This week, as I took time to contemplate the “art of minding your own business,” I came across a quote credited to Betty White that said, “Just mind your own business, take care of your own affairs, and don’t worry about people so much.” Though I never was infatuated with Betty as much as many others, I still appreciate her gentle reminder to mind our own affairs. White is not the only individual of notoriety to ever suggest such a reminder to stay in the lane we are traveling in. Over the years there have been many reminders from celebrities and well-known voices have echoed our parents and grandparents with reminders to mind our own business. Leon Brown of the 1976 New York Mets once told listeners, “Mind your own business, and do what you need to do to make you happy.” Even further back, the Greek Stoic Philosopher Epictetus once wrote, “Keep your attention focused entirely on what is truly your own concern, and be clear that what belongs to others is their business and none of yours.” Over the years, many have found wisdom in shifting our focus to be responsible for the things in our lane, and not be concerned with the lanes of others.
“Just mind your own business, take care of your own affairs, and don’t worry about people so much.” – Betty White
Paul and the Art of Minding Your Own Business.
This practical reminder to stick to only that which concerns us is also witnessed several times throughout scripture, but perhaps most notably in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 – the passage in which this blog also takes its influence and name. In writing to a church that was weathering incredible and significant pressure, pains, problems, and persecution, Paul writes that the Thessalonians should not only “make it their ambition to lead a quiet life,” but also that they should “mind [their] own business” (1 Thessalonians 4:11, NIV). The King James Version of this passage states Paul’s timely wisdom as an encouragement to “do your own business” (1 Thessalonians 4:11, KJV). In Paul’s charge to the Thessalonian followers of Jesus he encourages them on a focused journey where “you do you,” which sounds a lot like the quotes above which call us to a way of living in which we “take care of [our] own affairs,” “do what [we] need,” and to “keep [our] attention focused entirely on what is truly [our] own concern.” The scriptural witness of this passage calls us to mind our own business, not as a way of self-fulfillment, but rather as a very intentional and committed way of becoming aware of our personal responsibility without giving into the distraction. I believe that Paul calls a struggling church to the art of minding their own business with great meaning and intention.
“Take care of your own affairs…” – 1 Thessalonains 4:11, KJV
The Art of Minding Your Own Business Is a Call to Responsibility
Our globalized society is not only more connected than ever, but it is a society that often also seems like a bustling intersection of opinions, actions, consumption, divisive news reports, polarizing opinions, and constant chatter from cultural influencers. There are many aspects of life for which we begin to feel responsible – sometimes matters out of our control. Like in the days of the Thessalonian Church, our society is full of disruptions and distractions that long to steal our attention and focus, or even communicate to us an expectation of responsibility. The age-old wisdom that we should “mind [our] own business” is perhaps an unmatched and timely reminder. To know that which we alone are responsible for, and to focus on that responsibility alone, is not only a prophetic witness to the world around us but it can personally become such a beacon of tranquility in our lives and the lives of those around us.
The Dangers of Minding Your Own Business
In our Western context which prioritizes an individual’s rights to pleasure, happiness, and fulfillment, we must not hear Paul’s phrase as an excuse to just pursue whatever makes us happy, nor can we see it as a call to live our life in isolation. Too often in our society of “my truths,” we hear a call to mind our business as a call to self-fulfillment. At other moments, a call to mind our business has us desiring a life of sustainability and silence that is lived away from others. Neither self-fufillment nor isolation is Paul’s intent in telling us to mind our own business. I believe Paul’s words are meant to cultivate a faith and way of life that is full of focus and responsibility in the Thessalonian church. A focus and responsibility that is only focused and responsible to that in which we can be focused on and responsible for. Through his challenge to mind their own business, Paul is calling them to responsibly steward their lives in the places they live, work, and play with the responsibilities they have been given by God and what comes from our commitment to follow Jesus. We cannot be focused or responsible on anything else. That same call to stewardship responsibility stands for us today.
Minding Your Own Business is Stewardship
In context, 1 Thessalonians 4:11 encourages these passionate but disoriented followers of Jesus to keep their eyes on the prize by recognizing both their communal and individual responsibility to cultivate intentional character and an incarnational missional focus, by staying in the pursuit lane of meaningful endeavors in which God has called them to steward and that which Paul had modeled for them while he was with them. They weren’t to live in a state of concern or worry about the stresses of the world around them – nor were they to be concerned about what others were doing or experiencing. Despite the societal abundance and religious persecution, they were to be focused on living missionally in the places they each were living, working, and playing. In a society that often glorifies busyness and constant connectivity, this biblical advice challenges us to reassess our priorities, to know our priorities, and to be faithful to those priorities alone – worrying less about other focuses or what is happening in the lives of those around us.
The Context of Minding Your Own Business
Like in our world, minding your own business was a common reminder of Paul’s day as well. Many individuals of notability also told their followers such a truth. Scholar Craig Keener points out that “minding one’s own affairs—and clinging only to one’s own philosophical community were central to Epicureanism.” Epicureanism was a popular philosophy of this day that advocated hedonism – and its resulting pleasure – as the highest good. However, mental pleasure was regarded more highly than physical pleasure and so the lust for power, fame, and politics was discouraged. To avoid fear and anxiety, the point of Epicureanism, a follower must live fully in to his or her lot and community. As a result, they often gave in to pleasure and withdrew from society, and Keener points out that this resulted in “quietism.” Again, today the statement to live a quiet life may tempt us to live into a hedonist approach or isolate ourselves from distractions by living out in the country somewhere. Though, such a way of living would contradict Jesus’ command to go to the ends of the earth. Certainly utilizing a similar statement, Paul is not advocating for this approach to a quiet life to be of fulfillment and isolation, but of prophetic witness – a beacon of tranquility for self, church community, and even for the world around the Thessalonians. In this way, Paul’s calling to lead a quiet life, where we mind our own business, reminds us that we are responsible for that which God has called us to be responsible for and to find forward motion as a church community through a clearly defined focus.
Minding Your Own Business Is About Love
Their life had become disrupted, and if their focus failed in the difficulties, then their faith could become unraveled. Paul calls them to a practical way of living in the disruptions and difficulties, a forward motion of clearly defined focus. As Theologian William Barclay points out, “Ordinary life had been disrupted…Paul’s advice was supremely practical…The only way to demonstrate that Christianity is the best of all faiths is to show that it produces the best of all men and women.” Paul calls them to see their responsibility to missionally steward their life in the places they each lived, worked, and played. To focus only on what they were responsible for, what they were given, and the places they were called to. Paul has already told them throughout this letter that they were called to see their “love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone” (1 Thessalonians 3:12, NIV). That sense of mission is now integrated into Paul’s vision of how they should live that out in the places where they are invested and hold influence. God’s reigning love, demonstrated in good news and goodness, should drive the church not into doing more, controlling more, isolating, or seeking their desires. Rather, it should drive them to live humble, quiet, lives of Sabbath-like stillness, dependent on God and staying responsible and sharing the love of God where God has given them influence. G.K. Beale remarks, “When love takes a high profile among God’s people, they assume a low, humble profile before one another and others.” To live a quiet life, where we mind our own business, is a call to a way of love that chooses a humble profile in the places each of us is invested and where we hold influence. Paul calls them to live out God’s love in such a way that it drives them into lives of downward mobility.
“When love takes a high profile among God’s people, they assume a low, humble profile before one another and others.” – G.K. Beale
Minding your own business in the context of 1 Thessalonians 4:11 involves more than just avoiding unnecessary gossip or avoiding meddling in others’ affairs. It speaks to the deliberate choice of directing one’s attention to personal growth and contributing positively to the world through diligent work. The emphasis is not on self-centeredness or isolation but on self-awareness and self-responsibility—an understanding of one’s purpose and a commitment to fulfilling it with integrity in the places we are invested and hold influence.
In the hustle and bustle of daily life, it’s easy to be swayed by the noise around us. Paul’s counsel encourages believers to resist the urge to be overly concerned with the affairs of others, focusing instead on the development of a quiet and purposeful existence. This doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to the needs of those around us; rather, it suggests that our primary energy should be invested in self-improvement and being responsible for that which God has called us to. In a world where comparison and competition can be relentless, 1 Thessalonians 4:11 stands as a timeless reminder and prophetic witness to chart our own course and run our own race. By minding our own business in the context of personal growth and meaningful work, we can create a life of purpose – a beacon of hope – having a legacy-lasting impact, and, most importantly, inner peace with God and our existence. Paul’s wisdom to mind our own business is a journey towards tranquility—a deliberate choice to lead a life that resonates with the wisdom of the ages.