“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NIV84)
Last week I took a day off work and went with my son David to the Washington Nationals home opener. It was a truly special day, capped by dinner with my niece, nephew and son’s girlfriend.
My niece is a student at George Mason University, currently enrolled in a philosophy class. We started talking a little bit about Socrates and Aristotle (both of whom she is required to read), the Audible app I’ve been enjoying lately to ‘read’ philosophy, and how critical context can be to appreciating ancient writing.
My take on philosophy used to be that it consisted of navel gazing and logic chopping by people impressed with their own abstract thinking. Admittedly I’m an engineer—we like everything parallel and perpendicular. Then I ran into the analytic philosophy of William Lane Craig, and was forced to reevaluate my prejudices. I’m a little hooked now, having just completed St. Augustine in 90 Minutes (part of Paul Strathern’s Philosophy in 90 Minutes series) on Audible.
Lately, the world does seem to be unraveling at a faster pace and with greater intensity as our culture moves from post-Christian to anti-Christian sentiments (please don’t miss the prior hyperlink). In the process, I’m coming to grips with being in the minority as a Christian.
The apostle Paul was in the minority too. Paul got the life beat out of him nearly everywhere he went. Whether he was taking on the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, or local synagogues throughout the Roman empire, or busting out his rhetorical skills in front of the Epicurean and Stoic members of the Areopagus in Athens, Paul confronted nearly everyone.
Of his eight New Testament epistles written to churches, five were written to Greek churches. These communities were steeped in Greek philosophy, owing to Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and a host of others.
“To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.”
1 Corinthians 4:11-13 (NIV84)
If we want to know what Paul is getting at in verses like 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 4:11-13 it is important to understand the context. Much of the ancient Greek culture disdained manual labor, believing it to be suited to slaves and peasants. Then along comes Paul, scrawny and hard to look upon, with this Christian ethic that work and humility and striving and simplicity are good. That there are things worth suffering for, and that our current suffering is temporary. Now that’s context.
Paul knew the path to contentment. As he wrote to his favorite Greek church,
“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV84)
Contentment is not found in philosophical or intellectual satisfaction, or in pursuits that are valued by our culture. The truth leads to contentment. The truth is a person. Paul’s life and ministry—with all the suffering he endured—is a great encouragement for all of us in the minority. Right now is not all there is. Having that context does make all the difference.