Summary: The eigth commandment not only prohibits stealing but also promotes stewardship and trust.
“Law & Order: SPU - Doing Something Useful”
Ex. 20:15; Eph. 4:25-28; Heb. 13:5-6
It remains still today as one of the most difficult, emotional times in my ministry. A well-liked, loyal member of the church was caught stealing from the offerings – not once but numerous times over a period of months if not years. I was dumbfounded, sick, mad, angry, hurt, frustrated, and confused and uncertain as to how to lead our leaders through the experience. I could certainly identify with Isaiah, who wrote (61:8) “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and iniquity.” No wonder God spoke this 8th commandment - “You shall not steal.”
It seems, on the surface, clear and simple to understand. And many of us figure we fair pretty well when it comes to obeying it. But let's look, first, at THE PRINCIPLE OF THE COMMANDMENT. It does not deal with our ownership of anything; it deals, rather, with God's ownership. In the Garden of Eden God deeded nothing to Adam and Eve; they were told to cultivate and use the resources as necessary. We are not owners; WE ARE STEWARDS. In fact, just prior to giving the commandments, in Exodus 19:5 God reminded the Israelites “All the earth belongs to me.” Simply put, GOD OWNS IT ALL .The Psalmist would later repeat it, as in Psalm 24:1 - “The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.” King David knew it as well. After the people had so generously and overwhelmingly brought gifts for the building of the temple, he prayed (1Chron. 29:11) “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom.”
We have received all our possessions, titles, deeds, bank accounts, and everything else we claim to own just as Israel received everything – from God as a gift and resource. Everything we have bears the mark of His ownership. WE ARE NOT OWNERS BUT MANAGERS. Jesus taught this as well. Two of His parables come to mind. One, in Matthew 25:14-30, deals with the 'talents' God gives to his people, with everyone getting different amounts but all charged with the same responsibility – invest it wisely and faithfully for an increase. The other, from Matthew 20:1-16, tells of the owner of a vineyard who hires workers at different hours of the day but at the end of the day pays them all the same wage. In it Jesus teaches that we have no claim on God or what He gives us and that He will always be faithful to His promises to us. As managers, the quality of our spiritual lives lies in how well we use or how poorly we abuse what God puts under our charge.
Therein lays the issue, the problem, with stealing. STEALING DEPRIVES THE POTENTIAL stewardship of another. Whenever we remove from another his ability to manage that which God has given him, we INTERFERE WITH HIS STEWARDSHIP. If someone is responsible for that with which he has been entrusted, then he has a right to hold it and it must be safeguarded. God's commandment seeks to guarantee that that this privilege of stewardship shall not be denied to anyone. In fact, stealing VIOLATES GOD'S PURPOSE for life. John Calvin stated it clearly: “We must remember that what each person possesses did not happen to him by fortuitous chance but by the choice of the one who is sovereign Master and Lord of all. This is why one cannot defraud anyone of these bounties, lest God's purpose for him be violated.”
But just what is 'stealing?' What is THE PROHIBITION OF THE COMMANDMENT? We're familiar with robbery and theft; but what is the broader DEFINITION OF STEALING? To steal is to take and claim what is not ours or does not rightly belong to us. It is TO ROB SOMEONE OF THE RIGHT AND PRIVILEGE OF BEING A STEWARD. Again, it sounds simple enough but probably doesn't hit us as something we do to others.
Let's consider some of THE PARTICULARS OF STEALING by suggesting how we, in fact, may be more guilty than we think. What are some ways, in fact, that we STEAL FROM OTHERS? When the Heidelberg Catechism asks (#110) “What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?” the answer is “God forbids not only the theft and robbery which civil authorities punish, but God also labels as theft all wicked tricks and schemes by which we seek to get for ourselves our neighbors goods, whether by force or under the pretext of right, such as false weights and measures, deceptive advertising or merchandising, counterfeit money, exorbitant interest, or any other means forbidden by God. In addition, God forbids all greed and pointless squandering of his gifts.” Greed and squandering of gifts – perhaps we're getting a little closer to where we live.