Quietly Neglected Texts
Whenever I reread a beloved book I discover details I had not noticed before. A description that changes how I imagine a scene, or a word choice that is particularly amusing or poignant. And sometimes I miss the details because I wasn’t expecting them, certain that some other theme or idea would be presented instead. As Matthew Redmond points out, this happens when Christians read Scripture.
My whole life has been churched… I’ve been supported by pews in a multitude of cities, and I’ve preached and taught grace in some others. The number of sermons, good and bad, that I’ve heard must number on up into the thousands, but I have never heard a sermon calling me to live quietly.
Not one. At least that I can remember. I’ve heard heaps of sermons on what I should watch, listen to, whom I should date/marry, and how I should treat them. I’ve heard sermons on sex and alcohol and tobacco. I’ve heard sermons calling me to be bold about sharing the gospel… And I’ve heard sermons about not worrying what other people think when I witness to them…
But I’ve never heard a sermon asking me to have a quiet life. Or if I have, I’ve forgotten it and it’s been lost over time under an avalanche of one hundred sermons on everything else.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (ESV), Paul urges his hearers “to aspire to live quietly.” And in 2 Thessalonians 3:12 he encourages them “in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly.” But I’ve never heard a sermon on what he means by “quiet” or “quietly.” Or what he means by “live” or “life.” I’ve heard many how-to sermons but none on how to live quietly, and what it might look like in our culture, which is so loud about everything…
Paul isn’t just suggesting this to the Thessalonians. He is urging them to live quietly. Wait a second—no, he wants these believers to aspire to live quietly. You could translate these words as “make it your ambition to live quietly.” This is no small thing. [pages 33-34]
In case you are wondering, Redmond is not making these texts up. And whether you have heard anyone preach on them or not, he is certainly correct that the essential message you hear in most evangelical churches does not tend to be, “make it your ambition to live quietly.”
Calvin says in his commentary that St Paul in this text is trying to correct the error that causes people to be “noisy bustlers in public.” Instead, he says, people should be content to fulfill their calling and lead “tranquil” lives.
Living a quiet life is possible only for those who actually believe that faithfulness in the ordinary things of life is the essence of the Christian life. If you believe you should do something extraordinary for God’s Kingdom the notion of a quiet existence will be anathema.
When the prophet Isaiah described the coming Messiah he said that he, “will not cry or lift up his voice or make it heard in the street” (42:2). Unlike earthly victorious kings, the Promised One would not include a lot of loud activity. And yet, Isaiah insists, he will bring “justice in the earth” to the farthest coastline (42:4). The quiet would not mean he was ineffective.
I wonder what would happen if we his follows made it our ambition to live quiet lives?