Summary: Thou Shall Not Steal is an ageless principle is being proclaimed. God intends for his people to live in community. That principle is valued and protected by this four word commandment.
The church that we worked at in Atlanta was in a great section of town when it was built in the mid 50’s. But as time passed businesses who were landlocked began to relocate to the outskirts of town and left abandon buildings, which drove down the appearance of the neighborhood and the value of the property and by the time we accepted the Job the church was in the most undesirable area of town.
The church there had a set up much like we have here, two buildings a main building and one used for fellowship meals, but in Atlanta the building was not the old church building but an old house that was also used for classroom and office space. I noticed very early working there that sometimes I when I would enter the building the water would be running, the AC or the gas heater would be running and the back door would be wide open. It gave me the willies and I asked the men about it and they encouraged me to make sure the building was locked up tight and everything was off when I left for the day. But every now and then I would arrive to an open door lights on and water running.
One day when I arrived I noticed a man running out the back door and called the police but nothing was missing so we assumed that he was just breaking in and living there. The police offered to keep a watch on the building and the men screwed the windows shut and we went home for the weekend.
Sunday morning I arrived at the building to notice my office door was open, and that my office was ransacked. My laptop, DVD player, television were missing from my office and the teens had lost their TV, Playstation, and VCR/DVD player as well. We noticed that the thieves had also taken a large amount of food from our pantry. He police had checked the building three times that night before and everything was fine at the 6 am shift change.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been the victim of theft and I pray not. But if you have then you know that more is lost than stolen property. Your sense of security is erased. If someone would brazenly break into a church to steal from me on a Sunday Morning with neighbors working in their yards and children playing in the street, what wouldn’t they do in the darkness?
Your trust in other human beings is shaken. The inevitable question a victim of theft asks is, "Who did it?" Was it a stranger? Or was it a neighbor? I found myself looking at everyone in that neighborhood differently, suspecting everyone. Could they really be trusted or were they waiting for another opportunity to violate my church and property?
Security and trust are replaced by fear. Yu find yourself never driving up to an ATM without looking in the mirror or, sometimes, circling the bank to assure that no one is lurking in the shadows, waiting to rob you. Even when using in-store ATMs you look over your shoulder to see if someone is watching. Self-defense experts call that smart. But smart isn’t what I feel. I feel fear.
At traffic lights you double check your doors to be sure they are locked. You watch your mirrors for suspicious looking pedestrians. Evaluate escape routes if someone should approach you car and demand that you give it to them. Living in a small town you think that it might be a little paranoid and I won’t argue. Most people who have been victims of theft don’t really care what you call it. They know what it is. It is fear.
And fear is one of Satan’s most effective weapons for destroying community. It is hard to love people you are afraid of. It is hard to share fellowship with people you don’t trust.
Beneath the terse wording of the eighth commandment, "You shall not steal," an ageless principle is being proclaimed. God intends for his people to live in trusting, loving community. That principle is valued and protected by this four word commandment. Five principles of community are affirmed in the eighth command. Let’s notice these together.
First, the right of ownership is affirmed.
If you and I are forbidden to take by stealth or violence the property of another, then God affirms the rights of human beings to accumulate and own possessions. It is not a sin to have things. You may greet that with a shrug that says, "Well, of course," but not everyone sees it that way.
In 1603 the Jamestown Colony attempted to organize itself around a socialist model, bypassing the institution of private property with state control of production and distribution. The goal was for everyone to have the same amount of everything. It failed miserably until Thomas Dale, the new English governor, came to the colonies and instituted free enterprise.