These past several weeks we have been examining the five “put off/put on” behavioral characteristics of the believer as instructed by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:20-32.
This week I would like for us to consider yet another one of these five truths: putting off stealing and replacing it with personal industry. Not only does Scripture command us not to steal, it contrasts and superimposes individual responsibility in its place. Further, this week’s passage states that our attitude and diligence for personal industry is not to be motivated by selfish gain, but instead by a desire to benefit others! May I suggest that for most American Christians this passage bespeaks a need for change!
Lastly, don’t miss the historical importance of this passage: It was fundamental to the formation of the Protestant Work Ethic, which stemmed from the Reformation. Accordingly, not only should this passage act as a siren to check on our personal work ethic and motives for wealth, but it should dramatically influence your convictions regarding policy formation! Read on to better understand what I mean.
THE BOOK OF EPHESIANS ON THIEFT
Many legislators, staff and lobbyists are to be commended for their strong work ethic that they display on the job. Your long hours do not go unnoticed by those in the know. Such industry is a wonderful, godly character quality that is tightly woven into the fabric of our nation’s capitol. I praise God for your hard work and personal discipline in this regard! Much of our nation’s present greatness stems from our profound historical commitment to personal industry!
As mentioned on the cover page, the passage we will examine this week was instrumental in the formation of the Protestant Work Ethic that stemmed from the Reformation – a major pillar of our country’s economic greatness. Historically we have been a very hardworking people! Whatever you might think otherwise of Rockefeller (Oil), Carnegie (Steel), Morgan (Electricity), Ford (Altogether) and their like, the patriarchs of the American industrial revolution, they extolled and further inscribed America with the virtues of this passage in and by their own unrelenting discipline to put in a hard day’s work! There is no taking that away from these men! Danielle and I see this same attitude of personal diligence manifest in most every individual we know on the Hill; we praise God that at least here, that culture still exists!
Ironically, while our public servants are paragons of personal industry, the policies enacted by these same individuals are manifestly enabling a slothful Entitlement mindset in place of America’s Protestant Work Ethic! Sadly for all, more and more Americans believe the institution of Government should provide for them!
THIS PASSAGE MORE THAN SUGGESTS THAT GOD’S PLAN FOR MAN’S PROVISION IS STARKLY OTHERWISE
Whereas the Protestant Work Ethic has served us extremely well in our national economic development, in the formation of a middle class (unbeknownst to prior nations), and in the accumulation of personal capital, many in our country are sadly jumping ship to ride another horse – a horse called economic redistribution, or Socialism. But such is not God’s design: Per this week’s passage, that way of thinking is scripturally uninformed.
It is not God’s intention (cf. Romans 13; 1Peter 2) for The institution He designed known as Government, to accomplish for people what herein He says individuals need to do for themselves! As we have learned in other studies, other Godordained institutions are charged with that responsibility. In contrast to governmental provision, this week’s passage serves to explain God’s blueprint for personal and societal economic advancement.
Last by way of introduction, as much as this week’s passage underscores personal industry, again, it contrasts it with stealing. So many people think they are basically good because they are not thieves. But as we expand our understanding of theft, we realize that everyone is in need of diminishing his or her larcenous ways! May God illumine the truths of this short but profound passage to our hearts and minds this week. Ephesians 4:28 reads,
He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.
II. PUT OFF STEALING
He who steals must steal no longer
When you think of stealing, what do you think of? Taking money out of someone’s wallet, or robbing a bank? Biblically speaking, stealing is a much broader issue than taking physical property. Stealing can relate to other people in terms of stealing their time, talent or treasure, and it can relate to God in terms of stealing what is due Him or His glory. What follows are some ticklers to expand your thinking about the concept of theft. Who is robbed of what in each of the following?
TWENTY FORMS OF STEALING
Embellishing accomplishments to obtain votes
Producing misleading hit mail
Taking another person’s ideas
Naming your organization close to another’s
Failing to accredit a quote to its author
Slander and libel
Not working hard for your employer
Falsifying cost overruns
Paying unfair wages
Padding a reimbursement
Reneging on a debt
Staying on welfare when you can work
Failing to give glory to God
Setting your personal desires above God’s will
Failing to witness for Christ
Being late for an appointment
Overstaying an appointment
After studying these, it is obvious that everyone is guilty before God of some kind of larceny.
A. HABITUAL STEALING
The context of this passage, as previously noted, relates to five snapshot behavioral aspects that characterize true saving faith. Christians are to be known by such things as truthfulness, righteous indignation, wholesome speech, tender-heartedness and as stated here, industry (Ephesians 4:20-32). In essence, what Paul is stating is that if any person persists in these negative characteristics such as lying, selfish anger, bad speech, bitterness and/or stealing, then there is reason to doubt that they are truly saved. “You will know them by their fruit” states Jesus in Matthew 7:20. Habitual stealing is uncharacteristic of true saving faith.
B. HORIZONTAL STEALING
As indicated by the sidebar, there are many forms of stealing that go beyond the idea of taking another’s physical property. One can rob another’s time, thoughts, ideas and/or reputation. Everyone knows the violation they sense when another takes what isn’t theirs; those are difficult emotions to deal with for sure! Scripture forbids it all! Note the following passages that echo Ephesians 4:28. These Scriptures all deal with what I shall term, the sin of horizontal stealing, that is, stealing from other human beings in the ways previously mentioned:
You shall not steal.
You shall not steal.
You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.
You know the commandments, “DO NOT MURDER, DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, DO NOT STEAL, DO NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS, Do not defraud, HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER.”
C. VERTICAL STEALING
In addition, there is vertical stealing as depicted in Deuteronomy 5:9 which indicates a desire to steal worship away from the one true God of Scripture,
You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God…
This similar idea is conveyed in Jeremiah 7:9,
Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known?
In American culture the temptation to steal worship away from God to worship Baal seems remote, but whenever we promote something to a higher prominence in our mind than the LORD Jesus Christ, we are in essence stealing worship away from Him, and Scripture is clear, do not steal. Idolatry is yet another form of theft.
Lastly on this point, one steals from God by not giving to Him what He asks of us in order to fulfill His Great Commission. Note Malachi 3:8-10…
Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.
Granted, the passage relates specifically to OT Israel, but the principle of giving to God from our resources is also found throughout the NT. For instance 2Corinthians 9:7 states, “God loves a cheerful giver.”
WORK ON YOUR CHARACTER! DO NOT BE A TAKER IN ANY AREA OF YOUR LIFE!
In summary of the first stanza of our home passage in the book of Ephesians, believers are clearly and concisely commanded to steal no longer in each and every one of these ways.
III. PUT ON PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good,
Paul is conveying here the idea of being personally responsible to provide for your own needs in life. The term used for labor kopiac denotes “weariness and toil.” It is congruous with the curse associated with the Fall in Genesis 3:17-19, wherein mankind is told by God that the earth will no longer give freely of its resources relative to his sustainability. All value-added product and wealth accumulation will only result from toilsome labor:
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.
Every believer should be about building a strong work ethic, an industriousness that is fitting for an ambassador of the King of Kings! Think about that beloved! Furthermore, weariness and toil in labor is an emphasis of the OT. Hard work is good for you (but don’t carry this too far and let it be your god and ruin your family). Note the following passages in regards to the benefit of working hard:
Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
Man goes forth to his work And to his labor until evening.
Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler, Prepares her food in the summer And gathers her provision in the harvest. How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? “A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest “-‐-‐ Your poverty will come in like a vagabond And your need like an armed man.
He who tills his land will have plenty of food, But he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty.
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.
For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.
Every believer must labor. By use of the word must, Paul is commanding by way of the Holy Spirit who inspired him to write this, the edict of God for every individual who seeks to be pleasing to Him. That is to say laboring to the point you are tired is not an option! Don’t even think about ever having an easy life; it is not godly to daydream about that for your future. (I do not believe retirement is a biblical concept either). We all must labor throughout our lifetime, as long as we are physically and mentally able, in order to obtain our provisions and achieve legitimate progress that is pleasing to God!
Note further the emphasis in the Greek relative to our home passage, the words introducing this contrast: but rather. Those who would dissect and meditate on this passage (as we are doing) will realize that this represents a polarization of worldviews: of working hard to get what you have versus gaining something by any means other than that. Personal hard work is God’s way for individuals to obtain provision versus stealing order to obtain them.
The short cut attitude and mentality of stealing is not only ungodly it is satanic. Stealing is a character quality of the devil himself. Jesus said of him, “The thief comes only to steal…” (John 10:10). To steal then is to act like Satan; stealing is decrepit, debased and evil. Whereas thievery might foster immediate gain, it will most surely and always end in dishonor, if not in this life, the next.
I saw this principle play out just this past week when the United States Patent and Trademark Office ruled to deny another organization the ability to trademark their name that was intentionally and deceptively created (I believe) to confuse others as being our organization, Capitol Ministries. What we have labored to build from scratch over the past 16 years others attempted to steal void of labor so as to facilitate immediate branding.
My point is this beloved Legislators: Stealing results in dishonor and embarrassment. Never attempt to circumvent hard labor and small beginnings! Rooted in the reality of Genesis 3, this is God’s way for you and for me. Embrace it and love it.
The person who learns to labor versus steal what another person labored to achieve, will over a lifetime have much more product and consistency for God’s glory in whatever their chosen field of endeavor. Through hard labor he or she will also possess a deep-seated sense of satisfaction with life that can be gained by no other means.
Further, this passage is not teaching that every believer must work with his own hands in a wooden, literal sense (as some attempt to imply). The idea being conveyed here is centered on the word that is being emphasized in the Greek: own idios meaning “productivity.” Individuals are to be productive versus, again, the contrasting idea of one stealing from another (better: own vs. “another”). Again…
HERE IS THE CLEAR BIBLICAL EMPHASIS ON PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY VERSUS LOOKING FOR A GOVERNMENT HANDOUT
The Apostle Paul illustrates his instruction on labor by his own example, when he states relative to ministry in 2 Corinthians 11:27,
I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
This is the kind of passion and fervor we must all bring to the service of the Lord. It should be a passionate labor far above that which we put into earning wages – and yet so many believers today don’t even make it a priority to go to church, or they habitually miss our mid-week Bible studies in the Capitol. Why? Their priorities are all messed up! They know nothing of labor and hardship for the sake of the Gospel! As believers, unlike Paul, they steal from God as His appointed ambassadors that which is due Him! They are bad employees! In contrast to Paul who said “the one who found me faithful, putting me into His service” (1Tim. 1:12) is to disregard any form of labor for Him whatsoever! Make no mistake; Paul was not lazy about building God’s Kingdom. How about you?
IV. BE GENEROUS WITH OTHERS
so that he will have something to share with one who has need.
Notice first of all what Paul does not say here. “Work hard to build your own dream.” Nor does he conclude his missive on laboring with toil in order to achieve higher office. His motive for his instruction is straightforward: so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Scripture knows nothing of personal hoarding. Believers are to work hard so that they can be generous with others both in service and product. This portion of the passage also underscores the individual componentry of meeting the needs of the truly needy: with one who has need versus a corporate governmental welfare type of idea.
There are some who have needs through no fault of their own, and as seen in past Bible studies, those needs are to be met first by the individual (per this passage), then the family and thirdly the Church. Government is not God’s medium to meet the needs of the poor like the aforementioned others in this biblical order of priority. Ideally, if all believers were industrious to a greater degree and generous to a greater degree, there would be no burden on families or churches to meet the needs of the legitimately needy.
THE SCRIPTURAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR MEETING THE NEEDS OF THE POOR IS FIRST THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE INDUSTRIOUS, GENEROUS CHRISTIAN
May this passage serve to be profoundly informative, applicable and transformative as to not only how you conduct your personal life, but form policies relative to provisions for others.