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Walking In Our Father's Footsteps - Part 4

Tom Pennington • Ephesians 4:25-5:2

  • 2009-07-26 AM
  • Ephesians
  • Sermons

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In the verse we come to today in Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul takes up the issue of stealing. Now I don't know about you, but after several weeks of listening to Paul address issues like lying and sinful anger, I think many of us are sort of breathing a sigh of relief. Whew! I'm glad that I can sit back and relax on this one because God's obviously speaking to somebody else. I think the reason that we say that is because most of us would say that we don't struggle with stealing. The only reason that I think we say we don't struggle with stealing is because of how we define stealing.

Normally when we hear the word "stealing" or "theft," the first crimes that come to our minds are things like robbery, that is, taking the property of another person by violence or intimidation or burglary, breaking into someone's home or business with the intention of taking what belongs to them, embezzlement, taking from someone in violation of a trust, usually an employee who has access to the company's finances, taking what belongs to that company. And certainly, those are examples of stealing, and those crimes and sins are included in what Paul addresses in Ephesians 4, but understand this. Most of the stealing that goes on in our world today is not robbery. It's not burglary. It's not embezzlement. And most of the people who steal are not hardened criminals with a history of criminal behavior.

Let me just illustrate this for you. There are three forms of stealing that are very common in our world, even among those people who appear to be upstanding citizens, even among Christians. Consider for example failing to pay all or a portion of one's taxes to the government. Now understand it's okay, and we all do strain, to find every legitimate deduction. And in our country, you can even protest and try to see the tax code changed if you feel that it needs to be changed, but what we cannot do as Christians is refuse to pay what the law requires even if you think it's excessive or unfair. We are commanded both by our Lord and by the apostle Paul in Romans 13 to pay our taxes and to fail to do so is to steal from God's duly constituted authority in the government of our country.

A second common way that many otherwise law-abiding people steal is shoplifting. The National Association of Shoplifting Prevention has collected a huge amount of data on this national epidemic. And they put out the following statistics that may actually surprise you. More than 13 billion dollars worth of goods are stolen from retailers each year. That's more than 35 million dollars a day in the U.S. They estimate there are approximately 27 million shoplifters, about one in eleven people in our nation. In the last five years, more than 10 million shoplifters have actually been caught and arrested. Males and females shoplift equally as often. Only about 25% of shoplifters are kids. A whopping 75% are adults. The vast majority of shoplifters are non-professionals. They steal often just for the excitement. The excitement generated from getting away with it produces a kind of chemical reaction resulting in what shoplifters describe as an incredible rush or high feeling. Many shoplifters describe that "high" as their true reward for stealing rather than the merchandise itself. Drug addicts who become addicted to shoplifting describe shoplifting as every bit as addicting as drugs.

But there's a third common form of stealing in our culture that is by far the most common, the most permeated and the most destructive. It is employee theft. The FBI has labeled it as the fastest growing crime in America. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, employee dishonesty costs American business in excess of 50 billion dollars a year. More than four times more goods are stolen by employees than by shoplifters. About twenty cents of every dollar a business makes is spent covering the costs of the value of the goods stolen by employees. The U.S. retail industry loses 53 billion dollars a year due to employee theft, both their product and office items that are taken. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that 75% of all employees, 75%, three in four, steal once at least from their companies. And 35% steal again and again and again.

But you don't have to carry something out of your office or place of business to steal from your business. The Boston Globe recently reported that U.S. companies lose nearly 400 billion dollars a year in lost productivity from what they call time theft or loafing. Supposedly on the job, getting paid to do the work, but instead doing nothing or doing personal business beyond what the employer allows. Then when you start adding to that things like false claims of hours worked, inflated expense accounts and on and on, and you can see very quickly that stealing is a huge problem in our culture. It is in fact a huge human problem, and it continues to be a struggle even for us as Christians.

Paul wants us to know as he wanted the church in Ephesus to know that stealing in all of its forms is not to be a part of our lives as Christians. You'll remember that in Ephesians 4 through 6, Paul urges us to walk worthy of our calling. And we are learning that to walk worthy of our calling in Christ, we must walk in love. That's the theme of chapter 4:25 running all the way down through 5:2. Notice Paul states that theme at the very end. Look at chapter 5:1:

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love."

If we want to walk in a way that's worthy of our new position in Christ, then we must walk in our Father's footsteps and live a life that is defined by the kind of love that He Himself shows.

So, beginning then in verse 25 of chapter 4 and running down through the end of chapter 4, Paul provides us with five illustrations or examples of how to imitate our Father by walking in love. We've looked at the first two in great detail, the first two of the five illustrations on how to walk in love like our Father. In verse 25, we saw don't lie; instead, speak the truth. Secondly, in verses 26 and 27, we learned don't get angry; instead, resolve your conflicts.

We're looking now at the third illustration of how to walk in love like our Father and it's found in verse 28. Don't steal; instead, work hard and be generous. Look at verse 28, "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." Last week, I noted for you that what lies behind this verse is a huge body of revealed truth that Paul simply took for granted as he wrote the church in Ephesus where he had been for a couple of years. And so, to get us up to speed, last week we looked at what the Bible teaches about this issue of private property, of personal property, and the ownership of it.

We learned that God owns everything that exists and that God delegated to man authority over what he created on the earth and what belongs to Him by right. God established the principle of private ownership. So we own, but we are owners not in the sense that it is ultimately ours, but in the sense that we are stewards over what really belongs to God. Because of the fall, because of sin on the earth, our thinking and our behavior about possessions and properties, our thinking and behavior have been badly skewed. We are tempted to sin in a number of ways when it comes to property and possessions. We summed up what we learned last week in this way - we are to take care of our own property and respect the property of others. God has sovereignly delegated the ownership of various things, and we are to take care of our own property and respect the property of others.

Now today, with that background, with that backdrop, I want us to come to Ephesians 4:28 and unpack the richness of this amazing verse because in this one verse, Paul gives us profound insight into respecting the property of others, into hard work and even into a proper use of our own resources. In this one verse, Paul gives us three profound directives that I want us to look at together. The first directive is this, don't steal from others, don't steal from others. Look at verse 28, "He who steals must steal no longer." Paul is acknowledging that in Christ, we have all been radically changed. We are not the person we used to be, and therefore, the clothes that were a part of that old person, in this case the habit of stealing, needs to be laid aside. Stealing is extremely common as I've already illustrated to you. In all of its varied forms, it is a common expression of human sin.

Where did stealing come from? Well, the very first attempted theft in the universe came shortly after creation when Satan, created to be the covering cherub of God, the prime minister of heaven if you will, decided he wasn't content with his own position, and he tried to take God's throne. Revelation 12 describes that there was war in heaven and Satan mounted an attack to usurp the throne of God, to take the authority of God as his own. That was the first attempt at theft. Unsuccessful, he was cast to earth.

The very first human theft, and this may surprise you, was part of the very first human sin when Adam and Eve chose to take fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which God had not given them a right to. You remember in Genesis 2, God says to Adam, "… the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat … from it…." And 3:6 says "Eve saw that … [it] was good … and she took … and she ate." She took what was not hers by right, what God had refused to give. She stole from God what belonged solely to Him. And now as a result of the fall, as a result of sin in the world, stealing just comes naturally to us.

Jesus, when He was here on earth, said this in Matthew 15. He says out of the heart comes thefts. It's just an expression of who we are. It's just part of our nature to take what doesn't belong to us. There are many different reasons why people steal. People steal for financial gain or advantage, out of greed. Sometimes people steal out of revenge. Sometimes children steal from parents, or employees steal from employers to get even. I've been mistreated. I haven't been given what I deserve so I will get back at that person by taking what is theirs. Others steal, as I've already noted, for the thrill of it, for the high, for the excitement. Some steal out of genuine need. Even then, it's wrong according to Proverbs 6:30. That's not the way to meet genuine need.

Scripture clearly expresses God's statement about stealing. God clearly forbids stealing in all of its forms. In the Ten Commandments, you remember in Exodus 20:15, one of the commandments says, "You shall not steal." In Mark 10, Jesus, when He was here on earth, reaffirms that commandment by speaking it yet again. Stealing is so bad that the writer of Proverbs, Proverbs 30:9, says that to steal is to "… profane the name of God." And in fact, those who are engaged in an ongoing, unrepentant pattern of stealing, of taking from others, will not be in heaven no matter what they claim. First Corinthians 6:10 says thieves will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Now like with all of our sin, we can be very creative in how we practice stealing. Very few of us would be tempted to break into someone's home. Very few of us would be tempted to actually, actively embezzle from the company that we work for. So what are the forms, the varied, creative forms that stealing can take in our world? I've already mentioned three of them.

One was refusing to pay taxes. A second was shoplifting. A third was stealing from your employer in whatever form.

Here are a few others. As I go through the Scripture, there are a few others that just sort of stand out at me. Understand this is not an exhaustive list. This is merely a representative list.

Number four, you can steal by damaging or abusing the property of others, damaging, using up or abusing the property of another. In Exodus 22:5, the law says this, "If a man lets a field or vineyard be grazed bare and lets his animal loose so that it grazes in another man's field, [so in an agricultural society, you use up what belongs to your neighbor, you abuse his property] he shall make restitution from the best of his own field and the best of his own vineyard." When we abuse or damage what belongs to someone else, we use it up, we are to make restitution, that is, an acknowledgment that we have taken what is not rightfully ours.

A fifth form of stealing is failing to pay what you owe at the time agreed, failing to pay what you owe at the time that you've agreed to pay it. Leviticus 19:13 gives an illustration of this. The law says, "You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him. [How?] The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning." In that culture, you hired a day laborer. He understood and you understood that you were responsible at the end of that day to pay him, but if you were unscrupulous, you might keep those wages, maybe to earn a little more interest, maybe to use it in some other way for a period of time. And God says for you to do that is to rob him. You have an agreement to pay him. He understands that he's to be paid. For you to keep what you have agreed to pay him and not pay him at the time agreed is to steal from him, is to rob him.

Number six, intentionally shorting someone of goods or services for which they're paying. In other words, you are telling someone I'm going to do this for you or I'm going to sell you this and you short them of what you tell them you're going to do or what you tell them they're buying. "Aw, this is a wonderful used car. Never had a problem with it a day in my life" when it's a lemon, it's a clunker. It's spent most of its time in the shop. That is stealing.

Here are some examples of it biblically. You know, in that culture, they had balances with weights and scales. And if you were an unscrupulous person, you might have in your pocket or in your bag a heavy rock and a lighter rock. You would use one of them for your advantage when you were buying, and you would use the other one for your advantage when you were selling. So you won either way. Listen to what God says about that. Leviticus 19:35, "You shall do no wrong in measurement of weight, or capacity." Deuteronomy 25:13, "You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a large and a small." Proverbs 11:1, "A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight." In other words, you better give that person what you're telling them you're going to give them in goods or services. To do anything less is to steal from that person what belongs to them.

Number seven, using religious coercion or manipulation to get people's money. Boy, this happens every day. This is what Jesus, one of the criticisms He had of the religious leaders of the first century. Listen to what He says in Matthew 21. He says this to the religious leaders, "It is written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER'; but you are making it [what?] a ROBBERS' DEN." Now the religious leaders of Israel weren't pickpockets. They weren't showing up and taking money out of people's pockets, so how were they robbing them?

Well they showed up for one of the feasts, and maybe they weren't able to bring their animal with them because of the long journey. And so, "Oh great, we have animals here for your purchase. For your convenience, there are animals here at the temple. Oh no, put your money away. You know, that money is not going to work here, but you know what? We happen to have this exchange booth over here where you can exchange that dirty money you use every day into temple money. Now of course you're going to lose it a little bit in the exchange rate, but we'll get you temple money. And here are some animals you can buy. Now they're going to cost you a little more because these are special animals. They've been sanctified and set apart by being here at the temple. So, it's not going to be as cheap as it was in your hometown, but you can get an animal for sacrifice."

They were playing on the desires of the people for their own financial gain, using religious coercion or manipulation to get people's money. Listen, folks. Turn on your television. This happens every day as some televangelist promises unwitting people a miracle if they'll just send their money. That is stealing.

Number eight, failing to return what you borrowed, failing to return what you borrowed. Exodus 22:14 says, "If a man borrows anything from his neighbor, and it is injured or dies while its owner is not with it, he shall make full restitution." You borrow something, you don't return it, you've taken from that person what belongs to them, and you need to make restitution, that is an acknowledgment that stealing has taken place. You have taken what does not belong to you.

Let me give you a couple of other examples, charging excessive interest of someone or in Old Testament Israel, any interest of those who were poor. You were not, in ancient Israel, to take advantage of people's poverty by charging them excessive interest. Listen, that happens every day in our country as well, drawing up deceitful contracts where the reality is hidden in the fine print. I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of having to read the fine print. Every piece of mail I get promises me something wonderful. The problem is in the fine print. It's a form of stealing from people, manipulating them to get their money.

Number eleven, students, cheating is a form of stealing. You are taking a grade that you do not deserve, that you did not earn, that you did not work for. Plagiarism, using somebody else's work, stealing someone else's work to make yourself get the grade that you want.

And now this touches on all of us. What happens when stealing goes in the heart? What if you're not actually taking something from somebody else, but it's going on in the heart? What is it there? It's covetousness. And the tenth commandment touches on this. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; … his wife, … his servant, … his ox, … his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor." Remember Jesus took all the law and He made it internal? You don't have to take something from somebody else to be morally culpable for stealing. You just have to want what he has.

I think you can see that there isn't a single one of us here in this room today who hasn't violated this clear command of God's. That's why we need grace. That's why we need Christ. None of us can measure up to God's standard. Those are just a few of the forms stealing takes. There are many others.

But what do you do if you've found that you have stolen from others in one of those ways? Well, wherever you go in the Scripture, the mandate is always clear for someone who's stolen. If you have stolen, true repentance means that if possible, you will make restitution. Read Exodus 22, the laws of restitution. Or fast forward to the New Testament. What happens when someone genuinely gets converted, when they get a new heart? What happens to Zaccheus the tax collector, who has spent his life stealing from others? You remember what he said to Jesus in Luke 19? "Behold, Lord … if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much." That's true repentance, a desire to make it right. So if you know you've stolen from someone, you need to make restitution.

But how do you change? It's one thing to give back what you stole. It's another thing to be changed in your heart. Well, remember where we are in Ephesians. Paul has just explained the process of sanctification in verses 20 to 24 of this fourth chapter. In light of the radical change the Spirit has effected in us, we are to put off the thinking and behavior of the old person we used to be, and we're to allow the Spirit of God to use the Word of God to renew the grid through which we see all of life, and we are to put on the thinking and behavior that's in keeping with the new person that we are. That's the process. And so now, Paul explains that. Having told us in verse 28 what to put off, stealing, he moves on to what we ought to put on in its place and how our thinking about personal property and work should be changed.

Here's the point I want you to get. If you struggle with stealing in any of those forms, and we all do in some of those forms, you cannot be content with merely trying to stop stealing. The only way to change is to strive in the power of the Spirit to put on the opposite virtue. What is the opposite virtue of stealing? Well, that brings us to the second directive in verse 28. The first directive, don't steal from others. The second directive is this, embrace the value of hard work, embrace the value of hard work. Look again at verse 28, "He who steals must steal no longer, but rather [in the Greek as well as in the English that's a strong adversative, on the other hand, at the opposite end of the spectrum, but rather] he must labor…."

As Paul illustrates the process of sanctification, he's dealing with the principle of replacement, and the replacement for stealing is hard work. But what Paul teaches in the second half of this verse isn't just for the person who struggles with stealing. The second half of this verse spells out a virtue that should be in every Christian's life. Whether we struggle with stealing or not, we are all to labor. The Greek word that's translated "labor" here is a strong word. It means to labor to the point of exhaustion. Let him labor to the point of exhaustion. Let him work so hard that he's exhausted from it.

Now it's very important at this point that you understand that the common perception a lot of even Christians have isn't true. Work is not a result of the fall and the curse. God worked in the creation when everything was still very good. Genesis 2 tells us He worked for six days, and He rested on the seventh. He has continued to work since the fall. In John 5, Jesus says, "My Father is working till now." There was work for man before the fall. You remember when God created Adam in Genesis 2, He says that He put Adam into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and to keep it. This is before the fall. So work is not part of the curse. It's not part of the fall.

You say well what happened with the fall then? As part of the fall and part of the curse, work became work. After the fall, it was by the sweat of our brow that we were to work, fighting against a cursed earth. But work itself is a good thing. It was before the fall, and even now after the fall, work is something that we are commanded to do. In the fourth commandment, God says, "Six days you shall labor and do all your work." That's not a command that you have to work every week for six days, but it is a command both to work, to have a portion of your life that is dedicated to gainful work and accomplishing good things in the world, and a portion of your time that is set aside for worship. We don't believe in a Christian sabbath, but the principle that was established in the fourth commandment is still very much binding. We are to work with the largest portion of our life, and we are to set aside time for the true worship of God as well.

When you come to the New Testament, our work ethic is even part of our testimony to unbelievers. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul says,

make it your ambition to … work with your hands … so that you will (not) behave properly toward outsiders….

Listen, if you're a slackard on the job, don't even think about sharing the gospel. Paul says you undermine that gospel; you undermine the Lord you say you serve. But when we work hard, it is a testimony to the Lord we claim. In this verse, Paul's saying don't be afraid or ashamed of manual labor. Paul's not saying that we must do manual labor. He's not saying that other kinds of work aren't good. His point is that working hard at any beneficial work is good.

Work then is an absolutely essential part of the life of every Christian. In fact, Paul couldn't put it more bluntly. The person who won't work shouldn't (what?) eat. Second Thessalonians 3:10, he says,

For when we were with you, we used to give you this order [so when Paul was there, in the short time he was in Thessalonica, here's what he told them], if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. [He says,] Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.

He goes on to say in verse 14 that if they don't work, if somebody is able to work and doesn't work, they ought to be disciplined in the church.

So, Scripture puts a very high value on work.

Paul himself did in his personal life. Look back at Acts 20. Listen to what Paul says about his own work ethic. Acts 20:33. As he gives his farewell to the Ephesian elders, he says,

"I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know [what] that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. [Paul worked to care for himself as well as the guys who were travelling with him.] 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.'"

Paul worked hard. He was a tentmaker by trade, and he used that trade to support himself and those who were with him. In 1 Corinthians 4, he says, "we toil, working with our own hands." First Thessalonians 2, "For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you…." Second Thessalonians 3, "nor did we eat anyone else's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you." Paul didn't check a clock at forty hours a week. He worked night and day so that he could support himself and those who were with him to keep from being a burden to the churches even though he had a right to do so. What an amazing example.

But the best example of working hard is our Lord Himself. You ever thought about what happened from the time our Lord hit His teenage years until thirty years of age? What did he spend all that time, the majority of his life, doing? Well, listen to how He's described in Mark 6:3. The people say, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?" The word "carpenter" literally means a craftsman. The Greek word is broad like our English word "builder." It may mean that Jesus was a carpenter in the sense we think of it, may mean a mason, or it might even refer to woodworking. We can't be sure. It's interesting. Justin Martyr, who lived shortly after the apostle John's death, wrote this, "When Jesus was among men, He made plows and yokes and other farm implements." So what do you think, did Jesus ever loaf on the job? You think He ever made anything inferior? You think He ever gave somebody something, and it was less than they were paying for? Jesus worked, and He worked hard in a trade.

I love what J., J. Oswald Sanders writes, "Jesus saw no incongruity in the Lord of glory standing in the sawpit laboriously cutting the thick logs into planks or using a plane and a hammer." He goes on to say, "In days when white collar workers tend to despise those who work with their hands, contemplation of the life of Jesus during those silent years would wither such contemptuous pride." He was a carpenter, a working man who earned His living, as others of his contemporaries, by manual labor. If it was not beneath the Son of God to work as an artisan, then surely it is beneath none of His children. He has imparted to a life of toil both dignity and nobility. Jesus worked hard.

Did you know there'll even be work in eternity? You know a lot of people think they're gonna be bored? We studied, back a number of months ago on a Sunday night, we studied our eternal dwelling which isn't heaven. It's the new heavens and the new earth. And we talked about all that will be involved in that, as much as we can learn from Scripture. Did you know that in that eternal state of the new heavens and the new earth we will work? Listen to Revelation 22:3, "There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants [His slaves] will serve Him."

You understand the value of work? Have you embraced that? Your work is not less than what you're doing right now. Think about it this way. What you're doing right now is not sacred and what you do tomorrow secular. Martin Luther put it like this,

Your work is a very sacred matter. God delights in it and through it, He wants to bestow His blessing on you. The world does not consider work a blessing; therefore, it flees and hates it, but the righteous who fear the Lord labor with a ready and cheerful heart for they know God's command and will. Thus, a righteous farmer sees Psalm 128:2 written on his wagon and on his plow, a cobbler sees it on his leather and awl, a laborer on his wooden iron.

And I could add and we see it on our computer screens or on whatever implements you use in your work. Maybe you work in your home each day. Here's what Psalm 128:2 says, "When you eat of the fruit of your hands, you will be happy and it will be well with you." Luther goes on to say,

The world inverts that thought and says, miserable you will be, and it will not be well with you, for these things must forever be endured and born [or put up with], but [Luther says] they say [that is, unbelievers say] happy are those who lead a life of leisure and without labor have the wherewithal to live.

Isn't that how the world thinks? Oh, if only I didn't have to work. God says work and eating of the fruit of your work will make you happy and you will receive His blessing. Who are you going to believe? As Christians, we understand the importance of hard work.

So, Paul's directives here in Ephesians 4:28 are don't steal from others, number one. Number two, embrace the value of hard work, understand that it has been sanctified by God. It is a good thing.

His third directive is work with the right goals in mind. Work with the right goals in mind or work for the right reasons. Look at verse 28 again. "Let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need." You see, it isn't enough to work hard. If you struggle with stealing, you may already work hard as well. You've got to change the reasons you work. This is where our thinking or our minds have to be renewed. Most people who work hard do it (why?) for themselves, for their own comfort, for their own satisfaction, for their own financial success, for their own advancement in the company and their business. But as Christians, those cannot be the only reasons we work. There are other far more compelling reasons that we are to work.

A couple of those compelling reasons are hinted at here in this text. Let me give you the right goals or the right reasons to keep in mind when you work.

Number one, to use the gifts God has given us to benefit others, to use the gifts God has given us to benefit others. Do you understand that God has sovereignly given you certain abilities and gifts? And you use those in your work. Look at verse 28, "Let him labor, working with his own hands the good" literally, working with his own hands the good. When you use the gifts God has given you and you put those to hard work, it is a good thing. It is beneficial. If your job is not encouraging other people to sin, and I hope that isn't true, then your job is serving a beneficial purpose for other human beings. You need to see your job as part of God's goodness, as part of God's common grace to His creatures to make their lives better. You ever thought about your job like that? I don't care what you do. If it isn't causing other people to sin, if it's not a job that leads them away from God, it is an expression of God's common grace to His creatures.

You're a pilot, you're helping other people, you're administering God's common grace by helping that businessman grow his business or helping that family go visit the family where they've lost a loved one or whatever it might be. You're a banker, you're helping people with the resources they need to do what needs to be done in life, to own their home perhaps or whatever it is, and on and on it goes. I don't care what it is you do. Your job is in a very real sense an expression of God's common grace to help make the lives of other people better. And that's how you need to see it. Is that how you think about your job? You've been gifted by God, providentially put in a certain place, in order to benefit the lives of others. You are an instrument of God's common grace.

A second goal for our work, a second reason, is to care for our own needs and for our enjoyment, to care for our own needs and for our own enjoyment. That's implied here because instead of taking from others for ourselves, we are to work to provide for our own needs. Other places, it's explicitly stated. Psalm 128:2, "When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands, You will be happy and it will be well with you." First Thessalonians 4, "Work with your hands … so that you will … not be in any need." In other words, work so that your needs are met.

But not just our needs, the Bible says what we earn can even be used for our enjoyment because this is God's goodness. We studied Ecclesiastes, now several years ago, and in it we discovered the vanity of life in a fallen world, but God's goodness to us even in that vanity. Ecclesiastes 5:18 says,

Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat and drink and to enjoy oneself in all one's labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. Furthermore, … for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.

In case you think that's not to be embraced, listen to Paul in 1 Timothy 6, "Instruct those who are rich in this present world … to fix their hope … on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy." So, we are to earn financial resources for our own needs, and it's acceptable to use them for our own enjoyment.

Outside this text here in Ephesians 4:28, in other places in the Scripture, we learn about a third reason or goal for work, and that's to provide for our dependents, to provide for our dependents. Turn over to 1 Timothy 5. First Timothy 5, Paul's talking about widows. And he's going to talk about the widows the church should support some way. First Timothy 5:3 says, "Honor widows who are widows indeed;" and he goes on to explain that. But watch what he says in verse 4, "if any widow has children or grandchildren, they (that is, the children or grandchildren) must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God." You and I are to work so that we can support those who depend on us. He goes on to say down in verse 8, "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."

So, we are to work not only to use the gifts God has given us for the benefit of others, but we are to work as well for our own needs, for our own enjoyment, and to provide for our dependents, those who look to us, those of our household, in the case of 1 Timothy 5, parents, grandparents, extended family for whom we have some responsibility who don't have the means to care for themselves. That's our responsibility.

A fourth reason for work, a fourth goal of work, is to be able to give to others in need. And this is where Paul comes in verse 28 of Ephesians 4, to be able to give to others in need. Verse 28, "he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that [for this reason] he will have something to share with one who has need." Need is a lack of some necessity. You and I are to work and work hard to the point of exhaustion so that we can share with those who lack what is necessary. Boy, this is a theme throughout the Scripture. I could take you to place after place in the Old Testament where we are commanded to care for those who, outside of our family, who have needs, who are in our life that have needs.

You come to the New Testament. It's repeated again and again. You remember John the Baptist talking about true repentance in Luke 3? He says, "The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise." We're to care for people who are needy.

Jesus and His disciples did this. You remember on the night before, of the night of the Last Supper when Jesus dismisses Judas? He says to him go and do what you're going to do and Judas leaves. And as Judas is leaving, John makes this comment: the disciples, knowing that Judas had the money bag, supposed that Jesus was sending him to do one of two things, either to make plans for the Passover or that Jesus had sent him to give to the poor. It was obviously a regular part of Jesus' and the apostles' lives to give support and care to those who were in need.

When you come to the early church, the same thing happened. In Acts 2:45, it says, "those who … [were] believed began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need." You come to Acts 6 and they realized early on in the Jerusalem church, "Look, there are people here who have serious needs. There are widows who don't have enough food. Let's take a collection. Let's put together a group of guys to look after these who have need."

Romans 12:13, we're commanded to "[contribute] … to the needs of the saints…." Galatians 6:10, "let us do good to all people, … especially those who are of the household of … faith." First Timothy 6:18, "Instruct the rich to be generous and ready to share." Hebrews 13:16, "… do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."

You ever thought about the fact that you are to work and work hard to the point of exhaustion not only for yourself and your own dependents, but to help those in need? Let me put it to you this directly. Failing to give to those in need is really just another form of stealing because God has given you the gifts, the capacity to work and the command to use that to help those in need. That's why we have a benevolence fund in this church. That's why I would urge you to consider contributing regularly to it because it's a way to care for those who are financially in need.

A fifth goal, let me just give you a couple more real quickly. A fifth reason for work is to advance Christ's kingdom through the church. This is another subject, another sermon altogether, but you remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6? "Store up for yourselves treasures [where?] in heaven." What did He mean by that? He meant, use the resources you have here to advance the kingdom because that's like investing in eternity. And primarily in the New Testament, we learn in the epistles that comes through the church, not exclusively, but primarily, to the growth of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

And finally, another reason to work is to promote God's glory. Think about this tomorrow morning when you go to work. Look at Colossians 3, Colossians 3. Paul's talking to slaves and their responsibility to their masters, but it certainly applies to us who are employees and who work for others. Colossians 3:22, do what you do

not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.

That'll change your view of work this week, won't it? You say, you don't know my boss. You don't know about the executives in my company. They're, they're clueless. Listen, you don't work for them if you're a Christian. You work for Christ. Is He pleased with the work you're doing? You can do what you do whether you work at home, perhaps as a housewife, or whatever job you do, you can do it to the glory of Jesus Christ tomorrow. It's what happens right here between your ears that determines whether that will happen or not.

Now remember the theme of this paragraph in which this verse occurs. We're to be walking in our Father's footsteps by walking in love. We should tell the truth, we've learned, because our Father always tells the truth. We should be reconciled to those with whom we are sinfully angry because our Father seeks to be reconciled even with those whom He's rightfully angry with.

So how does God model this third illustration of love? Listen, our Father never takes anything from us that belongs to us. That's because we don't own anything. It all belongs to Him. Instead, what does He do? What does God do to you? He generously gives you everything you need. Paul, in Acts 17, said on Mars Hill, "… He [is not] served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things." Romans 8:32, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely gives us all things?" First Timothy 6,"God richly supplies us with all things to enjoy." This is God. This is our Father. He is amazingly generous. If we're going to walk in love like He does, we need to be generous as well.

As we close our time, look at one other passage, Matthew 5. Jesus makes this very point. In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:43,

"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and [the religious leaders have added] hate your enemy.' [Matthew 5:44], But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father … [in other words, you'll be like your Father]; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? Do you greet only your brothers? What more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do this same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

You know what Jesus is saying? You want to be like your Father? Show love to people by working not to take from them, but to give to them. Don't be a taker. Be a giver. Work hard to the point of exhaustion not just for yourself or just for your family, but for the benefit of others. Be generous like God is generous with you.

Let's pray together.

Our Father, we thank You for how direct Your Word is, how all-encompassing it is in addressing the issues of life.

Lord, I pray that You would help us not to take from others. Don't let us be known as those who steal in any of those forms. Father, instead, help us to understand the value of hard work.

And Father, help us to work for the right reasons, not only to use the gifts You've given us for the benefit of others, not only to support ourselves and our families for our own enjoyment, but Father, may we do it so that we can give to others who are in need. This is Your plan.

Father, I pray that You would help us to do it, ultimately what we do, for Your glory. Tomorrow as we go to work, Lord, don't let us forget the profound truths Paul has taught us from this one amazing verse. Help us to remember that we work for Jesus Christ. May we do it in a way that honors Him and puts Him on display to those who work around us.

We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Ephesians