Concluding Paul’s challenge in Ephesians 4:28—Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth—having considered the negative consideration, we now see the positive.
First, notice that a man must labour, working with his hands. How amazing the Word of God is! In a single statement, Paul addresses issues that plague society 2,000 years later.
The “get rich quick” mentality—winning the lottery, the latest system for buying real-estate, the newest “pyramid scheme”—is not the mentality of the New Man. There’s certainly nothing wrong with riches, for it’s only “the LOVE of money [that] is the root of all evil” (I Tim. 6:10, emphasis added), not money itself. And it is, indeed, this love of money that drives the “get rich quick” mentality.
In contrast, the mentality of the New Man is that he “labors” and “works.” Labour is kopiao, which speaks of “exertion and toil,” “the process of becoming tired,” and the “consequent fatigue and exhaustion.” Peter used this word, for example, when he told the Lord that he and his companions “toiled” all night fishing and had caught nothing (Lk. 5.5). It’s also used of the duty of a pastor to study the Word of God: “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine” (I Tim. 5:17). In contrast to today’s tendency to stay out of the “Pastor’s Study,” Paul makes it clear that the responsibility of a pastor is to exhaust himself in the study of the Word of God.
Working (ergazomai) speaks of work in general, such as working “in a field (Matt. 21:28) or at a trade (Acts 18:3),” or even “to do business” (Matt. 26:16).” Not only are we working to the point of exhaustion, but we’re doing it systematically, doing it every day in our field, trade, or business.
At the very foundation of society is the necessity of work. Even before the fall, man was required to work (Gen. 2:15), which then became even more necessary, and much more difficult, after the fall (3:17-19). So foundational is work that Paul told the Thessalonians that “if any would not work, neither should he eat” (I Thess. 3:10). Every Jewish rabbi was taught a trade, for as the rabbis said, “If you do not teach your son a trade, you teach him to be a thief.” As always, Jesus is our model—He was carpenter. What a principle that is in our day when so many people have no work ethic, when many young people are not being taught how to work.
Indeed, the concepts of “entitlements” and “welfare” were creations of political Liberalism, which is by definition Socialism, “the redistribution of wealth.” There are certainly cases when people need help, such as I Corinthians 16:1-3, where the needs of people in the Jerusalem church were met by the Believers in the churches in Galatia, but the welfare system in our society is horribly abused. People who work support millions who can but won’t. Not only does Scripture declare it, but even common sense tells us that if a man can work, he works, or he does not eat. Biblical principles always have practical reasons.
Second, Paul says that a man’s labour must be good. A Christian must work at a job that is honest and God-honoring and cannot work anyplace where he must violate God’s commands. This would include anything from doing something dishonest to an employer who demands that a Christian working on Sunday was the rule instead of the exception.