Ephesians 4:28
Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needs.
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(28) Let him that stole (properly, the stealer) steal no more. . . .—In this verse St. Paul treats dishonesty, virtually, although less distinctly, from the same point of view as before. For he is not content with forbidding it, or even with forbidding it as fatal to society; but he directs that it be superseded by the opposite spirit of self-sacrifice, working in order to give to others what is honestly our own, as the fruit of the labour of “our own hands.” In that direction there is a profound wisdom, in striking at the root of that exclusive selfishness which so often and so naturally exhibits itself in dishonesty. But we note in it also a peculiar harmony with the great doctrine of unity; for the sense of unity will always exhibit itself in working what is “good,” that is, gracious, for the sake of “him that needs.”

Ephesians 4:28. Let him that stole — While he was in his heathen condition of ignorance and vice; steal no more — Under a conviction that God is the avenger of all such injuries, 1 Thessalonians 4:6. Stealing, as Macknight justly observes, “is a vice most pernicious to the thief himself. For finding it more easy to supply his necessities by stealing than by working, he falls into a habit of idleness, which, among the lower classes of mankind, is an inlet to all manner of wickedness. Next, the ease with which the thief gets, disposes him to squander thoughtlessly his unjust gain in the gratification of his lusts. Hence such persons are commonly addicted to lewdness and drunkenness.” But rather let him labour — In some honest calling; working with his hands — Which he formerly employed in stealing; the thing which is good — And creditable. The same command the apostle gave to the Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12; that he may have to give to him that needeth — May be able even to spare something out of what he gains by industry in his calling, for the relief of such as stand in need of it; and so may be no longer a burden and a nuisance, but a blessing to his neighbours. Thus every one who has sinned in any kind, ought the more zealously to practise the opposite virtue.4:25-28 Notice the particulars wherewith we should adorn our Christian profession. Take heed of every thing contrary to truth. No longer flatter or deceive others. God's people are children who will not lie, who dare not lie, who hate and abhor lying. Take heed of anger and ungoverned passions. If there is just occasion to express displeasure at what is wrong, and to reprove, see that it be without sin. We give place to the devil, when the first motions of sin are not grievous to our souls; when we consent to them; and when we repeat an evil deed. This teaches that as sin, if yielded unto, lets in the devil upon us, we are to resist it, keeping from all appearance of evil. Idleness makes thieves. Those who will not work, expose themselves to temptations to steal. Men ought to be industrious, that they may do some good, and that they may be kept from temptation. They must labour, not only that they may live honestly, but that they may have to give to the wants of others. What then must we think of those called Christians, who grow rich by fraud, oppression, and deceitful practices! Alms, to be accepted of God, must not be gained by unrighteousness and robbery, but by honesty and industry. God hates robbery for burnt-offerings.Let him that stole steal no more - Theft, like lying, was, and is, almost a universal vice among the pagan. The practice of pilfering prevails in, probably, every pagan community, and no property is safe which is not guarded, or so locked up as to be inaccessible. Hence, as the Christian converts at Ephesus had been long addicted to it, there was danger that they would fall into it again; and hence the necessity of special cautions on that head. We are not to suppose that "pilfering" was a common vice in the church, but the cautions on this point proceed on the principle that, where a man has been long in the habit of a particular sin, he is in great danger of falling into it again. Hence, we caution the man who has been intemperate against the least indulgence in intoxicating drinks; we exhort him not to touch that which would be so strong a temptation to him. The object of the apostle was to show that the gospel requires holy living in all its friends, and to entreat Christians at Ephesus in a special manner to avoid the vices of the surrounding pagan.

But rather let him labour - Let him seek the means of living in an honest manner, by his own industry, rather than by wronging others.

Working with his hands - Pursuing some honest employment. Paul was not ashamed to labor with "his own hands" Acts 20:35; and no man is dishonored by labor. God made man for toil Genesis 2:15; and employment is essential to the happiness of the race. No man, who is "able" to support himself, has a "right" to depend on others; see the notes on Romans 12:11.

That he may have to give to him that needeth - Margin, "distribute." Not merely that may have the means of support, but that he may have it in his power to aid others. The reason and propriety of this is obvious. The human race is one great brotherhood. A considerable part "cannot" labor to support themselves. They are too old, or too young; or they are crippled, or feeble, or laid on beds of sickness. If others do not divide with them the avails of their labors, they will perish. We are required to laboar in order that we may have the privilege of contributing to their comfort. Learn from this verse:

(1) That every Christian should have some calling, business, or profession, by which he may support himself. The Saviour was carpenter; Paul a tentmaker; and no man is disgraced by being able to build a house or to construct a tent.

(2) Christianity promotes industry. It is rare that an idle man becomes a Christian; but if he does, religion makes him industrious just in proportion as it has influence over his mind. To talk of a "lazy Christian," is about the same as to talk of burning water or freezing fire.

(3) Christians should have some "useful" and "honest" employment. They should work "that which is good." They should not pursue an employment which will necessarily injure others. No man has a right to place a nuisance under the window of his neighbor; nor has he any "more" right to pursue an employment that shall lead his neighbor into sin or ruin him. An honest employment benefits everybody . A good farmer is a benefit to his neighborhood and country; and a good shoemaker, blacksmith, weaver, cabinetmaker, watchmaker, machinist, is a blessing to the community. He injures no one; he benefits all. How is it with the distiller, and the vender of alcoholic drinks? He benefits no one; he injures every body. Every quart of intoxicating drink that is taken from his house does evil somewhere - evil, and only evil, and that continually. No one is made better, or richer; no one is made more moral or industrious; no one is helped on the way to heaven by it. Thousands are helped on the way to hell by it, who are already in the path; and thousands are "induced" to walk in the way to death who, but for that distillery, store, or tavern, might have walked in the way to heaven. Is this then "working that which is good?" Would Paul have done it? Would Jesus do it? Strange, that by a professing Christian it was ever done! See a striking instance of the way in which the Ephesian Christians acted when they were first converted, in the Acts of the Apostles, Acts 19:19; compare notes on that place.

(4) the main business of a Christian is not to "make money," and to become rich. It is that he may have the means of benefiting others. Beyond what he needs for himself, his poor, and sick, and aged, and afflicted brother and friend has a claim on his earnings - and they should be liberally bestowed.

(5) we should labor in "order" that we may have the means of doing good to others. It should be just as much a matter of plan and purpose to do this, as it is to labor in order to buy a coat, or to build a house, or to live comfortably, or to have the means of a decent burial. Yet how few are those who have any such end in view, or who pursue their daily toil definitely, "that they may have something to give away!" The world will be soon converted when all Christians make that the purpose of life; see the notes on Romans 12:11.

28. Greek, "Let him that stealeth." The imperfect or past tense is, however, mainly meant, though not to the exclusion of the present. "Let the stealing person steal no more." Bandits frequented the mountains near Ephesus. Such are meant by those called "thieves" in the New Testament.

but rather—For it is not enough to cease from a sin, but the sinner must also enter on the path that is its very opposite [Chrysostom]. The thief, when repentant, should labor more than he would be called on to do, if he had never stolen.

let him labour—Theft and idleness go together.

the thing which is good—in contrast with theft, the thing which was evil in his past character.

with his hands—in contrast with his former thievish use of his hands.

that he may have to give—"that he may have wherewith to impart." He who has stolen should exercise liberality beyond the restitution of what he has taken. Christians in general should make not selfish gain their aim in honest industry, but the acquisition of the means of greater usefulness to their fellow men; and the being independent of the alms of others. So Paul himself (Ac 20:35; 2Th 3:8) acted as he taught (1Th 4:11).

Let him that stole steal no more; stealing is understood largely for seeking our own gain by any way, defrauding others, whether by taking away, or unjustly detaining what is theirs.

But rather let him labour; i.e. diligently and industriously, as the word imports. Idleness is condemned as tending to theft.

Working with his hands; as the only instrument by which most arts and trades are exercised.

The thing which is good; not in any unlawful way, but in an honest calling.

That he may have to give to him that needeth; that he may have not only whereupon to live, and prevent stealing, but wherewith to help those that want, Luke 21:2. Let him that stole steal no more,.... Stealing, or theft, is a fraudulent taking away of another man's goods, without the knowledge and will of the owner, for the sake of gain; to which evil may be reduced, not making good, or not performing payments, all unjust contracts, detention of wages, unlawful usury, unfaithfulness in anything committed to trust, advising, encouraging, and receiving from thieves: theft is a very great evil; it is a breach of the common law of nature, to do to others, as we would be done by; it is contrary to particular laws of God, and is against common justice, and ought not to be continued in, and is punishable by God and man; it springs from a corrupt heart, and often arises from poverty, idleness, sloth, covetousness, and prodigality: the remedy against it follows,

but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good; labouring with diligence and industry, at any manufacture, trade, or business, which is honest, lawful, and of good report, is a proper antidote against theft; and ought to be preferred to such a scandalous way of living, and to be constantly attended to: and that for this end among others,

that he may have to give to him that needeth; and not take away another man's property; needy persons are the objects of charity; and what is given to them, should be a man's own; and what a man gets by his hand labour, he should not prodigally spend, or covetously lay up, but should cheerfully distribute it to indigent persons.

{16} Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is {m} good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.

(16) He descends from the heart to the hands, condemning theft: and because the men who give themselves to this wickedness often pretend to be poor, he shows that labour is a good remedy against poverty, which God blesses in such a way that those who labour always have some surplus to help others. And therefore it is far from being the case that they are forced to steal other men's goods.

(m) By labouring in things that are holy, and profitable to his neighbour.

Ephesians 4:28. The stealer is no more to steal. The present participle does not stand Proverbs praeterito (Luther, Erasmus, Grotius, and most of the older expositors, following the Vulgate), but: he who occupies himself with stealing. The right view is already taken by Zanchius; see also Winer, p. 316 [E. T. 444]. As there were in the apostolic church fornicators (1 Corinthians 5:1), so were there also stealers,[248] and the attempts to tone down the notion are just as arbitrary as they are superfluous.[249] The question why Paul does not mention restitution (Luke 19:8; Exodus 22; Leviticus 6; Isaiah 58:6; Ezekiel 33:15; Plato, Legg. ix. p. 864 D f.) is not, with Estius, to be answered to the effect, that it is contained in μηκέτι κλεπτέτω;[250] but to the effect, that Paul’s design was not to give any complete instruction on the point of stealing, but only to inculcate the prohibition of the same and the obligation of the opposite (which, moreover, has restitution for its self-evident moral presupposition). The whole exhortation in this form has, indeed, been regarded as inappropriate, because not in keeping with the apostolic strictness (see de Wette), but we have to observe, on the other hand, that Paul elsewhere too contents himself with simple prohibitions and commands (see e.g. Romans 13:13 f.), and that the apostolic strictness follows in the sequel (Ephesians 5:5).

μᾶλλον δέ] rather on the other hand, imo vero, enhancing in a corrective sense the merely negative μηκέτι κλεπτ. See on Galatians 4:9.

κοπίατω κ.τ.λ.] let him labour, in that he works with his hands that which is good; in that, by the activity of his hands (instead of his thievish practices), he brings about that which belongs to the category of the morally good. Bengel well says: “τὸ ἀγαθόν antitheton ad furtum prius manu piceata male commissum.”

ἵνα ἔχῃ κ.τ.λ.] The view of Schoettgen, that this applies to the Jewish opinion of the allowableness of theft serving for the support of the poor (Jalk. Rubeni, f. 110, 4; Vajikra rabba, f. 147, 1), is indeed repeated by Koppe (comp. Stolz) and Holzhausen, but is—considering the general nature of the ὁ κλέπτ. μηκέτι κλεπτ., addressed, moreover, to readers mostly Gentile-Christian—not expressed in the words, which rather quite simply oppose to the forbidden taking the giving according to duty.

τῷ χρείαν ἔχοντι] to the one having need, namely, that there may be imparted to him. Comp. 1 Corinthians 12:24; Mark 2:25; 1 John 3:17; Plat. Legg. vi. p. 783 C, xii. p. 965 B.

[248] In connection with which the appeal to the permission of stealing among various heathen nations, as among the Egyptians and Lacedaemonians (see Wolf, Cur.; Müller, Dorier, II. p. 310 f.), is entirely unsuitable in an apostolic epistle with its high moral earnestness. Against such a prejudice Paul would have written otherwise.

[249] See, e.g., Jerome: “furtum nominans omne, quod alterius damno quaeritur.” He approves, moreover, the interpreting it of the furtum spirituale of the false prophets. Estius: “generaliter positum videtur pro fraudare, subtrahere, etc.” Comp. Calvin and many, as also still Holzhausen.

[250] “Nam qui non restituit cum possit, is adhuc in furto … perseverat.” This is in itself true, but no reader could light upon such a pregnant meaning of the μηκέτι κλεπτέτω.Ephesians 4:28. ὁ κλέπτων μηκέτι κλεπτέτω: let the stealer no longer steal. Not ὁ κλέψας, = “he who stole,” but pres. part. with a subst. force (cf. Win.-Moult., p. 444). Stealing was not wholly condemned by ancient heathen opinion. It was even allowed by the Lacedæmonians (Müller, Dor., ii., p. 310). It was a vice into which the recently converted living in the old pagan surroundings, especially when unemployed, might all too readily slip. It has been thought strange, scarcely credible indeed, that professing Christians in these Asiatic Churches could have given way to thieving. But the Epistles bear witness to the existence of grosser offences against morality in the Churches (e.g., 1 Corinthians 5:1).—μᾶλλον δὲ κοπιάτω: but rather let him labour. μᾶλλον δέ has a corrective force, = nay rather, but on the contrary rather; cf. Romans 8:34; Galatians 4:9.—ἐργαζόμενος τὸ ἀγαθὸν ταῖς χερσίν: working the thing that is good with his hands. The readings here vary considerably, notwithstanding the simplicity of the statement. The TR adopts the reading given by [468], many cursives, Slav., Chrys., etc. In [469], am., etc., the ταῖς χερσίν precedes τὸ ἀγαθόν. This latter with ἰδίαις inserted between ἀγαθόν and ταῖς χερσίν is found in [470], some cursives, Syr.-Phil., etc.; while ταῖς ἰδίαις χερσὶν τὸ ἀγαθόν is the reading of [471] [472]1[473] [474] [475], 37, etc., Vulg., Goth., Copt., Sah., Eth., Arm., Jer., Epiph., etc. This last is the best, and is adopted by LTTr and by WH in the marg., though not in the text. τὸ ἀγαθόν as opposed to the κακόν of theft = labour, not idleness; honest work, not stealing; the use of one’s own hands in toil, not robbing the hands of others. ἵνα ἔχῃ μεταδιδόναι τῷ χρείαν ἔχοντι: that he may have to give to him that has need. It has been thought strange by some that Paul simply forbids stealing and makes no reference to the duty of restitution. In point of fact he does more than that; for he declares the proper object of all Christian labour (cf. Olsh.), viz., to acquire not merely for ourselves and our own need, but with the view of being able to help others.

[468] Codex Angelicus (sæc. ix.), at Rome, collated by Tischendorf and others.

[469] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.

[470] Codex Mosquensis (sæc. ix.), edited by Matthæi in 1782.

[471] Codex Alexandrinus (sæc. v.), at the British Museum, published in photographic facsimile by Sir E. M. Thompson (1879).

[472] Codex Claromontanus (sæc. vi.), a Græco-Latin MS. at Paris, edited by Tischendorf in 1852.

[473] Codex Sangermanensis (sæc. ix.), a Græco-Latin MS., now at St. Petersburg, formerly belonging to the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Its text is largely dependent upon that of D. The Latin version, e (a corrected copy of d), has been printed, but with incomplete accuracy, by Belsheim (18 5).

[474] Codex Augiensis (sæc. ix.), a Græco-Latin MS., at Trinity College, Cambridge, edited by Scrivener in 1859. Its Greek text is almost identical with that of G, and it is therefore not cited save where it differs from that MS. Its Latin version, f, presents the Vulgate text with some modifications.

[475] Codex Boernerianus (sæc. ix.), a Græco-Latin MS., at Dresden, edited by Matthæi in 1791. Written by an Irish scribe, it once formed part of the same volume as Codex Sangallensis (δ) of the Gospels. The Latin text, g, is based on the O.L. translation.28. him that stole] Another moral inference from Christian incorporation. Here again, as above (see on Ephesians 4:25), and more obviously than ever, the Christian aspect of the duty has also a universal reference.—The Gr. is a present participle, and may equally well be rendered him that stealeth. It is possible, surely, that St Paul (like many a modern missionary and pastor) was prepared to find inconsistency so serious in the Christian community as to warrant the assumption of present thieving in some cases. (See above on Ephesians 4:25). Such things were surely to be found in the early Corinthian Church.

The duty of strict restitution is not explicitly mentioned here. But in the Epistle to Philemon, written at the same time, it is both insisted upon and acted upon.

his hands] Better, perhaps, his own hands. If personal activity has been spent on wrong, let nothing less than personal activity be spent on “working that which is good,” with a view to honest getting and gain.

that he may have to give] Impartation of good is of the genius of the Gospel; and there would be a special call now to impart where there had been unholy appropriation before. Christian morality, as Monod remarks, is never satisfied with reform; it demands conversion.Ephesians 4:28. Ὁ κλέπτων, who stole) This a milder expression than ὁ κλέπτης, the thief. The participle is that of the imperfect tense, while the present here is not excluded.—μᾶλλον δὲ) but even rather [let him labour more] than [he would] if he had not stolen. In every kind of sin which a man has committed, he ought afterwards to practise the contrary virtue.—κοπιάτω, let him labour) Often theft and idleness go together.—τὸ ἀγαθὸν, good) An antithesis to theft, first committed in an evil hour with thievish hand [lit. with a hand covered with pitch[75]].—ΤΑῖς ΧΕΡΣῚΝ, with the hands) which he had abused in committing theft.—ἵνα ἔχῃ, that he may have) The law of restitution ought not to be too strictly urged against the law of love. [He who has stolen should also excercise liberality beyond the restitution of what was taken away.—V. g.]

[75] Said of hands to which others’ property seems to stick; thievish.—Mart. viii. 59.—ED.Verse 28. - Let the stealer stem no more. Ὁ κλέπτων may be translated either as a noun or as the present participle. In either case it implies that even Christians might continue to steal, and that they had to be warned against the habit. This may seem strange to us, but not to those who consider how little theft was thought of among the pagans, and how liable such habits are to remain among converts from heathenism. Where there is a low moral tone and an uneducated conscience, very great irregularities may be found. Dishonesty in trade, deceit in business, are just the same. Among the Ephesians, thieving was probably the result of idle habits and of dislike to hard work. Hence the apostle says, But rather let him labor, working with his hands the things that are good, that he may have to impart to him that hath need. Idleness is mean, labor is honorable; Christ calls us to work, not for this reason only, but in order that we may have something to give away. Paganism would rob others of what is rightfully their own; Christianity leads me to give to others what is rightfully my own. This different genius of the two systems appears here very clearly. Observe the true use of superfluities - look out for the needy, and give for their relief.
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