When I was a senior in high school, I mentored two freshmen as part of a school-run discipleship program. We met (loosely) every other week at the Starbucks down the road from the school. I bought us three copies of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. We talked a lot about passion.
Our conversations would circle around ideas like being on fire for God and bringing God’s kingdom to earth. And while these statements aren’t explicitly wrong, they can easily be misapplied.
My vision for “being on fire for God” included big things that would draw a lot of attention to myself—taking a high-ranking job as a Christian employee, amassing a social media following by tweeting my spiritual and biblical insight, writing a bestselling Christian novel, and maybe even forming new laws that would enact an unprecedented age of success for the Christian university.
Fast-forward seven years to my life today and you’ll find a sometimes-discontent Christian. I have a job, but it’s not at all as important as I dreamed it would be. I have a Twitter account with less than a handful of followers. My novel is unsold and incomplete. And my political influence is nonexistent.
Sometimes I wonder, “What’s going on God? It feels like you’re making me waste my life. I have no influence. I’ve done nothing great. All this trying—and for what?”
GOD’S WILL FOR OUR LIVES
Not long ago I decided to read 1 Thessalonians, and I found the book to be a direct admonishment and encouragement to my discontent with my lack of “importance.”
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Paul writes: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” Notice Paul what does not say: For this is the will of God… your influence, your power, your following. No—Paul, under the inspiration of God himself, says the will of God is “your sanctification.”
I was asking God, “Why isn’t my book published? Why don’t I have more followers? I’ve been working like crazy for your will and I’ve seen very little reward.”
And God answered me through 1 Thessalonians, as if saying, “You’ve been looking for the wrong reward. My will is to sanctify you.”
The immediate application is to say that God brings about his will in those who are in high-ranking jobs and low ones. He works through those who have 1.43 million twitter followers and those who have 143. God can use my writing for his will if it is picked up tomorrow by the biggest publishing house or even if no one ever reads it.
His will is my sanctification.
If this is the case, then am I free to aspire to either anything I want or nothing at all? Not quite.
TRUE CHRISTIAN ASPIRATION
A few verses later in the same chapter of 1 Thessalonians, Paul writes: “But we urge you . . . to aspire to live quietly,” (4:11).
This sentence jumps off the page because it seems like a contradiction—aspire to live quietly? As in, I’m supposed to hope and dream and work for an insignificant life?
Yes and no.
BE INSIGNIFICANT: YEARN FOR PEACE
The Greek word “to live quietly” here is hēsychazō. According to BDAG, a Greek-English lexicon, this word, as it appears in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, means “to live a quiet life or refrain from disturbing activity.” The definition mentions other words like peaceable and orderly. The implication is that, as Christians, we are to aspire to live a peaceable life.
You might say, as the expression goes, “But you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs!” As in, you can’t do anything significant disrupting the status quo—and therefore angering the people who wish to maintain it.
True. However, our leaning should be toward peace, not strife. Toward order, not disorder. And we should embrace peace—even if it means facing our own insignificance.
I want to pause on this point for a moment because I have found that I am not naturally this way.
Recently my wife and I were going to the store. As we headed into the building, we heard a man shouting profanities in the parking lot. I turned around and headed toward him.
His car was on the road, a few inches from another car from which a pregnant woman emerged. There was no accident, but this man was furiously swearing about something she had done.
I called out to the man, worried that he would attack this woman. However, the woman just got back in her car and drove away. The man eventually did the same.
The conflict was over. There had not been a physical fight, thank God. I, however, stood in the parking lot filled with anger.
In the moment, I was disappointed. I wanted to play a larger role in resolving this conflict. To step into the fight if need be. For the rest of the night, I dreamt up scenarios where conflict increased and I stepped in to solve the altercation.
Do you see the problem here? I aspired for conflict. I wanted the strife.
THE SPIRITUAL POWER OF INSIGNIFICANCE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Isn’t this true of many of us on social media? I’m only on Twitter so I’ll speak to the temptations I face there. I see a tweet that bothers me. Then, I’m tempted to respond—whether in a comment, retweet, or subtweet—to make sure the truth is represented.
Is this always bad? No, but if the will of God is my sanctification then I should be careful about how much I engage with thoughts that cause unnecessary and irrational anger in me. If I’m out of touch with how social media affects my soul, then I’m out of touch with the will of God for my life.
God doescall me to an insignificant life in the sense that I don’t have to be the one to correct people on Twitter. Some people are called to that mission, God bless them. If you think you are, though, I’d ask you:
Be honest, do you love the conflict? Do you love the argument?
If so, be insignificant on social media and preserve your soul. For what use is it to you if you gain all the world’s likes but lose your soul?
BE SIGNIFICANT: LIVE FOR HIS HONOR
The Greek word for “aspire” in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 is philotimeomai, and it reveals the significance of what the Bible is calling us to in these verses.
The word can mean “to be actuated by the love of honor” or “to be fond of honor.” So, in other words, the motivation behind this aspiration for the quiet life is honor, Jesus’s honor.
Paul encourages believers to aspire to live quietly out of love for the honor of Christ. And so, it can also be said that aspiring to live quietly is a great means by which we can honor our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
That’s what makes this kind of life so significant—it is eternally so!
You don’t have to be loud, controversial, angry, out-spoken, or widely-published to live for the honor of Jesus Christ. He has endowed you with the assets you need to live according to his will—which is your sanctification.
So, reader, I encourage you to take a significant role in this mission. No matter where the Lord has placed you, make it your aspiration to live peacefully out of a love for the honor of Jesus Christ.
BDAG gives a helpful image for the word philotimeomai, which you can hold on to as you walk your Christian life: As Christians endowed with great gifts from the Father, we are to be like “wealthy persons endeavored to outdo one another in philanthropic public service.”
As Christians, we have been given much. So, in accordance with the will of God, let’s aspire to live quietly and “outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10).