Here is the next sermon in the series. These continue to be my post popular posts.
When a man attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street, he got much more than he bargained for. Police arrived at the scene to find an ill man curled up next to a motor home trying to steal gasoline. The man had plugged his hose into the motor home’s sewage tank by mistake. The owner of the vehicle declined to press charges, saying that it was the best laugh he’d ever had.
A guy walked into a little corner store with a shotgun and demanded all of the cash from the cash drawer. After the cashier put the cash in a bag, the robber saw a bottle of Scotch that he wanted behind the counter on the shelf. He told the cashier to put it in the bag as well, but the cashier refused and said, “Because I don’t believe you are over 21.” The robber said he was, but the clerk still refused to give it to him because he didn’t believe him. At this point, the robber took his driver’s license out of his wallet and gave it to the clerk. The clerk looked it over and agreed that the man was in fact over 21 and he put the Scotch in the bag. The robber then ran from the store with his loot. The cashier promptly called the police and gave the name and address of the robber that he got off the license. They arrested the robber two hours later.
As we continue our study of the TC—we get to #8—found in Exodus 20.
Exodus 20:15 (TNIV)
You shall not steal.
A couple of interesting thoughts about this C:
First of all, it’s the first commandment of the 10 that does not come with the death penalty. We will talk about this a bit more in a second.
Secondly, this C symbolizes a shift in the Cs. It’s a shift from holy authority, life and death, and sacred times…to the issue of things. In fact, Dr. Laura in her book on the Ten Commandments states the following: The commandments thus far have dealt with issues such as divine authority, life and death, sacred time, etc. Suddenly the gears are shifted from holy spirits and holy relationships to the issue of things. God considered the possession of things of significant importance to include respecting ownership as one of the Big Ten. (p236)
As we have been discussing with each of the TC, we have to ask: why is this idea, this C so important that it is included in what Dr. Laura calls “The Big Ten?” Why is stealing and the commandment to not do it included in the TC?
Well, as the TC are coming to the nation of God, the Israelites…the nation is preparing to take this new land that God had promised them…called the Promised Land. They were going to take possession of it.
And that is really what this C deals with…that which we possess. There is no doubt that God gives us possessions…to some He gives a lot of possessions, to others He gives few. But He gives us what we have.
And stealing from others violates our right to the God-given property we have. It is the taking of anything that rightfully belongs to another.
If you have ever been the victim of a robbery, you know what it feels like to be violated. A couple of years ago, Keri and I were the victims of an ever-increasing form of stealing; identity theft. Someone got a hold of my debit card number and took all of the money out of our accounts somewhere in Europe. We got it all back…but it’s a frustrating and scary feeling. Someone took something of yours. And that violates you.
Or when you realize someone has come into your house and robbed you…they invaded your private space and took things that belonged to you. That’s a frustrating and weird feeling.
And another reason I think there is a C asking us not to steal is because stealing reveals a lack of trust in God’s provision for us. Remember…God is establishing His people in their new land. They have to trust Him to provide for their needs. Stealing reveals that there really is a lack of trust in God’s very ability to do just that. It’s taking the responsibility for providing into our own hands…as opposed to letting God do it Himself.
I stated earlier that the 8th C is the first that does not carry the death penalty…but that does not make it any less important than the previous 7. There is still a stiff penalty for stealing.
And it’s interesting…let’s do a fun experiment. Let’s compare our current penal system with the one God laid down in the OT.
Let’s look at 4 different examples of stealing in the OT and their respective punishments.
Exodus 22:1 (TNIV)
1 “Whoever steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.
With this offense, the thief was required to pay back up to 5x more than what he stole. He was not thrown into jail with the violent criminal…like happens today.
Did you know that there is something like 1.7 million people in federal prisons in our country…and that doesn’t even count state, county, or local jails.
I think this could be one of the problems with our system today…we place the thieves in the jails. And when they leave, they are still inclined to steal.
In the OT, if you stole, you weren’t thrown into jail, but rather, you had to make restitution for what it was you stole. And not just you take 1 thing, you give 1 thing back. Here we see that if you took a sheep and had it sold or slaughtered, you had to pay back four sheep, or 4x what you stole. If you stole an ox and sold it or slaughtered it, you had to pay back 5 ox, or 5x what you stole.
The difference between the sheep and the ox is value…and premeditation. It doesn’t much to steal a sheep. But to steal a big old ox, you have to plan a little better; get a cart, animals to pull the cart, etc.
And so, God’s punishment for stealing, was to pay back 4 or 5x what you took…based on the degree of your crime.
What if that were the same today? If you stole $500 from someone…your judgment would be to pay back anywhere between $2K and $2500. That is a still penalty…and I bet you would think twice about stealing again. As it stands now, you may spend a day or two in jail…but that sometimes doesn’t have as much of a cost.
Here is another scenario in the OT:
Exodus 22:3 (TNIV)
“Anyone who steals must certainly make restitution, but if they have nothing, they must be sold to pay for their theft.
Anyone who steals must make restitution…or payback. But, in this particular scenario, the thief has nothing to pay back with. He is poor…has no money. So, what happens? That thief is sold to pay for the theft.
If he didn’t have anything, he wasn’t thrown into jail…but rather sold into slavery. And the sale of himself would cover the debt.
Now, we have something like this similar today…community service. A judge may request a thief do 200 community service hours. But in the OT, the thief didn’t serve the community, but rather served the victim of their crime.
And this was not harsh slavery…they were to be treated with respect. And every 7 years, in the OT, all debts were forgiven in the nation and prisoners like this released. So…it wasn’t forever.
Another situation and another punishment:
Exodus 22:4 (TNIV)
4 If the stolen animal is found alive in their possession—whether ox or donkey or sheep—they must pay back double.
So, here we have a guy who stole something…and got caught…and still has whatever property he stole within his possession. The Law then states that he is to return what he took as well as that same amount restitution…they have to give back double what they took.
If we compare this to the earlier ones we have talked about, we see that if the property can’t be returned, they pay back 4-5x the amount…but if it can, they pay back 2x.
This seems to me to be a fitting punishment for the crime, even for today. Consider this: when a thief steals something today, this is what happens…he/she is arrested and thrown into jail. The property is never recovered, so the victim files an insurance claim and the insurance company replaces the item. They also then start charging higher premiums for their insurance. The taxpayers also lose because now they are paying to have this thief in jail.
I like it this way better: if I steal $1,000 from you, I not only have to pay back the $1,000 I stole but I have to pay another $1,000. Depending on how much work it took to get that $1,000 from you, the courts may tell me to pay back $4-5K.
One other situation:
Numbers 5:6-7 (TNIV)
6 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the LORD is guilty 7 and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done, add a fifth of the value to it and give it all to the person they have wronged.
Here is a case of a person who commits theft, but feels guilty even before they are caught and they turn themselves in. What happens? He doesn’t get thrown into jail. He doesn’t pay back 4-5x what he took, or even the double we just talked about. But he does pay back what he stole plus 1/5 or 20% of the value. Do you see what that is? It’s an incentive for the guilty to turn themselves in.
When we look at this C, we just think about robbery, or shoplifting. And that is definitely included in the C to not steal…we are not to commit robbery or shoplift or thieve from anyone.
But, as we are going to see, there is more to this commandment than just committing robbery.
What are some other ways this C is violated today? I’ll share a list of just a few ideas.
- Stealing from an employer.
Taking small items from your company, like pads of paper or pens or paper clips or things like that. Small things…that are seemingly insignificant.
Johnny Cash once wrote, “He took it one piece at a time/And it didn’t cost him a dime.”
Did you know that most fast-food companies calculate 1% into their budget every year just to compensate for employee theft? It’s very common…and a budget item for most fast food restaurants.
But if you take something from your company that isn’t yours…it’s stealing.
- Stealing from a corporation.
We can do this in a lot of different ways; perhaps they give us too large of a refund. Or maybe they send us the wrong item, but it’s better than the one we paid for. Or maybe we take everything that isn’t fastened down in the hotel room that we stayed in.
The hotel industry loses and estimated $100 million every year to guest thievery. Towels, remote controls, Bibles, toiler paper, shower caps, TVs, clock radios…
I heard about a bus in the Chicago Metro area that was headed to the garage to be serviced…the only one in the bus was the driver. As he was driving, he lost control and wrecked the bus. Nobody was hurt…since it was empty. But 150 people filed bogus insurance claims with the city of Chicago stating that they had been injured in the crash.
I also heard about a man who received his paycheck from his company and noticed that they had given him an extra $100 more than he had earned. He decided to keep his mouth shut and cashed the check. The next week, when he got his check, the boss had realized the mistake and deducted the $100 from the new check. The employee was furious and marched into his boss’ office. “You made a mistake on my check,” the employee said. “You didn’t say anything last week when I made a mistake,” the boss replied. The employee thought about it and said, “I know…I can tolerate one mistake, but it’s getting to be a habit!”
- Stealing from the government.
Ahh…tax time is upon us. I just finished mine already this week, which in and of itself is a miracle. According to a U.S. News and World Report, an estimated ¼ of Americans cheat on their income taxes.
Matthew 22:21 (TNIV)
Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.
We may not like the government…its programs…its leaders…but we are not allowed to cheat on what we owe them. To do so is stealing.
- Stealing from the unknowing.
Ever heard this phrase: “finders, keepers—losers, weepers?” Not in the Bible.
Deuteronomy 22:1 (TNIV)
1 If you see someone else’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to its owner.
If you see an ox or sheep straying away, you are not to just ignore it, but to return it. If you don’t return a lost item to its owner, that could be the same as stealing. They owner doesn’t know it’s missing…but it rightfully belongs to him. For you to just keep it for yourself would be stealing.
If we overcharge customers and they don’t know it…that’s stealing.
If we sell goods that are faulty or bad…that’s stealing.
If we charge excess interest…that’s stealing.
If we confuse people with fine print on our documents…that’s stealing.
If you do personal work on company time…that’s stealing.
If you declare bankruptcy in order to avoid paying back debts you never intended to pay anyway…that’s stealing.
Employers are to pay their employees fairly…James 5:4 says, “4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you.” That’s stealing.
I could go on…
Here are a few more ways we can steal…and we don’t think of these ways very often. The first one deals with people…the second with God.
- We can steal intangibles from other people.
You can steal somebody’s reputation.
You can steal somebody’s self-esteem.
You can steal somebody’s purity.
You can steal somebody’s joy or hope.
When we steal from other people…we steal from them, essentially, life. It’s interesting to me, when I read some of Jesus’ words, the connection between stealing and life.
John 10:10 (TNIV)
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…
Jesus is talking about our enemy…the devil. He comes and his mission is three-fold. To steal. To kill. And to destroy.
Those things are linked together…when we steal somebody’s joy, for example, we are stealing from them a facet of life. When we steal their hope away, we take away life.
And Jesus says “that’s what the enemy does…steals, kills, and destroys.”
Then, let’s read the second part of that verse:
John 10:10 (TNIV)
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
To be like Christ…we don’t attempt to steal, but rather, we are to give.
- Finally, we can steal from God.
We can steal money from God.
Malachi 3:8 (TNIV)
8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings.
In the OT, when a Jew withheld his tithe, or 10% of his income, from God…God called that stealing. And we have talked a length not too long ago about tithing and offering to God.
But the principle is this…we can steal from God whenever we take what is rightfully His and keep it for ourselves. (This is important!)
Consider that statement alongside this passage from the Bible.
I Corinthians 6:19-20 (TNIV)
You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price.
You were bought at a price…what was that price? Jesus was the price. Consider this:
I Timothy 2:5-6 (TNIV)
5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people.
The ransom…the price…has been paid. And when the price is paid, ownership is transferred.
Jesus paid the price…and thus, we do not own ourselves anymore as Christians; rather, God owns us. And if God owns us…He owns all of us. And whenever we take what is rightfully His (which is ourselves!) and we keep ourselves for ourselves…we are stealing from God!
So…as that passage teaches, “we are not our own.” But…if we act as if we are our own, we are stealing from God, because He is our rightful owner.
So, what else can we steal from God…since “we are not our own?”
- Steal from God when we don’t join Him in His work…this is called Ministry. And I think this kind of robbery from God can happen a couple of ways.
- We can steal from God when we don’t use the talents He has given us.
i. I Corinthians 12:7-14, 27 (TNIV)
ii. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, [a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues. [b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by [c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
iii. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
iv. Remember, God owns us…He bought us with the great price of His Son. And, when we become Christians, we are given the gift of His Holy Spirit—and through that Spirit we have been given gifts to use, as this passage outlines. We each have different gifts…and Paul says it’s like a body…with different parts. Everybody’s gift and role is different, and everyone needs everyone else to be complete.
v. Hear this parable:
vi. Matthew 25:14-30 (TNIV)
vii. 14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, [a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ 23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 ” ‘Take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For those who have will be given more, and they will have an abundance. As for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
viii. In this parable, Jesus tells of a man who gave each servant something…and he expected that something (in this case, money) to be used.
ix. And when it wasn’t used, Jesus was livid…even cursing the servant who failed to use it. But he gave honor to those who did use their gifts.
God has given us gifts and talents…and He expects us to use them. And when we don’t, we are stealing from Him…
We have lots of opportunities to use those gifts and talents here at BCOC…we may be small, but that doesn’t matter. There are always opportunities. If you have the gift of hospitality, it is your responsibility to serve as a greeter or in some capacity that uses those strengths. If you have the gift and desire to pray, it’s your responsibility to pray…maybe start a prayer ministry here at the church…I’d love that. If you can teach, then teach. If you can fix things, then use that gift by finding people whose things are broken and fix them. If you have the gift of administration, then it is your DUTY to get into my office and clean it!
- We can steal from God by misusing our time, as well.
i. God has given us the same amount of minutes everyday with which to use for His glory.
ii. If He wants the best of our finances, which we have seen…and the best of our talents, which we have seen…can’t we deduce that He wants the best of our time, as well?
iii. And I don’t just mean Sunday morning…God does not operate with the mindset that if you give Him 2 hours on a Sunday morning, you can do whatever you want with the other 166 hours of the week.
iv. He wants the best of your time everyday…
- We can steal from God by neglecting His Word and the study of it.
The writer of the book of Hebrews wrote to a group of Christians who were in the church, but had not gotten very far past the door…and the writer expected them to do so. He says this:
Hebrews 5:12 (TNIV)
12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!
They should be teachers, but they are still learners…they had neglected learning and knowing God’s word.
Paul says this to Timothy:
II Timothy 2:15 (TNIV)
15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
We have to learn the word of truth…so that we can handle it correctly. And when we don’t, we are stealing from God. This is what He wants from us…and when we neglect it, we rob from Him
Because remember…we are not our own any longer…we were purchased at a high price!
What happens if we have been guilty of breaking this C?
We have to remember the story of Christ on the cross…and who was beside him? The Bible tells us there were 2 robbers hung up on a cross next to the crosses Christ was on.
One of them insulted Christ:
“Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
Luke 23:40-43 (TNIV)
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus forgives this robber next to him…there is no sin of stealing that is so great that it cannot be forgiven.
- Whatever you have stolen…be it property, or money, or something tangible. Of be it something intangible, like a reputation or self-esteem. Maybe you stole it from a person…or maybe you have stolen it from God…it’s not too late to confess that sin to Him and turn away from doing it anymore.
- Make restitution.
- I think, even beyond your confession, you should attempt to pay back whatever it is you stole. A thief can do something with his sin that other sinners cannot do…a murderer cannot raise the dead; an adulterer cannot un-do his/her adultery…but a thief can, usually, return what is taken. Look at those OT passages we read earlier about making restitution.
- Zacchaeus did just this…
- Luke 19…tells the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector…who were notorious for stealing extra taxes from the people to fill their own pockets. Anyway, Jesus walks by Zacchaeus and Zacchaeus invites Jesus to his house to eat…and Jesus comes. And after meeting Jesus face to face, Zacchaeus says this:
- Luke 19:8 (TNIV)
- 8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
- Zacchaeus knew his stealing was wrong…and so he repents and confesses immediately…and makes restitution by paying back 4x what he took!
- Cultivate a sensitive conscience.
- Give generously.
If you look at the last part of Zaccheus’ story, you see Jesus says that salvation has come to his home…
Forgiveness is not too far for anyone…even the worst of thieves.