Commandment 8 – Do Not Steal

June 9, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

The Ten Commandments

Pentecost

Commandment 8 – Do Not Steal

Exodus 20:1-2, 15

            A schoolteacher asked her class this question: “Suppose you found a briefcase with $1 million in it, what would you do?” One little boy raised his hand and said, “If it belonged to a poor family, I would return it, otherwise I would keep it for myself.”

         Stealing comes in all forms and we are going to talk about some of those today. But just think about stealing in relation to the previous seven commandments. If you have broken the first commandment, you have stolen from God the honor that is due Him alone. If you have broken the second commandment, you have stolen from God the worship that is due Him alone.

         If you have broken the third commandment, you have stolen from God the dignity that is due Him alone. If you have broken the fourth commandment, you have stolen form God the day that belongs to God alone. If you have broken the fifth commandment, you have stolen from your parents the respect they deserve. If you have broken the sixth commandment, you have stolen another person’s life. If you have broken the seventh commandment, you have stolen another person’s mate.         This one commandment, “You shall not steal” encompasses all the other commandments. This commandment is completely open-ended. It doesn’t even hint at what it is we are forbidden to steal. Which means that we cannot take anything that belongs to another person.

         In Ephesians 4:28, Paul tell us how we can come into any property of our own. “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.” Paul said whatever you have, you have because you either earned it by working, you received it as a gift, or you stole it from someone else. So, anything that you have that you have not earned, or received as a gift or an inheritance, you have stolen, and therefore you are a thief. There is more than one way you can steal from others. More about that in a moment, but first, would you pray with me?

PRAYER

         As I said a moment ago, this eighth commandment, “Do not steal,” is unique in that it is the only commandment that is completely open-ended. All the other commandments are specific. For example, the Fifth Commandment states that it is our parents whom we should honor. The Sixth Commandment, prohibiting murder, is about taking the life of an innocent human being. The Seventh Commandment, prohibiting adultery, is also specific, to a married person. But this eighth commandment against stealing doesn’t even hint at what it is we are forbidden to steal. Which means that we cannot take anything that belongs to another person. So this leads us to four big categories of what we are not to steal.

         First and foremost, the commandment against stealing has always been understood to mean that we are not allowed to steal another human being, what we call kidnapping. In his book The Ten Commandments, Dennis Prager writes this: “…no one who [has] even an elementary understanding of the Eighth Commandment could ever use the Bible to justify the most common form of slavery – the kidnapping of human beings and selling them into slavery. Critics of the Bible,” he says, “argue that the Bible allowed slavery. But the type of slavery described was in almost all cases what was known as indentured servitude, the selling of oneself to another person for a fixed period of time in order to work off a debt. This had nothing to do with kidnapping free people – such as was done in Africa and elsewhere. That was expressly forbidden by the Eighth Commandment.”

         Even today, we still have the kidnapping of men, women, and children who are sold into sexual slavery, forced labor, and forced marriage right here in the United States and abroad. A report from The Guardian website estimates that over 400,000 people are living in ‘modern slavery’ in the United States. Globally, it reports that there are an estimated 40.3 million people defined as being enslaved, with most living in Asia. Stealing another human being has to be the most offensive of all the categories of stealing.

         The second significant category of the commandment against stealing is the sanctity of people’s property. Just as we are forbidden to steal people, we are forbidden to steal what people own. It has been shown over and over that private property, beginning with land ownership, is indispensable to creating a free and decent society. Every totalitarian regime around the world has begun their rule by taking away private property rights. Theft of property quickly results in theft of freedom, and ultimately massive theft of life.

         Much of the Old Testament law, especially as found in the Book of Leviticus, is given to the regulation of the right of personal possessions and property so that the Israelites would know exactly how to conduct business with one another, and how to respect one another’s dignity by respecting one another’s property. The laws dealt with boundary lines, real estate transactions, weights and measures, business ethics, and laws of inheritance. God wanted his people to live righteously with one another.

         The right of personal property is essential for personal security and for the continuation of family. Just as we learned a couple weeks ago that murder was treated as an assault upon the dignity of the Creator, so too, we must understand that taking another’s property is an assault upon that person’s dignity as one who was made in the image of God.

         In our everyday economics and business here in the United States we have institutionalized stealing and thievery. Any goods you buy at any of the many stores have a cost built into the product for those goods that are stolen on a daily basis from that store. Walmart loses $3 billion a year from theft. Many times, these thieves steal items from Walmart and then bring them back to the return counter for cash.

         During the many years of the Soviet Union under communist rule, thievery was often the only way its residents could survive. Taking care of one’s family necessitated stealing. In his book Words from the Fire, Albert Mohler, Jr. tells “the story of the Soviet factory worker who day after day attempted to steal items from his workplace.” I’m sure none of us have ever done that! “Every single day, he took a wheelbarrow filled with factory items, and every day as he left, he got caught. Cylinders, iron ore, tools – his goal was to steal the items in order to sell them for cash for his family. Day after day, the attempted thievery was stopped, and the stuff was taken away from him.”

         “Finally, it came to be his last day at the factory. The commissar was waiting for him to come out with the contraband. He got to the door of the factory, and sure enough, they pulled back the cover from the wheelbarrow and there was stuff. They confiscated it and said to him, “You are a fool! We caught you every single day. You got away with nothing!”

         “Sir, Mr. Commissar,” he answered, “you are the fool. I have been stealing wheelbarrows.”

         But this type of institutionalized stealing is not all. There’s securities fraud which costs the American economy billions a year. There’s tax fraud, insurance fraud, Internet fraud, identity theft, plagiarism, copyright violation, unlawful downloading, and the list goes on. Probably each one of us here has stolen in some fashion or another. We even have the capabilities now to steal from people half way around the world whom we will never see. This type of thievery destroys the trust of society. Just think how insecure you are now about your bank accounts, credit cards, checkbooks, and personal finances. When personal property is stolen, all trust is lost.

         The third category of stealing this commandment finds important is the stealing of the many non-material things each person owns: their reputation, their dignity, their trust, and their intellectual property.

         As Prager writes in his book, “stealing a person’s good name – whether through libel, slander, or gossip – is a particularly destructive form of theft. Because, unlike money or property, once a person’s good name has been stolen, it can almost never be fully restored.”

         Stealing a person’s dignity is known as humiliation. And humiliating a person, especially in public, can do permanent damage to what is perhaps the most precious thing any of us owns – our dignity.

         Stealing a person’s trust is known as deceiving someone. One example is tricking people into buying something, as when a real estate agent omits telling a prospective purchaser all the flaws in a home, in order to make a sale. Or when someone deceives another person with insincere proclamations of love in order to obtain material or sexual favors.

         And lastly, there is the stealing of a person’s intellectual property. This form of theft includes anything from copying software or downloading music and movies without paying for them, to stealing a person’s words, what we know as plagiarism.

         The fourth and final category is stealing from God. This is the ultimate theft. Our modern-day churches and its members hardly seem to understand it, to embrace it, and to live it. The prophet Malachi asked, “Would you rob God?” and our honest answer must be, “Yes, we do.” As Mohler writes, “We rob God of the praise due His name. We rob God of the worship that is His proper expectation. We rob God of time and talent that we invest in lesser things. We rob God of possessions and money. We rob God of our priorities and our passions. In all these ways and more, we rob our Creator.”

         Folks, we can rob God in two ways: by our talents and spiritual gifts and with our tithe. Every Christian has at least one spiritual gift. You and I are duty bound to use that gift in the service of Christ. If you can sing, and you do not sing in the choir, you are a thief. If you can teach, but you refuse to teach a Sunday School class, you are a thief. If you have a gift that can be used in the service of this church, and you are sitting on your hands doing nothing, you are a thief. You see, you are keeping for yourself what rightly belongs to God. You can steal not only by taking something that does not belong to you, but by failing to use something that has been given to you to be used for the glory of God.

         As for tithing, church members have been robbing God for years. The average Methodist only gives 1-2% of their income to the work of the church. It is amazing how people want to get spiritual and quote scripture when anyone mentions the concept of tithing. They say things like: “The tithe was taught in the Old Testament, not in the New Testament; we are under law, we are not under grace; we are Christians, we are not Jews.”

         Just think about that for a moment. Any Christian who would let a Jew give more under the law than he would under grace, is a disgrace to grace. Because it is through grace, and through Christ’s dying on a cross that we are truly saved. We deserve eternal death, but through Christ and his grace, we have been given eternal life. Can you tell me in all honesty that is not worth the tithe?

         I heard about a robber who walked into a bank and passed a note to the teller that said, “Give me all of your money, this is a stick-up.” The teller passed a note back to the robber that said, “Straighten your tie, stupid, they’re taking your picture.” Folks, God’s camera is always rolling. Proverbs 15:3 says this: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”

         Folks, we must recognize that when we read the Eighth Commandment, we read this commandment as thieves. We are robbers, and we steal. Mohler writes, “Let us remember that when Jesus was crucified, on His right and on His left were two thieves. The only difference was that one was redeemed, and the other was not – and it remains so today.” God said, “You shall not steal.”

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