“Self-help” is one of the biggest literature genres of the 20th and 21st centuries. Americans especially have been obsessed with self-help books.
It would be unfair to say that all self-help books are about ambition, success, power, and money–how to obtain these things. But many of them are, under the guise of making a better life for ourselves.
In reading I Thessalonians 4:11, it occurred to me that Paul was giving a kind of self-help advice, albeit antithetical to that given by today’s self-help gurus. Paul said “to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”
“Ambition” is often discussed in today’s self-help books but not in conjunction with “a quiet life.” Someone who is ambitious is thought of as hard charging. Someone known for living a quiet life isn’t usually considered ambitious.
But all of Paul’s advice in I Thessalonians 4 isn’t opposed to today’s self-help guidance. For example, he wrote to work hard and win the respect of others. That sounds familiar. But try this advice from I Thessalonians 4: mind your own business. Actually, that’s pretty good advice for trying to make a better life for ourselves, but it’s not something included in the often repetitious, monotonous self-help books we read today.
Paul was trying to help his readers live a better life, but he was doing this by encouraging Christians to love each other and “to do so more and more.” To do this, we must aspire to lead quiet lives toward each other, rather than meddle in each other’s affairs. We must work for our own support so as not to be a burden to those we love. If we gain respect, that will benefit those whom we love and with whom we associate.
When compared to the rat race that is fed by today’s self-help books, aspiring to live a quiet life sounds pretty good. It sounds even better when we know that it is part of loving each other.