There was a young preacher whose first church to preach for was in a small logging community. The local lumber mill was the little community’s biggest employer and it had fierce competition with another mill that was just upstream in another town. One day, the preacher went for a hike in the woods. He hiked up a hill overlooking the river and the mill. To his horror, he saw some of the church members pulling logs from the river that were branded by the other mill. They were cutting off the branded ends, and running them through their own mill. So he got to work that week preparing a sermon to address the issue. That Sunday, he preached a powerful sermon entitled, “Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Property.” The sermon seemed to go over well. All the lumber mill employees at church as they went out the door shook his hand, patted his back and told him things like, “Wow! Great sermon preacher. You really moved me with that lesson.” But that next Monday morning it was business as usual. They were still stealing their competitor’s logs. So the next Sunday he fired off another scorching sermon which he titled, “Thou Shall Not Steal.” Again, after services he was complimented, commended for his powerful delivery and his keen insights into Scripture. “Wonderful sermon, preacher,” and “Best sermon I’ve ever heard,” were some of the comments. But on Monday he saw the same thing again. They were still swiping the other mill’s logs. He thought “Enough is enough. I’m not going to hold anything back this time.” And that next Sunday he pulled out all the stops and preached a sermon entitled, “Thou Shall Not Cut the Branded Ends Off Someone Else’s Logs.” Well, that one obviously connected because they ran him out of town. I guess they felt he’d quit preaching and gone to meddling.
Many Americans are like those lumber mill employees, stealing, but not seeing themselves as stealing, or feeling that their forms of stealing are excusable. Stealing is a part of American culture, or really I should say, a part of the world’s culture, a culture that’s invading the church. I’ve heard about 5 different conditions in which it is believed to be alright to steal.
#1 if you really need it, it’s believed it’s alright to steal it. I got into a conversation with a guy at McDonald’s one day about spiritual matters when he saw me reading my Bible there. In the course of the conversation he told me he’s a good person. He doesn’t do anything really bad. He occasionally steals a pound of hamburger or something from the grocery store, because times are tough for him and he’s got to eat. But he’s a good person. I mentioned to him the promise of Jesus in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothing] will be added to you.” Meaning you don’t need to steal. All you need is to put God first in your life, and then the promise is that you will have all that you need. He quickly changed the subject.
#2 it’s believed that it’s okay to steal if the owner doesn’t really need it or if the owner won’t miss it. Have you heard that at the office? “Oh that’s never used, what difference does it make if I take it home or leave it here? I might as well take it to my house where it will get some use.”
#3, if the owner can afford to buy another. As long as the owner will still be in a better financial situation than you.
#4, stealing is believed to be excusable if it’s on a small scale. As long as it’s nothing big, it’s alright.
#5, some think it’s alright as long as you are not stealing from an individual but just a corporate body or an institution. It’s thought that to steal from your neighbor is one thing, but to steal from a company is an entirely other more excusable thing for some reason.
But you notice that there are no exceptions clauses attached to the 8th commandment. You can notice in the text in Exodus 20 after God states “Thou shall not steal,” there is a period. Thou shall not steal, period. God never gives us any reason to think that He approves of us taking or keeping what belongs to another.
In dealing with this 8th commandment what I would like to do mostly is meddle in your life and mine. I would like to try to open our eyes, if need be, to the ways that we could be stealing that God would have us to see and change. So we’re going to notice several common ways of stealing in our society.
First of all there is stealing by means of…
And there are different forms of lifting.
There’s shoplifting, of course.
But then there’s also workplace-lifting. You know if you work in a automobile service station and you take oil home that belongs to the service station. Or if you work in an office and you take home copy paper or other office supplies. I read one of the most common items employees steal from work is toiletries.
And then there’s hotel-lifting. A hotel in New York City said that in one year’s time it lost 38,000 spoons, 355 silver coffee pots, 15,000 finger bowls, and 100 Bibles. That was all in one year. There was a little girl who was asked about what her mother’s last name was before she got married. And the little girl replied, “I’m not sure. But I think it was Marriott. At least that’s what’s written on all her towels.”
And of course we could add countless other forms of lifting, classroom lifting, church building lifting, pickup truck bed lifting, unlocked car lifting, etc.
So we can steal by means of lifting. We can also steal by means of…
Keeping what you find that may be returned to the one who lost it. “Finders keepers” is not a verse in the Bible. Jesus taught us to live according to the standard of treating others the same way we want them to treat us.” Would you want somebody to try to return it, if it was you that lost it?
There’s also keeping the extra change that the clerk at the store accidentally gave you. Maybe you’ve heard about the preacher in Houston, Texas. Some weeks after he arrived, he had on one occasion to ride the bus from his home to the downtown area. When he sat down, he discovered that the driver had accidentally given him a quarter too much change. As he considered what to do, he thought to himself, “You better give the quarter back. It would be wrong to keep it.” Then he thought, “Oh, forget it, it’s only a quarter. Who would worry about this little amount? The bus company gets too much fare anyway, they will never miss it. Accept it as a gift from God and keep quiet.” When his stop came, he paused for a moment at the door, then he handed the quarter to the driver and said, “Here, you gave me too much change.” The driver smiled and said, “Aren’t you the new preacher in town? I have been thinking lately about going to worship somewhere. I just wanted to see what you would do if I gave you too much change. I’ll see you at church on Sunday.” When the preacher stepped off of the bus, he grabbed the nearest light pole, held on, and said, “Oh God, I almost sold your Son for a quarter.” What a great opportunity to reflect Christ and commend the gospel to people when somebody gives you too much change.
Then there’s also keeping stuff that you asked only to borrow. Think through the stuff in your garage, how many of Vince Ellingson’s tools or somebody else’s tools are still in your garage? Think through the books in your library, how many of those are my books or Randy’s books or somebody else’s books that you’ve forgotten about? Come to think of it I have a few of Randy’s books I need to give back.
There’s also keeping what you owe in debt; not paying your bills. Psalm 37:21, “The wicked borrows and does not pay back.” One who does not repay his debts is not one who is incapable of paying back his debts, but one who chooses to spend his money on himself rather than pay back his creditors. The Bible calls that person “wicked.”
There’s also keeping what you owe in taxes and fees. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesars,” said the Lord. A man on vacation in a little town in Mexico was strolling along outside his hotel, when he was suddenly he heard the screams of a woman kneeling in front of a child. The man knew enough Spanish to realize that the child had swallowed a coin. And so he seized the child by an ankle, held him up, gave him a few shakes, and an American quarter dropped out on the sidewalk. “Oh, gracias, señor!” the woman said. “You seemed to know just how to get it out of him. Are you a doctor?” “Oh no,” the man said, “I work for the United States Internal Revenue Service.” Well, the IRS is pretty good at getting it out of us. But there are still ways we can get out of paying what we owe, not reporting all our income on our tax returns, claiming worthless things we donated as having high value.
Romans 13, Paul says the governing authorities are established by God. They are ministers of God for our good, punishing evil doers, rewarding those who do good, keeping order and peace in the land. They are set up by God for us. And so Paul says that to be insubordinate to the government is to oppose God, and he who opposes God brings condemnation upon himself. And then he begins to meddle at Romans 13:6, and he says “For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” Notice that phrase, “Render to all what is due.” That includes paying the parking meter if you’re going park where there’s a meter. Pay the campground fee if you’re going to camp in the campground. Buy the hunting license and fishing license if you’re going to hunt and fish. Render to all what is due or you’re stealing; you’re keeping what belongs to another.
Another way keeping can be stealing…. Remember the rest of Jesus’ statement after He said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s“? He said, “And render to God the things that are God’s“. We can steal from God by keeping His stuff that He tells us to handover.
Malachi 3:8, “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. 9 “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me, the whole nation of you! 10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…” You see, all that we call ours is really God’s. “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it” (Psalm 24:1). And so when God said to the Jewish people I want 10% of my stuff that you have in your possession to be handed over to my priests at the temple, but then they decided to give less than 10% to the priests at the temple, they were robbing God.
We’ve not been given the specific command to tithe in the NT. But we’ve been commanded to hand over God’s money and stuff like this: Luke 3:11, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise.” Luke 10:33-37, “But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, 34 and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 “On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ … Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” Our money and resources are God’s. And God says when you have more than enough for your needs, and before you there are those that do not have enough, then you meet their needs with the extra you have. To give less than what God tell us to give of his money is to rob God just like the Jews of Malachi’s day were doing.
And so we can steal by keeping what we owe in giving. So I think there are a lot Christians who live in stolen houses, drive stolen cars and wear stolen jewelry, because it was paid for with God’s money that God wanted distributed to others.
So we can steal by means of lifting and by means of keeping, and then also by means of…
Swindling is not outright taking something from someone. But it is using deception and manipulation to get it; cheating, defrauding, taking advantage of people.
Customers are common victims. Most of us probably have stories of taking our car to a shop for a minor repair and then hearing suspiciously that thousands of dollars worth of work need to be done on it.
About 5 or so years ago Greg Claridge and Stryder and myself were on a little fishing trip in Idaho, and we stayed at a little lodge along the river where we were fishing. In the morning when we checked in the lady asked us if we would like her to have dinner ready for us that night when we got done fishing. And she said dinner would be chicken pot pie. And we were all under the impression that she said it would be free, complimentary. And so we said sure. Don’t want to pass up free dinner. So we fished all day and came back that evening and she brought out our chicken pot pies. They were not homemade pies. They were the 5 minute in the microwave chicken pot pies that you find in the frozen food section of the grocery store. But we thought it was pretty good for free dinner. We were getting ready to head back to our room after we ate and she said, “That will be 8 dollars.” We said, “Oh… uh, okay… we were under the impression that dinner was free.” “What gave you that idea?” “Well, that’s what you told us.” She said, “No… There’s no way I said that. I said dinner would be for a small fee, not that dinner would be free.” “Hmm, okay. So 8 dollars total?” She said, “Oh no, 8 dollars each”… for a microwave dinner. Maybe she said “small fee” and not “free.” Or it’s a crafty little trick she uses to get a little more money out of people.
Have you ever sold a used car? When a potential buyer comes and asks if the car has any problems, how honest are you? Do you swindle them, make then think it’s a better car than it really is?
Many say “It’s business. All’s fair in business. That’s just part of the game.” That’s not what God says. God says, Leviticus 25:14, “If you make a sale, moreover, to your friend or buy from your friend’s hand, you shall not wrong one another.” Matthew 5:37, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (NIV)
It’s very common for folks to swindle insurance companies today. I know insurance companies can also be guilty of some swindling themselves. But I read that 75% of all insurance claims are at least in some way fraudulent. When it comes time to fill out one of those forms there is something within people that just snaps and says, “This is my chance to make a buck. Everybody ought to have at least one opportunity in life to get something, and this is mine.” So 75% of all claims may not be totally fraudulent, but at least in some sense they are. The damage or whatever is exaggerated because everyone wants to make money on insurance companies.
Maybe we could also include under this category what my wife Ally discovered a lot of people do when she worked Lowe’s. Sometimes she’d work at the return desk, and she said people will buy riding lawn mowers in the spring time, and then bring them back about 3 months later, just before time runs out when they’re allowed to return it and they ask for their money back, saying, “Oh, it just didn’t run right” or “It’s not what I expected when I bought it.” But they used it most the summer. Or have you ever returned something to a store and told the clerk that it was broken when you opened it when in reality you broke it?
Another way we can steal from our neighbor…
You know, if somebody says to you I will give you 5 oranges for 5 apples and you say “Alright deal” and they hand you a bag of 5 oranges, but you only put 4 apples in the bag that you give to them, then you’ve stolen an apple from them. And that’s the same sort of thing, isn’t it, if we receive a pay check for 40 hours’ work but we only give 32 hours of work in return.
In a book entitled “The Day America Told the Truth” it says that average employees around America frankly admit that they spend more than 20% of their time at work goofing off. That works out to a giving the boss 4 days of work each week but getting paid for 5. Over ½ surveyed said they called in sick on occasion when all they were sick of was working. Other employees told of coming in late and leaving early, taking extended breaks, falsifying their time card, making personal calls when not allowed, surfing the internet, and lying on expense accounts.
Well, it’s plain stealing when you don’t give an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
And then I think one of the most harmful ways of stealing from your neighbor is…
Gossip, the unhelpful telling of stories about the wrongs and offenses of others, the talking about people that does nothing but cause others to think less of them. And it’s stealing; it’s stealing a person’s reputation.
… which can be far more harmful to them than breaking into their home and stealing their jewelry. You steal the reputation of another person in business and that may be far more harmful than if you were to empty their cash register. Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold.” A character in a Shakespeare work said, “He who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands; But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed.”
Listen to the opening verses of Psalm 15, “O Lord, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? [In other words, “Who may live with God?” Answer:] 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. 3 He does not slander with his tongue…” Those who may live with God do not steal the reputation of others.
I heard there was a black preacher of a previous generation down south preaching on this topic and toward the end of his lesson he said, “Now, all members of the congregation who have been stealing chickens stand up on your feet and confess.” But nobody moved. And then he said, “All of you who have been stealing piglets, stand to your feet and confess.” Again nobody moved. “All of you who have stealing goats, stand up and confess.” Nobody moved. So he wound the sermon down, they had the last hymn and the closing prayer, and he stood at the door and as they went out, one man wiping his brow with a hankie said, “Whew, preacher, if you’d said ‘ducks’ I would have been a goner.”
Well, I may not have mentioned something specifically that connected with you. But I hope you realize I’ve not mentioned all the ways that you can steal. We didn’t even get into plagiarism and illegally copying software and tampering with the electric meter on your property and other things. But I hope you realize the sort of honesty and integrity in all our decisions that God calls us to as His people.
Why is it that people steal?
Perhaps some steal for self-preservation. They are so destitute that they think stealing is the only way they can survive. Many today steal because they have expensive drug habits that their legitimate jobs simply can’t support. For some it’s an illness. Some steal out of revenge or hatred for another. And some apparently steal for excitement. It’s not that they don’t have things, but they want the thrill of getting away with doing something wrong. But I don’t think any of those reasons are the reason why most people steal. Most people steal because they are discontent with what they have. They are dissatisfied with the portion that God has allotted them in life. And why are people discontent? A big part of it is they have the wrong perspective of things. They have the wrong perspective of money and possessions, the wrong perspective of God, the wrong perspective of themselves. They see themselves as deserving more than what God has given them. They have the perspective of the man in Jesus’ story in Luke 12 whose barns were not big enough to hold all the extra produce of his fields. You remember his perspective? “If I have bigger barns full of a great abundance then for many years to come, for a long time, I can take my ease, eat, drink and be merry.” That’s the perspective of discontent people, and people who steal. “I’m going to be on this earth for a long time, for many years to come and if I have more money and more stuff I’ll be happy for the long time that I have left on this earth.”
The perspective of the content
… is first of all, “Tonight my soul may be required of me.” And as “we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either” (I Timothy 6:7).
And even if my life on earth with the stuff I can accumulate reaches 80 years or so it will still be soon that “it is gone and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10). James 4:14, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” It’s not “many years to come.” It’s “I’m leaving this world and everything here soon.”
Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes over his fount of wealth, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” You don’t get to keep it. It doesn’t satisfy anyway. It’s just more to be responsible for.
It’s the perspective that I am already wealthy far more than I deserve. How could I think of getting more instead of giving and expressing gratitude when I have so much?
And it’s the perspective that “The LORD is my shepherd.” Psalm 23:1, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Do you see that the Lord is your shepherd? Do you see how good of a shepherd He is, that if you stay with Him, if you keep listening to His voice and following Him, not straying off in stealing or something else, then He is totally taking care of you? Figuratively, He leads you beside quiet waters and makes you lie down in green pastures. He leads you in the paths that you should take. When you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you don’t need to fear because His rod and His staff are with you. You may not think He’s taking care of you, you may think you’d be better off having other things than what He’s given you and going other places than where He leads you, but you’re a sheep. He knows far better about what’s really good for you.
What’s your perspective of money and stuff, and of how long you’re going to be on this earth to use it, and what’s your perspective of the sort of shepherd the Lord is? Do you see Him as the good shepherd who laid down His life for us sheep and who knows better about what’s good for us and who is taking total care of us? Or do you see Him as not that good of a shepherd and you have to kind of take care of yourself?
Let end with one last passage for any of us who have done some stealing in our lives. Ezekiel 33:14-16, this is God’s promise to thieves, “And if I say to the wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right— 15 if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die. 16 None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live.” (NIV)
– James Williams