Rule #8: Respect and don’t steal other’s property.

“You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15).

We might be tempted to think that stealing isn’t relevant to us. We know it’s wrong and we don’t do it but that just might not be the case.

I was convicted of stealing when I was in college… I was stealing and I went to a Christian college. What was I stealing do you think?… Music. I was pirating music…

There are a lot of things people do that often is not considered stealing when it really is.

So, what does God say about stealing?…

1) What does God says about stealing?

God says, “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15). So, what does it mean to steal? It means to take something that doesn’t belong to you or to receive something in an unlawful way.

Even taking supplies from the church, from a hospital, or even a hotel is stealing. I read, “one hotel reported in its first year of business having to replace thirty-eight thousand spoons, eighteen thousand tiles, three hundred and fifty-five coffee pots… one hundred Bible!”[1]

So, there is all sorts of ways that stealing happens. “You don’t need to put panty hose over your face and sneak into a house to be a thief. You can steal in broad daylight, in the marketplace, whenever you defraud or deceive. ”[2] Scripture demands honesty in all our dealings no matter how small and insignificant they may seem (see e.g. Lev. 19:35; Deut. 25:15).

Stealing is more of a problem then it might at first seem. There is stealing, for example, on both sides of credit cards. “In recent decades credit card debt has risen from five billion to more than five hundred billion dollars.”[3] Not only that, but “each year Americans spend more money on various forms of gambling than they do on food or clothing.”[4]

One catechism says, “God forbids not only outright theft and robbery, but also such wicked schemes and devices as false weights and measures, deceptive merchandising, counterfeit money, and usury; we must not defraud our neighbor in any way, whether by force or by show of right. In addition God forbids all greed and all abuse or squandering of his gifts.”[5]

The Ten Commandments are hard but good. They function like a mirror. They show us our sin.

There are a lot of problems with stealing but one of the problems is that it is a failure to trust God to provide. So, we see that keeping the eighth commandment, that we shall not steal, is a practical way that we show our faith in God.

One of the important things that we see from this commandment is that the Bible supports the concept of private property. That is, I can own things and you can own things. We see this because only something that belongs to someone else can be stolen. But, we must acknowledge that the only reason anyone owns anything is because God has enabled them to have it.

“Our property is ours, but in the mode of gift. That’s why property ‘rights’ aren’t absolute in Scripture… Farmers weren’t allowed to maximize profit from their fields but left the corners of their fields to the landless poor (Lev 19:9; 23:22)… We’re given material goods to advance God’s justice.”[6]

God owns everything and He loans out things for us to be stewards or managers of (Chron. 29:11-12; Job 41:11; Ps. 24:1; Ps. 50:10-12; 1 Cor. 4:7; Rom. 11:35). We are God’s stewards and God expects us to be faithful stewards of all He has entrusted to us.

First Peter 4:10 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of

God’s varied grace.” We must use whatever God has given us, spiritual gifts or monetary gifts, to “serve others.” Note, however, that we are “stewards of God’s varied grace,” so we cannot expect our serving to look the same. We will all steward differently depending on how God has graced us, but we must all strive to be “good stewards.”

In the Parable of the Talents (Matt. 25:14-30) the master gave his servants money to invest when he was gone and he expected a profit when he returned. If we don’t rightly invest and use what God has given to us to manage we are breaking the eighth commandment. We are essentially stealing from God.

We are to steward everything for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). Our call to be faithful stewards does not just apply to money but it is especially applicable there. We are also called to make the best use of our time (Eph. 5:15-16).

There are really three approaches to toward possessions as Jerry Bridges points out. First, some people say, “What’s yours is mine; I’ll take it.” Second, others say, “What’s mine is mine; I’ll keep it.” The Christian, third, has a different attitude. The Christian says, “What’s mine is God’s; I’ll share it.”

There are many blessings to give but one of them is every time we give we declare that money does not control us. Giving makes it clear money is not our god.[7] Money will try time and time again to climb upon the throne of our lives. Giving keeps money off the throne.

That’s what we’ll look at next.

2) What does the gospel says about stealing?

“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).

How does the good news of Jesus impact individuals, families, neighborhoods, and cities? Does the

gospel make people prideful begets? Does it make people unloving and judgmental? 

Ephesians 4:28 gives us a case study of what the impact of the good news of Jesus is supposed to have. It should change individuals. If they steal, it should change them so that they no longer do so.  In the same way, the employer who is a jerk and does not treat people well is to change and instead be kind and care for their employees. The employee is also addressed, they are to do honest work and work as unto the Lord Jesus Himself.

So, we see the thief, the employer, the employee, the soldier (Lk. 3:14), and all types of people in all sorts of positions, are exhorted to not take part in wrong and destructive practices. That is the negative command. That is the, “Don’t do…” But there is also a positive command. Something we are told we must do. And that is labor. Whoever we are and whatever we do, there is something we must do. We must engage in labor, we must do the work before us in honesty. So the Christian is to work their best whether someone is watching or no one is watching. 

Ephesians 4:28 tells us what is not to be done (for example, stealing), what is to be done (namely, honest hard work), and then it tells us why. So, why? Why is the thief to no longer steal? Is it just because stealing is bad?

No. It is more than that. Those who know Jesus are told not just to not do the right thing, they are told not just to do the right thing, they are told to actively do things for others. The thief is to no longer steal in order that they “may have something to share with anyone in need.”

As Christians, we are to not do the wrong, but do the right thing, so that we can help others. The motivation is not just that we’re supposed to be moral (and we don’t want to get in trouble with the law). The motivation goes beyond that. We are to be motivated by opportunities to bless others. 

What could be the motivation for that type of altruism? Many people act altruistically. The Christian is called to act altruistically and has the powerful example of their Lord and Savior. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

So, how does the good news of Jesus impact individuals, families, neighborhoods, and cities? It should have a huge positive impact! Christians should do what is right in whatever field they are in, they should be people of integrity who work hard, and their motivation should not be strictly for the betterment of themselves but of those in need. 

God in the mouths of the prophets and in the mouth of Jesus teaches us that we are to love Him and others. In fact, Jesus says, how can we love God and not people who are made in His image? Jesus is saying that it is a hypocritical contradiction to say we love God and not love people. 

So, we see, if one thief is transformed it impacts not just that individual. That individual, in turn, impacts their own family and those in need in their neighborhood of relationships and so even the city is blessed. The good news of Jesus ripples out to bless others. The transformation of an individual through the gospel creates a trajectory of blessing to the world.

The gospel ripples. The gospel impacts individuals, families, neighborhoods, and cities. The gospel turns burglars into benefactors.

Conclusion

The truth is, most everyone has stolen something in one way or another. If you haven’t shoplifted, perhaps you’ve pirated. If you haven’t pirated, perhaps you’ve stolen time from your employer.

And if you haven’t done any of those things, that’s great. But you have stolen. We’ve all stolen glory from God. We’ve taken praise that only belonged to Him or we’ve not given Him praise when it was His due. We’re all natural thieves of some sort.

That’s why Jesus was crucified between two criminals and in the place of criminals. He gave them, as He gives us a chance to be cleansed of the wrong we’ve done.

Thieves and swindlers have hope. Hope of radical change. Hope of salvation. I have hope. And for that I will be forever thankful.

Questions[8]

  1. What is your most valued possession? If your home was on fire and you could save one item, what would it be?
  2. What forms of stealing are considered “okay,” even by Christians?
  3. Why is stealing a sin against God?
  4. How does it change the way we think about and treat our things when we remember that everything ultimately belongs to God?
  5. How does the gospel impact the way we think about our possessions and stealing?

[1] Ryken, Written in Stone, 170.

[2] Peter Leithart, The Ten Commandments: A Guide to the Perfect Law of Liberty, 58.

[3] Ryken, Written in Stone, 173.

[4] Ryken, Written in Stone, 175.

[5] Heidelberg Catechism, A. 110.

[6] Peter Leithart, The Ten Commandments: A Guide to the Perfect Law of Liberty, 59-60.

[7] See Kent Hughes’ sermon, “Set Apart to Save: Materialism.”

[8] For questions see Ryken, Written on Stone,

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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