being involved in church is that churches are “full of hypocrites.” There are snappy comebacks and reasonable responses to this excuse, but the most convincing reply is church folk earning the RESPECT OF OUTSIDERS by NOT being hypocrites.
We WIN RESPECT by having integrity; not just making claims of godliness, but by living in godliness. Some people call this a “Silent Witness” or “Lifestyle Evangelism,” but to Paul, these were simply ways that all disciples were to live. It is an important benefit to Christ-like living.
Two, to NOT BE DEPENDENT ON ANYBODY. A secondary benefit to working with one’s hands is independence. If you can provide for yourself, do so. If you can’t, then don’t. Being independent is not getting your own way as it is earning your own way. Dependency has some negative social effects and God gave Paul the wisdom to see that capable people should be independent as long as they are capable.
This is Paul being practical but also Paul dealing with the culture of the Greek world of that time. Greeks thought of physical labor as demeaning, while Jews had a strong work ethic they’d received from God. Paul did not just teach this, he lived it. Earlier in this letter he wrote;
Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. (1 Thessalonians 2:9)
Laziness might be described as a lack of ambition. So we understand two problems related to ambition in this passage. Ambition for anything outside of God’s will is sin. A lack of ambition is also sin.
God’s people are to behave in ways that are clearly more moral than people who are stuck on themselves, or in the world. This passage is one of many in the Bible that sets God’s standard before us and then calls us to live accordingly.
This means deposing drama queens. It means having as a goal for self first, then at home, in church, and in the community, a practice of life that drains the drama. Here are some simple suggestions as to how you can do that. I call them “Bumper Sticker Proverbs;” short, sweet, and hopefully, memorable.
#1 –No criticisms without compliments. If you must complain or criticize, do not do so without making a genuine compliment before or after.
#2 – No advice without permission. Unsolicited advice is detrimental to every kind of relationship in every context. Ask first, and respect a “no” reply.
#3 – Nip negativity, push positivity. Even if this requires a personality makeover, the peace achieved through positivity makes it worth all effort.
#4 – Pray before you say. Ask God to set a guard at your lips and take away whatever is hurtful.
#5 – Tone down the teasing. This is my worst thing. A little bit goes a long way, even if the teasing is directed at yourself. Humor with a cutting edge is a drama queen’s tool.
#6 – Follow your guide. Asking yourself if your reaction is something Jesus would do is a handy way to both slow down our reaction time and eliminate sinful reactions. Follow His example in word and deed.
#7 – Get in your time machine. Before you react in any way, take a moment to imagine how important this matter will be in a year or 10 years. A bigger perspective helps us avoid pettiness.