The Ten Commandments have an amazing ability to instruct us in all areas of life. They cover ethical categories that span so much of our day-to-day existence.
God knows that we need help understanding how to live as his subjects. He could have just told us to live as though he is Creator and we his creatures. But, he breaks it down for us.
We still need help putting this into practice. So, God breaks it down even more for us in the 10 commandments.
The Law and the Prophets often take these Commandments and get down to the nitty-gritty to apply them to our daily life situations.
Finally, Jesus often takes these commands and takes us deeper into the heart of the matter. “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…”
We tend to initially read each of these commands in their narrowest sense—perhaps out of a lack of understanding for how these commands relate to the many laws and precepts of the Old and New Testaments—or perhaps to justify ourselves. Yet, if we’ll allow them to speak holistically and comprehensively, we will see the glory of God’s wisdom, find ourselves falling short of his perfection, and be freshly motivated to call out for God’s mercy.
I’m not sure what flashes into your mind when you consider the command, “You Shall Not steal.” Perhaps you call to mind all of the Westerns you watched as a kid with the bad guys robbing a stage coach. Or, you may remember all the many ways you try to communicate to your children NOT to take what doesn’t belong to them. In the McLeod home, you might hear a four-year-old repeating something like, “If it’s not yours, don’t touch it.” Or, it might be the video clips on social media or the evening news showing all of the looting that is going on in our current-day societal unrest.
There is nothing new under the sun. For all societies throughout human history the commandment regarding stealing has been relevant. The Bible has a LOT to say about how to carry out this command.
We would do well in our severely materialistic world to pay attention to what God is saying to us in the 8th Commandment. It’s not just about Hollywood; and, it’s not just about those who blatantly disregard the laws of the land. It’s about diligence, hard work, dealing fairly with others, paying your debts, justice for the oppressed, and trusting God for provision.
Our outline will be fairly simple this morning.
Let’s begin by reading the 2nd Table of the Commandments
Deuteronomy 5:16–21 (ESV)
We could make the case that the 8th commandment was broken from the very beginning of Man’s knowledge of sin. Eve and Adam took the forbidden fruit that was not theirs to take. They had dominion over the whole garden, but …
Specifically, God prohibited them from eating the fruit. When Satan tempted Eve, she added that she was not even supposed to touch it.
It doesn’t take long in the history of the world for stealing to come into the picture. And, it has been with us ever since.
One principle we should consider briefly here is that this command implies that there is such thing as property ownership. You are not to steal your neighbors property. It belongs to him and not to you. You do not have equal claims on it.
You quickly learn in society, or even through simple parenting, that a proper understanding of ownership is necessary to enforce God’s command not to steal, or even to teach a proper emphasis on sharing. The reason that “I had the light saber first” isn’t a sufficient answer is because it actually belongs to someone. And though a family or co-op might share some property, out understandings of fairness, justice, and generosity actually depend on the idea of personal property ownership.
We should add to this, however, that a Christian rightly understands “ownership” as stewardship. J.I. Packer helps us see this.
Behind the commandment lies the Bible’s view of property—namely, that ownership is stewardship. By human law, my property is that which I own and may dispose of as I wish, as distinct from that which I am merely allowed to use as borrower or trustee, under conditions that the owner imposes. Bible-believers, however, know that what human law says I own—my money, goods, legal rights, and titles—I actually hold as God’s trustee.
- J. I. Packer, Keeping the Ten Commandments, 89–90.
The true starting point for our understanding of property, stewardship, stealing, sharing, etc. is that God owns it all.
Psalm 24:1 (ESV) — The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,
I would like us to briefly consider several aspects of our modern American culture that work to erode a biblical understanding of property, ownership, and neighbor-love.
Secretly taking something without owners knowledge
We might think we’re okay because we haven’t robbed a bank. But, the Bible goes much further in what it prohibits and what it requires.
The laws in the Old Testament actually take this command further, beyond a prohibition of taking what’s not yours—to proactively taking care to ensure your neighbor does not lose his property.
Deuteronomy 22:1–4 (ESV) — “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him.
And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.
This goes beyond merely avoiding taking what belongs to your neighbor. God is actually placing some responsibility on us to look out for our neighbors property interests as if they were our own.
There is one more kind of theft being forbidden in the 8th commandment. Interestingly, the first commentary I read on the subject made the claim that this is the main point of the command, that is, a prohibition of manstealing or kidnapping.
The commandment, unlike the more general legislation on theft, is concerned specifically with relationships between persons within the covenant community, rather than with property. Thus the primary prohibition of the commandment is against manstealing, or something akin to kidnapping…
- Peter C. Craigie, NICOT, 161.
This sin is further described in Deuteronomy 24.
Deuteronomy 24:7 (ESV) — “If a man is found stealing one of his brothers of the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.
As we will consider later, the punishment for most cases of theft in the Old Testament involved financial restitution. However, the punishment for stealing a person to enslave or sell them was the death penalty.
This is seen in Exodus 21 as well.
Exodus 21:16 (ESV) — “Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.
Paul lists “enslavers” as one of the groups of lawless and disobedient sinners in 1 Timothy 1 for which the law was given.
We have looked at some of the direct applications of the 8th commandment, which can be summarized by “do not take what does not belong to you,” and, “look out for the interest of your neighbor as well.”
Now, I’d like us to expand our application a bit to how we are commanded to deal honestly and justly with others.
We’ll look at this in several sub-points.
We must remember that broadly speaking, stealing has to do with more than simply taking what belongs to another. It also involves withholding what is due to another. This is often done through being dishonest in work or commerce.
John Calvin says it this way:
It follows, therefore, that not only are those thieves who secretly steal the property of others, but those also who seek for gain from the loss of others, accumulate wealth by unlawful practices, and are more devoted to their private advantage than to equity.
- John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses, pp. 110–111
I should acknowledge that there are many different kinds of work and employment. Some of us are paid hourly; some salaried. Some of you are self-employed or business owners. There are many levels of complexity for how to measure productivity or faithful work. And, add to this that many of you have been working from home or in some new arrangement where expectations are less clear.
However, the basic idea is here that if you are paid for something, either your time or some product, you are stealing from your employer or customer if you do not deliver what was paid for.
It’s helpful to call it what it is. You’re not just being a tad bit lazy or undisciplined. It’s not okay just because everybody is doing it. In a real sense, you are withholding what belongs to your neighbor. You are stealing.
One of the articles that I read in preparation for this sermon was by Jonathan Edwards. It is titled “DISHONESTY; OR, THE SIN OF THEFT AND OF INJUSTICE.” If you don’t mind bearing with me through a couple of long, complex sentences, I think you’ll really appreciate this quote. I’ve changed it from 3rd person to make it a bit more readable.
You violate this command, in withholding what belongs to your neighbor, when you are not faithful in any business which you have undertaken to do for your neighbor.
If your neighbor hired you to labour for him for a certain time, and you were not careful to manage your time well… as you have reason to think that he who hired justly expected of you;
or if you were hired to accomplish such a piece of work, and are not careful to do it well… or as you would have others do for you…
or if you are entrusted with any particular affair, which you undertake, but use not that care, contrivance, and diligence, to manage it so as will be to the advantage of him who entrusts you…
in all these cases you unjustly withhold what belongs to your neighbor.
- Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, 221.
Or to say it much more simply from the book of Proverbs:
Proverbs 18:9 (ESV) — Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.
I’m not appealing for us all to become workaholics, and I’m not saying there aren’t times to renegotiate a contract.
I am simply exhorting us that we be faithful and honest in our work. We should be careful hiding behind efficiency and productivity language if what’s really happening is that we are not providing the expected benefit to our employer.
You may be in the opposite position. Perhaps you’re the employer, and your employees are working hard, doing more than is required, or simply doing their job really well. Are you holding up your end of the bargain?
Colossians 3:23–24 (ESV) — Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
Like working honestly, there are many factors to how we do commerce and business. But, we must remember that the Bible actually has a lot to say about how we go about it.
Deuteronomy 25:13–15 (ESV) — “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
In our present day, this is a call for truth in advertising. You weren’t allowed to have unequal weights and measures, which would enable you to sell something for more than it was worth, or to sell it for more than you would get if the buyer knew the truth.
When you are selling your product, do you deceptively hide its defects or faults that, if the buyer knew, he wouldn’t pay as much, or perhaps wouldn’t purchase at all?
Or are you like this buyer in Proverbs 20:14?
Proverbs 20:14 (ESV) — “Bad, bad,” says the buyer, but when he goes away, then he boasts.
This buyer is wheeling and dealing, but going too far. He is trying to deceive the seller as a tactic, and then telling his friends what a great deal he got.
The point isn’t that we should pay more than something is worth, or sell something as cheaply as possible. What God is calling us to is honesty.
Proverbs 21:6 (ESV) — The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
For the borrower: this isn’t a point about whether or not we should borrow money, though that’s a great discussion to have. We should simply make the point that borrowing and NOT repaying is stealing. It is keeping back from your neighbor what rightfully belongs to him.
Psalm 37:21 (ESV) — The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives;
Now, you might hear that and assume I’m referring to bankruptcy or some financial crisis.
Maybe the issue is that you regularly ask your friends for some lunch money at Chick-fil-a, and you just never pay them back.
For the Lender: be reminded that we should not take advantage of those in crisis or significant need. There’s plenty of profit to be made by taking advantage of those in financial poverty. The Lord warns us against such activity.
Proverbs 22:22–23 (ESV) — Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the LORD will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them.
So far, we have dealt with many positive and negative behavioral commands having to do with “You Shall Not Steal.”
Let’s turn now to address the heart issues at stake.
We’ll be wrestling with more heart issues with regard to possessions when we get to the 10th Commandment—You Shall Not Covet. But, we can address some specific heart issues today with regard to stealing.
There is a very spiritual side to this command. Our motivations for breaking it may rooted in simple selfishness or pride, but at a deeper level it is often rooted in a lack of faith in God’s provision.
So, how do we turn from our unfaithful ways to trust in God and obedience to this command?
First comes confession and repentance. Acknowledge that your actions have transgressed God’s command. And, I would encourage you to acknowledge the heart issues as well, whether that be selfishness, pride, or lack of faith.
But, with this particular sin, there are often more steps to take after confession to God.
I mentioned earlier that the Old Testament had different punishments for stealing based on the actual offense.
In other words, it’s not just saying, “I’m sorry.”
Repentance for some sins is difficult to measure. But with stealing, at least part of repentance is very measurable. Making restitution does not guarantee that there has been heartfelt repentance, but it does indicate some real change of direction.
Restitution in the Old Testament usually means restoring back more than one stole or cheated.
Exodus 22:7 (ESV) — “If a man gives to his neighbor money or goods to keep safe, and it is stolen from the man’s house, then, if the thief is found, he shall pay double.
We also get a New Testament example to follow with Zacchaeus. He not only confessed his sins to God, but also made restitution to those he defrauded and was generous with the rest of his wealth.
Jonathan Edwards makes the importance of restitution clear as well.
A man who hath gotten any thing from another wrongfully, goes on to wrong him every day that he neglects to restore it, when he has opportunity to do it.
- Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, 226.
Edwards had a whole section of his article dealing with unbiblical excuses for stealing.
Though repentance and restitution put one on the right path with regard to the 8th Commandment. There is still more work to do.
We’ve talked about how stealing is an afront to God’s careful provision in our lives. But, we should also acknowledge that it is the opposite of his character.
As his children, we are to reflect God’s generosity and selflessness toward others.
The Apostle Paul’s example and exhortation are compelling that we should learn to be content and then practice generosity.
Acts 20:34–35 (ESV) — You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
1 Timothy 6:6–9 (ESV) — But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
1 Timothy 6:17–18 (ESV) — As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,
To the Ephesians
Ephesians 4:28 (ESV) — 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.
Paul’s answer is not just restoring, but giving generously.
Hebrews 10:34 (ESV) — For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
Jesus never stole. There was never any deceit in his mouth. He left everything to condescend to us so that he might rescue us.
He perfectly obeyed the Law of God. And he is ready to forgive those who look alone to him for righteousness.
Trust him, and love your neighbor practically and generously.
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