Working for God
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
The passage that is before us today is one of particular importance. That is because it strikes at a core nerve in our culture today.
We are living at a time when we are seeing a worker shortage. And it is a shortage that is not due to the lack of workers. There is a shortage of people who are willing to work.
Really, we find ourselves at a point where we need to restore the idea of a Protestant work ethic. Our culture has been sliding into secularism, and, as a result, it is at a loss when it comes to the concept of work. We may read into all the help wanted signs that decorate streets and institutions around society, and see the cries of our culture: Why work? What profit is there in work? Do we have to work?
We too, as a Christian people must come to terms with this topic of work. For the gospel isn’t just a pie in the sky sort of thing. It is a very earthy thing. What we find in this passage is that the gospel has relevance not just for our eternal welfare, but for our daily lives. As we learn from the passage before us, Christians are workers. The gospel produces a people who are dedicated to occupations, labor, and pursuing some kind of vocation.
While it is obvious that Paul does not belabor the idea of labor here. He does not speak in anywise exhaustively about God’s view of work. We do learn a great deal about work from this passage. He at least gives us the basic concepts which are associated with a godly work ethic. And that is what will consume our time this morning. We are developing a theology of work.
And we will do so by looking at three things that this passage tells us about work. The first thing he teaches us is what is antithetical to the Christian notion of work.
I. It’s antithesis
Paul begins by speaking of a kind of work that is not Christian. Here is a practice, he says, which must be put off because it is contrary to the kind of work God requires. He says, “Let the thief no longer steal.”
You may not have thought of it this way, but theft is work. It takes effort to steal things. And hwen you take something that is not yours, you are employing your hands in a kind of work that is anti Christ. It is unChristian.
As a matter of fact, the Bible says that this is the work of the devil. For Scripture Says that the Devil comes to steal, kill and destroy. That is why Paul puts an explicit prohibition on this. You must not be known as a thief and you must not steal what God has committed to someone else’s care.
It is obvious why Paul gives this admonition. In Ephesus, you have a bunch of new converts. There are people who have come out of their Gentile ways. And you know that pagan people have a propensity to rob their neighbors.
But we should recognize that stealing is an incredibly common thing in our own land and it can be easy for us to justify various forms of thieving. Our nation is, after all, a bandit which not only tolerates theft, but is actively engaged in it. All you have to do is look at our welfare system and the scandalous actions of the Federal Reserve.
The nation we are a part of is constantly stealing by means of their entitlement programs. They levy taxes in order to support certain groups all in the name of helping the poor and disadvantaged. But this redistribution of wealth is nothing more than an infringement upon one’s personal and private income. And we must recognize that it is wrong to take from those who have and give to those who do not have. It might sound pious because it comes in the name of helping, but it is actually a gross attack on one’s individual rights. For it is seeking to legalize that which God has determined to be illegal.
With that you have the debasing of the US currency by means of inflation. This is nothing more than a form of robbery. As the Federal Reserve continue to create paper money and flood the market with it, the value of our dollar dips lower and lower. What happens is that our money ends up loosing its purchasing power; we end up paying more for our daily goods and services. Milk and bread cost more and more. By devaluing our dollar, they rob us of our ability to buy and accumulate the things we need.
So we see how our nation’s leaders have no problem pilfering its citizens. But we must admit that our government only does this because it is common practice among men. We have national thieving because we are a nation of takers.
Statistics say that by the time we are done with worship today there will have been almost 100,000 incidents of shoplifting in our nation. There are over a million incidents of shoplifting every day in the United States alone. These will range from petty theft (grabbing something as small as a pack of chewing gum) to smash and grab job at jewelry stores. It means that 1 in every 11 Americans is involved in shoplifting.
All of these are examples of how theft is so very common in our day and age. And it reminds us of how necessary it is that we give attention to the fact that we are to be different. We must not seek to rob our neighbors and engage in the act of theft.
To that end, let me give you some examples of what we should be watching out for. When we say, “do not steal,” what exactly are we talking about?
Obviously, the command not to steal has to do with outright theft, which is taking property or money from someone. It could be a retail store or the guy who lives across the street. When you pick up a ball that belongs to your neighbor and you carry it home, you have become a thief. You have just taken what rightfully belongs to him without his consent.
If you are walking through a store and you slide something into your pocket with no intention of paying for it, that is stealing and you have broken God’s command. If you sneak into your mother’s purse or take some change from your dad’s jar of coins without asking, you’ve become a thief in your own home.
These are all examples of the most explicit form of stealing. But there are other ways we can go about breaking this command. There are some forms of theft that are not so explicit.
For instance, sloth is a form of stealing. When you go to work, they are paying you to be productive. They are paying you for your time and energy. That means you need to be industrious. If you arrive late or sluff off while on the clock, you are taking money from your employer that does not rightfully belong to you. He’s not paying you to spend so much time in the bathroom texting on your phone. He’s paying you to work and be productive.
Or maybe you stay up to late at night and you are not raring and ready to go for work. You come in and you slurp coffee and you putz around because you didn’t get the sleep you need to be on task. That’s a form of stealing. Idleness and sloth can cost employers thousands of dollars a year.
On the reverse end, if you are selling something and you punch up the price on the customer, you can be stealing. Maybe it has a defect and you sell it for regular price without letting them know that it is faulty, you may have just cheated them out of some money. Or maybe you know that the customer is gullible, and you can sell it for twice what it is worth. You’ve just engaged in a form of stealing.
Just because you can get more out of someone, doesn’t mean you should do it. We need to realize that a fair price and a fair wage are things that God requires of us when we buy and sell.
We can also rob God. The Scripture tells us that we are to set part of our earnings aside to give to the Lord. When we don’t do that, the Bible tells us that we are robbing God. You recognize what I said before. God, in his Providence, puts things in our charge. He grants us our wages. And he asks that we acknowledge him as the source of our livelihood. We do that by means of our offerings and by generously giving to the church to support the ministry of the Lord.
When we horde our income, and do not plan to honor God in this way, we are guilty of stealing from the very one who supports us in our day to day living.
Finally, we can steal when we do not give back what we borrow. Or if we borrow something and when we give it back it is broken, that’s not right. We’ve just infringed upon their generosity. This is their property and we have a responsibility to honor them by taking care of it and getting it back to them in a timely fashion.
What I’ve done here is just outline a few examples. And we’ve by no means went overly deep into the subject. We’ve only hit some of the most popular violations. But it goes to show just how prevalent this sin is. We can be very creative when it comes to looting our neighbors.
As Christians, we must recognize how sacred private property really is. And we are called to give the highest regard to the things that belong to other people. That means we must refrain from any form of theft and seek to honor our neighbors by not infringing upon their property.
Ultimately, we recognize that God does not want us to obtain anything without utilizing the proper means. And that is why stealing is wrong. Stealing is not using the means God has given for gaining more.
Instead of taking something that does not belong to us, what does God want us to do? He wants us to work. As we work we gain money and can then purchase the things that we need and want.
Which brings us to our second point. We’ve just seek that stealing is the wrong kind of work. It is anti work, so to speak. It is the antithesis to work. But you’ll notice that this verse goes on to tell us about the kind of work that God demands of us. It tells us about the nature of godly work.
II. It’s nature
Notice what Paul says in the next part of verse 28. He says that we must “labor, doing honest work with his own hands.”
There are not many words here in this line, but there are a number of principles that Paul sets forth regarding work. There's a lot that is said about the kind of work that God requires. What do you learn about work from this passage?
A. It demands energy
A Christian man will be a hard working man. He’s a guy who comes home at night tired. A Christian woman will be a woman who is occupied with her list of jobs throughout the day. She’s not going to be flipping through her instagram, except to take a break now and again.
There is a common misconception in our day that work should not demand anything of you, let alone some real grit. A lot of people will not stay at their job because it is physically demanding of them. But I want you to notice that if you are doing what God wants you to do, you will become exhausted and need a good nights sleep. You’ll want to go to bed at night.
Paul uses two words for work in this verse. The first word is translated labor. The word labor is the Greek word kopiao, which is where we get our word copious. We use the word copious to mean a large supply or abundance. We have a copious amount of work to do today.
That’s not too far from the original Greek. Because the Greek word has the idea of toil. When you labor, you are exerting a lot of energy. You are being productive because you are putting a lot into what you are doing. So you produce an abundance or large supply of your widgets because you have been at it all day long.
The other word for work is the word ergazomai. It is the more general word for work. This is the word from which we get our word energy. But again it has to do with working to the point of fatigue. More specifically it has to do with exerting force. That’s what you do in your work. You exert force as you pour yourself into your job and being diligent in it. You clock in and spend a good 8-10 hours at it. And when you clock out at the end of the day, you should feel the need for some down time. You should be tired.
I mention this because we are living in a day where there are a lot of people who think that this sort of thing is of the devil. A lot of people think that they should be able to slide through a day and it should be a breeze to make a little money. They think that they should be able to spend a lot of time playing video games of flipping through YouTube Shorts.
But you recognize that a godly person will be a person of industry. They will be studious to perform some sort of service. As a result of his labors, he’s going to need a break at the end of the day.
But Godly work not only demands energy, it demands integrity.
B. It demands integrity
Notice what Paul says. He says that you are to “labor, doing honest work with your own hands.” Or, as the KJV reads, “doing the thing that is good.”
What you see here is that there are moral implications that you need to consider when choosing an occupation. God doesn’t want you to do just any kind of work. He requires us to do honest work. He wants us to do good work.
There are lots of jobs that we can engage in that will make us money. We can be out in the marketplace, exerting a lot of energy--doing lots of work, but the nature of the work may not be lawful in God’s eyes. There are occupations that we simply cannot be involved in because we are Christians and we need to be righteous before God.
Not long ago I talked with a guy who used to sell weed. He confessed that this line of work was good to him. He made a lot of money selling weed. He talked about how he had a really good business and never had any concerns when it came to his financial status. But you understand that his occupation was probably not having the greatest impact on society. His clientele wasn’t looking into the medical benefits of the plant.
Sure, his family was doing fine, but he was not making a positive contribution to the world around him.
Years ago we could say that kind of activity was illegal and it might be a no brainer. But with more and more states legalizing the use of marijuana, we obviously need to be sure we are thinking biblically about the kind of work that we do.
Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it. We need to think seriously about whether or not our line of work is acceptable in the eyes of God. How profitable is this work? And I’m not just talking about your personal finances. Is it profitable for my clients, for my employees, and for society in general?
Am I making money off of something that is sinful? Am I exploiting someone for my own gain? Am I doing something that will be a service to the kingdom and to society around me?
Those are just some of the questions that we need to ask ourselves. That’s because our work has to be a good work. It has to be an honest work. It’s not just enough for us to work, we have to work with integrity.
C. It demands glory
Notice that it says, “honest work with his own hands.” There are some people in this world who do not believe that working with your hands is praiseworthy work. Some people think that there are certain kinds of occupations that are undignified and below them. You’ve heard it said, “Doing the jobs Americans just won’t do.”
There are others who think that the only real work that matters is God’s work. If you are not in full time ministry, spreading the gospel and saving souls, then you are just doing work that is “secular.” You need to do something “sacred” (I.e. for the Lord) if you want to be doing a worthy work; everything else is just meaningless.
That’s not true at all. Paul says working with your hands, whether that is doing the work of a farmer or getting under the hood of a car to twist bolts and fix engines, is God honoring work. It is work that is glorious and should be recognized as having a great amount of dignity. There is no cause for making a distinction between something that is sacred or secular. We are not permitted to downgrade any kind of work. Whatever you put your hands to do, as long as it is within the bounds we outlined above, should be seen as an honorable work.
There’s more that we could say about what constitutes godly work. But I want you to notice one more point that Paul makes. We’ve seen what we should not do and what we should do. We’ve talked about work’s antithesis and nature. But notice what Paul says about the purpose of work.
III. It’s purpose
Work is not just for ourselves. It is not just so that we can make lots of money and build the American dream. Paul says that we need to work “so that we may have something to share with the one who is in need.”
You can clearly see here that the goal of this life change. It is so that we might have some influence in this world. That we may bless those around us. That we may help them. That we may cause them to gain in life.
You’ll notice the logic of this. You used to steal and take advantage of others. In so doing you impoverished them. But what God wants you to do is enrich other people. He wants you to work so that you can help those who are in an impoverished state.
Now, even if you have not been accustomed to stealing, this might be a revelation to you. This might be something that revolutionizes your understanding of your day to day life. You do not work just because you are a capitalist and are trying to accumulate wealth. You do not work because you are part of some Marxian Proletariat, for that matter. You work because you obviously first, because you want to glorify God and provide for your family. But another main objective you have is so that you may have something to give to others when the need arises.
Why does this matter? Why does Paul emphasize this and say that we need to share with others?
It is because this is the very embodiment of the gospel. Your work now becomes a point of analogy to the work that God has done in your own life.
You understand that the Lord has been liberal in his dealings with you. Jesus Christ has done a great deal of work (redemptive work). He has by his life’s work accumulated so much. And in his grace he lets you who are in need become enriched beyond your wildest imaginations. In your sin you have been destitute. You were in a place where you were deprived of life itself.
But because of Christ (and his righteousness), you have been given eternal riches. You now have an inheritance in heaven.
And as we work and accumulate and share with those in need, we have opportunity to reflect this in our day to day life.