“Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”
Ephesians 4:28 NIVUK
I wonder why Paul added this instruction in his letter. Perhaps there was someone in the Ephesian church who was a thief. Perhaps there were even more than one. But he must have had a reason, and you can just imagine the person or persons involved in theft squirming a bit in their seats while the letter was read out, perhaps flushed with embarrassment or feelings of guilt. In the society at that time perhaps being a thief was an easy way to earn a living. But whoever it was, they had a choice and Paul made it clear – get a job, he said. But, as an aside, if the miscreant had been caught thieving I can imagine the penalty would have been rather severe – we remember that two thieves were crucified along with Jesus not that many miles away from Ephesus.
But stealing is not a victimless crime. It impacts other people’s lives; honest people who would have wondered who the culprit was. Suspicion builds up and when the Ephesian church met together you can just imagine the thoughts that would have been flying around. Knowing that one of their number was a thief, they would have been looking around at their fellow Christians wondering, “is it him”, or “perhaps she did it”. And the bonds of unity and love that Paul was writing about in his letter to his friends at Ephesus would have been broken.
In a church near where I live, and a few years ago now, money seemed to be disappearing on a regular basis. Sadly, the leadership had to make a determined effort to find the culprit, and eventually found that a church administrator was responsible. But the grace and love that was poured out in that church was absolutely amazing. Without involving the police, they arranged for the return of what had been stolen and forgave the person concerned, who repented and asked for forgiveness. A person restored and forgiven. Church unity unbroken. Dealing with theft the Jesus way.
A pilgrim today will have many opportunities to take a short cut, tempted to steal rather than earn. Perhaps forced to think that way through personal hardship or family pressures. But there is no other way than the way of complete and total honesty. The Jesus way.