We are looking at the worthy walk in Ephesians chapter 4. Paul is spelling out in detail a number of changes that Christians must make as a result of the new birth. Because we have put off the Old Man and have put on the New Man at salvation, we are to live in a different way then the unbelievers around us. Specifically, this includes putting away the lie and speaking the truth with each other (4:25); we are to control our anger and not sin. And in our text for today Paul tells believers to stop stealing. Stealing goes hand in hand with lying, because thieves need to lie and deceive in order not to get caught.
Arnold Toynbee, the prominent historian, said, "Most people today have rejected Christianity on the basis of a caricature." What he meant was that most people have never seen the real thing. They have never seen real Christianity. What they have seen was a blurred, distorted, and twisted picture of Christianity, and they turned away disappointed and indifferent to the claims of Christ. The world should expect to see in Christians some likeness to Christ. And they will when we walk in a manner worthy of our calling.
He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Ephesians 4:28 NASB
Paul here reiterates the eighth commandment given to Israel in the story of their exodus from Egypt: "Thou shalt not steal!" How many of the Ten Commandment are reiterated in the New Testament? Nine! Which one is missing? Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. Why is this left out in the New Covenant? Yeshua the Christ is our Sabbath rest. He fulfilled the Old Covenant type. We, as believers, rest totally and completely in Him. We have entered into the true Sabbath rest in Christ.
"He who steals must steal no longer"—the word "steals" and "steal" are from the Greek word klepto, which is a present active participle. Grammarians debate how this should be translated. Some suggest, "he who stole," but it is more likely that the present participle denotes action and is best translated "the stealer." Let the stealer steal no more. The present imperative with a prohibition seems to indicate that the action is going on and it needs to stop. The adverb meketi (no longer) supports this idea.
Stealing is a problem for everybody, isn't it? I remember when I was a teenager I would steal anything that wasn't nailed down. Stealing is a widespread human problem.
A 20-year Pinkerton study found that 30 percent of the population will steal, not only if the opportunity arises, but also will create the opportunity whenever possible. Forty percent will steal if there's little danger of getting caught. Only 30 percent won't steal at all ("L. M. Boyd column," 9/6/1999).
According to a 2002 National Retail Security Survey, inventory shrinkage (a combination of employee theft, shoplifting, vendor fraud, and administrative error) cost U.S. retailers over $31 billion, which was 1.7 percent of their total annual sales. Inventory shrinkage remains the single largest category of larceny in the United States, more than motor vehicle theft, bank robbery, and household burglary combined.
The Internet has opened up a whole new avenue for thieves; namely, identity theft. Back in 2003, one in four American households were victims of identity theft in the previous five years (USA Today, 9/04/2003). In 2003 alone, identity theft cost individual victims $5 billion in out-of-pocket expenses and nearly $48 billion in losses to businesses and financial institutions
We all know that theft is a problem, but certainly not among Christians. Do "real" Christians need to be told not to steal? Well Paul is writing to Christians, and he says, "Stop stealing." What exactly was the problem in Asia Minor? These Christian thieves could be laborers who stole the things they handled, or shopkeepers who cheated the customers. Or it could be referring to day laborers or skilled tradesmen whose work was seasonal. When they were out of work there was no welfare system to assist them, and many would be forced to steal in order to maintain themselves and their families.
Dealing with this verse one Lordship commentator writes, "Stealing stems from a lack of genuine conversion; a main cure for stealing is truly to trust in Christ as your Savior." Who is Paul writing to? Paul is speaking to Christians. Just a few verses ago he said:
that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and ... put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Ephesians 4:22-24 NASB
This word for "lay aside" is a past, complete action. They have laid aside the Old Man. "Put on the new self"—is another past, complete verb. I believe that the sense is that believers did put on this "New Man" once and for all at the point of conversion, but we must continue to conform our behavior to this "New Man" every day by making true in our experience what is actually true of us positionally.
So Paul is writing to believers. He is telling believers to stop stealing. Salvation transfers us from the body of Adam to the body of Christ, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His Son, in it we receive the righteousness of Christ as positionally we are in Christ. But salvation doesn't make us sin free! If it did, there would be no need for Paul to tell believers to stop stealing. Paul does not believe that salvation automatically or instantly changes a man's thinking or conduct. Coming to faith in Christ does not end our struggle with sin. So to say that stealing stems from a lack of genuine conversion is ridiculous, and it is harmful to the body of Christ. If you are a Christian and you have a problem with stealing and you hear this Lordship preacher telling you the that stealing stems from a lack of genuine conversion, what do you do? You say to yourself I have trusted Christ, but I still steal, so I must not be elect. So I guess it really doesn't matter if I steal. This is so damaging, believers, all believers sin. And we need to walk in the power of the Spirit and deal with our sin.
A Christian who steals is obviously not trusting Yahweh to provide. Rather, he is disobeying Yahweh and probably justifying it by thinking, "I've got to do what I've got to do to survive." Martin Luther once came upon a group of peasants who were breaking into a mill to take some corn. "What do you think you're doing?" he demanded. Terrified, one of the men answered, "We know it's wrong to steal, but after all, we have to live." Luther indignantly responded, "I do not know that one must live. But one must be honest!" ( Our Daily Bread, Summer, 1979.)
What is stealing?
Most of us approach the subject of stealing with a narrow mental picture of this evil. In our mind's eye we see a man with a gun in his hand, with a mask over his face, forcibly taking the property of another. Stealing has many more forms than this. The definition of the two Greek words here that refer to both the one stealing and the action of stealing, klepto, is "to take secretly, and without permission, the property of someone else." Stealing is taking anything that doesn't belong to you. This could be taking things out of a store for which I haven't paid, or breaking into someone's house and taking their things. I'm sure we all see this as stealing, but what about downloading MP3's for which we haven't paid; using software that you have not paid for; watching pirated videos; being physically at work, but not really working. In each of these cases, we would be taking secretly, and without permission, the property of someone else, whether it be material, intellectual, or financial.
Let's say you are working in an office and you have access to the stamp drawer. As you are working away you discover it is possible to write personal letters and use some of the office stamps.
Stealing always manifests an utter unconcern for someone else and a totally self-centered desire to satisfy your own needs and wants. I've read that studies show that prisoners, who are often there because of theft, have much higher self-esteem than the population at large! Their inflated view of self makes them think that they can take what belongs to others.
The wicked borrows and does not pay back, But the righteous is gracious and gives. Psalms 37:21 NASB
This is talking about the non-payment of debt. If you don't pay your debt, you're stealing from your creditor:
A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, But a just weight is His delight. Proverbs 11:1 NASB
The Bible speaks of "unjust balances," weights which are deceptive, thus giving the customer less than he thinks he is getting. The way some people conduct their business involves theft by deceit.
Another way you can steal is by not paying fair wages to somebody who has worked for you. James 5 says that the cry of the workers reaches the very ears of Yahweh when they haven't been paid what they were due. So you can steal in a lot of ways. Have we covered your area of stealing?
There are those who steal out of need. It is not that such stealing is in any way justified, but it is at least understandable:
Men do not despise a thief if he steals To satisfy himself when he is hungry; But when he is found, he must repay sevenfold; He must give all the substance of his house. Proverbs 6:30-31 NASB
Someone who steals for self-preservation is not despised, but they are punished.
What about Robin Hood? He is stealing from the rich to help out the poor, is that okay? How many of you think that what Robin Hood did was right? He may have been a hero to the poor in Nottinghamshire, but he was still guilty of stealing. If you think what Robin Hood did was right, you're what's wrong with this country because that is exactly what our government is doing, they are stealing from those who work, the rich, and giving the money to those who won't work, the poor.
Judge Andrew P. Napolitano writes, "The Constitution doesn't permit the feds to steal your money. But steal, the feds do. Every official foundational government document— from the Declaration of Independence to the U.S. Constitution to the oaths that everyone who works for the government takes—indicates that the government exists to work for us. The Declaration even proclaims that the government receives all of its powers from the consent of the governed. If you believe all this, as I do, then just as we don't have the power to take our neighbor's property and distribute it against his will, we lack the ability to give that power to the government. Stated differently, just as you lack the moral and legal ability to take my property, you cannot authorize the government to do so."
You're sitting at home at night, and there's a knock at the door. You open the door, and a guy with a gun pointed at you says: "Give me your money. I want to give it away to the less fortunate." You think he's dangerous and crazy, so you call the police. Then you find out he is the police, there to collect your taxes.
There are only three ways to acquire wealth in a free society. The inheritance model occurs when someone gives you wealth. The economic model occurs when you trade a skill, a talent, an asset, knowledge, sweat, energy or creativity to a willing buyer. And the mafia model occurs when a guy with a gun says: "Give me your money or else."
Which model does the government use?
My point here is that if theft is wrong, it is wrong for our government also. Texas Gov. Rick Perry caused a firestorm among big-government types during the Republican Presidential Primaries last year when he called Social Security a "Ponzi Scheme." He was right. It's been a scam from its inception, and it's still a scam today. Stealing is wrong!
Paul's first command is addressed to Christian thieves, but the remainder of the verse applies to everyone.
"But rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good"—
The word, "labor," means: "hard work or toil, it is a word that intimates working so hard that you grow weary." Work was highly valued in the Tanakh and Judaism.
Biblically, what happens to someone who refuses to work?:For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 NASB
Hunger is the biblical cure for laziness. We are to work, and men are to provide for their families through their labor. In the context of caring for widows, Timothy writes:But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8 NASB
To not provide for your family by honest labor is to be worse than an unbeliever.
When Paul says, "what is good," he uses the Greek word agathos, which means: "that which is useful and beneficial to others." Instead of stealing, believers are to work; but it doesn't just say work, as though any and all work is acceptable for the Christian. It says, "what is good." So our labor is to be that which is good. What is the problem for us with the word "good." It's relative, isn't it? Who says what good is? Would prostitution be good? No. What about a hit man? No. Some jobs are clearly not good in a biblical sense, but that should be based upon the Bible, not our opinions. What about an IRS job? I'm sure many of us would say that is not "what is good," but what does Yeshua say?:And some tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" Luke 3:12 NASB
What did he tell them? Quit that sinful labor and get a real job?And he said to them, "Collect no more than what you have been ordered to." Luke 3:13 NASB
He told them not to steal from the people. That's it! So I think we need to be careful in telling others what is good and what isn't. John MacArthur writes, "I remember a man said to me one time, 'You know, I'm a new Christian and I work for Schlitz Beer, what do you think I ought to do?' I said, 'I think you ought to read Ephesians 4:28: 'Let him labor working with his hands the thing which is good.' I don't think Schlitz Beer has any contribution to make to church or to society that could be stated as good, ultimately."
So MacArthur interprets "good" according to his values, not the Bible. Where does the Bible hint that working for Schlitz is not good? It doesn't, but MacArthur believes alcohol is bad despite the fact that Yeshua made wine.
The reason that the exhortation to "steal no more" is given is because he wants the believers to sustain themselves by their own labor, not by the labor of others.
Paul uses himself as an example of how to work hard so as not to be a burden to others. When speaking to the Ephesian elders in Acts he said:"I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes. "You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. "In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" Acts 20:33-35 NASB
Paul labored to provide for himself and others. And he says we all are to do the same.
I know that it is wrong to steal, and I do my best not to do that. And I know that I am to work hard, and I try my best to do that. But the text doesn't stop here. It is possible for me not to steal, to work long hours, coming home worn out, and still to use the money that I have earned in ways that promote my own selfish desires. The reason we are not to steal and work hard is:
"So that he will have something to share with one who has need"—working in order to have is perhaps an American ideal—if you earned it, you should have it. But it is NOT a Christian ideal. The most radical thing about this text is that we are commanded to do all our secular work "so that" we will have something to share with those in need. You can live to HAVE, either legally or illegally. Or you can become a Christian and live to give. This is the real issue with stealing. A thief is a taker instead of a giver. This violates the very heart of Yahweh (who loved and gave John 3:16) and the way He intended man to be.
"Share"—is from the Greek word metadidomi, which means: "to give a part of, to give a share." Paul is talking about sharing materially part of the good that has been gained with hard labor.
The cure for stealing is to work to earn money so that you can give to those in need. In other words, your mindset has to change radically from using money to serve yourself to using it to serve others.
Caring for those in need is part and parcel of the Christian life. We see the practice of the early church in Acts 2:And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Acts 2:44-45 NASB
This is how the very first Christians lived. Stop and think about this, it is staggering. They were selling their stuff to meet the needs of others. When is the last time you sold something to help out another believer? Wow! This is love, these are disciples of Christ:"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35 NASB
Take a good look at verses 44-45, this is what love looks like, this is what followers of Christ look like.
The Greek word translated: "common" in Acts 2:44 is from the same root as the word for "fellowship" in verse 42. That tells me something about real Christian fellowship. Fellowship is more than merely hanging out with other Christians. It involves a commitment to one another.
This word is used by Paul in Philippians to describe the financial involvement of churches in his missionary labors. First, he stated:in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. Philippians 1:5 NASB
Participation here is koinonia, which referred to their financial and prayer support in the work. Second, he said that they were:For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. Philippians 1:7 NASB
"Partakers" (sugkoinonous) is a word meaning: "sharers or fellowshippers together with him in the grace of God." Then he uses that same Greek word, koinonia—fellowship, when he writes:And you yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone; Philippians 4:15 NASB
"Shared" is koinonia. When Paul gave testimony to the Philippian believers to the Church at Corinth, he wrote that they were:begging us with much entreaty for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, 2 Corinthians 8:4 NASB
Now, what do we make of all of this use of "fellowship" in relation to giving? Giving is a vital part of what we are to be involved in doing in the Body of Christ. The early Christians showed that they were not stingy but liberal in their giving!
Giving teaches us to be God-dependent. Giving liberates us from being enslaved by material possessions. Giving humbles us to see that we have a part in the work of God's Kingdom. Giving actually creates a joyous spirit within the hearts of those who give.
This liberality to the poor should characterize the congregations of the Lord in every age and country. Poor brethren must not be allowed to suffer for the necessities of life:But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of Yahwehabide in him? 1 John 3:17 NASB
This conduct was in marked contrast with the neglect of the poor, which was then common among the Jews, even in violation of their own law, and which was universal among the Gentiles. Nothing of this kind had ever been seen on earth before.
In the Tanakh it is clear that Yahweh instructed His people to care for the needy, especially the "widows and orphans," but also the "strangers," the foreigners, the "Gentiles."
When we come to the Gospels, we discover that Yeshua had much to say about material possessions. Let me list just a few of the texts I believe serve as a precedent to the practice of the early Church. Even before the public appearance of Yeshua as Messiah, John was preaching about money and material possessions. As can be seen, he did not call for people to give up the necessities, but he did teach that when one had a spare garment, it should be given to one who had none:And the multitudes were questioning him, saying, "Then what shall we do?" 11 And he would answer and say to them, "Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise." Luke 3:10-11 NASB
When Yeshua began to preach and teach, He made it clear that material possessions were not the essence of life. Thus, those who were to be His followers were called to turn from materialism and to trust in Him to provide for them:And He said to them, "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions." Luke 12:15 NASB"Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. Luke 12:33 NASB
The New Testament Epistles also have much to say on the Christian's attitude toward material things and his responsibility to care for the needs of others. Consider these passages:contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Romans 12:13 NASB
The word "contributing" is our word koinoneo (fellowship).So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. Galatians 6:10 NASBFor you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one. Hebrews 10:34 NASBAnd do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices Yahwehis pleased. Hebrews 13:16 NASB
While I do not see the Bible to be teaching that every Christian should sell all of his or her possessions, I do see it teaching (both covenants) that all that we have has been given by Yahweh and that we are merely stewards of it. We are to use what Yahweh has given as faithful stewards. When we have more than enough and another has less than enough, we have the obligation to give that which we have in excess to meet the deficiency of another.
Paul says we are to work in order to give. Something we all must understand is that our GIVING IS WORSHIP:But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God. Philippians 4:18 NASB
Paul tells them that their gift was overwhelming to him. He was full. Paul viewed their gift as an offering to Yahweh, a sacrifice that was well pleasing. Notice the words Paul uses here—"fragrant " is from the Greek word euodia, and "aroma" is from the word osme, and "sacrifice" is from the Greek word thusia. All three of these words are used in Ephesians 5 of Christ's sacrificial offering of Himself to Yahweh in man's behalf:and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice (thusia) to God as a fragrant (euodia) aroma (osme). Ephesians 5:2 NASB
"Christ also loved you and gave..." -because Christ loved, He gave. I don't think that you can disassociate loving and giving. These words express the language of worship — GIVING IS AN EXPRESSION OF WORSHIP!
Our love for Yahweh and our worship of Him may be proved by something that is a major part of everyone's life, and that is our use of money:do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:4 NASB
The word "look" is skopeo, it means: "to fix the attention upon with desire for, and interest in." We are to be looking out for others, looking to meet the interests of others and not just ourself. We need to hear this; we are so consumed with ourselves that we have no time for others.
When a needy person crosses your path, you are to help him when you can. This can be done individually; as you see someone with a need, you meet it, but the examples in Scripture are that they gave it to the elders of the church to distribute to the needy.
So, believers, we are to stop all forms of theft. We are to labor at a job that is beneficial so we will have the ability to share with those in need. This verse is so much deeper than "don't steal."
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