As I have discussed commandments one through seven, I have been amazed at how strictly they have been interpreted. Let me refer to two recent posts as examples: thou shalt not kill includes not only murder, but also the expression of “cutting words” which one can say about another, being angry with someone without cause, hating your brother, losing your temper, uncontrolled passion, sullen rage, bitter resentment and desire for revenge are considered killing. You can kill by neglect. You can feel spite and jealousy and “kill” another. Committing adultery is not only sexual activity outside marriage but also flirting, sexual experimenting of any kind, self-satisfying sex [masturbation I assume] , perverted heterosexual sex, selfish sex practices within a marriage, and even divorce.
So do we have the same strict interpretation “for thou shalt not steal?”
Yes we do.
I have always considered the eighth commandment to just be about taking the property of another. Certainly that is clearly within the commandment but like other commandments, it goes much further. When one considers how the commandment is interpreted, it turns out that many of us may have committed the act of stealing.
According to John Stott,* tax evasion is robbery. Many try to avoid customs charges when bringing products into the country [also considered by him as“robbery”]. Working less at work when you could be giving your employer one hundred percent is stealing. Conversely, when you have employees and you underpay them, that is theft. Stott writes what “the world calls scrounging God calls stealing” . As I have described comments on commandment six and commandment seven as “strict”, Stott describes them as “negative.” “These negative commandments [six and seven] also imply a positive counterpart. In order to truly abstain from killing, one must do all in one’s power to foster the health and preserve the life of others. To refrain from adultery is insufficient…the commandment requires the right healthy and honorable attitude of each sex toward the other” [Stott, 68].
To not steal from another is one of those commandments that has a positive counterpart. We should do all that we can to foster a feeling that we are living in a stable society and that includes respecting the property of others. I have seen recent coverage of “smash and grab” robberies in some locations in the United States. When I see CCTV footage of a robbery mob entering a jewelry store and quickly stripping the store of expensive valuables, I am shocked by the act itself, but mostly I am shocked by the idea that fifteen or twenty people would find it acceptable to steal all at the same time. I like to think that stealing from someone is a rare act that is done by one person who is suffering some mental weakness or some dire financial emergency, not a large number of people stealing all at once. This kind of thievery makes me wonder about the stability of our society. When do people begin to justify their thievery as ok?
This may support the idea that some have that the Ten Commandments are outdated; that they are part of the Old Covenant, but if you have ever had anything stolen from you, you know the feeling of being a victim is very real. I have had something stolen from me and I hated the idea of feeling vulnerable. The more precious the item is, the more it hurts. You may want revenge. You don’t feel safe anymore when someone invades your property and takes possessions.
Jesus referred to this commandment when He was conversing with the rich young ruler in Matthew so that makes me think the commandment was not just of the “Old Covenant.” He referred to commandment eight directly in Matthew 19: 18. One might recall that the rich young ruler’s problem with following Jesus was accumulating so much wealth that he could not let go of it and become a true follower. The fact that Jesus spoke this commandment means it is not in the category of ceremonial and sacrificial laws of the Old Testament which were given to Israel. This commandment is meant to apply to all men in all ages. We should respect the possessions of others but we also should not let our possessions possess us [another message for another post].
The apostle Paul, when discussing God’s commandments, sums up the entire law in the same way as our Lord Jesus did, with “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9). And, again like Jesus, he states that this is the fulfilment of the “Law” (Matthew 22:39-40). So, we know from such instructions that “Do not steal,” as with all of the Ten Commandments, is about “loving one another” (John 13:34-35). The Apostle Paul went so far as to say that abstaining from thievery was not enough; Paul felt that people should start working. Stott writes that Paul’s attitude could be summed up as “[man] should continue in honest labor until he found himself in a position to give to those in need” .
There was a time in my life when I was never worried about tithing. Akin to the rich young ruler, I was blessed with material possessions and a nice paycheck. I did not even attend church. Then my life changed when I realized that a relationship with God is what I needed. The problem is that I still did not understand tithing. I became a member of a church but I could not part with some of my riches that I truly owed to God. I did not understand that everything that I had was a gift from God. When we withhold our time, talent, possessions and finances from God we are really withholding the things that are rightly His. In essence we are stealing from Him. Then I made up my mind that I needed to begin giving to my church. I began to tithe and I discovered something. I discovered that I could give a portion of my wealth to God and still have plenty to live on. In fact, I found that He blessed me with more than I ever expected.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it’” [Malachi 3:8-10].
Stott defines commandment eight as “to steal is to rob a person of anything which belongs to him or is due to him.”
One day we will be judged by God and expected to give an account of what we did with the gifts God has so generously bestowed on us.
None of us want to be judged by God as lacking.
As He has so generously given to us, we should give back to Him.**
*from his book Basic Christianity
**supplemental material for this post comes from the “gotquestions.org” website on commandment eight.