Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Ephesians 4:28, ESV.
We have seen how Paul applies his verse 23-34 call “to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self” with commands to replace lies with truth and anger with self-control. He adds even more specific instruction in verse 28. Here he commands the thief to quit stealing, do honest work, and use his income to help others.
The first thing that strikes me about this verse is how Paul transitions from “do this” and “don’t do that” to “stop it.”. In the early church, just like her contemporary counterpart, some saints struggled with sin. There are thieves in the body of Christ at Ephesus and Paul is calling them out. John Stott observes that this command “had and still has a wide application, not only to the stealing of other people’s money or possessions, but also to tax evasions and customs dodges which rob the government of their dues, to employers who oppress their workers, and to employees who give poor service or work short time.”
What is the thief to do once he is stealing no longer? He is to earn his keep! He is to quit taking what is not his and instead work for what he receives. A fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage is part of God’s design for human flourishing. God’s people are not to seek to get something for nothing. Where God has granted the ability to work, He expects His people to use that ability to provide for their own needs.
But the end to thieving and beginning of honest labor is not the end of God’s plan. The one who earns through labor is to understand that they are also earning to provide for those in need. Given the context of Ephesians 4, it seems likely that this is a specific call to care for those in need in the church. What a transition—from greed-driven stealing to generous caring!
I pray that God enables you to know the joy of a living a life where you earn your own provision and give generously to help those in need. Or, if you are that saint who is in need, I pray you will be blessed by the generosity of a brother or sister in Christ who has been enabled to work and earn.
 John R. W. Stott, God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove: IVP, 1979), 187.