August 15, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Ephesians 4:28 (NRSV)
Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.
Scripture gives us many answers to the question “Why work?” Genesis shows us that we were created for work. It also reveals what is confirmed in Ephesians, namely, that work itself can be good if it produces things of value. But Ephesians also shows that work is good because it enables us to help those who are in need. We are able to share with others some of the money we make through working. Or we can use our professional skills to serve others without charging them. By working we are able to glorify God, offering ourselves in worship through our work.
Last week as we were examining Ephesians 4:28 we started thinking about 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).
Ephesians 4:28 offers one more reason why you should work. Notice carefully the last phrase of this verse: “Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” 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 leatherworker 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 “have something to share with the needy.” 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. It’s great if because of your work you have the means to give money away to worthy causes, including those in need. (In fact, if it weren’t for people doing this, I wouldn’t have the time to write these devotions! My work depends on the generosity of others.) But the goodness of your work includes more than this.
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 today, whether you are being paid or not, put on your new self in Christ and offer your life as worship to God.
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?
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.
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.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Working Hard for Good and for Giving (Ephesians 4:28)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.