“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.” Ephesians 4:28 (ESV)
When a person becomes a Christian, his life must not just change, it must transform. The text quoted above is a great example of this change. We expect a thief to quit stealing when he becomes a Christian. We expect his change would involve pursuing honorable labor. Yet the transformation is manifest in his attitude towards the profit of his labor. Not only does his work satisfy his basic needs, he also gives to him who has need. The selfish, covetous thief has become a selfless, benevolent laborer and giver. It is often not enough to refrain from bad behavior; we must pursue what is good and beneficial to others.
Stealing is a sin that is obviously contrary to the spirit of Christ. It involves an inordinate desire to possess something that belongs to another. The desire becomes so strong that, instead of working to purchase what the person has, the thief steals the object of his desire. This self-centered covetousness hardens the heart of the thief as he satisfies his own desires with no care or concern for others. If a thief desires to become a Christian, he must cast off this lifestyle and the lusts that feed it. His heart must change from covetousness to contentment. He cannot meet his needs by stealing but must pursue honorable work.
The Christian is not allowed to live off his brethren when he has the means to work, 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12. It is good for a person to work diligently and enjoy the fruits of his labor, Ecclesiastes 3:13; 4:6. The Preacher further admonishes us to work with all our might in the work that we find to do but not in an obsession for riches that will not be satisfied, Ecclesiastes 5:10-12; 9:10. When we find work that is satisfying to do, adequate for our needs, and allows us the time to do other things in life that we enjoy, we are truly blessed. We should work diligently, not to please our boss, but to please God, Ephesians 6:5-8.
However, the Christian transformation does not end with ceasing the evil behavior. It is good that the thief has abandoned his evil ways and pursued honest labor. Although the fruits of a Christian’s labor should meet his financial obligations, he should help others as well. A miser may pursue honest labor and be a burden on no one, yet if he does not share his riches for the Lord’s work or to help his fellow man, he has benefited no one but himself. He may not be a thief, but he is just as covetous. Like the Dead Sea, described in the hymn “There is a Sea”, he receives a full tide of blessings from the Lord, but “receives for self alone, nor takes to give again.” It does not share its water with the land surrounding it, nor, like Galilee, send the water further down to benefit others. Not only is the Dead Sea useless for the surrounding land, no life can grow in it for the salt content is too high. “That dreadful name doth ‘ere proclaim, that sea is waste and dead.”
We must be generous with the blessings we have received from God. We are simply stewards of what God has given us. We earn it through our labor, but God controls everything that supports our labor and what we can purchase with it. When we die, we will leave these things behind. We must use our possessions wisely and for the work of God when we can. We are to give financially to support the work of the church, 2 Corinthians 6:9-14. This money supports the spread of the gospel. We are to help our brethren in a time of need, 1 John 3:16-17. It is a way to show our faith, James 2:14-17.
God has blessed us richly; let us be a blessing to others.