Early Sunday morning, long before the sun and my kids began to rise, I sat down with a steaming mug of coffee, my trusty journal and picked up where I left off in the New Testament in my Bible the previous morning.
The more I age, the more I’m drawn to Paul’s writings. His exhortations and teachings are timeless and help to lay the path for righteous living. And though I now find myself a new member of the middle age club, I’ve become increasingly aware that I have so much left to learn in this life, especially the Christian walk.
So as I dug into Ephesians 4, I was drawn to the first verse of the chapter, where Paul urges believers to “live a life worthy of the calling” (Eph. 4:1). Some translations, such as ESV, implore believers to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling.” I love this visual concept of walking along with God, maybe even half a step behind Him, just to ensure I don’t try to take the lead myself.
This concept of walking worthy and fulfilling my calling on Earth is something I can get behind. I ponder about the bigger picture of calling and purpose often, as I am continually reorienting my wayward self to focus back on the Son.
Am I being intentional enough with my family, with my Bible learnings, with my acts of ministry, with my community? How can I walk worthy every single day—despite how I feel or my circumstances or my busy schedule?
As I was nearing the end of Ephesians 4 (thinking I’d had enough pondering for the morning), I came across verse 28, which confronts the thief:
If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.Ephesians 4:28 NLT
Reading quickly through the first part of the verse, which I felt didn’t apply to me, I was drawn to the second part that addresses producing fruit as an offering to others. It’s an exhortation that I fully support, as I’m imperfectly passionate about hospitality and serving.
But as I began to study the entire verse more and read my Bible study notes on it, I realized that I am not excluded from the first half that addresses stealing.
Maybe I’m not often tempted to steal from the world, but what about my inclination to steal from God?
As a human, I’m prone to selfishness, laziness and shortcuts. There are times when it’s easier to say no, take the easy path or let someone else play point person. There are days when I hush the prompting of the Holy Spirit out of selfish gain, with swirling thoughts such as, “I would make things awkward,” “I would embarrass myself or that person” or “I need to do such and such first.”
So, knowing my personal tendencies, I interrogated myself with questions such as these:
- Am I glorifying God with my abilities and using my gifts to bless others? (1 Peter 4:10)
- Am I reflecting His image back to the world—or hiding it under a bushel? (Matt. 5:15-16)
- Am I opening myself as a vessel or conduit for His plans? (Jeremiah 29:11)
- Am I offering my body as a temple, physically, spiritually and emotionally? (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
- Am I using the treasures He’s given me to further His kingdom? (2 Cor. 8:2-5, Romans 12:13)
- Am I surrendering my children to the Lord (as Hannah did to her son Samuel), following His lead and relinquishing my control?
- Am I offering love and grace for those who are hard to love? (1 John 4:19)
In essence, am I stealing from God what is already His—yielding certain areas to Him while hiding (consciously and subconsciously) others from Him?
Ouch. Gut check.
Thankfully, there is hope for those like me, those who are still learning life’s lessons and so desperately seeking the road to sanctification.
Paul says, quite simply: “If you are stealing, quit stealing.”
It’s a straightforward directive, but most of us know that bad habits and tendencies must be replaced with good ones to ensure continued restraint. And that’s where the power of the word “instead” comes into play. That little adverb not only offers a glimmer of hope, but a follow-through of action to keep us moving along:
“Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.”
So in lieu of my own selfish desires, propensity toward complacency and inclination to hold tightly what the Lord has given me, I must instead make myself useful. I must use my hands for the good hard work of producing fruit, which may one day produce spiritual fruit in the lives of others.
Paul emphasizes this idea again in Colossians: “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (Col. 3:23)
God created us for work and it’s up to us to shift our attitudes to view work as an act of worship and a follow-through of obedience.
There are times in my life when I struggle to do the right thing: to say yes when asked for help, to go out of my way to meet a need, to lay down my own desires to tend to others. But the Christian life offers a continual reminder that “He must increase, and I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
As so, I’m working to surrender my own will and submit to the Father. Instead of focusing on my own life—the to-do lists, schedules, busyness—I’m focusing on working for the sake of blessing others.
For me, it’s doing good hard work for my family, for my church and for other believers in my community. But just as importantly, it’s persisting with good hard work in the lives of unbelievers: for the overwhelmed single mom, for the neglected elementary school twins, for the neighborhood kids without a mom, for the perfect looking family with 2.5 kids who doesn’t see the need for Jesus. And I pray that, by the grace of God, He will use me as a difference maker to consistently reflect the light of Christ into their worlds, even without words, but with my actions.
And so my task is to keep doing the work. I must continue throwing out seeds for the benefit of others, not myself. And in His time (not my idea of good timing), God will make them grow.
Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. 6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. 7 It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work. 9 For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building.1 Corinthians 3:5b-9
Instead of stealing from God what I hold most closely—my time, my talents, my treasures, my people—I must answer God’s call, willingly and joyfully. I must work to use what He’s entrusted me to bless others.
My life’s work—as God’s masterpiece—can be summed up in one sweeping directive, which I must remind myself of again and again: