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Ephesians 4:28

“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.”

God’s commands have broader applications than we are often aware of, as we have seen in our study of the eighth commandment. The Reformed tradition has always recognized this, and the expositions of the Ten Commandments that we find in the Reformed catechisms give us a faithful and reliable guide to the broader applications of the law of God. For example, Westminster Larger Catechism 141 lists many of the positive duties implied by the eighth commandment. Yes, we need to obey the letter of the law and not steal from others (Ex. 20:15). But the requirements of the eighth commandment go beyond the simple avoidance of outright theft. The catechism says that the eighth commandment calls us to “endeavor, by all just and lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of others, as well as our own.” We have a duty to be productive and to help others be productive as well (see Eccl. 11:1–2).

Paul develops the eighth commandment and how we are to follow it in Ephesians 4:28. His instruction that professing Christians with a history of thievery should no longer steal very clearly relies on the Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments. But note the positive duty he gives to thieves who have turned from their sin to follow Christ. Instead of stealing, they are to work diligently, laboring honestly with their hands. Obviously, this is so that the former thief may be able to support himself lawfully, but the Apostle states also that an honest vocation is for the purpose of having resources to help provide for those in need. In other words, it is not enough to keep our hands off the goods of others; rather, we who follow Jesus are to be hard workers who are generous to others. Those who are able to work must work and not live off of others. Of course, the church can and should provide temporary assistance to those who have lost their jobs and help them as they seek to get back on their feet. But the person who is able but unwilling to work must not receive financial assistance from God’s people (2 Thess. 3:6–12).

Sadly, however, some are unable to engage in honest labor because of a true disability or other circumstance. These include certain widows and orphans, whom the Bible often calls us to care for in their distress (James 1:27). To such individuals God’s people must show generosity in imitation of the One who has given lavishly to us in sending His Son and giving many other blessings besides.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

We have looked in previous studies at the duty we have to seek to increase our wealth and productivity. Ephesians 4:28 makes it plain that one reason we do this is so that we will be able to assist those who are truly in need. As we seek to prosper ourselves, let us also support the benevolence funds in our churches and otherwise seek to help those who are in true financial distress.

For Further Study
  • Proverbs 14:21
  • Proverbs 31
  • Proverbs 19:17
  • 2 Corinthians 8–9
  • 1 Timothy 5:3–16

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