Listen to the audio below:
When I was around 15, I was walking through Kmart with a friend and I heard the sound of a coin hitting the floor. I looked down and there was a silver half dollar rolling on the ground. My friend picked it up right away and we had a conversation about where it came from. Who could have dropped it? There was no one else around us. I collected coins, so I knew its value. In an unusual move my friend said, “You can have it.” At first, I was excited and grateful; but as we walked, I realized he had stolen it from my room a few hours before. I was angry and hurt that he would steal it from me. He knew how much I loved my coin collection. I thought, the next time I get in his room I’m going to steal something from him. It wasn’t long before I had the chance. When he wasn’t looking, I took his pocketknife, stuck it in my pants and took it home. Now we were even! The only problem was it bothered me all day that I stole something. The revenge was sweet for a moment, but now the guilt was killing me. I didn’t even want his knife; it was the principle of the matter. An eye for an eye! The next day when we were back in his room, I returned the knife, and he was never the wiser.
Exodus 20:15 says, “You shall not steal.” Have you ever stolen anything? If you say no, I think you may change your mind before this sermon is over. Every one of us, at some point in our lives, has taken what was not given. We’ve taken something that was not purchased, kept something that didn’t belong to us, cheated on a test when no one was watching, or destroyed something that was not ours to destroy. Have you ever cheated on your income tax, taken gum from a store, stolen a friend’s toy or pocketknife, copied software, a copyrighted piece of music, or a movie without permission?
When we were in New York City about thirty years ago, some street vendors were selling movie videos. I was looking through them, and found they had Mulan! I really liked Mulan and it was only ten bucks, so I bought it. Then I realized that Mulan was still in theaters, so I quickly dropped the video in the nearest garbage can. I had bought a pirated movie. Pocketknives, pirated movies—I was quite the thief.
Enough about me. Let’s focus on you. Have you ever taken any office supplies, someone else’s idea they worked hard to put together, stolen time from your employer, or taken all the credit for something, not just your part? Have you ever stolen a person’s innocence, lied or slandered someone and stolen their good reputation? This list could go on and on. We’ve all broken the Eighth Commandment. But as good Christians, with good hearts (I’m being sarcastic here), do we admit to it? Or repent of it and realize we have a sinful nature? No, we make excuses.
I want you to imagine standing before Jesus and giving him your reasons for stealing. Well, Lord:
Finders, keepers; losers, weepers.
Everyone cheats on their taxes.
What they don’t know won’t hurt them.
I’ve worked here for ten years; I think they owe me a pen.
They’re a billion-dollar company; I think they can afford it.
I can’t help it if the cashier can’t count the change right.
If Amazon didn’t want me to have it, they shouldn’t have delivered it to my house. They’ll bring the other person another one. It’s the cost of doing business.
I deserve it.
So, as you can see, there’s more to the Eighth Commandment than meets the eye.
And we’re just getting started. Let’s take the rest of our time and discover what God considers stealing.
1. In the Old Testament there were Laws against fraud and extortion.
Leviticus 19:13 says, “Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.”
Proverbs 11:1 says, “The LORD detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him.”
2. Embezzlement or being negligent are also considered stealing.
Leviticus 6:2-7 says, “If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the LORD by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, or if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, or if he commits any such sin that people may do—when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution in full, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the owner on the day he presents his guilt offering. And as a penalty he must bring to the priest, that is, to the LORD, his guilt offering, a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for him before the LORD, and he will be forgiven for any of these things he did that made him guilty.”
3. Failing to return something to its owner is stealing.
Deut. 22:1-4 says, “If you see your brother’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to him. If the brother does not live near you or if you do not know who he is, take it home with you and keep it until he comes looking for it. Then give it back to him. Do the same if you find your brother’s donkey or his cloak or anything he loses. Do not ignore it. If you see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it. Help him get it to its feet.”
4. Neglectful worship can also become a way that we steal from God.
We can steal by what we take, but we can also steal by what we choose to keep. In Malachi 3:8-11 God says, “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul says, “Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” Second Corinthians 9:6 says, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
One of the reasons God put His laws in place was to teach His people how to deal honestly with their neighbors. Let me share a few examples as we continue with our list.
5. God considered kidnapping a form of theft
It was stealing a person’s freedom. In the ancient world, those kidnapped were usually kept for slaves rather than for ransom. In Exodus 21:16 it says, “Anyone who kidnaps another and either sells him or still has him when he is caught must be put to death.”
Even in the direst times, if a person sold themselves into slavery to survive, it was considered stealing to take advantage of their situation. The year of jubilee prevented abuse because it was a time when those who sold themselves into the service of another were freed. In Leviticus 25:39-41 we read, “If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.”
The principle here is, don’t take advantage of the people around you. Taking advantage of anyone was considered stealing. And Israel was often guilty of taking advantage of those in need.
Job 31:16-22 says, “If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary, if I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless—but from my youth I reared them as a father would, and from my birth I guided the widow— if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing, or the needy without garments, and their hearts did not bless me for warming them with the fleece from my sheep, if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing that I had influence in court, then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint.”
Christians should never be seen as greedy people. Instead, our lives should be overflowing with kindness, generosity, and sacrifice.
And it’s not just about the rich taking advantage of the poor. Deb and I were once asked by a woman to help with an issue she was having with her boss. She was leaving the company and said that she was owed back pay and that her boss refused to pay her. He was a Christian, so both parties asked their pastors to arbitrate. In the meeting she told us that she had worked and done what was asked of her, but he would not pay her for those hours. It sounded cut and dried to me. But we came to find out that she made the minimum calls required for each day, which took about three hours, and then spent the rest of the day playing video games on her computer. Her argument was that she did what she was asked and should get paid for the hours spent on the computer regardless of what else she was doing.
Stealing time at work is breaking the Eighth Commandment. The follower of Christ is never to take advantage of others, in any way. God’s Word is clear: don’t take anything that God has commanded you not to take—another person’s possessions, reputation, or time. By now I think we all realize that stealing is more than taking a piece of candy from Kroger. We need to live in a way that honors God and is a light to the world around us.
Let me close with two reasons why I believe we steal.
First, we steal because of our lack of trust in God. Many people steal for self-preservation, but God promises to take care of those who trust in Him. Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”
Matthew 6:31-34 reminds us, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Second, we steal because of pride. We want others to think of us more highly. We desire their praise. Ecclesiastes 4:4 says, “And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
I have watched people steal all the credit for ideas because they want to be seen a certain way. The problem is, when you take all the credit, you rob God of His glory and others of their testimony. Some of the greatest God stories are forgotten and some of the best testimonies are erased because the person in power at the time has stolen all the glory for themselves.
We need to live to an audience of one. We need to realize what God knows about me is more important than what others think about me. Until we have an eternal perspective, until we care more about what God thinks than what other people think, we are never truly free, and we will never escape the temptation to steal from other people and from God.