In a context in which Paul is writing to saints in Ephesus about the reformation that occurs in a person’s life as he leaves behind his old lifestyle, the apostle speaks of “former conduct, the old man . . . deceitful lusts” (Ephesians 4:22). All of that is to be left behind as we “put on the new man which was created according to God” (4:24).
Paul then gets into some specifics, beginning in verse twenty-five and going through the end of the chapter – specific matters that need to be avoided, and others specific matters that need to be embraced and demonstrated. Remember, Paul is writing all of this as a reminder and an exhortation to Christians.
The one verse in this passage on which we want to focus our attention is Ephesians 4:28, where it is written, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” Three things jump out at us from this message.
(1) Put off thievery – “Let him who stole steal no longer.” Let the stealer cease his stealing. It seems clear that at least some of the members in Ephesus had been thieves in their pre-Christian past. The good news for all such people is that when they obeyed the gospel, they were washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
The possessions of others are “hands off” for us unless we have their permission to use them. We want our kids to learn this from an early age. One form of stealing is purse snatching. Another is armed robbery. Yet another is dipping our hand into the cash register or cash box when the boss is not looking.
There are numerous forms of thievery, and each one of them is unlawful. A good friend of ours came and worked with us for a month in a foreign country. One day he thought he would venture out on his own to do a little shopping at the open market. He paid $300 in the local currency for a loaf of bread that should have cost only $25. He got ripped off because he was not able to speak the language! It may sound funny now, but it was no joke to him then.
Cheating on an exam or special report in school is dishonest and is a type of stealing. If we put our name on the paper or document, then we are claiming that we are the ones who did the work. If, in fact, we copied someone else’s answers or they did the work for us, then honesty would demand that we also put their name on our work and give them proper credit.
Plagiarism is a form of stealing. Christians need to be aware of just what constitutes plagiarism [for helpful info, see www.plagiarism.org]. Other modern-day forms of stealing would be cheating on taxes (being paid by cash and failing to report the income), not working the full time for which we are paid on the job, and copying products which are illegal to copy without the person’s or publisher’s permission.
(2) Work in the realm of what is “good” – The old me stole; the new me works, and he does so in matters that are “good”: “rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good.” The “good” would be areas of labor which have God’s approval. While some might fantasize about how wonderful life would be if they never had to put in a day’s labor, the Bible teaches that work is good for us. It was good for the first couple in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15), and it is good for us. In fact, the scriptural “bottom-line” message is, “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). As we read onward, the next verse indicates that one who fails to work is walking “in a disorderly manner” (3:11). The teaching is not that it is wrong to retire or wrong to hire others to do things in our stead. Rather, the idea is that it is improper to be a bum, be a leach on others, or refuse to work in order to provide for our needs when we have the power to do so.
(3) A motive for working – My guess is that this aspect of Ephesians 4:28 gets the least headlines, but it is just as relevant as the rest of the verse: “working . . . that he may have something to give him who has need.” We understand that God’s children need to work to provide for the needs of their own family (1 Timothy 5:8). Beyond that, however, our text says that another motive for working is to be able to share what we obtain/have with those who are needy. Yes, we work to take care of ourselves, and we work to be able to contribute on the first day of the week to the Lord’s work (1 Corinthians 16:1,2). But, we ought to think about how our working and resultant income can be helpful to people who stand in need. That means having a generous heart rather than one that is selfish, self-centered, or stingy.
Just as we need to teach our children the truth about stealing and honorable labor, so we need to make it clear to them that our Lord wants us to be generous with what we have. As we have opportunity, He wants us to do good to others (Galatians 6:10).
Stealing is “out,” working is “in.” That message applies to all Christians everywhere. Think about it.
— Roger D. Campbell