Lesson 14 - To Walk Properly Toward Those Who are Outside (series: Lessons on 1 Thess.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

“so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

“so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

Tom Lowe

Lesson 14: To Walk Properly Toward those who are Outside (Thessalonians 4:12)

Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:12 (NIV)
“so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

In 1 Timothy 3:7 Paul said that those who are appointed to an office in the church should “have a good report of them which are without” - that is, we who are believers and name the name of Jesus should live a life above reproach. Thus, even though unbelievers and sinners may not respect us or speak well of us in our presence, when they are away from us they will admit that we, like the apostles of Jesus, have been with the Lord. The same idea is presented in the verse we are considering.

(4:12) “so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders
The purpose of this exhortation is now stated; for it is by earning an honest living that they will earn the respect of their pagan neighbors. For Christians to be seen neglecting the duty of earning their daily bread while giving themselves up to religious activities and religious excitement would prejudice their cause in the eyes of the World, which could appreciate the value of honest, respectable work, while it could not understand the spiritual pursuits of the new faith.

In the preceding verse, Paul instructed the Thessalonians “to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands.” I would render his words this way: “Be content with your life and do not complain, mind your own business, and earn an honest living by doing manual labor.” Here in verse 12 he gives two reasons for earning their living in this way. The first is the result of their behavior toward those who are not Christians - “so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders.” “Outsiders” simply means those who are outside the church . . . unbelievers. A more literal translation is to “walk becomingly towards those outside.” Believers must always bear in mind the impact of their conduct on those who are without faith. What they do may be done from a good motive but yet appear to the outsider in quite a different light. Under these circumstances it is impossible for faithful followers of the Lord to go ahead without regard for appearances. They must give the impression that they are their Lord’s ambassadors, and their conduct must commend the Lord to others. If that is so in the case of things that are mediocre in themselves, how much more is it so in matters like the one before Paul at this moment?

When some of the believers did no work at all, but lived on the charity of others, with the result that they spent their time in what must have looked like idle gossip, what could outsiders think? It would be a sure way of bringing the church into disrepute. If those who profess to be Christians and followers of Jesus are lazy, if they are busybodies and gadabouts, they will certainly hurt the cause of Christ. Paul urges the Thessalonians to consider the implications of all this. He suggests that they should walk “becomingly,” directing their attention to the fitness of things - “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5).

and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.
There is some doubt about the exact meaning of Paul’s second reason for working. The words rendered “not be dependent on anybody” could just as easily be translated “have need of nothing,” or “never be in want.” In actual practice, though, it makes little difference whichever interpretation we adopt. The situation clearly was that those who were not working were depending on their more industrious brothers for their means of livelihood, and Paul was counseling them to work so that this undesirable state of affairs may be ended. He may mean “Work, and then all your needs will be supplied. You will be in need of nothing.” Or he may mean, “Work, and you will have need of no one to help you. You will be quite independent.” Either way he is making the point that the Christian cannot be a parasite.

This is a tremendous statement: “. . . and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” That is, “Work, apply yourselves, be alert, live a quiet life, be honorable in all things; be honest, upright, decent - and do not allow yourselves to be dependent upon anyone. Love God with all your heart, work with your hands, live a blameless life; and let everyone inside the church - or outside of it - know that even though you are a believer, you have not set yourself above others just because you are a believer. Let your life prove that the difference between you and other men is Christ in you, sins washed away in His precious blood, and a new nature within.” And I will add this one thing; do not go into debt to make any purchase The exception may be when buying a house or car., for when you owe someone, you are beholden to them.

This whole section on earning one’s living is closely connected with the previous one on brotherly love, and that connection is not only in grammar. Those who imposed on the generosity of their fellows were not living in love. Or, to put the same thing the other way around, the exhortation to brotherly love carries with it the necessity for providing for one’s own, so that undue strain cannot be placed on the brother (though Paul does not specifically mention this point).

The Gospel bids us aim not only at brotherly love, but at independence. Remember the poor, it says; but it says also, Work with your hands, that you may preserve a Christian dignity in relation to the world, and have need of no one. Paul could look the world in the face and say, “NEITHER DID WE EAT ANY MAN’S BREAD FOR NAUGHT; but wrought with labor and travail work that involves hard physical effort over a long period night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:8). Paul refused to bring reproach upon the Gospel by being lazy or depending on others to do for him what God had given him the strength to do for himself. He trusted God in every detail of his life - but by the same token he believed in honorable independence, and he preached it!


As believers, we must be careful in our relationships with “outsiders,” that is, unbelievers, those who are not included in the family of God. It requires spiritual grace and wisdom to have contact without contamination and to be different without being judgmental and proud. “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without” (Colossians 4:5). If we lack this spiritual wisdom, we will do more harm than good.

There are several good reasons why Christians should work, not the least of which is to provide for their own families (1 Timothy 5:8). If unsaved people have to work to pay their bills, why should Christians be exempt? We also work in order to be able to give to those who have need (Ephesians 4:28); but “if any should not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Work is not a curse; it is a blessing. God gave Adam work to do in Paradise. It is the toil and sweat of work that belongs to the curse and not the work itself (Genesis 2:15 and 3:17).

As we review this section, we see how practical the Christian walk really is. The obedient Christian will have a holy life by abstaining from sexual sin; a harmonious life by loving the brethren; and an honest life by working with his hands and not meddling in the affairs of others. When unsaved people see Christ magnified in this kind of a life, they will either oppose it with envy or desire to have it for themselves. Either way God is glorified.

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