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Doubled-Edged Sword: The Power of the Word

1 Thessalonians 4:9—12

On the subject of mutual charity you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another. Indeed, you do this for all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Nevertheless we urge you, brothers, to progress even more, and to aspire to live a tranquil life, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your [own] hands, as we instructed you, that you may conduct yourselves properly toward outsiders and not depend on anyone.

What is God's purpose for his children? In one sense, we can say it is dependence, complete dependence on His grace to sustain and to save us: “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Jesus said “ask and it will be given to you,” (Matthew 7:7) and James said “you do not possess because you do not ask” (James 4:3). A good example of this trusting dependence is St. Francis of Assisi, who radically redefined the nature of voluntary poverty and faith by asking for everything he needed. He did not grow rich, but his joy is a thing of legend.

But how does one reconcile this notion of dependence—obviously so necessary to the complete Christian life—with St. Paul's exhortation to “not depend on anyone”? It would seem that St. Paul is advocating for that worldview best described in the popular maxim “God helps those who help themselves.”

But notice what St. Paul says at the end of this passage: “that you may conduct yourselves properly toward outsiders.” The term properly is revealing here. This word implies that there is a correct relation between ourselves and others. This correct relation is one exhorted by Christ, who practiced it himself; our correct posture toward others is self-giving. The human person is designed to be a gift, and only in giving of oneself does one become fully human.

But giving of oneself is an active thing, not a passive thing. In order to give, we must cultivate. We are not called simply to receive grace, but to be a grace to others; or more properly, the vessel through which God pours his grace. Thus St. Paul tells us to work with our own hands, to mind our affairs, and to aspire to live a tranquil life. All of these activities are those that cultivate ourselves so that we may be more perfect gifts to one another. In this “independence,” we manifest and make present the grace on which we are all dependent. Glory be to God.