Summary: 38th in a series from Ephesians. Paul describes how the Christian work ethic is different than that of the world.
A webmaster name Paul Kinsella recently performed a test in the mid-sized town of Belleville, Illinois. He dropped 100 identical wallets which each contained $2.10 in cash, a fake $50 gift certificate, ID containing the name, address and phone number of the owner, and few miscellaneous items in random spots around town. His purpose was to see how many of the people who found the wallets would return them to the rightful owner. So how many of the wallets do you think were returned to the rightful owners? [Wait for answers]. In Paul’s test 74 of the 100 wallets were returned. Commenting on the results, Mr. Kinsella posted this comment on his website:
The good news is that most people were honest - in fact, honest people out numbered dishonest people nearly 3 to 1.
Personally, I have a little different take on the results. My comment would be that the bad news is that 1 out of every 4 people is a thief.
In many ways, the culture of Paul’s day wasn’t much different than our own. I doubt that Paul had to perform a wallet test to determine that stealing was a problem. It was certainly a significant enough problem that he felt like he needed to address it in his letter to the Ephesians. Let’s read our passage out loud together:
He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
Ephesians 4:28 (NIV)
We know that many of the early followers of Jesus Christ came from among the down and out in the culture of that day. Many of these people were day laborers or skilled tradesmen whose work was seasonal. And since there was no welfare system, many of them resorted to stealing in order to provide for themselves and their families. And even though these people had become followers of Jesus Christ, they still found it hard to break away from the ethical norms of their culture.
But as Paul has already made clear in the section beginning in verse 22, when we become followers of Jesus as a result of His work in our lives, we have to take off our old way of life and put on the new so that we dress according to who we already are in Him. He’s already described how we have to put off falsehood and put on truth and how we have to put off the tolerance for sin in the body and put on righteous indignation. Paul now applies that same concept to our work.
THE CHRISTIAN WORK ETHIC:
1. Take off the old:
• Quit stealing
He who has been stealing must steal no longer...
I know that I’m probably about to lose a lot of you right now, because you’re thinking “I would never steal. I’m not going to rob a bank or even shoplift.” But let’s take a few moments to how the Bible defines stealing in a much broader sense. Let me share just a few passages and then we’ll see if we can’t make some practical application:
"If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do - when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering.
Leviticus 6:2-5 (NIV)
The wicked borrow and do not repay...
Psalm 37:21 (NIV)
"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, ’How do we rob you?’ "In tithes and offerings.
Malachi 3:8 (NIV)
"Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s."
Matthew 22:21 (NIV)
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,
Colossians 3:22, 23 (NIV)
That is only a small sampling of what the Bible has to say about stealing, but even from these few passages, we can identify several ways that we can be guilty of stealing. And perhaps, now the command to quit stealing will hit a little closer to home.