God’s Work Ethic
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
Positive injunctions are implied in every commandment of God that is expressed as a prohibition. We have seen, for example, that the seventh commandment not only bans adultery but also calls for chastity in marriage and singleness (Deut. 5:18; 1 Cor. 7). Since the eighth commandment prohibits theft, it must also contain a positive command to do something. Instead of taking from others, we must work hard to provide for ourselves and to help the truly destitute.
This is the teaching of today’s passage, which does not apply only to those who were thieves before they were Christians. The Bible, in fact, teaches throughout its pages that honest labor and a merciful spirit toward the needy are marks of God’s people. Lawful work is a creation ordinance (Gen. 2:15), and all able-bodied people must labor in an honest line of work to fulfill the Lord’s expressed will for humanity. We are warned repeatedly that poverty and dissatisfaction are the lot of sluggards who refuse to work (Prov. 13:4; 20:4). The one who does not work and provide for his family “has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). We are called not to steal wealth from others but to earn and create wealth ourselves.
We work not only to supply our own needs but also to help others, particularly our fellow Christians. God’s people are to be exceptionally generous and assist those who are physically or mentally incapable of working themselves. This is just a wider application of the principle that we should be concerned for widows and orphans, individuals who, in biblical times, had no way to support themselves. Orphans and widows are objects of the Lord’s special care (Deut. 10:18), and He commands His people to make particular efforts to care for the destitute. Laws commanding ancient Israelites to avoid harvesting everything from their fields but to leave food behind for widows , orphans, and other poor people to glean are lessons for us (24:19–20; 1 Cor. 10:6). They tell us that we do not work simply to fill our bank accounts and keep God’s blessings all to ourselves; rather, we work to enjoy the Lord’s blessings of prosperity in our own families and to be a blessing to others. Generosity is a mark of God’s people, and if we are not generous, it is a sign that we have misunderstood God’s generosity toward us in the gospel (Rom. 8:32; 2 Cor. 9:6–15).
God’s people are called to be generous, not foolish. We want to provide real help to widows, orphans, and others who are in true need, first in our churches and then in the world. As we seek to help others, we should be discerning, giving to programs that help lift people out of poverty instead of just perpetuating a dysfunctional cycle. We should also be most concerned with how we ourselves are fulfilling the call to generosity, not how others might be failing to do so.
Passages for Further Study
2 Thessalonians 3:10
1 Timothy 6:17–19