The eighth commandment. Do not steal. That seems so straight-forward. Does it even need any explanation?
Have you ever thought about how this command puts a hedge around private property? I could even say, as I did about marriage, that God loves private property.
Stealing can be very subtle. It can creep into our lives and establish itself as a habit without our giving any thought to it.
I watched a new neighbor walk around the neighborhood eyeing various fruit trees. There were a lot of tropical fruits to choose from, but they were all on private property. She took liberally from any she chose. I have a mango tree out by the road, rather far from my front door. They are especially good mangoes. And, occasionally, the whole tree has been stripped during the night. We put in a seven foot hedge! This commandment acts like that hedge. If you see something that is mine that looks good to you, remembering this commandment is supposed to keep you from taking it. Simple.
“Blessed are the merciful” Jesus said (Matthew 5: 7). Some people in my neighborhood practice opening up their property and allowing people to “glean,” that is, take any extra mangoes or avocadoes they cannot use. This is a good way to show mercy and is an example of the balance inherent in God’s commands. Private property is protected, while compassion toward others is required at the same time.
Teach your children to respect what others own. Toys broken by rough handling should be replaced. A tearful little brother should be told, “I’m sorry,” and his ball replaced. Don’t let them grow up thinking they are entitled to my mangoes just because I have so many!
Do you borrow from your neighbor or cousin and forget to return it in good shape–or with a full tank of gas? “The wicked borrows and does not repay, But the righteous shows mercy and gives” (Psalm 37:21).
Dishonest accounting is stealing. We once bought some stock which went up in price quickly, making us a lot of money IF we had sold it at that high price. The reason it kept on going up was that the financial officer lied about how the new company was doing and investment advisers believed them. The lie was discovered; the stock price fell drastically in a matter of a few hours. We lost all of our investment and all of that hope of being richer. Those people stole our money and should have gone to jail. Instead, they reportedly took their wealth from selling their stock at the high price and left the country.
Have you ever left just a little less than the customary 15% tip even though the waitress had been really good at her job? That is stealing from her. The prophet Amos lamented the stealing from the poor that was characteristic of religious people who claimed a long relationship with God, yet swallowed up the needy and made the poor of the land fail (Amos 8:4). Those who had a long national history of being in a relationship with God spent 70 long years in Iraq (Babylon) for subtle sins like these. You don’t hire an illegal immigrant or a minority citizen to clean your house and pay her less than the going rate, do you? How could she protest? To whom would she report you?
Women are usually paid less for their work than men. It is a disgrace. Stealing.
One more example. Not working at all or not doing your fair share is stealing from others. Paul wrote to some new Greek Christians, “For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread” (2 Thessalonians 3:11-12). In other words, don’t live off of the work of others. That would be stealing from them.
Thomas Watson wrote The Ten Commandments before England developed into an industrial, capitalistic nation. He pointed out that it was stealing from yourself and your heirs to waste your inheritance and, possibly, lose that landed estate. Inheritance of property and position was how you got ahead in those days. On the other hand, to be so stingy that you would not use your money for the needs of your wife and children was stealing as well, he pointed out. Being stingy or wasting what your parents worked hard for is just the same today. Stealing.
Of course, the roots of stealing are covetousness and a lack of trust in God’s providential care. We hold back on paying fair wages and tips so we can buy something we want. Or we don’t give liberally to those in need because we are saving an inordinate amount for our early retirement.
Don’t forget as you pursue the holiness without which no one will see the LORD that Jesus Christ ( our Redeemer and Friend, the Lamb of God), has always been perfectly holy, and He willingly shed His own blood as an atonement for our sins. He never stole, but He has given His life in our place. He prayed for us, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:15). That is why we keep looking at what the Bible says and trying to figure out what it means for our life and heart today. It is an unchanging, but living Word, applied to us by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it pierces our hearts to realize how we’ve let stealing from others become so acceptable.