Friday, July 07, 2006

Kairos Journal on Ephesians 4:28

As I have been preaching through Ephesians, recently I had the occasion to expound 4:28. I must confess that I don't think I did the passage justice, and today saw this from the Kairos Journal that did a wonderful job of illumining and applying that passage.

When Christians Steal
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.
Ephesians 4:28 (ESV)

But this verse points . . . the theft of God’s glory in the forfeiture of a life in God’s service.

When Paul wrote to believers in and around the city of Ephesus, he knew that special emphasis on applying the eighth commandment (“You shall not steal”) would be needed. That was because at the heart of the Ephesian metropolis stood the temple of Diana, the pagan mother goddess of the earth. As the exceedingly tolerant deity of all living things, neither Diana nor her cultic priests discriminated between the kinds of offerings that poured into the temple walls or the sources from which they came. For this reason, the house of Diana ironically became simultaneously the regional treasury as well as a hideout and safe haven for criminals, murderers, and other thugs. As a result, the streets surrounding the temple proved unsafe for the general citizenry as a robber village grew in the shadow of the great edifice. Diana worship, so it seemed, was a religion tailor-made for thieves.

Not so with Christianity. Paul explained to the Ephesians that the new life in Christ stood in sharp relief to the ethics of pagan religion whose adherents “walk . . . in the futility of their minds” (v. 17). A lifestyle of thievery could not find sanctuary in the Church—the house of worship of the true, living God. No longer could religion be used as a cloak for selfish designs and dishonest gain. On the contrary, biblical fidelity required “putt[ing] off the old self” (v. 22) and being “renewed in the spirit of your minds” (v. 23). The believer’s life must now be a life for others. Such a transformation required a counter-cultural morality: one labors in order to “share with anyone in need” (v. 28). To put it negatively: the refusal to share is the decision to steal.

Paul’s principle, therefore, involves a much broader range of activity than the routine definition of theft (i.e., having one’s hand caught in the cookie jar). It means that the Christian’s life must follow this maxim: work in order to give away. If, as John Calvin once said, the definition of sin is robbing God of His glory, then the description of stealing is keeping for oneself what God intends for him to give away. For some, this may be stinginess with time. For others it might include a grudging parting with money, possessions, or for some Americans . . . trophy homes.

A few years after the English evangelist William Booth began his East End London Mission, he stumbled upon a better name while writing his 1878 annual report. “We are,” he wrote, “a Salvation Army.” Dedicated to saving lost souls through both preaching and meeting people’s physical needs, this Christian organization with a faux military structure became a worldwide phenomenon. Soon after the name change, Booth adopted the following motto: “Heart to God, hand to man, saved to serve.” And so it must be for all believers. The new life in Christ inevitably calls forth two seminal questions: “What shall I give up? And to whom shall I give?”

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