Summary: Paul said that those who are appointed to an office in the church should “have a good report of them which are without” - that is, we who are believers and name the name of Jesus should live a life above reproach.
Lesson 14: To Walk Properly Toward those who are Outside (1 Thessalonians 4:12)
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:12 (NIV)
“so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
In 1 Timothy 3:7 Paul said that those who are appointed to an office in the church should “have a good report of them which are without” - that is, we who are believers and name the name of Jesus should live a life above reproach. Thus, even though unbelievers and sinners may not respect us or speak well of us in our presence, when they are away from us they will admit that we, like the apostles of Jesus, have been with the Lord. The same idea is presented in the verse we are considering.
(4:12) “so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders
The purpose of this exhortation is now stated; for it is by earning an honest living that they will earn the respect of their pagan neighbors. For Christians to be seen neglecting the duty of earning their daily bread while giving themselves up to religious activities and religious excitement would prejudice their cause in the eyes of the World, which could appreciate the value of honest, respectable work, while it could not understand the spiritual pursuits of the new faith.
In the preceding verse, Paul instructed the Thessalonians “to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands.” I would render his words this way: “Be content with your life and do not complain, mind your own business, and earn an honest living by doing manual labor.” Here in verse 12 he gives two reasons for earning their living in this way. The first is the result of their behavior toward those who are not Christians - “so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders.” [“Outsiders” simply means those who are outside the church . . . unbelievers.] A more literal translation is to “walk becomingly towards those outside.” Believers must always bear in mind the impact of their conduct on those who are without faith. What they do may be done from a good motive but yet appear to the outsider in quite a different light. Under these circumstances it is impossible for faithful followers of the Lord to go ahead without regard for appearances. They must give the impression that they are their Lord’s ambassadors, and their conduct must commend the Lord to others. If that is so in the case of things that are mediocre in themselves, how much more is it so in matters like the one before Paul at this moment?
When some of the believers did no work at all, but lived on the charity of others, with the result that they spent their time in what must have looked like idle gossip, what could outsiders think? It would be a sure way of bringing the church into disrepute. If those who profess to be Christians and followers of Jesus are lazy, if they are busybodies and gadabouts, they will certainly hurt the cause of Christ. Paul urges the Thessalonians to consider the implications of all this. He suggests that they should walk “becomingly,” directing their attention to the fitness of things - “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5).
and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
There is some doubt about the exact meaning of Paul’s second reason for working. The words rendered “not be dependent on anybody” could just as easily be translated “have need of nothing,” or “never be in want.” In actual practice, though, it makes little difference whichever interpretation we adopt. The situation clearly was that those who were not working were depending on their more industrious brothers for their means of livelihood, and Paul was counseling them to work so that this undesirable state of affairs may be ended. He may mean “Work, and then all your needs will be supplied. You will be in need of nothing.” Or he may mean, “Work, and you will have need of no one to help you. You will be quite independent.” Either way he is making the point that the Christian cannot be a parasite.
This is a tremendous statement: “. . . and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” That is, “Work, apply yourselves, be alert, live a quiet life, be honorable in all things; be honest, upright, decent - and do not allow yourselves to be dependent upon anyone. Love God with all your heart, work with your hands, live a blameless life; and let everyone inside the church - or outside of it - know that even though you are a believer, you have not set yourself above others just because you are a believer. Let your life prove that the difference between you and other men is Christ in you, sins washed away in His precious blood, and a new nature within.” And I will add this one thing; do not go into debt to make any purchase [The exception may be when buying a house or car.], for when you owe someone, you are beholden to them.