You shall not steal

Exodus 20:15
“You shall not steal.”

So often when we think of the Ten Commandments, we think of them as a series of “Thou shalt…” and “Thou shalt not…” without much thought for the implications beyond that. Like good little Christian soldiers, we march along and do our best to stay within the guidelines–and we may even come up with extravagant ways to stay within the lines while still pushing the boundaries. For example, in order to avoid doing work on the Sabbath, ancient Jews came up with a way to tie a knot one-handed–you know, so they wouldn’t do work with their “hands” (plural) on that day. Even people who call themselves “Christians” find ways to get around following the Ten Commandments. Yes, we are no longer under the law but under grace, but even grace teaches us how to live under the knowledge of righteousness. But we are a people always looking for an easy way out, always trying to deduce a simple way to follow the rules without inconveniencing ourselves. And so, when it comes to the Ten Commandments, we often follow the letter of the law, but hardly follow the spirit. The commandment shown in Exodus 20:15 above is no exception to us trying to get around the “rules.”

I used to work with a fellow who talked about “perks” and “booty” from the workplace. “Perks” were those things he considered alright to take home for our own use–like the leftovers of a roll of duct tape or a small handful of nails or a scrap piece of wood or a ragged piece of furniture that the boss wanted thrown away. My coworker said it was one of the perks of the job to be able to take home leftovers or things no longer needed at work. “Booty” is the stuff we recognize as workplace theft, and it’s the kind of thing we know will get us fired from pretty much any job–like taking home the whole roll of tape or taking a hammer to drive the handful of nails or walking out with something new. But aren’t my friend’s “perks” the same thing? Don’t the dozen nails and the last six feet of duct tape and even the ragged office chair still truly belong to the employer? My friend was trying to justify us being able to get a few things for free while we were actually stealing from our employer. Theft is theft, no matter how big or how small.

In the laws of our modern society, we do distinguish between the theft of large and small things–e.g. petty larceny and grand larceny–but there are other ways we steal from people. For example, when we lie about how much something weighs in order to pay less, or when we take our sweet time walking to the time clock to log out, just so we can get that extra few minutes of pay. One means of theft that runs rampant at some companies is the misuse of employee discounts and benefits–like allowing a friend to get something under your account, or using the company car for personal errands. Theft like that tends to fly under our moral radar because we are so accustomed to trying to save money, to help our friends, to get a little more in our lives for a little less effort. We like the “perks,” but it is still all theft, stealing, larceny.

Matthew 22:35-40
35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying,
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
37 Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
38 “This is the first and great commandment.
39 “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
40 “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

I wonder if maybe God should have graven THESE two commandments in stone instead of the other ones. Or perhaps He should have required us to have them tattooed on our forearms–“Love God with all your being” on the left (close to the heart), and “Love your neighbor” on the right. Jesus said that the Ten Commandments themselves depend on this commandments to love, and that includes “You shall not steal.” Can we see that? Let’s look at what the Lord said to the Jews through the prophet Isaiah:

Isaiah 1:16-17
16 “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
17 “Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.”

At the heart of every command NOT to do something is a commandment to DO something. The Lord said “Cease to do evil,” and then He immediately followed that with the opposite, “Learn to do good.” If we are told “You shall not steal,” then the commandment to do something is “You shall give.”

We all know the Golden Rule–or at least, we think we do. We say, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” We base it on something Jesus said:

Matthew 7:12
“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Many cultures around the world have a variation on that which says, “Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you.” That is the way many of us live today: doing our own thing while saying that we are trying to avoid hurting others. But do you see the difference? The command that Jesus gave is active, it requires us to DO things for others that we expect them to DO for us. But the version found in all other cultures is passive, simply about avoiding doing harm rather than seeking to do good. And look at how Jesus finished the command: “for this is the Law and the Prophets.” But don’t the Law and the Prophets hang from the commandments to love God and love our neighbor? Yes, they do, and so when we seek to do good to others, we are simply following those commandments.

The greatest thing we might ever possess is something that we cannot ever steal: the salvation bought for us with the blood of Jesus Christ. Salvation is the gracious gift of God, and there is only one way for us to have it: faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 2:8-10
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,
9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Having been saved by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus Christ, we find that we are new, we are transformed, we desire the things that God desires. And HE desires that we should not only “cease to do evil” but that we should also “learn to do good,” as He has prepared for us to do. It is not enough to simply avoid stealing from each other. We must learn to GIVE as he gives and LOVE as He loves.

“You shall not steal” is an easy thing. “Do unto others” is hard. The Law was never intended to lead men to righteousness but to convict them of sin. (Romans 3:19-20) We will never “Do unto others” if we keep trying to live under legalism instead of grace, under law instead of faith, under “getting by” instead of repentance. God did not give us the law so that we could justify our own sins through loopholes and human logic. He gave us Jesus Christ so that we could learn how to leave the evil of our doings behind and instead seek the things of God–goodness, righteousness, justice. If we truly love God with all our heart and mind and soul, then not only will we not steal, but we will love the people whom God loves and we will do unto them as God has done unto us–extending grace, forgiving trespasses, and giving more than we ever expect to receive.

Our Father in heaven, You said in Your Word that You considered it robbery when we did not give our all to You–especially all our love. I know You are a jealous God–jealous for my love, jealous for my well-being, jealous for my life itself. I thank You, Lord God, for the grace You have extended to me, the forgiveness of sins that only You could ever give, and the eternal life that Your Son has brought to all who believe on Him. Help me, Lord, to not only not steal but to learn to give more, to seek the justice and righteousness of Your kingdom rather than simply trying to avoid hurting others. I love You, O Lord my God, and I wish for Your love to teach me to be more like Your Son, Jesus Christ, in whose holy name I pray. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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