Topical Scripture: Exodus 20:15
For 28 years Bob Barker has hosted The Price Is Right, the longest-running game show on television. In fact, Mr. Barker has logged more hours on network television than any person in history.
You know how his game works—contestants guess the prices of items displayed on the stage to win. And how those prices have changed.
In America, apparently no price is too high for the things we want.
Who would have dreamed we’d spend $5 for a cup of coffee, or $3 billion on bottled water? But we’re drinking it.
The price of gasoline hasn’t been this high in nine years, and is predicted to rise another 20 to 30 cents soon. But we’re still buying gas.
The most recent Motor Trend displays upcoming car models. Included is a “priced down” Hummer at only $58,000, and a new experimental car for $1.2 million. Someone will buy it.
Against all this materialism, we find the eighth commandment. Two words in Hebrew, four in English: “You shall not steal.” Let’s look at what the commandment means, and how to keep it today.
To help us, we’ll lay alongside this commandment Jesus’ commentary on it—the best-known story in literature, the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
What is stealing?
In Jesus’ story we find the three basic attitudes toward the eighth commandment. The first: “what is yours is mine and I will take it.”
The man in our story is traveling the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when he is attacked by a band of robbers; we’d say he was “mugged.” Jesus says, “They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead” (Luke 10:30). What’s his is theirs, and they will take it.
Most of us know how he felt. 60% of all Americans have been the victim of crime; of those, 58% have been victimized twice or more. Most of us have been down this road. Unfortunately, this happens on many levels today.
First, we steal, of course, when we take the possessions of others.
Our house in Houston was vandalized; a thief broke the window of our van in Atlanta and stole what was inside; our church has lost technical equipment to thieves in recent years. A few months ago, my car wouldn’t start, so I had it towed to a local repair shop. They wanted $2,000 to replace the head gaskets; I took it to the dealership, who fixed the problem for a fraction of that cost and never had to touch the head gaskets. Stealing is taking the possessions of others.
Second, we steal when we take advantage of others.
48% of American workers admit to taking unethical or illegal advantage of their employers in the past year. This includes cheating on an expense account, paying or accepting kickbacks, secretly forging signatures, and breaking legal statutes and codes.
American industry loses $3 billion per year because of employee’s time spent in personal Internet use while at work.
I once knew a staff member in another church who would take friends to lunch; they would pay him, he would put the bill on his credit card, then he would turn in the receipt and get reimbursed by the church.
We steal when we take advantage of the government by cheating on our taxes, money which honest citizens must make up. In short, we steal whenever we take financial advantage of others.
Third, we steal when we take the ideas of others.
When I taught at Southwestern Seminary I heard the motto from students: if you steal from one source, it’s plagiarism; from two sources, it’s research. No, it’s not.
My brother-in-law once worked as a custodian at a church while going through seminary. He cleaned the pastor’s office, and always knew what sermon they’d hear that Sunday from the open book of sermons on his desk on Friday.
Fourth, we steal when we take the reputation of others.
Remember a few years ago when someone accused Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of sexual abuse? This godly man was completely vindicated, all charged were dropped, and the person making the allegation apologized, but the damage was done to his reputation. That man stole his good name.
Shakespeare said it well: “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.”
Before you say anything negative about any person, ask yourself first, Is it true? Is it fair? Is it necessary? To take the reputation of others is to steal.
We have the robbers’ philosophy of possessions, “What is yours is mine, and I will take it,” when we steal the possession of others, take advantage of others, or take the ideas or the reputation of others. We’re just like the robbers in the story.
But, the priest and the Levite who came by next stole from the man as well. Their attitude was, “What is mine is mine, and I will keep it.” They stole from this man the care they should have given to him, the compassion they should have shown him. They stole from him as well. Passive theft is still theft.
Let’s return to meddling. God calls us to give him a minimum of ten percent of all our goods and possessions for his purposes. Not just a tenth of our money, but of our time, talents, and abilities as well. When did you last dedicate to God at least 10% of your week?
How does God feel about those who do not obey him in this area? Listen to him: “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. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house” (Malachi 3:8-10).
If I say to God, or to you, “What’s mine is mine, and I will keep it,” I rob from you that which I owe you. My love, compassion, ministry, care. What if God gave to us only that which we deserved? What if God were the priest or the Levite?
How to keep the eighth commandment
So, how do we keep the eighth commandment? To borrow from the Good Samaritan, we adopt this attitude toward life: “What’s mine is yours, and I will share it.” How do we develop such an approach to things and people?
First, we see things as God does.
Material success is not the highest value in life—a relationship with God is. Jesus warned his disciples: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).
As God sees things, material success is a means to an end, given for the purpose of serving God with that which he has entrusted to us. If I value God more than possessions, I’ll not offend him by stealing from you.
Second, we acquire things as God directs. Scripture gives us three ways we are to acquire possessions, a kind of philosophy of economics.
We are to work hard: “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” (Ephesians 4:28).
We are to invest wisely. In Jesus’ parable of the talents (measures of money), he commends the men who doubled their investments, while criticizing the man who did not (Matthew 25:14-30).
And we are to pray dependently. When our need is greater than our supply, we are to pray and ask God’s help. The early Christians gave to the common good of the believing community, and their resources were “distributed to anyone as he had need” (Acts 4:35). As we work hard, invest wisely, and trust God, we acquire things as he directs. Then we will have no need to break the eighth commandment.
Third, we use things as God leads.
God has blessed us with material possessions, so that we might use them to help others in his name. He gave the Samaritan a donkey and some money, to give to the man in need. We are to do the same with the donkey and the money he has given to us.
The old song says, “Loving things and using people only leads to misery; using things and loving people, that’s the way it ought to be.”
If I value you more than your possessions, I’ll not steal what is yours. In fact, I’ll give to you from what is mine.
It is imperative that we see things, acquire things, and use things as God directs, that we keep the eighth commandment. For our own sakes.
Have you heard the story of the White Knight? It seems that a certain knight, out looking for adventure, came to a village where legend told of a terrible ogre in a pit. Bravely the White Knight took up the challenge. He would do battle with this terrible ogre. In the memory of the people, several courageous men had climbed down into the pit, but none had ever returned.
The White Knight stood looking at the deep, dark hole. The opening was so narrow that he had to take off his armor and unneeded clothing. He took only a long dagger, which he tied around his neck with a leather strap. Slowly he lowered himself down into the hole by a rope, until he felt the cool, smooth floor of the chamber under his feet. When his eyes adjusted to the darkness he saw a mound nearby, the bones of his predecessors, with their assorted weapons. A little way off he spotted another mound, but wasn’t sure what it was.
Suddenly he was surprised by the inhabitant of the pit—surprised because he didn’t anticipate that the terrible ogre would be only the size of a rabbit. It waved its arms and screeched with a squeaky voice, trying to appear fierce. The White Knight took his knife and prepared to do battle, but quick as a rat, the ogre ran into a hole near the second mound.
The White Knight followed him to that second mound. There before his eyes stood glittering balls of gold as big as grapefruits and diamonds as big as plums. With only a small part of that treasure, he would be rich for life. The little ogre lost its importance in view of this great wealth.
But the White Knight had a problem. How would he carry this treasure out of the hole? He had no pockets. Who would believe him if he didn’t bring back at least one piece?
Then he had an idea. He would take one of the diamonds in his mouth and carry it that way until he had climbed out of the hole. He could always come back later for the rest. Hurriedly he chose one of the larger diamonds. It fit comfortably into his mouth, and he began the arduous climb out of the pit, hand over hand, gripping the rope with his feet. His tongue held the diamond tightly against the roof of his mouth.
Higher and higher he climbed, until the heavy exertion began to make him breathless. He would have to breathe through his mouth to get enough air. As he took in a large gulp of air the diamond slipped and stuck in his throat. The White Knight choked on his treasure, lost consciousness, and fell to his death on the mound of bones below.
The terrible ogre in the pit was not the little troll, was it?
Has someone broken the eighth commandment with you? Forgive them their debts, as God has forgiven your debts. Have you broken the eighth commandment personally? Ask Jesus to forgive you, and to help you make things right. Understand that in God’s eyes we are all thieves. And so Jesus died for us all.
Three men shared death upon a hill,But only one man truly died.A thief and God Himself made rendezvous.Three crosses stillAre borne up Calvary’s hillWhere sin still lifts them highUpon the one hang broken thieves who cursing die;The other holds the praying thiefAnd those who, penitent as he,Still find the Christ beside them on the tree.
Which thief are you?