Earning an Honest Living

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” (Eph. 4:28).

- Ephesians 4:28

Having been justified by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness through faith alone, we are sent forth to do good works and live unto the glory of God (Eph. 2:8–10). Continuing his description of what such living entails, Paul explains in Ephesians 4:28 that glorifying the Lord means honest labor, generosity, and the refusal to steal from others.

The apostle commands individuals to engage in theft no longer, which implies that some in the Ephesian church were guilty of stealing. Commentators believe Paul refers specifically to day laborers, the skilled, seasonal workers who made up much of the ancient Roman Empire. Because their work was irregular, these people would have been especially tempted to supplement their income through petty theft and other forms of stealing during the lean months of the year for their trades. Former pagans would have had few problems with this practice, so it was imperative for Paul to remind them that life in Christ means honest work. Believers are not allowed to steal from others; rather, they must earn their living through diligent, God-honoring employment (Gen. 2:15; Ex. 20:15; 1 Peter 4:15).

Most of us were probably not thieves in the past, nor is it likely that we are mugging people or breaking into homes today. Lest we believe ourselves innocent, however, note that much theft goes unnoticed. We might steal time from our employers by working thirty-six hours when we are paid for forty. Perhaps we are inclined to vote money out of others’ pockets at the ballot box. Maybe we attempt to rob the glory due our Creator alone through serving idols. If we own a business, we may cheat the customer in the quality of our products or compensate employees in a manner ill-befitting their efficiency and effectiveness. All of these examples are forbidden behaviors (Lev. 19:36; Isa. 48:11; 61:8; Matt. 25:14–30; Luke 10:7).

Furthermore, the answer to theft for the Christian is not merely to stop stealing; rather, honest, productive labor must also be sought. God works, and in imitation of Him we must work hard in jobs that make the best use of our talents and honor our Creator. Such labor is not for our benefit alone but also to help those who are in dire need and cannot provide for themselves (Eph. 4:28).

Coram Deo

Scripture permits us to enjoy the material blessings that God provides, but it never tells us to hoard the fruits of our labor. Christians are to be the most generous of people, using their financial blessings to help those who are unable to satisfy their basic needs, especially impoverished believers. Such assistance, however, should not just be a handout but should be designed to help the poor learn to provide for themselves and for others as well.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 37:21
Proverbs 14:21, 31
Luke 23:32–43
2 Thessalonians 3:6–12

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