The Eighth Commandment: Doing Honest Work

 

Prov 6:9-11; John 4:34-38; Eph 4:28 & 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 (texts); HC Lord’s Day 42
October 21, 2012 (Imus) • Download PDF sermon

The Merchants Chased from the Temple by James Tissot (19th century). "Jesus said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers”" (Matt 21:13) (click to enlarge)

The Merchants Chased from the Temple by James Tissot (19th century). "Jesus said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers”" (Matt 21:13) (click to enlarge)

Manila has always been a haven for thieves, robbers, pickpockets, purse snatchers, and swindlers, even in my younger days. But in recent years, it has seemed that they are everywhere: in the malls, markets, restaurants; in all kinds of public transportation; and in homes, offices, or on the streets. They are found even in churches. It doesn’t matter whether you are in poor or affluent neighborhoods. They are everywhere! So it is extremely hard to trust people. As soon as you think you will not be a victim because you are always being very careful, they strike, as my wife and I found out the other day.

Why do people violate the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not steal”? Various reasons are given, and they are all valid: poverty, greed, or even for the fun of stealing. Poverty can surely drive a hungry person to steal. In the Philippines, where one-third of the population live in poverty, most poverty can be attributed to corruption, but overpopulation is also a big factor. What about those who are just plain lazy? They have caused their own miserable poverty. But most people in poverty do not steal, but instead depend on dole-outs from others.

Paul says in our text, “Let the thief no longer steal.” He uses word-play here, because the root word for both “thief” and “steal” is the Greek verb klepto. In English, we know that a kleptomaniac is a person with “a persistent neurotic impulse to steal especially without economic motive.” 1 This condition—stealing for the fun of it—is rare. Stealing because of poverty is much more common. But the most common reason for stealing is greed.

Our Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 110 expands the Eighth Commandment to forbid not only theft and robbery, but “all wicked tricks and devices, whereby we seek to get our neighbor’s goods, whether by force or by deceit, such as unjust weights, lengths, measures, goods, coins, [and] usury.” Whether in the wet market or in the stock market, these fraudulent schemes are common. As with all the other violations of the Decalogue that we have previously studied, all of these are rooted in idolatry, breeding covetousness. We make idols of things in place of the true God, so we covet them in greed and dissatisfaction with what God has given to us

It is rare then for people to steal or rob or deceive for reasons other than greed for money. No wonder that Paul focuses on the love of money as the root of all evil. This is the disease of all kinds of people—rich or poor, the highest government or corporate official or the common citizen, or the pastor of a megachurch or a little church in a remote village. The corrupt government official or pastor embezzles funds; the greedy policeman extorts from drivers; the ravenous businessman defrauds and swindles his customers; the wicked and lazy murder and steal.

But the Heidelberg Catechism does not deal only with the negative command. In forbidding Christians “the misuse and waste of [God's] gifts,” Q&A 110 implies positively that we are to use our God-given gifts wisely. And in Q&A 111, it requires Christians to “labor faithfully, so that I may be able to help the poor in their need.”

So our text says that as Christians, we are to do honest work for three reasons: First, to give glory to God. Second, to share with others in need. And third, because Christ had done his good and perfect work for us.

To the Glory of God
The background of our text in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 is the false teaching in the church that the Second Coming of Jesus and the resurrection had already come. Since the end had already come, there were some in the church who stopped working for a living, and were dependent on others in the church. So Paul says, “keep away from any brother” and “have nothing to do with him” who is an idler. This means church discipline by disassociation should be exercised against them. Those who are “walking in idleness” actually means those who are not only idle, but disorderly, insubordinate, undisciplined, and irresponsible. 2

They are out of order because they are in violation of God’s command to all mankind via Adam in the Garden of Eden to “work” the land (Gen 2:15). So work was already a mandate even before man’s sin. It is part of God’s good purpose for his creation. God himself did much work in the first six days of creation, and only rested on the seventh day. And even after man’s fall into sin, God required work, although with much sweat and toil to eat (Gen 3:19). Paul and his companions taught them this “tradition” from God’s Word that everyone must work for a living, not depend on others (v 10). Paul set for them an example to imitate, not only in word, but in deed. He toiled and labored day and night everywhere he went so that he might not be a burden to anyone. If he ate someone else’s food, he paid for it (v 7-9).

They are called disorderly and undisciplined because they are “not busy at work, but busybodies.” Even in Greek, Paul uses word-play for emphasis. They are busy with the wrong activities, pretending to do important work. This is most probably a reference to the false teachers, who, like in Ephesus, were “going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies” (1 Tim 5:13). Paul is talking about young widows in Ephesus who were being financially supported by the church, so they do not have to work. Since they were not busy working, some of them were busy “saying what they should not,” which perhaps means spreading both gossips and false teachings among the brethren in the church.

How true this is among many pastors and teachers today! They are going about not only in their own churches, but all over the world, spreading false gospels and false prophesies. They promise health and wealth to their followers because this is their method for shameful gain. Many of them are living the good life on the backs of their congregations and others whom they deceive by their sweet promises of happiness and prosperity. They are not busy at work in the Lord’s vineyard, but are busybodies working to satisfy their own greed. So many of them go to the Philippines, knowing that poverty-stricken people are easy prey to false promises of a better life.

And these false teachers do not care if the name of Christ is blasphemed and ridiculed by unbelievers because of their shameful financial and sexual scandals. This is why Paul tells the Thessalonians “to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands … so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thess 4:11-12).

It is a bad witness to the unbelieving world if we are idle, not working for our livelihood, and depending on dole-outs from others. This is not about those who strive daily to find work in a job market that is saturated with applicants. This is not about those who cannot find work because he has no work skills to offer to anyone. This is about those who are lazy and indolent, those who spend their days gossiping with other lazy people, eating, drinking and getting drunk with their friends, or spending other people’s money in gambling or playing video games. We see these people everywhere, because their parents or brother or sister or children are toiling and sweating to earn a living abroad to support them.

But if they call themselves Christians, they are a black-eye to Christ! Not only are they disorderly by spreading false teachings; they are undisciplined because of their laziness. Because of this, they dishonor God and so hinder the spread of the gospel. Unbelievers who see disorderly conduct in the church will not be persuaded to believe.

Christians are called to diligent work, and if they do, God is glorified by others who see their honest work. Being good workers make us good witnesses, as Paul says earlier to the church, that you “may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you” (2 Thess 1:11-12).

In the States, there is a popular saying about work: the Protestant work ethic. It originated from the Puritans who taught that Christians are to do honest work with their hands, no matter what vocation in which God has placed them. What’s wrong with being a farmer, a laborer, a gardener, or a garbage man? As long as one is doing honest and diligent work, God is pleased and glorified. We may be an executive, a lawyer, a doctor, an accountant, or an engineer, if we are not working diligently and honestly, God is not pleased with us.

Christians are not only called to do honest work, but also use their God-given talents and gifts for the building up of the church. All of us are given a gift or two. In the Parable of the Talents, the master left for a long time, but before he left, he gave three of his servants stewardship of his money. When he came back, two of the servants doubled his money. But the third servant who was given the least did not work to make a profit from what he was given. The master called him a “wicked and slothful servant.” He was too lazy to even just invest the money in a bank for a small interest.

How did the Puritans come up with this work-ethic? As Christians in the workplace, we are called to work “as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man.” We may have a “slave driver” for a boss. Our pay may not even be enough for our family. The Puritans looked at the work of their hands as if they were working for Christ. So in addition to being diligent, they take pride in whatever work God has given them to do, even if the material rewards are small. But Paul says, “whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord” (Eph 6:6-8).

It is God who is the rewarder of those who do honest and diligent work. And when God does reward us with prosperity, we are able to share with those in need.

To Share With Those in Need
In Ephesians 4:28, we read the Eighth Commandment, “Let the thief no longer steal.” Paul uses a thief as an illustration of a person who repented and believed in Christ. Negatively, he must stop stealing. Positively, he must start doing honest work.

When a person who does good work is rewarded by God with prosperity, he must also be willing to share his prosperity. God rewards him so that he “may have something to share with anyone in need.” The Bible correctly dissects the difference between the lazy and the diligent worker. In Proverbs 21:25-26, we read that the “sluggard” craves and craves all day long, “but the righteous gives and does not hold back.” The righteous worker does not hold back from sharing a portion of his prosperity to those who are in need.

God commands his people to take care of those among them who are needy. Israel had laws to take care of the widows and the orphans. At harvest time, some grain must be left behind for the poor to glean (Lev 23:22), just as Boaz instructed his workers to do so for the sake of Naomi and Ruth (Ruth 2:15-16). In worship, the needy may give less offerings—pigeons instead of bulls or cows. The Lord defends the poor and the needy among his people, “He delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper” (Psa 72:12).

In the New Testament, the apostles appointed deacons to care for the needs of neglected widows and orphans. Paul collected offerings to help the famine-stricken Christians in Jerusalem. He instructed those who are rich in Ephesus to work hard to help the weak, because “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). There is no command to tithe, but we are commanded to give with a cheerful heart, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7).

Even today, nations such as the Philippines and the U. S. have tax giving tax deductions for gifts made to charitable organizations. Many rich unbelievers such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, are philanthropists. If those who do not know Christ have the heart to share their prosperity with the poor, how much more must we as Christians do the same? This is why Paul exhorts us, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10). We are to take care of the needy, especially those in our own church family. Therefore, you are “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim 6:18).

Paul and the other apostles and missionaries in the New Testament are our examples of hard work and sharing with other believers. But Christ is our pre-eminent example of One whose mission and life work is to help poor and needy sinners like us.

The Perfect Work of Christ for Us
When Jesus came down from heaven, he had a mission from his Father to fulfill. He always spoke of this mission as his work:

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).

“My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17).

“For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36).

In one of the Ligonier conferences that I attended, R. C. Sproul started his speech by walking up to the very front of the audience, and saying, “You are saved by works!” And everyone of course was shocked. Has R. C. Sproul changed his doctrine? Has he become Roman Catholic? But then he added, “The works of Christ!”

The work of Christ is to save his people from sin and God’s coming wrath. All of his life was focused on that mission. Every word he said, every miracle he performed, every suffering he endured was for this mission. All his life was a life of diligent and honest work to fulfill the law. He was the Second Adam who worked and guarded God’s garden-temple, the Church, the mission that the First Adam failed to accomplish. In his last hours before his death on the cross, he labored and agonized so hard that his sweat fell like drops of blood. His death on the cross was the most difficult work that any man has ever done. All these he endured without committing any sin.

He perfectly accomplished his mission. He obeyed all of God’s law. He never stole, robbed, or deceived anyone. In fact, he hated robbers such as the dishonest merchants in the Temple, calling them “robbers” (Matt 21:13). He did not rob God of his glory, but instead gave all the glory to his Father in heaven. The Old Testament is full of stories of people robbing and stealing because of greed. King David stole another man’s wife. King Ahab and his wife Jezebel stole Naboth’s field by scheming to murder him. The Lord punished Israel because they violated his law against stealing, “for they deal falsely; the thief breaks in, and the bandits raid outside” (Hos 7:1). They robbed God by withholding their tithes and offerings from the Temple (Mal 3:8).

Remember the thief who was crucified together with Jesus? He repented of his sin and believed in Jesus, and on that very same day he died, he entered Paradise with his Savior. Christ forgives even thieves, the greedy, and swindlers who repent and believe in his atoning work for their sins. They too will inherit the kingdom together with all sinners who repent and believe (1Cor 6:9-10).

Dear friends, we too are all hopeless thieves and robbers, if only in word and thought. But Christ came and performed his work perfectly for your redemption. How then shall you live? Jesus himself says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27). All your labors to live peacefully and with prosperity on this earth will ultimately be in vain if you do not receive the food and drink of eternal life that Christ worked for throughout his life all the way to his ultimate sacrifice for you.

He promises to all of you who believe in him that you will do greater works than he has done when he was in this world, “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). Not that you can do greater miracles, but you will be empowered by the Holy Spirit whom Jesus would send after he ascends into heaven.

And after Pentecost, the church has done mighty works of preaching, teaching and helping the needy not only among Jews, but in all the nations of the earth. Even in severe persecution through 2,000 years, Christians persevered in working for the spread of the gospel. Like our forefathers in the faith, all your labors for Christ, using the spiritual gifts he has given you, will not be in vain.


Notes:

  1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  2. Walter Bauer, et. al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., (Chicago, Ill: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 148.
Related Articles:
  • No Related Articles