The Extraordinary Ordinary Life

May 28th 2024

The turn of the century birthed many new trends within Christian culture. One of these trends saw a wave of books that came out with titles including adjectives like “radical,” “crazy,” “wild,” “reckless,” etc. These books became enormously successful and impacted many Christians. At best, maybe there were some good intentions in trying to stir Christians from apathy and a type of easy-believism. No doubt, to follow Christ is to radically take up one’s cross in a life of self-denial which might seem crazy to many.

Unfortunately, though, at worst, it produced a new type of “Pharisaism,” which said that unless you were “radical,” “crazy,” “wild,” and/or “reckless,” you were either not a strong Christian, or, possibly not a Christian at all. I believe this way of thinking added legalistic burdens upon Christians, which caused many to feel shame and frustration for not being able to sustain a “radical” and/or “crazy” life in Christ.

Although the call to follow Jesus is radical compared to worldly living, the Christian life is actually quite ordinary. In 1 Thessalonians 4:9–12, the Apostle Paul gives us clear directions of what an impactful Christian life should be like – and it is not crazy, wild, and/or reckless, but rather, surprisingly ordinary. In fact, the Christian life is extraordinarily ordinary. Let’s look at three characteristics from this passage of an ordinary yet impactful Christian life.

The Christian Life is Lived Out in a Culture of Brotherly Love

This first characteristic is so familiar to us as Christians that I would be surprised if you were surprised by it. Paul commended the Thessalonian church for their “brotherly love” (v. 9). This is what they had been “taught.” The word for “taught” in the original Greek is theodidaktos. Literally, that word means “God taught.” This makes sense because Paul had also commended the Thessalonians in chapter two, verse thirteen, for receiving God’s Word as it is – it is God’s Word. Thus, His Word was at work in them as believers.

So, exactly what were the Thessalonians taught by God in His Word? Undoubtedly, they had been taught the following command from Jesus from God’s Word: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35). Not only were they doing this, but Paul encouraged them to continue to grow in loving one another (v. 10, cf. 4:1).

Being a community that is ever-growing in its love for one another is, in one sense, radical compared to how the world does community. But in a realistic, day-to-day way, loving others can seem subtle, sacrificial, and simple. Very unglamorous. In this life, exhibiting brotherly love doesn’t draw much attention, go viral on social media, or earn accolades on award shows. Yet, it is to be the ordinary way in which a Christian lives out his life. It is quite simply, thedefining description of what a Christian community is to look like.

The Christian Life Should Aspire to Be Ordinary

For what do you aspire? Fame? Recognition? Wealth? To be “radical” or “reckless” for Jesus? How about this “radical” list of ordinary aspirations: to live quietly, mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands (v. 11). Does that sound exciting to you? This is what God calls us to in living the Christian life.

One of Paul’s key themes in both letters to the Thessalonian church is the return of Christ (cf. 1:10; 3:13; 4:13-5:11). It is in this sense that Paul is calling Christians to keep in mind the importance of living quietly, minding your own affairs, and working with your hands. This is how our days should be occupied until Christ returns.

To “live quietly” does not mean to not speak or simply to be restful. As a general rule, it means to live respectably in the community without causing problems. In writing to Timothy, Paul calls us to pray for this, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim 2:1–2). Yes, there are times we may be called to not bow to the idols like Daniel did. Yet, in the ordinary day-to-day, this is our call: “In anticipation of the Lord’s return, believers are to lead peaceful lives, free of conflict and hostility toward others, which is a witness to the transforming power of the Gospel.”[1]

To “mind your affairs” quite simply means to “not meddle in the affairs of others.” We might call someone who meddles in other people’s affairs a “busybody.” A busybody is one who wastes their labor and not attends to what they should be doing (2 Thess 3:11–12). Rather than busying oneself with other peoples’ affairs, focus on your own affairs as you serve and love others.

To “work with your hands” has become the backbone of what has become known as the “Christian work ethic.” Working with one’s hands would have been perceived to be beneath the Greek mindset for work and tasks reserved only for slaves and servants. But that is how a Christian should view himself – as a slave and/or servant.

In fact, Paul even says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess 3:10).  That statement is not meant to add stress or a burden to someone who is actively trying to find the right employment, but is rather meant for the one who refuses to go to school, learn a trade, or who is merely not willing to do whatever it takes to provide for their family, all the while holding out for a “management position” that simply does not exist. This is simply the ordinary call to be willing to work hard and not be lazy or dependent on charity.

Actually, Paul double-downs on this type of work ethic in his letter to Timothy: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8). Working hard and providing for one’s family should be so normative that to deny this is to deny the faith and to be “worse” than someone who has rejected Christ. That should be a sober warning about what God considers not only ordinary but essential.

The extraordinary ordinary life is simply about living quiet lives, minding your own affairs, and working with one’s hands. This is not the stuff of award shows, exciting social media campaigns, or a guaranteed path to fame and fortune. But it is the pathway to being used by the Lord and pleasing Him as we are faithful to our calling as Christians.

The Example to Others

What results from this extraordinary ordinary life? We set an example to outsiders. As we “walk properly, dependent on no one,” Paul tells us that we do this “before others.” In other words, we get an outsider’s attention, not by being loud-mouthed busybodies, meddling with other people’s affairs, being lazy and/or living off of charity, but by living an ordinary life. Here’s how we get the attention of a watching world: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men...” (Col 3:23). This is the heartbeat that God desires for us to have in winning the world by our example – not that we are crazy, wild, or reckless but surprisingly and refreshingly ordinary.

Conclusion

Don’t mistake this message! This is not a call to mediocrity or the status quo. We are called to do all things well for the glory of God. Someone may ask, “Aren’t we supposed to ‘Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God”?[2] Wouldn’t this be the opposite?” Of course not! It is defining what those great things truly are – they are extraordinarily ordinary.

Take heart – if you are not famous, powerful, wealthy, well known, found wanting on the world’s scales, etc. – then this is for you! As an ordinary Christian, you have every ability, through the Holy Spirit, to love one another, live quietly, mind your own affairs, work hard, and walk properly, just as Jesus did. And that is extraordinary.

[1] John MacArthur. First & Second Thessalonians MacArthur New Testament Commentary (United States: Moody Publishers, 2002), 119. [2] This quote is traditionally attributed to William Carey.

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Author: Todd Burgett

Todd is married to Lisa and they have 3 adult children. He has been pastoring since 1995 and joined the RBC pastoral team in 2022 giving oversight to several ministries including the Redeemer Training Center. Todd went to The Master's Seminary where he graduated in 2021 with an advanced degree in expository preaching.