I preached a message at the Nashville Rescue Missions’ nightly chapel service that caused quite an uproar. The men tried to shout me off of the stage and many would never speak to me again. The message was a simple one on Ephesians 4:17-32, the new man. all was going well until I got to the passage that says let him who stole steal no more. I did not simply refer to this passage as acts of larceny or strong armed robbery. This went much deeper into the hearts of men and it will illustrate another reason the poor stay poor as we continue this series.
Let Him Who Stole Steal No More
We all have the picture of stealing. A person sneaks into a house and takes a fistful of jewelry, or a person takes a gun and robs a gas station. I think there is a lot more implication of modern society than just robbery. The verse is Ephesians 4:28:
He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.
I say this without apologies, and that was a part of the near riot at the Mission. The verse says that a thief must stop stealing, but must work. One of the problems in society is that when a person enters into many homeless programs, they are rushed into counseling that suggests that they are in need of Social Security. While that is true for a percentage of the homeless, it is not the norm. I watched as many who were on Social Security, mostly for mental health and addiction purposes, would get their check on the first Wednesday of the month, go get a hotel, hire prostitutes, drink and use drugs, and when the money ran out, they were back at the Mission. I watched as many men in the Mission would go through the fre clothes line and get nice coats or shoes, and take them outside in the courtyard and sell them to other residents and use the money for drugs, hotels, prostitutes, tobacco, or candy (which they would turn around and sell). I called it out as theft. I said that if a person could stand for eight hours “flying a sign” asking for money, they had the ability to work, and did not need to rob hard working people of their tax dollars to support a habit. It did not go well. The yells of racist and bigot began to rise up. People stood ans shouted until the security came and threatened a lock down. I continued the message with the same fire I started out with, pleading for the men to see what God wanted them to be and to become. I had never seen a reaction like that, but I challenged an ingrained belief these men had. This was not the only time that the concept of theft has been discussed in ministry, but it largely fall on deaf ears.
The abuse of the welfare state is one I have seen so many times. I had a family early in the ministry that kept struggling with finances and would frequent the church to ask for food and supplies. I met with the ‘boyfriend’ and found that he needed to find a job. I knew a few people and was able to get him an interview with a lawn care company. All he had to do was go to an interview the next Tuesday at 10:00 am. He said to me that 10:00 would interfere with an appointment with a local charity for food. The job would have paid $15.00 per hour and benefits. The issue was that he wanted free food more than working for it.
This will be a two fold biblical insight. One will be the application of scriptures as a tool for helping Christians lead a person to change in the belief that these actions are okay, and a challenge to the church about enabling people in their behaviors.
Stel no more. A clear call to the believer to not steal from anyone in any way. I will say that I am not opposed to the use of SSI or food stamps or other supports. They were created to provide assistance, not lifestyles though. The verse continues with, But he must work. I have met many people that will make every excuse to not work. Their mental state, their sore back, their lack of transportation, or their record. There are answers to all of those issues. I work at a very large hotel and convention center. I have seen a blind employee walking through the tunnels to get to his station. I have seen people with birth defects such as Downs Syndrone working at McDonald’s. I have seen men and women willing to walk many miles to get to work. Work is ordained by God. It was part of Adams’ responsibility in the Garden of Eden. It only became difficult after the fall. A lot of professing Christians will use whatever excuses they can to not work and live on government supports. Many of them are capable of work, but will not pursue any avenues to get work. Instead they sit around and rely on others to supply their needs and have nothing to offer to anyone else. They continuously find themselves in financial trouble, and instead of doing something that could lift them out of financial darkness, they remain where they are and complain about their circumstance. They will not have enough gas to get to a job, or they do not have enough time for interviews, but they have enough of both to get to the Social Security Office or to the food bank. As believers, we are not to look down on them or to pity them. Our role is to teach them. Teach the unbeliever like Peter did when the crippled man at the gate asked him for money. Gold and silver I do not, but what I have I give freely. He cured the man who got up and worshiped God. I am not suggesting a healing ministry, but I am saying to offer the hop of the Gospel and give it freely. To the believers that live in this lifestyle of theft, please understand I know there are people who need the support and the finances offered to them, challenge with the Scriptures. The church should not enable the unwilling. If the believer is unwilling to make a change in this area, it should be treated just the same as any other sin in the church. They need Matthew 18 discipline. Yes, to the exclusion of fellowship for unrepentance. Does this mean not to help? NO! It means that if they repent, you have won a brother. The church needs to be cautious about the levels of help and know when help has turned to hurting the needy.