Now let’s talk about thieves. Not just any thieves, but Christian thieves. It’s the next simple guideline in the Ten Commandments—just another single sentence.
You shall not steal.
You would think this should be simple, like the commandment against adultery. You would think that this isn’t something that needs to be stated. It seems like a no-brainer that we should not take thinks that don’t belong to us. Even so, here it is. And it’s not just here. The New Testament is just as plain about stealing.
While some of us may admit to stealing things (perhaps a paperclip here or there?), most would probably not admit to being a thief. Like everything else Jesus tries to tell us, it’s not just about behavior but about our heart and motivation that underlie all wrongful behavior. There are several ways to steal, but we need to come up with a working definition of stealing, something like this:
Intentionally depriving someone else of something of value to which he/she is entitled.
So I’m going to assume that, at some point of your life, everyone reading this has taken something that is not rightfully yours to take. I once read somewhere that there are different types of stealing. Let’s look at some different ways we engage in stealing.
~Removing something that doesn’t belong to you
This could be something as small as a candy bar to something as large as robbing a bank. In the Old Testament, there’s a story of God leading Israel through fight after fight. When they get to one city, God tells them not to take any plunder from the city—nothing. They are to leave it all. Yet there was this one guy—Achan—who saw all this stuff sitting there and figured he would snag some of it for himself. He disobeyed God’s direct command and stole the loot and had to pay a steep price for disobeying God.
Sometimes, we remove things that don’t rightfully belong to us.
~Withholding something that should rightfully go to someone else.
For example, if you lie on your time card at work, you are withholding hours from your employer that you are being paid for. That’s stealing. Or, if you withhold your kid’s birthday money from grandma because “he’s not mature enough yet,” it’s still stealing.
~Using your words to manipulate others for your own benefit.
I lump cheating or other manipulation together. Have you ever been the victim of a con man? I have. They can be pretty slick. Sometimes they talk so fast and move so quickly you have no idea what’s going on until they are long gone. Long story short, I ended up on a road side in Italy holding a ratty old jacket that somehow I ended up paying $50 for. He used his words to manipulate me. He stole from me!
Using your words to manipulate someone to get what you want is stealing. We can even include slander and gossip, because that steals credibility and character from the people we attack.
Without wood, fire goes out; without a gossip, conflict dies down.
And then there’s:
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work, to slander no one, to avoid fighting, and to be kind, always showing gentleness to all people.
~Relying on others generosity rather than working for it.
This is to be a sloth, a bum—a mooch! Letting others take care of us without doing anything to earn it (basically your average teenager). The apostle Paul says:
But we encourage you, brothers, to do so even more, to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may walk properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.
-1 Thessalonians 4:10-12
In fact, when we were with you, this is what we commanded you: “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat.” For we hear that there are some among you who walk irresponsibly, not working at all, but interfering with the work of others. Now we command and exhort such people by the Lord Jesus Christ that quietly working, they may eat their own food.
-2 Thessalonians 3:10-12
Even the Bible says that it’s not cool to live only off of the kindness of others. It’s a form of theft. Finally, we’ve got:
~Holding back your time, talent, and treasure from God can amount to spiritual stealing.
We ALL have something we can give to God, the church, the community, and the world. The question is, are we utilizing the gifts God has given us or are we hoarding it for ourselves? Peter writes in his first letter:
Based on the gift each one has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God.
-1 Peter 4:10
Its all about intentionally depriving someone of something of value to which they are rightfully entitled. So what? It all comes down to this: How we treat others and how we trust God. If we really sought to treat people well, we would never take away from them. If we actually trusted God, we would never have to steal.
If you fully trust God to be the King of your life and to provide for all your needs, we would never take anything. It’s when we take our eyes off of God and focus on ourselves that we decide to take things that don’t belong to us—we try to take care of ourselves by our own means.
We don’t have to lie on our taxes. We don’t have to rob banks. We don’t have to be slothful and rely on others to take care of us.
The Bible says, “Do not steal.” This covers ALL forms of theft.
And this isn’t who God wants us to be.
Questions for Reflection
– What have you taken that doesn’t belong to you?
– How does your thievery relate to your trust in God to provide?
Photo by VBC 17 via Flickr