Living Christianity: The Ten Commandments (You Shall Not Steal, Part 4)
September 8, 2020
by Peter Amsterdam
Living Christianity: The Ten Commandments (You Shall Not Steal, Part 4)
(Points for this article were taken from Christian Ethics by Wayne Grudem1 and The Doctrine of the Christian Life by John M. Frame.2)
The previous article in this series addressed the topic of work. It showed how, before sin entered the world, God instructed Adam and Eve to work—thereby making the point that work isn’t part of fallen human nature, but rather something that is part of God’s “very good” creation.
Why did God give humans work to do? Part of being creations made in God’s image is the ability to reflect to a lesser extent His creative activity.3 When we make things, such as baking a loaf of bread, or building a shed, or working in a factory to make a car, we are creating something which didn’t exist before. Such work reflects God’s attributes in other ways as well, such as wisdom, strength, patience, and knowledge. Scripture instructs us to Be imitators of God, as beloved children.4
While all of nature manifests God’s glory, such as the plant and animal kingdoms, the creativity of human beings manifests His glory in vastly different ways. Only humans create, invent, and innovate. Animals generally don’t use intelligent thought to create or produce things that others would value. Humans’ ability to do creative work points to our being created by God in His image.
As humans, we can create value. The products which humans produce have value for us as well as others. Once someone bakes a loaf of bread, builds a house, or assembles a product, these things then have greater value than the original raw materials they were made from. When we do productive work, we add to the total value of things which exist for the benefit of humanity. This also holds true for work which doesn’t produce material things but which nevertheless adds value to humanity, such as raising a child, teaching, caring for those in need, etc.
Another important aspect of work is that it enables us to financially support ourselves. The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica, work with your hands ... so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.5 When we are able to support ourselves and are no longer dependent on our parents or others, this gives us an inherent sense of dignity and self-respect. Work also glorifies God, as it is an imitation of His attribute of independence—He doesn’t depend on anyone or anything for His existence.
This is partly why when people are laid off from work and can’t find another job, or when they can’t work because of illness or injury, they find it so difficult. Not having productive work can bring frustration due to being unable to do what God has made human beings to do—to be engaged in productive work and thereby support themselves.
God created us with differences in skills, abilities, preferences, and desires regarding the type of work we choose to do. Because of this diversity, people specialize in different kinds of work, which results in humanity being much more productive than if each person needed to produce everything they need by themselves. Because of specialization, people can focus on doing work they are skilled at.
Work After the Fall
God gave Adam and Eve work to do in the garden when He instructed them to fill the earth and subdue it.6 However, once they sinned, He introduced changes within creation which made work more difficult. He told Adam,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”7
God’s curse on the ground meant that it would require labor on the part of humans to produce food. However, even though God introduced some unpleasantness into work, it is still possible to find joy in our labor. A number of Old Testament verses address this.
The LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.8
The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands.9
My heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.10
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?11
Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.12
Most Christians do not work full-time in church or mission work, but rather have secular jobs, often working alongside or under non-Christians. This was also the case in the early church, when Christians were a small minority who worked in a predominantly secular world. Nevertheless, the apostle Paul considered that believers were in jobs that God had called them to.
Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.13
Whatever job a believer is working at (provided is it not illegal or immoral), that is a situation to which “God has called him,” at least for the present time. That doesn’t mean that people can’t or shouldn’t change jobs if they feel led by the Lord to do so. As Christians, we are free to follow God’s leading in taking other employment. Whatever work God has led a believer to, it is possible that He may call them to another occupation later. In such a case, a believer should feel free to follow God.
While Scripture presents work as being fundamentally good, there can be temptations to sin in the workplace. The apostle Paul warned believers to guard against these temptations. As employees, Christians should be honest, trustworthy, and do their job with integrity. They shouldn’t steal, neither material things nor by wasting time, nor should they be contentious. Believers are called to be a testimony of Christianity, an example of Jesus, so that they adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.14
As employees, Christians should not be lazy or careless in their work. In the book of Proverbs we read,
Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.15
Those who are lazy or careless in their work can bring about harmful results in their work or workplace. The apostle Paul wrote,
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.16
As believers, part of our Christian testimony is having the integrity to do our job properly, honestly, and with diligence.
Another temptation regarding work is working too much, becoming a workaholic. In the Old Testament, God commanded the people of Israel to refrain from work one day per week, the Sabbath day.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. … On it you shall not do any work.”17
There will be times when we are faced with intense work activity which will require long hours and a great deal of hard work for periods of time. But this should not be a regular occurrence. We should work hard at our jobs and be diligent in our work, yet we should be careful to avoid letting our work become so intense and time-consuming that it causes us to neglect our loved ones, our family responsibilities, our health, or our relationship with the Lord and His Word.
It’s important to note that while the Bible commands us to work, it also warns against trusting in ourselves and our abilities for success in our work. In the Old Testament, Moses cautioned the people of Israel when he said,
“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”18
In the book of Psalms, we find Solomon giving a similar caution.
Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.19
The prayer that Jesus taught His disciples reminds us that we are to trust God for His provision.
Give us this day our daily bread.20
Rest and Vacation
While work is an important part of life, it is also vital to regularly take time for rest and away from work. Besides taking a regular weekly day (or two) of rest, it is wise to also take some longer periods away from work. In Scripture we read that the Hebrew people celebrated the Feast of Booths, which lasted seven days,21 and that every seventh year was a Sabbath year. It seems wise that we take vacations of a week or two each year if possible. Of course, it’s not always possible to take such time off, as a variety of factors are involved, such as the amount of vacation time employers allow, individuals’ financial situations, etc. In principle, though, taking some time away from work is beneficial.
As humans made in the image of God, we reflect His creativity. As His children, we are to glorify Him in all we do, including in our work. In every aspect of our lives, we are to be imitators of God, as beloved children. Whatever our work may be, may we do it as unto Him, for His glory.
Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.22
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018).
2 John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2008).
3 Genesis 1:26.
4 Ephesians 5:1.
5 1 Thessalonians 4:11–12.
6 Genesis 1:28.
7 Genesis 3:17–19.
8 Deuteronomy 16:15.
9 Deuteronomy 28:12.
10 Ecclesiastes 2:10.
11 Ecclesiastes 2:24–25.
12 Ecclesiastes 5:19–20.
13 1 Corinthians 7:17.
14 Titus 2:10.
15 Proverbs 18:9.
16 Colossians 3:23.
17 Exodus 20:8–10.
18 Deuteronomy 8:17–18.
19 Psalm 127:1.
20 Matthew 6:11.
21 Leviticus 23:34–43.
22 1 Corinthians 10:31.