You Shall Not Steal

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Exodus 20:15

INTRODUCTION: Please turn in your Bibles to Exodus 20. Our message series is called “The Ten Commandments for Today,” and today we reach the eighth commandment.

“You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15)

(Hold up keys) How would you like to get rid of these? I think just the fact that we all carry keys around with us all the time is one of the most powerful arguments for sinful human nature. If we are all basically good, why do we carry keys? Wouldn’t life be simpler without them?

Stealing is a very common sin. It is certainly the most common crime. Why are most people who are in jail in jail? Because of stealing. Even little children steal. We do not need to teach them how to do this, but we do need to teach them early on that stealing is wrong.

I well remember all the looting that took place in Homestead, FL in the days and weeks after Hurricane Andrew. People painted large signs on the outsides of their damaged homes: “You loot, I shoot!” We heard gunshots at night and were very grateful for the National Guardsmen patrolling our streets and neighborhoods.

Stealing is one of the sins that is most recognized as wrong by a great number of people. All societies have laws against stealing, because you cannot have a society where stealing is tolerated. Not stealing is one of the primary examples of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Why is stealing so common? Because everyone wants something for nothing. I read about a man who was selling his boat and trailer for $500 but he got no offers. So he changed the ad to read: “Boat for $500; I will throw in the trailer for free.” He sold it the very next day! Why? Because we all want to get something for nothing. Let someone else do the work, and let me get the profit! And that’s why stealing is such a common sin.

I. The meaning of the commandment

    A. Property and ownership (Psalm 24:1; Luke 16:10-13)

Let’s talk first of all about the meaning of the commandment. It all begins with property and ownership. When it comes to property and ownership, the Bible teaches what we call “stewardship.” In a communist system the state owns property. In a capitalist system the individual owns property. Biblical stewardship says, “God owns everything, and thus the state and the individual are both accountable to God.

Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Jesus spoke about stewardship in Luke 16. He said, “If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” (Luke 16:11-12)

    B. Respect for another person’s property (Isaiah 61:8)

So the Bible begins with the principle that God really owns it all and that we are accountable to him for how we manage our possessions. That leads to the second principle, which is respect for another person’s property. God says in Isaiah 61:8: “For I, the LORD, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity.” Respect for another person’s property when it comes to stealing means two things: 1) Do not take what belongs to someone else. And 2) Do not withhold what rightfully belongs to someone else. As J.I. Packer writes, “It is not God’s will for us to have anything that we cannot obtain by honorable means.”

II. The different ways that we steal

Let’s talk next about how we break this commandment. What are some of the different ways that we steal? Gallup Polls show that Americans are growing more religious and less moral. And this is never more evident than when it comes to the subject of stealing. Although everyone acknowledges that direct theft is wrong, many people do not see anything wrong with more subtle types of stealing. So let’s look at some of the ways the Bible says that we steal.

First of all, we have the big three: theft, robbery and extortion. Exodus 20:15 and Deuteronomy 5:19 both state the general commandment, “You shall not steal,” while Ezekiel 22:29 speaks of extortion and robbery. Have you ever had someone steal from you? I have had money stolen from my wallet a number of times. Once when Ramón was just a baby, Rose and I came back to our car to find that someone had stolen our car seat! That was nice – how were we supposed to drive Ramón home now? Shoplifting is another way that people practice theft. It is also wrong to knowingly receive stolen goods from someone else – even if it means you get a really good price! Illegal downloading of music over the internet is another common form of theft today.

A second way of stealing is by kidnapping or selling a person into slavery. In either case you are stealing a person’s liberty. Kidnapping carried the death penalty under Old Testament law. Exodus 21:16 says, “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.”

Stealing from employers is a very common way that people steal. Titus 2:9-10 was originally written to slaves and their masters, but it applies equally well to workers and their employers today. “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”

So, what are some of the ways that we steal from our employers? Embezzling funds; padding your expense report; wrongfully taking materials or services, such as taking office items or tools or making unauthorized phone calls; and then probably the biggest one of all nowadays, stealing time – either by loafing or calling in “sick,” leaving early or arriving late. As Christians we should give an honest day’s work for a day’s wage. Otherwise we are stealing from our employers.

How about employers stealing from employees? Yes, that happens too. Jeremiah 22:13 says, “Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.” James 5:4 condemns those employers who fail to pay their workmen their wages. Unjust wages or withholding pay are both ways that employers can steal from employees. Just as workers should give their employers an honest day’s work for a day’s wage, so employers should give their workers an honest day’s wage for a day’s work!

Another way people steal is by refusing to work for a living. This is stealing from society. Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 3: “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’ Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12)

Another way we steal is through rip-offs and false measures. Proverbs 11:1 says, “The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.” Job 24:2 describes men moving boundary stones. Amos 8:5 speaks about “skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales.” So how do we do this today? We do it when we short-change our customers. We do it when the cashier gives us extra change, and we pocket the difference. We do it when we overprice either goods or services to take advantage of a person’s ignorance or perhaps a crisis situation, such as in price gouging after a hurricane.

Failure to pay debts is another way that we can steal. Romans 13:8 says, “Let no debt remain outstanding.” Psalm 37:21 says, “The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously.” When we default on our bills or loans, we are stealing. Some people look to bankruptcy as a way to escape their obligations. But even if a person has to declare bankruptcy for financial considerations beyond his control, he should still seek to repay all his debtors over time. We also fail to pay our debts when we fail to return something that we have borrowed, especially if we do so intentionally! Proverbs 3:28 says, “Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow’ — when you now have it with you.” Do you have anything in your possession that doesn’t belong to you that you need to return to someone else?

Tax evasion is yet another way that we can steal. When Jesus was asked about paying taxes, he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17) Romans 13:7 says, “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes.” Do you want to know how to wipe out the national deficit? How about if everybody just paid their back taxes! Of course, then we’d all probably be on welfare, right? Cheating on your taxes is a form of stealing and a violation of the eighth commandment.

This next one overlaps with the ninth commandment a little bit, but fraud of any kind also violates the eighth commandment. Leviticus 19:13 relates fraud with stealing: “Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him.” So how do we steal by means of fraud? When we misuse funds and call it “cost overrides.” When we commit insurance fraud in order to collect funds that are not due to us. My brother-in-law Stephen works in life insurance investigations for John Hancock, and boy can he tell you some stories about insurance fraud. Other common ways of stealing by fraud include: scam artists who bilk people out of their money, whether in person over the phone of over the internet; identity theft; misrepresentation of goods or services; cheating on tests or taxes; plagiarism. I like what jazz guitarist Howard Roberts said about plagiarism: “If you steal from only one guy it’s plagiarism; if you steal from two or more it’s research!” (Howard Roberts, Jazz guitarist) But these are all ways that we steal from others by committing fraud.

Okay, I’ve got two more here. Charging excessive interest. In Exodus 22:25 God instructed the Israelites: “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest.” Proverbs 28:8 says, “He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor.”

And finally, malicious gossip and rumor. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches.” When you slander a person, you are basically stealing their good reputation, which is something of great value.

III. Robbing God

How about robbing God? Have you ever thought about the fact that you can rob God? Malachi 3 speaks about robbing God by failing to pay our tithes and offerings. God says, “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings.” (Malachi 3:8) We owe God the first portion of our pay, and when we do not give God his due, we are robbing God.

But robbing God is far more than just financial. We can also rob God by living a hypocritical life. Jeremiah 7 says, “Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury … and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, ‘We are safe’ — safe to do all these detestable things?” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” We rob God of glory when we pretend to live for him and yet are really living hypocritical lives.

We also rob God of his due by living for self instead of for God. Romans 12:1 says “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship,” or as some translations say, “your reasonable act of worship.” God is God. He is your creator and redeemer, and you should live your life for him. That is your reasonable act of worship. Otherwise you are robbing God of that which is due him.

So, those are some of the ways according to the Bible that we steal. We could probably come up with more. But I think it is safe to say that we have all broken the eighth commandment. We have stolen from other people, and we have robbed God of his due. We have not treated other people the way we would have them treat us. We are all sinners in need of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ his Son.

IV. Consequences of stealing

What does the Bible say about the consequences of stealing?

Briefly, stealing angers God and provokes his wrath. In Joshua 7 we read how the entire armies of Israel were defeated because just one of their members stole from the plunder.

Stealing deprives another of his due. We already looked at the problem of defrauding your neighbor in Leviticus 19:13. Stealing places an unnecessary financial burden on individuals and society.

Stealing brings shame and disgrace to the thief. Jeremiah 2:26 says, “A thief is disgraced when he is caught.”

Stealing leads to deception, lies and greater sins. Judas stole from the money bag, and later went on to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (John 12:4-6).

Another consequence of stealing is that you must face the penalty of the law. Romans 13:3 says, “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right.”

Another consequence of stealing is that your family may suffer economic hardship. Proverbs 6:30-31 says, “Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house.”

And then finally, God makes it clear in his word that when you steal, you will lose what you gained anyways. Psalm 62:10 says, “Do not trust in extortion or take pride in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” Proverbs 13:11 says, “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.” You will always lose by stealing; you will never gain. What goes around comes around. You can cheat men, but you can never fool God, and one way or another God will make sure that you will lose when you steal.

V. Repentance and full restitution

What does the Bible say you should do if you have stolen? The Bible teaches repentance and full restitution. Full restitution was required under the law. (Numbers 5:5-7) Not only that, but the Bible teaches that full restitution goes above and beyond what was taken. Listen to these instructions in Exodus 22: “If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep … A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft. If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession — whether ox or donkey or sheep — he must pay back double.” (Exodus 22:1-4; see also Leviticus 6:1-7)

In fact, the Bible tells us that true repentance results in full restitution. Do you remember Zacchaeus, the very short tax collector who stole from the people? Zacchaeus demonstrated his true repentance when he stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke 19:8) In Ireland during the Belfast Revival of 1922-1923, the converted shipyard workers brought back so many stolen tools, they had to build new storage sheds just to hold them! The shipping companies finally had to make an announcement: “Please stop bringing back stolen goods; we have no more room for them!” Now that is a sign of true repentance!

VI. Positive corollary – Work for the things you obtain! (Ephesians 4:28)

Finally, we have said that each of the negatively phrased commandments has a positive corollary in Scripture. The positive corollary for “You shall not steal” is found in Ephesians 4:28: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”

There are three important positive applications that we can draw from this verse as relates to no longer stealing.

1) Do honest work for an honest wage. We are all called to work in one way or another. Whether you work at home or at the office, in computer or in construction, in math or in medicine, working for a wage or working to maintain a home, we are all called to work hard and to work well to the glory of God.

2) Do something useful. Ephesians 4 says, “Do something useful.” Make sure that the work you do provides something good and beneficial and useful to society. For example, if your work is drug smuggling, you may be a hard worker, but you are not helping others with your work.

3) Work so that you may be able to share with others in need. Instead of refusing to work and then either stealing or relying on other people to help you with your needs, you should work hard to provide for your family and for the needs of others. There may be times when you are unable to work, and then you will need the help of others. But as long as you are able, you should work so that you may have something to share with those in need.

The bottom line? Don’t steal from others to take for yourself; rather work so that you may be able to give to others from yourself.

That is what God did for us. He sent his Son into the world to do the work of salvation for us that we could not do for ourselves. Remember we said people steal because they want something for nothing? Well, there is another way that we can get something for nothing that is good and that does not involve stealing. It is called “receiving a gift.”

Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Salvation is a free gift from God. You cannot work for it, you cannot steal it, you cannot earn it, you don’t deserve it, but God gives you the free gift of eternal life when you put your faith and trust in his Son Jesus Christ who died for you. Will you trust him today?

© Ray Fowler

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