“In fact, you are doing this toward all the brothers and sisters in the entire region of Macedonia. But we encourage you, brother and sisters, to do this even more, to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may behave properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We live in a fame-obsessed culture. Social media has made it possible for anyone to become known and followed by millions of people. My boys are all currently taken in by the Minecraft YouTube star, RageElixir. Gary Woo (his real name) started making videos about playing Minecraft when he was in high school. For some reason they started going viral, and now he’s a millionaire because of it. Yet by every observation I’ve made from being forced to watch along with them, he’s just a regular guy. There’s nothing particularly special about him that would seem to make him an obvious choice for YouTube stardom. But the cultural phenomenon of people like Gary becoming rich and famous has planted the idea in many other young hearts and minds that if he can do it, then so I can. Actually, the thinking of many young people today goes a step beyond this. Not only can I become famous, if I want my life to amount to anything, I need to become famous. This kind of thinking has taken over the culture…and the church. If I am going to accomplish anything meaningful for God, I need to be famous first. What Paul writes here, though, points us in exactly the opposite direction.
Paul’s first letter to the believers in ancient Thessalonica is chock-full of sound wisdom and great advice for pursuing the life of Christ with faithfulness in spite of whatever is happening in the world around us. Much of it is countercultural in some really significant ways – especially what we see here. In a world that not merely calls us to, but demands us to strive for fame and celebrity, Paul tells to keep our heads down, to work hard, and to not grab for more than we should. Why would he do this? Wouldn’t a little celebrity help the church to advance her mission? A figurehead can often help drive a particular agenda forward in spite of the obstacles that stand in the way.
Besides – and to belabor the point – it is hard to imagine a bit of wisdom that will ring more dissonantly in the ears of modern people than this. Speaking personally, I understand this. That has been a struggle throughout the years I have been writing this blog. I write because I have to. I’m not sure how to explain it other than that. I have to write. But, while I write because I have to, I do want to be read. Why write for no one? And for better or for worse (usually a bit of both), the blogging platform tracks all kinds of different engagement statistics. I can see how many people visit the page, how many views I get, where those views come from, and the like. I know at any given time how many times a single post has been seen and read. On occasion I’ll write something that takes off (relatively speaking), but most days someone is clicking over to read something I’ve read 30-40 times. Then I read about a newsletter from a much more well-known writer whose work is seen by more than 100,000 people each week. The thoughts come without my even trying to summon them up: Why can’t I get that many views? What would it take to get even close to that direction? I want to be famous! Yet God hasn’t called me to be famous. He’s simply called me to write. Although your burden may not be writing, perhaps you understand this internal tension.
As a matter of fact, God doesn’t need anyone to be famous to accomplish profound things for His kingdom. He doesn’t want or need celebrity from you or me or anyone else. All He desires from us is faithfulness. His great passion is to see us living each moment in our lives with our eyes fixed on His kingdom and reflecting the character of Christ. He wants to see His Gospel advanced into the lives of those who haven’t yet embraced it. And He designed that advancement to work through our sharing the news with those who haven’t heard. That can certainly happen in the context of a gigantic platform from which everyone knows our name, but it can happen just as effectively in the context of a personal conversation with a neighbor that no one ever knows about. It can come by way of a newsletter read by tens of thousands, and one seen by a bare fraction of that. God wants our faithfulness, not our fame.
If you want to live a life of true consequence, what Paul says here is the right way forward. Practice loving one another with each “one another” you encounter in your day. It doesn’t matter if they are someone you would normally consider a friend or a foe. You love them because Jesus does. As you go through your life, stay in your lane. Use the gifts God has given you and don’t desire the gifts He’s given to someone else. Those are for them, not you. Yours are for you, not them. Grow where you are planted and don’t worry about what life might be like in another field. Work hard at the task God has set before you to His glory. Seek to live a generous life that invests in the lives of others, pointing them toward the kingdom. And if you get any attention while doing all of this, great, but never make that your goal.