The quiet life of the plain people
Previously, my only experience with the Amish lifestyle was through novels and movies. Then I made a trip to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, and I spent some time among the Amish. I found their lifestyle fascinating and thought-provoking.
I’ve always loved—but have struggled to live—the passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:10–12 that says, “But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
I aspire to live that verse, but it requires effort and choice to find that kind of quiet in my Dallas life. Nevertheless, that’s the verse that kept coming to mind as I drove past the farms in Lancaster County and visited stores and other places intended to reflect the Amish way of life.
If there were some kind of apocalyptic occurrence in the world, I imagine the Amish in Lancaster County would be far better off than the rest of us. In fact, I wonder if a catastrophe would impact them much at all.
Their daily lives would look familiar, even now, to their ancestors. In contrast, my grandparents would be astonished to see everything that this computer I’m typing on is able to accomplish. For that matter, my mom is still astonished on occasion. Change seems to be a constant in our lives, but the Amish still use oxen to plow their fields and horses to pull their buggies.
The Amish have chosen to stay separate from the rest of the culture and take care of themselves, their families, and their community. They raise their children to depend on God and hopefully choose the Amish lifestyle for their futures. The times change, but they have chosen not to change with them—at least not too much. The Amish buggy I followed down the highway had turn signals!
Is the Amish lifestyle what the apostle Paul intended when he wrote 1 Thessalonians 4:10–12?
Why do the Amish choose to live a “plain” life?
I was surprised to learn that my theological roots are closely related to those of the Amish. The Amish and the Baptists both trace their beginnings to a group called the Anabaptists, who were persecuted during the Protestant Reformation because they did not believe in infant baptism. Those Christians were forced to flee from their homeland because many were being put to death for “defying” the traditional Catholic faith.
Eventually, the Amish and Mennonite people left Europe in the 1720s and 1730s and accepted William Penn’s offer of religious freedom. That is why they settled in the area that later became known as Pennsylvania. Many are still in that area today, on the same land their ancestors farmed.
I enjoyed my time in Lancaster County. We discovered a family restaurant that offered traditional Mennonite recipes. The food was wonderful, the pies were amazing, and the servers were quietly kind and seemed to enjoy serving. The walls of that restaurant were covered with Scripture. It felt like a privilege to eat there. Truthfully, I felt a little sad to pull away from that very simple, very plain, and very comfortable hotel room in Lancaster.
There is something to be said for the “plain” lifestyle, but is that how all of us should interpret the passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:10–12?
That is the thought that has given me pause since returning home. Paul said to live quietly; to mind our own affairs; to work with our hands; to walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
Those words seem to describe a lifestyle that looks more Amish than the way most of us have chosen to live.
Why did Paul speak those words to the Thessalonians?
Thessalonica was a busy seaport in Macedonia, and one of the largest, most important cities Paul visited. Paul taught in the synagogue there, doing his best to convince people that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah.
Acts 17:1–10 describes Paul’s time in the city. Acts 17:5 says, “The Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd.” Paul was forced to flee to Berea, but his message, after just three days of preaching, was received by many in that important city, and a significant Christian church was formed and tasked with reaching their culture.
Later, Paul wrote his letters to the church, trying to help those new Christians protect themselves from the same persecution he had faced. He complimented them on their faith and told them, among other things, to live quietly, separately, work hard, and try not to depend on others for their livelihoods. In context, Paul’s words were given to help those early Christians survive in an angry culture that didn’t like their message.
Paul’s life is his message as well
The Anabaptist people needed that same teaching to survive the persecution of their day so they came to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. They chose to maintain that way of life to protect their faith, even after coming to a land that gave them permission to worship freely. In many ways, the Amish have lived as a persecuted people, even though they were free.
And that is a point to consider today. If Paul was teaching that a quiet life, lived separately from the world and not dependent on others, was the “Christian” lifestyle, then Paul didn’t choose to live as he taught. Neither did Jesus. Both Jesus and Paul lost their lives because they did not separate from the world; they preached to it.
In fact, that is the lifestyle most of our biblical heroes were called to lead.
How then should we live today?
Jesus prayed for his followers, saying, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15 NIV).
Jesus knew that it would be difficult for Christians to live their faith around people who didn’t follow God’s plan for their lives. Jesus knew that human beings will always struggle to submit to God’s sovereignty because Satan, the evil one, will always work to separate people from God’s plan.
But, if Jesus prayed for our protection, shouldn’t we trust that God answered that prayer?
It was right for Paul to teach the Thessalonian church (and consequently the early Anabaptists) how to survive in a culture that was trying to take the lives of the faithful followers of God. It was also right for Paul to continue to live in the midst of his culture in order to fulfill his calling.
And that is the point for all of us today. I wish there were a strict set of rules each of us could follow to guarantee we were leading a godly lifestyle. We have God’s laws, and they are still truth, but God also gave us his Holy Spirit to guide each of us to the life and calling he wants for our lives.
What is your calling?
It’s important to remember that our calling will never break God’s laws, but the Holy Spirit will teach us how to fulfill our calling with the people around us.
I was impressed by what I saw in the Amish way of life, and I wish I had more time to live amongst them. At the same time, I’m called to live in Dallas and freely serve God as his Holy Spirit leads. My “quiet” life is better described by the quiet confidence and peace that accompanies a busy, suburban lifestyle and ministry.
Like Paul, we each have to run our own race. God’s Holy Spirit will teach us which lane is ours, how fast to run, and which direction to go. Those instructions will probably change daily, weekly, and yearly.
Galatians 5:25 says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” Walking with the Spirit is the plain truth, for plain people, who want to live the life God has called them to live.
There may be days ahead when God’s Spirit instructs us to live like Paul taught the church in Thessalonica and the early Anabaptists. For now, we are free to teach and preach the gospel message to a world that needs to hear it.
And if one day God were to call me to live more like the Amish people, I think I would enjoy that ministry as well!