The time has come for Paul to give instruction more explicitly and more like what we are familiar with in his other letters. Notice as we go through these verses, however, that unlike some of the other churches he writes to, the Thessalonians are doing quite well, even under persecution. Of course, we can always do better and we must keep growing; this is the major emphasis in the section.
The first 2 verses bear this out: They had been taught how to live to please the Lord, and they are doing so. Now gang, let’s kick it up a notch and do even better!
Verses 3-8 provide a warning reminder that they should not go back to their old pagan ways, living in sexual immorality, passions and lust, and they must never take advantage of other people. With these words, Paul is reminding them (and us) of what they were taught from the beginning, that we are to live as a holy, set apart people; set apart from the ways of this world, for God.
For me, the real crux of this passage is found in verses 9-12:
Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and 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.
God has shown them that they should love one another, and they have, and continue to do so. Let’s do so even more! Notice that this is linked to living quiet lives, working with your hands and being respected by outsiders and a burden to no one. Loving one another and living quiet lives: What do these have in common? If we love one another in community, then we must necessarily be considerate of one another, for to do otherwise wouldn’t be loving. People who lead quiet lives are people who aren’t creating controversy, showing off or lording it over others. To work with one’s hands means that they are self-supporting and not a burden on the community, which unless I am mistaken, is also being considerate of others. A quiet, steady community of hard-working people who don’t cause problems and who demonstrate selfless love for one another would surely earn the respect of outsiders; it might even gain a hearing for the gospel, and isn’t that ultimately the point?