2016-2-21 No Longer Steal, but…,

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          February 21, 2016

“No Longer Steal, but…,”
Text: Ephesians 4:28

We continue in our punctuated sermon series through Ephesians—and, in particular, we continue in these divine commands that display the new life in Christ (cf. Ephesians 4:17-24).  We have seen, in past weeks, that we are both to speak truth and to be angry, yet without sin.  Today’s we see theft forbidden and its opposite enjoined.  Let us hear from the living God as He speaks to us in His Word.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

First, we see theft forbidden.  This is my wooden translation from the Greek: “The one stealing, let him steal no longer.”  Apparently stealing was a common problem in and around Ephesus.  Revs. Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, in their commentary on this text, note that bandits frequented the mountains near Ephesus.[1]  Yet Paul, as led by the Spirit, addressed this epistle primarily to Christian households.  Could some who attended Christian worship in Ephesus yet have practiced such brigandage in the high country around Ephesus?  Could there be temptations to other forms of theft that plagued the Ephesian Christians?  Doubtless there was need for this instruction to the Ephesian Church, just as there is need in our day in Christ’s Church on earth for this instruction.  Let’s get more properly now to that instruction.

Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, in their Greek-English lexicon, define the Greek word klepto (kleptw, I steal) thus: to take secretly and without permission the property of someone else.[2]  This involves clandestine removal of physical objects in criminal acts such as burglary and larceny, but it also involved so-called white-collar crime such as embezzlement and fraud.  To such persons involved in such practices—especially those persons of the household of Christian faith—the Lord in His Word says let such a one steal no longer.  Additionally, let the one formerly stealing restore the stolen goods or amount where possible, but let the one formerly stealing in any case resolve to end such activities—with no view to resuming them.

On the contrary, let him who formerly stole labor—doing honest work with his hands.  The Greek word here rendered labor is the word kopiao (kopiaw), which has three definitions—two of which apply here.[3]  First, to labor is to work hard, with the implication of difficulty and trouble.  Second, to labor is to be weary as the result of hard or difficult endeavor.  Such work is no light duty; it involves considerable expenditure of effort, and it may result in no little fatigue.  Yet to such, rather than theft, we are called as a way by which we can glorify God.  Moreover, we are to labor thus in honest callings.  At the very least, we must refrain from working at those tasks forbidden by the Word of God, and, if possible, let us labor at those things positively enjoined by the Word of God.  Paul himself did such at Corinth; he made tents to support himself during his ministry there (Acts 18:1 ff.).  Every legitimate vocation, properly understood and properly pursued, can be a calling; let us pursue our work heartily as we pursue our Lord in the doing of it.

We refrain from theft and we produce honest labor to an immediate end, namely, that we may have something to share with anyone in need.  Again, we dare not resort to clandestine, illegitimate means of meeting need (ours or others), but we labor to supply our own needs—and those of our dependents—legitimately.  Not only this, but our honest labor also supplies, at least in part, the needs of others.  We enter together into such an enterprise monthly here when we receive a freewill offering—above our tithes and other forms of regular giving—in order to support Macon County Care Network (CareNet).  There are other outlets to which we each and all contribute out of the excess that God grants to us from time to time.  Proper pursuit of our callings often gives us the financial wherewithal to do this.

Julian Reese, my friend and one-time senior pastor, first alerted me to an alternate way to appropriate the teaching in the Ten Commandments.  He noted that not only are we to observe the prohibitions of the Second Table, but also we are to perform to the utmost the opposite of the thing prohibited.  Not only, for example, do we merely avoid murder, but we also do all in our power both to preserve and to enhance the life of our neighbor.  We have such a pattern stated explicitly in today’s text.  Not only will we avoid burglary, larceny, embezzlement, fraud, and the like, but also we will labor with our hands—or enjoy the fruit of a lifetime of laboring—so that we, to use the oft-quoted maxim of John Wesley, may earn all we can, may save all we can, and may give all we can.  May the Lord, by His grace, empower our obedience to Him in this.

AMEN.

[1] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary, Practical and Explanatory, on the Whole Bible (1871.  Revised edition, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1961).

[2] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989).

 

[3] Ibid.

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