Mundane Aspirations

By Jane Williams

A Reading from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

1 Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more. 2For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; 4that each one of you knows how to control your own body in holiness and honor, 5not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6that no one wrongs or exploits a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. 8Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.

9 Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; 10and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, 11to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, 12so that you may behave properly towards outsiders and be dependent on no one.


The tone of most of this letter to the Thessalonians is deeply emotional, full of praise and evident love and longing. But in chapter 4, Paul bears out what he has already said (2:11) about his fatherly role towards the new Christians, which is not just to praise where praise is due, but also to continue to oversee their progress. The kind of love towards each other for which Paul has been commending them is not just a warm glow: it has to be lived out very practically. The Christian community is made up of people who are learning how to be family to each other, coming, as they do, from different backgrounds and social practices. Paul reminds them that there is a particular ethic to the Christian life, and that it impacts the most personal and intimate of their relationships. Self-restraint in sexual conduct is a sign of love and respect for others: the personal ethic is always also about building a community of holiness.

This may seem like a change of pace, a descent into the mundane and the hectoring, but Paul sees the hard work that will be necessary for the Christian community in Thessalonica to live their daily lives as a gift from God. To live well each day, with its quota of ordinary work, and its network of daily relationships, is going to take huge and heroic effort and commitment, even if it feels banal. Paul uses the kind of words that might be more appropriate to an athlete in training: “do so more and more,” “aspire.” An Advent aspiration for us: living as an everyday miracle?

Dr. Jane Williams is McDonald Professor in Christian Theology at St. Mellitus College. She is also an editor, a sought-after public speaker, and is involved in promoting theological education in the Anglican Communion. She is the author of a number of books, including The Art of Advent (SPCK, 2018).

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Diocese of Shinyanga (Tanzania) and the Rt. Rev. Johnson Chinyong’ole
Diocese of Eau Claire and the Rev. William Jay Lambert
Church of the Good Shepherd, Corpus Christi, Texas


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