Ephesians 4: 28
In this segment of the Ephesian letter (4:17-32), Paul ranges wide in what constitutes a Christian walk. However, we will focus on the issue of work and money. A majority of our worlds spin around the necessity of work, and how it contributes to our self-esteem and dignity, over and above a reward system lubricated by money. With the fall of man, our Creator cursed work (Gen 3:17-19), but the apostle Paul nevertheless encouraged believers to use their hands gainfully to do what was good. Interpretively, although the course of work was cursed, work – to be useful to another person, is not a curse. As gifted humans, we were created to discover our fulfillment through it, and whether it is on the mission field, or as a labourer or a lawyer, all work is a sacred calling, and ought to be done to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31).
The blessedness of work was prefaced by Paul with a thought-provoking caution towards an intrinsic human fallibility – stealing (v.28). It reminds us of his repeated references to the seamier proclivities of believers, which he listed so clearly in his other letters (1 Cor 6:9-10; 1 Tim 1:9-10): an indication that our fallenness or disposition towards sinning cannot be totally ignored. With pilfering as a way of life, Paul’s motivation was not just to have believers stop stealing in various ways, but also to have them cultivate a correct attitude towards work and money, as thievery is a way of getting money without work. Furthermore, through work, the monetary rewards ought to be seen as a trust held on God’s behalf – in Paul’s language, they “will have something to share with one who has need.” Money was never to be an idol in believers’ lives, and the mere possession of wealth must not be a gauge of human dignity (James 2:1-7), nor should the lack of it produce unbearable anxieties (Matt 6:19-21,24), and certainly, coveting others’ property and wealth was forbidden (Ex 20:17). When it was hoarded and generosity not exercised, God calls it robbery (Mal 3:8-10), as most likely it defined them. Stealing, consequently, is taking what belongs to God.
Since God literally owned everything, and man had been entrusted with His creation, His priorities as Owner needed to be honoured (Ps 50:10-11). Having been a trustee of my uncle’s estate, it reminded me of how accountable I am. Although my fellow trustee and I had the power to handle his estate in the best way we judiciously decided according to his will, we were answerable for every cent to the law. The church in every age stands as a light to the darkness, and believers ought to exemplify God’s trusteeship of responsible management of their resources and giving. This is not an easy matter, as it would require us to die to self, to be free from the bondage of money and its encompassing worldly values (John 12:24-26).
As shrewd stewards, there is a divine perspective that focuses us on investing in eternal values – not where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal –but in human lives and the spreading of His word (2 Cor 4:7; Mark 13:31). Scripture mentioned three broad areas for sharing with those in need: in the work of God’s kingdom, with those in covenant relationship with us (e.g., family, colleagues, fellow believers, neighbours), and the poor. The Samaritan parable epitomized a personal hands-on ministry of meeting human felt needs that are not optional for us; encompassing a dimension that involves some cost on our part to reach out to others, who are burdened and have fewer options in life (Isaiah 1:10-17; Matt 25:31-46; Jam 2:13). To persevere in such an endeavour (in staving off participant/donor fatigue) would require a spirit of radical sacrifice and loving generosity that is moulded by the spirit of Jesus – “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor” (2 Cor 8:1-15). A commentator’s paraphrase of what Paul was saying makes it clearer, “If you want to stop being a thief, you will not stop being a thief until the love of God transforms you to become uninhibited with your generosity.” May our Lord give us wisdom in the stewardship of resources He has put into our hands; after all, as Teilhard de Chardin had said, we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience in this world.