Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:28a “Let him that stole steal no more:. . .”
Paul was a realist. “Him that stole” translates a present participle which literally says “the one stealing.” Since Ephesians was written to Christians, we know Paul realized there were thieves within the church membership at Ephesus. He knew believers are not perfect.
A pastor who preceded me at a church left unpaid bills at a local store. Each time I went to witness to the elderly store owner, he would turn off his hearing aid. I finally paid off the former pastor’s bill. Next time I came to witness to the store owner, he still turned off his hearing aid. That experience taught me a good lesson, unbelievers are lost essentially because they want to be lost. Their cries of hypocrisy among believers are a smoke-screen to cover the hardness of their own hearts. Despite the store owner’s intentional hardness of heart (and hearing), I felt good about paying the bill, because something had been done which would hopefully help clear the name of Christ and His Church.
Believers, beware. Satan has a prolific imagination. There is no end to ways we can steal: overdue bills, unpaid debts, pocketing what a clerk overpays in change, gambling, failing to report income to the IRS.
Workers steal in the misuse of trust funds, unfair wages, intentional overestimating, falsified cost overruns, embezzlement, padding expense accounts, reporting more hours than worked, using employer time for things other than work, arriving at work late, leaving early, stretching coffee breaks and lunch hours, pilfering business stamps for personal letters, charging personal long-distance calls to the company.
We rob at school by stealing credit for someone else’s work, as in plagiarism or cheating on exams. Some steal at church by withholding the tithe, which is God’s. Theft is a problem, even inside the church.
Eph. 4:28b “. . .but rather let him labor,. . .”
Paul did not end with a negative prohibition. He pressed on to offer a substitute behavior for thievery. A negative word was followed by a positive. As God helps, wrong deeds can be displaced by right deeds.
Paul says, “let him labor.” Thieves don’t like work. People steal to get things easily, to gain without exertion, to have the most while doing the least. This is why stealing builds a person’s ego. A feeling of superiority is gained by getting for nothing items others sweat to obtain. A hard worker who gains seemingly little is deemed ignorant, but a thief gets away with something, outsmarts society, and outwits others. He feels proud, a cut above the rest. In fact, a successful thief is such a confirmed egotist that his own bragging often leads to his arrest.
“Easy money” is a thief’s motto. Believers disagree. We’re not to be ashamed or afraid of manual labor. Hard work is a Christian duty.
Christianity was designed for busy people. Paul wrote, “This we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 TH 3:10). Society should provide for people unable to work, but for those who can labor and choose not to, Paul bluntly settles the issue by saying they should not eat. Our culture calls this aspect of Biblical Christianity the “Protestant work ethic,” a philosophy which had much to do with the 225 years of material success our country has enjoyed.
Eph. 4:28c “. .working with his hands the thing which is good,”
Our jobs are to be honest, honorable, and ethical in every way. Our money should come from jobs yielding good products or services.
Christians should not be in jobs which harm others. Any work whereby a man enriches himself by the loss of another is theft embellished and refined, vocational thievery. Gambling exemplifies this. Gamblers and thieves have much in common. Neither worries about their victims. The one who gains provides nothing worthwhile in exchange for what the loser loses. Winner and loser craved something for nothing, and the loser cheated his own family to satisfy the craving.
Christians should not be in jobs which call for compromise of convictions, or require us to violate God’s commands. Tertullian once asked one of his parishioners why he was sculpting idols for pagans to worship. The craftsman said, “We have to live.” Tertullian replied, “Do we?” He later confirmed with his own blood the conviction of his words.
I have seen many young people begin to slide away from God by taking a job which required them to work on Sunday and miss church. A boyhood friend of mine was recently executed for committing the only triple murder in the history of my home town. As close friends, we stayed overnight in each other’s home often. His dad was a deacon in the church where my dad was pastor. Upon hearing the disturbing news of the murders, I called Dad. In the conversation I mentioned being unable to remember much about my friend being at church after about age 15 or so. Dad immediately replied, “That’s when he took a Sunday job.” Dad went on to say he even went to the boy’s parents and discussed the matter with them, but they saw no harm in it.
For believers, work is to be honest and honorable. This concept of labor lifts it to a high and holy level. Our tasks at work are to be seen as acts of worship offered to God. Labor thus comes to entail dignity.
A common misconception, even among Christians, is that work is part of the curse God placed on humanity due to Adam and Eve’s sin. This is dreadfully wrong. Work was given as a blessing, as part of the original design in Eden. Genesis 2:15 says God put man in the garden of Eden “to dress it and to keep it.” Not until Genesis 3:17 does God say, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.” God declared work would not be as productive as before, but work itself was part of the blessing.
Christians need a proper understanding of labor, for today there is an insidious mentality that despises work. Pleasure and fun are elevated to the supreme position, while labor is relegated to being a dreaded necessity. Work is deemed a nuisance, something to be escaped. No wonder many people are miserable on their jobs. They begin from the premise that work is bad. Thus, their attitude is skewed from the first.
The moment we begin to think of work as degrading or demeaning, we multiply our chances of being miserable on the job, and increase our danger of committing theft. If our job is deemed a nuisance or a curse, we are more likely to be tempted to take advantage of it and our employer. But if work is counted as worship we will be trustworthy.
Eph. 4:28d “. . .that he may have to give to him that needeth.”
We labor to secure some property which is private (“have”), and some which is not private (“to give”). Communists say private property in and of itself causes social ills and destitution. They are wrong; the causes are selfishness and sin. Private property is not wrong when the owner remembers his possessions are to be shared with others. Private property is theft only when used for nothing but self-gratification.
Paul, realizing thievery is caused by selfishness, struck at the root of the evil. He hopes to turn a thief’s attention away from self and to the needs of others. Paul believed rousing a spirit of brotherhood could help pilferers become honest. It’s hard to steal from ones we love.
Others matter. We are to give, not take. A thief thinks the world owes him, but the fact is, we are debtors to God, family, friends, society. To withhold from them our best efforts is to steal what they invested in us. We need to make a positive difference in this world by giving back more than we receive. Most have a lot of giving back to do. We best do this by honest and honorable work, thereby receiving in order to give.