Summary: God calls us to be managers of His stuff, so our stuff doesn’t possess us.
Each one of us have been ripped off before. Most of us know what it feels like to have our home broken into by a burglar, or have a purse or wallet stolen. Many of us have been conned before. Perhaps the worst kind of theft is stealing a person. Stealing, robbery, kidnapping, extortion, swindling, cons…it’s all part of the world we live in.
But of course stealing isn’t unique to our generation. In fact, our nation just finished celebrating the life of a person who was one of the most famous victims of theft in history. I’m talking about Saint Patrick, the so called patron saint of Ireland (Skinner vii-xvi). Patrick wasn’t Irish but he was Roman, and he lived in Roman Briton in the fifth century during a time when the Roman empire was crumbling. Patrick was from a wealthy home, and one day when he was 15 years old he was visiting his father’s vacation ranch and Irish bandits burst into the house. Because the Roman government was in a state of decay, these Irish bandits freely roamed the borders of the Roman Empire, and that day they targeted the area where Patrick was staying. Patrick was abducted, and with hundreds of other captives he was shipped off to Ireland, where this 15 year old rich boy was sold as a common slave. Overnight Patrick went from being the son of a wealthy community leader to a piece of property, and he was purchased by an Irish land owner and put in charge of the sheep. For six years Patrick lived in virtual isolation as a slave shepherd, until he finally escaped and made the 200 mile trek home. Although Patrick wasn’t a Christian when he was captured, those long hours in the fields drew Patrick into a deep, transforming encounter with Jesus Christ.
Yes most of us have been victimized by thieves, perhaps not to the extent Patrick was, but we’ve been ripped off before.Yet most of us have also stolen from other people as well. I vividly remember the first time I stole something. I was 11 years old and I shoplifted candy from a liquor store. I got caught that first time, and they called my parents. You’d think that would’ve taught me, but I continued to steal throughout my teenage years. I stole from my parents, my friends, strangers. During my later teenage years my family developed a tradition of stealing our Christmas tree each year.
I suspect I’m not alone but that many of us here today have stolen from other people before. According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners each year employees steal a total of $435 billion from their employers (Moriarty 79). Hirsch Goldberg’s "The Complete Book of Greed" reports that 25% of Americans cheat on their taxes each year, costing the government $100 billion annually (Moriarity 79). In 1996 42% of teenage boys and 31% of teenage girls admitted to stealing at least once during the last year.
In this kind of setting the eighth commandment—God’s command against stealing--is particularly appropriate. The first four commands deal with our relationship with God, and the last six commands deal with our relationships with other people. The Ten Commandments help us understand hour our faith addresses issues like our family, our use of time, our sexuality, our children, and so forth. Today we’re going to look at the eighth commandment, God’s prohibition against stealing. The eighth commandment addresses with our attitude toward possessions—-our stuff and other people’s stuff—-and we’re going to find that perhaps some of us need to be dispossessed of possessions today. So today we’re going to try to answer three questions: What is stealing? How can we avoid stealing? And how does God want us to we treat our possessions?
1. What is Stealing?
Let’s look at the commandment together. "You shall not steal" (Deuteronomy 5:19 NIV).
Of course our first question is what is stealing? What exactly is this commandment talking about? Is it just talking about people burglars, car thieves, and embezzlers? Or is this commandment addressing something deeper, something all people struggle with whether they’re a criminal or a law abiding citizen?But before we look at specific examples let’s define what stealing is: We steal whenever we possess something that belongs to someone else. Now this definition presupposes that people possess things, and we find implied in this commandment that the Bible endorses private ownership. So the communist ideal of abolishing all private ownership contradicts the teaching of the Bible. As newly emancipated slaves, God wants to make sure his people doesn’t become enslaved once again, this time to material possessions.
Now the rest of the Bible defines exactly what stealing is, so let me give you several specific examples of what this commandment ddresses. The eighth commandment prohibits kidnapping. 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." Usually kidnapping back then wasn’t for ransom, like we see in our culture today, but it was usually to sell someone into slavery…like what happened to Saint Patrick. Although the Old Testament permitted slavery in certain circumstances, in Israel slaves were usually either prisoners of war or people who entered into temporary slavery to pay off financial debts. The Bible absolutely condemns capturing people against their will and enslaving them. Yet this kind of kidnapping fueled our nation’s economy before the Civil War. This is also the kind of kidnapping that’s occuring today in places like the Sundan, Asia, and Colombia. But all forms of kidnapping are forbidden by the eighth commandment.