Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Ephesians 4:28

Before Holy Week, we were examining Ephesians 4:28. I was asking the question: Why work? As you may recall, two answers to this question emerged. First, you should work because you’re made for it. God created humankind – including you – to work. Your hands, as well as the rest of your body, are perfectly suited for working. Second, you should work because you can do good. Through working, you faithfully fulfill the mandate given to human beings in creation (Genesis 1:28; 2:15). Moreover, your work can contribute to God’s kingdom purposes (Ephesians 2:10).

Happy woman on a marigold field. Ephesians 4:28 offers one more reason why you should work. Notice carefully the last phrase of this verse: “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” When we read this phrase, we naturally think in terms of money. By working, we make money, some of which we can share with those in need. This interpretation of Ephesians 4:28 is surely faithful to its basic intent. But, as a craftsman, Paul might also have been thinking of another kind of sharing. Perhaps he remembered times when he used his skills as a sewer of leather to create or mend items for people who could not afford his services. In our day, we might think of farmers who allow hungry people to glean in their fields or attorneys who work pro bono for the disadvantaged. Through their work, they are able to help those in need.

So, no matter how you fulfill Ephesians 4:28, the main point is the same. Your work enables you to “share with those in need.” What I find fascinating about this reason for work is that Paul seems to assume that workers will share with the needy. He doesn’t argue that they should do this, but speaks as if they will, quite naturally. Or quite spiritually. When we consider all the ways God has blessed us, when we open our hearts to people in need, then the Spirit of God will move us to give generously to others. It “just happens” as we live in the flow of God’s gracious Spirit.

A word of caution is due here. Many Christians in so-called “secular work” believe that their work matters to God primarily if not exclusively because of what they are able to give away to charity, including the church. This pervasive belief takes one reason for work in our passage (sharing with the needy) but leaves behind the others (your created purpose, doing good). As you think about work in general, and as you consider your own work, may you think broadly and truly about the value of your work.

Why should you work? Because you were created for this purpose. Because you can do good through your work. And because your work enables you to share with those in need. As you work, you put on your new self in Christ and offer your life as worship to God.

Something to Think About:

In what ways have you been able, through your work, to share with those in need?

Do you ever fall into the trap of believing that this is the main value of your work?

How might you think differently about your work in light of the full teaching of Ephesians 4:28?

Something to Do:

Sharing with people in need is one main reason for working. Sometime in the next week, share some of your income with people in need. You may be able to do this through your church or through a local ministry that serves the homeless. If you aren’t sure whom to support, you can always give to World Vision, which serves the poor in the name of Christ throughout the world.

Prayer:

Gracious God, thank you that my work matters to you. Thank you for creating me with the capacity to work. Thank you for allowing me to do good through my work. And thank you for the chance to share with those in need because of what my work produces. Help me, Lord, to be generous with the fruits of my labors, rather than hoarding them for myself. As I work, may I be aware of how my work makes a difference to others, and most of all, to you. Amen.

 

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
The Sabbath and the Work We Do (Deuteronomy 5:13)