Most of us realize that the unity of the church of God courses through the book of Ephesians as a general theme. Paul illustrates the church as a complete body of which Jesus, though in heaven, is the Head, and the elect here on earth comprise the rest of it. Early on, Paul declares how God has planned the organization of His purpose from the very beginning, determining whom He would call, give His Spirit to, and perfect as His children.
In Ephesians 4, the apostle begins to clarify our Christian responsibilities regarding works. He appeals to us in verse 1 to make every effort to live a manner of life that measures up to the magnificence of our high calling. He then makes sure we understand that we must carry out our responsibilities in humility, kindness, and forbearance as we strive to maintain doctrinal accord in purity.
He explains that Christ has given each of us gifts to meet our responsibilities in maintaining the unity of God's church. Foremost among these gifts are teachers who will work to equip us for service in the church and eventually in the Kingdom. This same process will enable us to grow to completion, to mature, no longer wavering in our loyalties, certain in the direction of our lives, and not deceived by the craftiness of men.
With that foundation, the "therefore" in verse 17 draws our focus to the practical applications necessary to meet the standards of the preceding spiritual concepts. We must not conduct our lives as the unconverted do. They are blinded to these spiritual realities and so conduct life in ignorance, following the lusts of darkened minds.
Because we are being educated by God, the standards of conduct are established by His truths and are therefore exceedingly higher. We must make every effort to throw off the works of carnality and strive to acquire a renewed mind through diligent, continuous effort so that we can be created in the image of God in true righteousness and holiness (verse 24).
In verses 25-29, Paul moves even further from generalities to clear, specific works that we must do. We must speak truth so that we do not injure another through lies, as well as to maintain unity. Because deceit produces distrust, unity cannot be maintained if lying occurs. We must not allow our tempers to flare out of control, for they serve as an open door for Satan to create havoc.
We must be honest, earning our way so that we are prepared to give to others who are in need. We must be careful that what we speak is not only true but also edifying, imparting encouragement, empathy, sympathy, exhortation, and even gentle correction when needed.
In verse 30 is a brief and kind reminder that, in doing our works we must never forget that we owe everything to our indwelling Lord and Master. We must make every effort to be thankful, acknowledging Him as the Source of all gifts and strengths, enabling us to glorify Him through our works.
In the final two verses of the chapter, Paul delineates specific responsibilities concerning our attitudes toward fellow Christians within personal relationships.
This brief overview of just one chapter shows clearly how much works enter into a Christian's life as practical requirements that cannot be passed off as unnecessary. How else will a Christian glorify God? How else will he grow to reflect the image of God? How else will he fulfill God's command to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19) except by faithfully doing those works that lead to life?
Through the whole process of sanctification, the Christian will make constant use of two additional works: daily prayer and Bible study, which must be combined with his efforts to obey God. No one who is careless about performing these works can expect to make progress growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ during sanctification.
Why? Without them, he will have no relationship with either the Father or the Son, and thus will not be enabled to achieve the required works. They are the Source of the powers that make it possible for us to do the works God has ordained. If we do not follow through on these two works, we will surely hear ourselves called "wicked and lazy" and be cast into "outer darkness" where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:24-30).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Four)
Paul's command is clear and straightforward. We are to gain property and possessions by honest work—hard work, as the verb "labor" indicates exertion to the point of exhaustion. In addition, we are not to work merely to satisfy our personal desires and needs, but that we can freely give any excess to the needy.
Besides mere survival, Acts 20:35 reveals an additional reason for working: "I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" Stealing runs totally against the grain of God's way of life. In the spirit of God's law, a person not only steals by taking another's possessions, but by the refusal to work hard and honestly in order to share and give to others in need.
Romans 12:10, 13 helps to clarify this purpose: "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; . . . distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality." Love has no meaning unless it is demonstrated by giving, and having the ability to give in this manner comes from sacrifice and labor. Paul is writing about total commitment to what is good, an undiminished devotion to kindness regardless of the recipient's response.
Our God sets the example for us. Jesus says in John 5:17, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." We are driven by self-concern, and all too often, that concern degenerates into greed. That desire, however, must be overcome. We are to become like God. He is a Creator, and He works. A major characteristic of His Kingdom is that it is a producing, working, creating Family that sacrifices itself to give and to share.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Eighth Commandment
God's intention is clear. We are to gain property and possessions by honest work and/or inheritance from those who have the right to give them. We must come into possession of things in a way God approves.
The verb "labor" indicates exertion to the point of exhaustion. In addition, Paul admonishes us not merely to work to satisfy our personal needs and desires, but also to be able to give freely any excess to others in need. The admonition implies distributing the excess personally rather than indirectly through an agency. He adds in Acts 20:35, "I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
Stealing is totally against the grain of God's way of life. Our God is a working, creating God (John 5:17), and we cannot be in His image if we are gaining possessions through stealing. In the spirit of God's law, a person not only steals by taking another's possessions, but also by refusing to work in order to share and give to others in need.
This commandment does not reach its fullest expression until the ninth and tenth are added to it. Stealing frequently has its genesis in a desire to have something one has no money to purchase, or the unwillingness to work patiently until one does. Deception then enters. A person will try to acquire a desired possession in such a way that others will think he procured it honorably. We can stop this sin at any point in the process, but few make any effort to restrain their lust, deceit, and itching fingers.
Robert Kahn was correct in saying, "There are a hundred ways to steal but only one way to be honest." In order not to steal, we must be scrupulously honest. What good is it if we are one-half or three-quarters honest? What if God was honest with us only part of the time? Could we trust Him? Can others really trust us if we are only partially honest? Do we lock our doors because we trust everybody? Thievery creates distrust, fear, and suspicion, destabilizing institutions and communities.
The reason we should refrain from stealing is not just to avoid sinning. This in itself is very good, but scrupulous honesty produces integrity, wholeness. Such integrity enables us to live confidently before God and man. The apostle John writes in I John 3:18-19: "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him." Personal integrity is a major source of positive, confident living.
A conscience can be either a good or bad guide because it is educated by an individual's experiences. Practicing scrupulous honesty builds character and educates the conscience in the right direction so that it will send the right prompting at the right time. We cannot allow ourselves room to rationalize stealing. We must be scrupulously honest always, or our character will descend on a path of degeneracy.
There are hundreds of ways to steal, and dozens of excuses for stealing, but only one way and one reason and one law of integrity. That way is honor, that reason is a clear conscience, and that law is God's. He says, "You shall not steal." Never. In any way. From any one.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Eighth Commandment (1997)