Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Not Stealing Means Working an Honest Job
Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Ephesians 4:28NKJV
Today we continue our study of Question 141 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?” The second part of the answer states, “The duties required in the eighth commandment are… a provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose these things which are necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our condition; a lawful calling, and diligence in it; frugality.”
God made us physical creatures in a physical world with physical needs. We need to regularly eat and drink food and liquids in order to satisfy our human nutritional requirements. A certain amount of clothing and shelter are indispensable for our protection and health. Likewise our bodies need habitual exercise and rest to function properly. Moreover, we must guard against injury, sickness, diseases, infections, and other maladies that can afflict and harm us. And in addition to all of these inherent physical needs that we always have, externally diverse and changing weather conditions, living and work environments, age, ability, and many other factors play a role in determining what kind of and how much clothing, food, work, rest, and shelter will be sufficient for us in different circumstances. The Catechism includes and addresses all of these various aspects by enjoining on us “a provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose” those things which we need: suitable to our current condition and necessary to the sustenance of our natures. We must look at our situation, determine our need, and wisely seek to fill it.
How do we go about securing what we need in order to live and serve God in this world in a way that is godly and not sinful? First, we should recognize that the God who made us with ongoing physical needs made a world that is amply suited to meet those needs, and He has given us the right to use the things of this world as we need them. Thus, God gave mankind the plants of the ground, the fruit of the trees, and the animals to use for his food (Gen. 1:29; 2:16; 9:3). God gave these things to us to use for our needs. Therefore, it is wrong for any man or group of men to say that we should not use them (certain animal rights groups), or that we can only use certain kinds of them (certain false religions and health groups). Likewise, in giving parts of His creation to us, God shows us that it is good for us to acquire things as our own possessions. So that private property can also be said to be necessary for our well-being and that it is a God-given, indispensable right no man can take away without doing harm to his fellow men.
Furthermore, by example, God showed Adam and Eve how to make clothing for themselves from the skin of animals (Gen. 3:21). Therefore, it is good and right for us to do likewise, for it is needful for us to have clothing in this fallen world for our protection and care. God commanded man to work, giving him the task of tending the ground and ordering His creation (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). He also showed him the pattern of working six days and resting one. Accordingly, man has a need to regularly work and rest, which need is inherent in his created, human nature. So that to not do either one on a regular basis will surely be harmful to him. The Catechism addresses this need in setting forth our duty to have a lawful calling and to be diligent in it. Each human being has a vocation, a calling from God to work, and it is by this work that we produce a commodity that we can barter to honestly and uprightly secure the things we need.
Thus, we see how God has arranged it so that we can provide for our own needs legitimately, without stealing:
He has created a world with a renewable supply of all the things we need.
He has commanded us to work in order to rightly earn the things we need.
Frugality means that we are to not squander the resources of this world. We should remember that all creation belongs to God. He has given it to us to use as we need; we earn portions of it by our work, but it was made by God. Honor to God and due thankfulness demand that we appreciate His goods and not waste what He has graciously and lovingly given.