RPM, Volume 14, Number 50, December 9 to December 15, 2012

Give or Take

Exodus 20:1-17

By Mike Osborne

We are continuing our series on the Ten Commandments. Today's message is on the 8th Commandment, "You shall not steal." (vs. 15)

Why I decided to go ahead and preach on the 8th Commandment, despite the tragic death last Sunday of our friend Forrest Flaniken.

  • A woman in our church had her husband's life stolen from her last Sunday afternoon.
  • Three young men in our church had their father stolen from them.
  • In a very real sense, we've all been robbed. Forrest Flaniken was a friend, a mentor, a colleague, a confidant to many people here at UPC.

So I think it's very timely that we are thinking about God's law against stealing.

And not only that. You've stolen and I've stolen. In fact, I think you'll see that the sin of stealing is a lot more widespread than you might have thought.

  1. The seriousness of stealing
  2. The pervasiveness of stealing
  3. What to do about it

I. The seriousness of stealing

When someone steals from you, they are not just taking your stuff. In a very real sense, they are assaulting your dignity as a human being.

  • Have you ever had your home broken into? "I feel violated."
  • My Facebook account was recently hacked.

There's a reason we feel violated as a person when our things are stolen. It's because our stuff is not just stuff. It's part of who we are.

When God created Adam & Eve, he gave them dominion over the earth. He gave them the plants and trees and animals for them to rule over and use for their survival.

He gave them work to do. Labor was a pre-fall institution.

  • Gen 2:15 — "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it."
  • We are meant to work, we are meant to build and create, we are meant to produce things, and to enjoy the fruit of our hands.

In the OT, God gave a specific land to the Israelites. Each tribe within Israel had a certain territory with boundary lines. This was one tribe's property and that was not. People built houses and claimed ownership of them.

So ownership of property is a Biblical concept.

The Bible says it is right and good that I have my things and you have your things, and that we should trust one another with our things. It's right and good to have boundary lines. It's right and good to own property.

But stealing is a violation of this principle. If I steal something from you, I am assaulting your dignity as a human being made in God's image. And I am violating the Biblical principle that what is yours is yours, and what's mine is mine.

Stealing destroys trust. And trust is foundational to the survival of a society.

Read through the laws of Israel and you'll see lots of case law about thievery.
• Ex 22

But ultimately, what makes stealing so serious is that it is a lack of trust in God. God is our provider. He will give us what he knows we need. Or he will enable us to work and earn money and buy what we need. But when you steal, you are saying, "I don't believe God. He is not my provider. He is not good. So I must take matters into my own hands."

Stealing, then, is a horrible form of unbelief.

Adam's sin was the sin of stealing. God had said, "You may eat from any tree of the garden except this one over there. You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." In a sense God was saying, "That tree over there is mine and mine alone. All these others are yours." But Adam did not trust God's Word. He ate from the tree that was not his, and in so doing disobeyed the 8th Commandment.

How serious is stealing? When you think about it, every one of the Ten Commandments is a commandment against stealing something.

  • 1st commandment: Don't steal God's glory and give it to some other god.
  • 2nd commandment: Don't steal God's worship and give it to an idol.
  • 3rd commandment: Don't steal God's name.
  • 4th commandment: Don't steal God's day.
  • 5th commandment: Don't steal the respect that is due your parents & other authorities.
  • 6th commandment: Don't steal someone's life.
  • 7th commandment: Don't steal someone's spouse.
  • 9th commandment: Don't steal the truth.
  • 10th commandment: Don't steal someone else's stuff in your heart (coveting).

Every commandment is in some way a command to protect and respect something that belongs either to God or to other people.

Stealing is a serious sin.

II. The pervasiveness of stealing

There are all sorts of ways we steal from each other.

  • There is, of course, stealing someone else's material possessions.
  • There is shoplifting.
    1. More than $13 billion worth of goods are stolen from retailers in the United States each year.
    2. The National Association of Shoplifting Prevention says that one in 11 people has shoplifted at least once in his or her lifetime.
    3. Surprisingly, people with incomes over $70,000 shoplift 30% more than people earning less than $20,000 a year.
  • There is simple dishonesty. The OT talks about using accurate weights and measures. Suppose you go to the butcher to buy some fresh fish. He throws the fish on the scales, but when you're not looking he puts his hand on the scale so it says you bought more fish than you really did. That's like what was going on in Israel. And God hated it. Moses and the prophets said, "You are to use accurate scales and honest measures."
    1. When someone gives you more change at the checkout lane than she should have, and you know it but you take it without pointing it out to her…
    2. When bankers charge excessive interest rates…
    3. When manufacturers charge an excessive price for what they produce…
    4. When on your tax return you claim more deductions than you should…
    5. When you pad your expense account with things you buy for yourself…
    6. All these are examples of dishonesty and it is stealing.
  • There is failing to return something you find to its rightful owner.
  • There is stealing time.
    1. For example, you are on the clock at work but instead of working you're sending texts to your friends or checking Facebook or playing games on your computer.
    2. Or you're always late for work or meetings and appointments.
    3. Or you take unjustified sick days.
  • WLC — There is "wasteful gaming" — foolishly gambling your hard-earned money on the lottery and other games of chance.
  • There is stealing people's reputation, when you gossip about them or criticize them behind their back.
  • There is stealing someone else's work and not giving attribution. That's called plagiarism.
  • And then there are the more modern forms of stealing…
    1. Think of identity theft. Why do you think we have to have all these internet passwords?
    2. Think of stealing your neighbor's WiFi connection
    3. There is theft of intellectual property
    4. Theft of music and movies when you copy them w/o paying for them
    5. Theft of computer software
    6. There is securities fraud, insurance fraud, tax fraud.

We might go on and on. But the worst form of stealing is stealing from God.

  • Not giving him the glory and the worship due his name.
  • Not giving him time in Bible reading and prayer and worship
  • Not giving him the money he has entrusted to your care for the ministry of the church
  • This was the problem the prophet Malachi preached about — "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."

My point is that stealing is a pervasive, widespread sin. And it's getting worse the more sophisticated we get at it.

Luther: "If we look at mankind in all its conditions, it is nothing but a vast, wide stable full of great thieves."

III. What to do about it: fight it!

If you have stolen something…(5)

  1. Fight stealing with confession
    • David — he stole Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, then he stole Uriah's life from him, and for a while he stole the truth about what he'd done from everyone around him.
    • o Psa 51 — "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight."
  2. Fight stealing with restitution
    • Luke 19 — Zacchaeus (dishonest tax collector… "Come down, Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house today.")
    • "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold."
  3. Fight stealing with contentment
    • 1 Tim 6:6-8 — "Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." (For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.)
    • Illus.: Matthew Henry was a famous Presbyterian minister in Great Britain in the early 1700s. He once got robbed. That night he wrote in his journal: "I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed."
  4. Fight stealing with work
    • The command not to steal is actually a command to work, and to work hard and not be idle or lazy.
    • 2 Thess 3:10-12 — "If a man will not work, he shall not eat. We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat."
  5. Fight stealing with generosity
    • The command not to steal is also a command to be generous and to give.
    • Eph 4:28 — "He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need."

But what do you do when someone has stolen from you?

  • Someone has violated your home or your personhood by stealing from you.
  • Perhaps someone stole your innocence.
  • Someone stole your trust.
  • Or as we saw last Sunday afternoon with Forrest Flaniken, someone stole the life of your loved one, your friend, your colleague.

Obviously these are situations when you have to address it as a matter of injustice. This is why we have laws on the books. This is why we have a criminal justice system and why we have police officers and DCF and courts where citizens can appeal to the state and address our grievances with that person or persons who stole from us.

Within the church you should go to the elders and say, "This has happened to me and I need your mediation." This is why we believe in church discipline.

People who steal should be confronted with their sin and feel its consequences.

It's not something that you should just shrug your shoulders about and act as though you've not been hurt. You have.

  • 2 Sam 12 — Nathan confronts David about his sin with Bathsheba. First he tells him a story. He says, "Once upon a time there were two men — a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had lots and lots of cattle and sheep. The poor man had nothing but one little lamb. He loved that lamb. He cared for that lamb like it was a member of his family. He even slept with that lamb in his arms. It was like his daughter. One day the rich man needed to prepare a meal for a friend. So instead of taking one of his own sheep to use for food, he took the little ewe lamb from the poor man. He killed it and served it to his friend."
  • When David heard that story, it says that "he burned with anger and said to Nathan, 'As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for the lamb four times over.'"
  • Nathan: "You are the man!"

When someone has stolen from you, it's an assault against you as the image of God, and ultimately it's an assault upon God himself. There are consequences to pay. The person has lost trust, and it takes time to rebuild that trust. In certain situations you will never trust the person again.

But eventually what you need to do is forgive.

Last week, Matt Ryman talked about adultery. He spoke to the victims of adultery, and said that we who have committed spiritual adultery against God must move toward forgiving the person who has committed adultery against us. Otherwise you become a hardened, bitter person.

It's the same with theft. You and I have stolen from God time and time again. We have stolen from other people. "We are a vast, wide stable full of thieves."

We are the thief on the cross next to Jesus.

  • Luke 23 — "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
  • "I tell you the truth, today you shall be with me in Paradise."

We who have put our trust in Jesus have been forgiven. "He who had no sin became sin for us. He who had never stolen, not once in his life, became a thief for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him."

Because of the cross, we who have been violated can and must forgive thieves. Let us who have been forgiven many trespasses, forgive others their trespasses against us.

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