“Thou shalt not steal.” Exodus 20:15
“Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” Ephesians 4:28
Traveling down the freeway one day, I was looking for an exit ramp. I just needed to stretch my legs, run around the car a few times, and then I would be back on my way. To my relief, I saw signs in the distance that I knew meant an exit was coming up. But my relief turned to disappointment, as I saw this sign: “No freeway entrance this exit.” In other words, if I got off here, I would have to take a detour to find another road with a freeway entrance.
Young people, that reminded me of what happens when we get off The Way of Thankful Obedience, onto any of the other roads or lanes that we have spoken of. We might think to ourselves, “I’ll only be off for a moment, then I’ll get right back on again.” In fact, if we sin willfully, we will not find ourselves able or willing to live to God’s glory again, unless we first acknowledge and repent of our sin, and seek grace from Christ to live in obedience to God again.
So it is now with the exit to Stealing Street. It seems to intersect with The Way of Thankful Obedience often. Satan entices us so often to obtain or use our possessions in a wrong way, that we might think: “It’s OK. If I get off on Stealing Street, I can get right back on The Way of Thankful Obedience again.” But if we should actually get off, we find that, having stolen once…and gotten away with it…we think of other ways to steal…and actually do steal more often…and soon all we can think about is stealing.
Enticing us to steal is one more way in which Satan tries to prevent us from reaching our goal. So God, in His grace to His people, reminds us that we should not steal; and that if we should steal willfully, He will withhold from us the consciousness of His love and favor, until we confess our sin and turn from it.
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But how many opportunities we have to steal! As our Heidelberg Catechism reminds us in Lord’s Day 42, stealing doesn’t necessarily require a gun and a gang; often we violate the eighth commandment in many “small” ways.
I see my mother’s purse. Think she would miss a couple of bucks?
I’m selling my car. Do I ask a fair price, or a price far beyond its real worth? And am I ready to tell prospective buyers that, although the car looks very nice, it needs brakes badly?
I’m working at my job, after school. The boss is gone home for the day. Do I slack off, take it easy, get by until closing with just the least amount of effort?
I’ve found $100 lying on the sidewalk. Do I even make an attempt to find the rightful owner?
Dad gave me a dollar to put in the collection plate at catechism. Does it get in there?
I’m at a store, and I see a piece of candy that I want—can I sneak it without anyone seeing it?
To steal is to try to make someone else’s possession mine, in a wrong way. The right way to obtain my boss’ possessions (money) is to work hard for it. The right way to obtain merchandise is to pay a fair value for it. The wrong way is to take it without giving a fair value—whether that be forcefully, or sneakily. In fact, the words “steal” or “thievery” usually indicate a sneaky attempt, while the word “rob” indicates a more forceful attempt.
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The child of God may not steal.
Nor may the citizen of the USA! Even the world recognizes that stealing is not good. We don’t like it when others steal from us; so we should not steal from them. And, to protect our liberty and freedom, it is important that we not steal.
But the child of God has this additional reason: to steal is to show ingratitude for what God has given us.
For the fact is that God supplies all our material needs, everything that we need to serve Him on earth. He gives us food, drink, shelter, clothing, etc—in the amount that He wishes us to have. He gives these things either by work (we earn them) or gifts (we are freely given them). To some He gives much; to others little. But to all He gives what is necessary to carry out His purpose for our life.
This being true, to steal shows our discontentment with and ingratitude for that which God has given us. We want more—not for God’s glory, but our own use. This leads us to plot how we can get more possessions, without putting forth energy or parting with our money.
All this is fine, you say—but what if I truly don’t have enough? First, remember that none who covet think they have enough. Only if we are content, by God’s grace, will we ever say we have enough. Second, if in fact one is not able to meet one’s needs by honest work, one must remember that for such instances God has provided our families or the deacons of His church to help us—and we must be ready to seek help from those sources.
But we may not steal. Gratitude to God for saving us in Christ will prevent us from stealing.
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The eighth commandment also has positive implications.
First, we must be content with our possessions. Paul reminds Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain” (I Tim. 6:6), and then reminds him of the need to manifest that contentment in his life: “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (vs. 8). Timothy is reminded of these things, because as pastor he must teach the people to be content, and set a proper example in his own life.
Second, we must work according to our abilities and opportunities, to provide for our own needs. Not only does Ephesians 4:28, quoted above, teach this; but other passages as well, such as II Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
Third, we must be ready to give of our possessions for the service of God and His kingdom, and for the needs of the poor. Jesus teaches this, when He speaks of the heathen seeking after food, drink, and clothing; and then tells His disciples “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Luke 12:31). They may give freely to the causes of the kingdom, remembering that God knows what earthly things they have need of (vs. 30). Also Ephesians 4:28, quoted above, reminds us that we must be ready to give of our possessions for those in need.
Fourth, we must remember that our true riches are in heaven, and none can steal them from us! These are the riches of salvation that Christ earned for us on the cross, begins to bestow upon us now during our earthly life, and will bestow on us completely in the new creation. But those who steal in this life, without repenting, will have no such riches—for thieves do not inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9-10).
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So, young people, what is your destination?
If it is your own pleasure in this life, and hell in the next, no doubt you will steal. Stealing Street will get you to your destination. If it is God’s glory in this life, and heaven in the next, you may not steal; it is inconsistent with a thankful walk of obedience to God.
What if you have stolen? Is there an entrance onto The Way of Thankful Obedience again? There is!
It requires something of a detour, as we have noted before—we cannot get back on that way ourselves; but must use God’s way. We must repent of our sins, and confess them, and steal no more!
I can think of a beautiful illustration of this truth, that the child of God who breaks the eighth commandment can certainly, in the way of sorrow and repentance, find forgiveness, and enjoy the pleasures of heaven. Two thieves hung on crosses. Both had willfully and blatantly broken the eighth commandment. But one repented! And to him said Jesus: “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
For Christ died to save thieves!
How grateful I am—for indeed, I know my past thefts. Young people, are you grateful too?