The Eighth Commandment: You Shall Not Steal
Someone broke into our garage this week and stole our limbo stick. I mean, seriously, how low can you go? Maybe you think this sermon is going to be fairly easy to take after hearing enough conviction the past several weeks considering the previous commandments. Maybe you assume stealing has never really been an issue for you. A survey from Barna discovered that 86% of adults claim to have met the requirement of the eighth commandment. Hopefully, you understand by now how bad of an answer that would be pertaining to any of the Ten Commandments.
We have routinely seen that each commandment on the surface carries numerous positive and negative implications. We break these commandments not only when we take some physical action, but even when we speak and think in ways that reveal ungodly desires. Last week we looked at the positive implications that this commandment commends work and the preservation of private property.
Calvin This law is ordained for our hearts as much as for our hands, in order that men may study both to protect the property and to promote the interests of others.
We also must deal with the negative implications in order to see the full picture. We can become so invested in protecting and promoting our own financial interests that we find ourselves trusting in them. Once we settle for a greedy heart—even justifying greed as some champions of Capitalism do—it will not be long before we are willing to extort or rob in order to increase our riches (Psalm 62:10).
The best guard against theft is to lay up treasures in heaven rather than earth (Matthew 6:19). I love the way missionary Jim Elliott stated it in his journal: He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.
Read Exodus 20:15
The Heidelberg Catechism Q.110 calls it “outright theft and robbery”. Taking or receiving what does not rightfully belong to you. Simple enough. Do you realize this would include slavery in its most commonly practiced forms. That’s important to understand since so many have the twisted view that Scripture condones chattel slavery, the most heinous form of slavery which involved kidnapping. One prominent biblical example of this was when Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave (Genesis 37).
Remember the prologue to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2)! God was not interested in bringing the Israelites out of their cruel slavery in Egypt in order to allow them to enslave others. That would have made mockery of the freedom that God had provided for them.
Yes, a person could enter into debt bondage, but even that arrangement was to last no more than six years. The most basic understanding of the eighth commandment forbids man stealing and selling. It even carried the death penalty (Exodus 21:16; Deuteronomy 24:7). This was elaborated later by Israelite legislation and made clear in the New Testament as well (1 Timothy 1:10). Slavery in Scripture was much different than what we typically associate with the term.
Outside of chattel slavery, breaking this commandment never results in capital punishment. Any other possession did not have such severe consequences. Stealing farm animals could devastate a family business, but the penalty was to “restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep” (Exodus 22:1). Additional punishments that were to be enforced for various forms of theft are recorded in Exodus 22:1-16. Restitution is taken from the transgressor and given to the victim with an additional amount added on as an appropriate penalty. The general rule was to add a fifth to the value of anything that is restored (Leviticus 6:2-5). This emphasizes the value of life over property.
The goal among fellow Israelites was to not only bring financial restoration, but relational reconciliation. Damage was done beyond the item that was taken. This principle of restitution was applied within the same generation in which the crime was committed. Therefore, the parties involved could rightly achieve reunion. To command future generations to pay for past crimes would itself be an injustice (Deuteronomy 24:16).
Horizontal reconciliation was secondary to the importance of vertical reconciliation, but the two were connected. One could not indulge a grudge against his neighbor and assume it would not impact his relationship with God. When we realize that God owns all of creation, we can see how stealing something that does not belong to us, is ultimately treated as stealing from God. True restoration begins here—with God. Repent of your theft and be restored into a right relationship with God by believing in the Son whom he sent. Then go and be reconciled with your neighbor.
There are also ways to steal that are less obvious…
Although theft always contains a certain element of deceit, in this section we are thinking of methods devised in order to give an appearance of honesty. There is an exchange of funds that are openly agreed upon, though only one party is privy to the underhanded terms.
These might include examples of cheating in commerce. One of the more common practices of this kind condemned in Scripture is the use of false weights and measures. Since transactions were conducted based upon weight, some shady merchants would increase their margin by keeping two sets of weights, one that was accurate and one that was false (Proverbs 11:1; 20:10; Amos 8:5).
There were other forms of oppressing the poor and needy, those who were typically unable to do anything about the injustice even if they knew it was taking place. Some would hold back their product (i.e., grain) for the purpose of tampering with the price (Proverbs 11:26). There were various forms of making a dishonest gain. Pursuing business endeavors that are themselves sinful (idol makers, adult lounges, etc.). When we focus purely upon our own enrichment, we feel less bothered about taking advantage of others.
This kind of sin is an abomination to the Lord, and yet, how often do modern day advertisements and sales reps use underhanded techniques to make us unhappy or convince us to buy something that we do not need? Selling overpriced products may be a modern version of using false weights.
DeYoung But even if interest is appropriate in a free-market system, it must not be predatory. Calvin insisted that he set the interest rate in Geneva, because he believed that determining interest rates was a moral and theological issue.
Although I think there were problems with Calvin’s Geneva, too closely connecting the duties of the Church and State, I do agree that this is a theological issue. And it is the moral duty for the State to abide by its duties as well.
Bullinger Those who steal private property spend lives in prison; thieves who steal public property walk about arrayed in gold and purple.
The State was often guilty of breaking this commandment. Today, that looks like taxation for overseeing programs that are meant to support the poor, but ultimately cripple them. Those who enjoy the greatest gain from government oversight are the governors themselves. Those in position to receive the benefits of government programs remain stuck in a cycle of poverty, while taxes continue to increase. The end result is a rise in bureaucratic spending.
Economist Walter E. Williams points out that the U.S. spent $250 billion to fight poverty in 1979,
Had this amount of money been distributed equally to all families below the poverty level, each of them would have received an annual payment of $34,000.
Just as individuals are responsible for earning and stewarding private property, so the government bears responsibility to do the same with what they take from individuals.
We find reconciliation with God through faith and repentance, and then we walk in ongoing faith and repentance as we fight the temptation to take advantage of others or to simply be poor stewards of our resources. It is because of our union with Christ that we can transform from a thief into a generous person.
Scripture also acknowledges the internal consequences of breaking this commandment. This will be displayed primarily through distorted attractions to worldly comforts (Proverbs 23:5) and setting our hearts in riches (Psalm 62:10).
Colossians 3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
In the middle of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus turns his attention to the pursuit of money and the anxiety that is often associated with that pursuit (Matthew 6:19-34). The principle is stated well in Proverbs 28:19, “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.” Just as we may break the sixth and seventh commandments in our hearts, we can do the same with the eighth when we are driven by greed.
Think about the practices in the banking and mortgage industry prior to the crises from 2007-2010. I worked for a nationwide notary signing business, so I’m quite familiar with many of the problems that contributed to the catastrophe. Property values were sky high, loans were given to people who should have never qualified, home owners were convinced to refinance when they didn’t need to. Home appraisers were willing to do their part to assess the value at a rate well above reasonable levels. And once one home sold above its value, every other home in that area did the same.
On the other hand, the buyers and sellers were also following the money. Some lied about their income or their assets in order to get a loan well outside their means to repay it. People became rich off flipping houses. They bought homes that needed a bit of work and resold them without ever moving in. The details were manipulated in order to increase profit margins for everyone involved.
We bought our first home in 2003 and within two years it had almost doubled in value. When we sold three years later, we were barely able to get what we owed on the mortgage. So no one wanted to blow the whistle, but most people knew we were creating a gigantic housing bubble that would eventually collapse.
Greed has a tendency to affect us all, corporations as well as individuals. We like to talk about “the man” as if all of the problems rest upon management, but the employees are just as culpable. Everyone seems to be doing what they can to get a little bit more. Last week we talked about the goal of promoting wealth, but if greed is the motivating factor we will be willing to take advantage of others in the process. And, in the end, we will never find contentment.
Whether we are employed by the government, business owners, or consumers, the eighth commandment ought to correct our greedy pursuit of more.
Horton A society cannot last long once it has adopted the view that the community exists to serve the individual. The Christian idea of the commonwealth is taken from the imagery of the body of Christ, each part supplying its unique role in supporting the whole, no part being despised, regardless of how diminished its role may be, compared to other parts of the body.
Turn with me to Luke 23:39-43 where we read of Jesus’ crucifixion between two robbers. Jesus, One who knew no sin, became sin—He who never stole became a thief—in order that thieves like those dying next to him (and you and me) might find our contentment and rest in Him. Jesus took upon himself the shame and the guilt of the thief who turned to him in faith.
Horton The thief crucified next to our Lord may have experienced the wrath of Rome that dark Friday afternoon, but because of the crucifixion of a Man just feet from him, he would not have to endure the wrath of heaven. All thieves who trust in Christ can expect to hear those same words on their deathbed from the spotless Lamb: “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.”
The Lord’s Supper
Invitation to the Sacraments and Fencing the Table
This is a time to enjoy communion with our Savior. Christ is spiritually present at the Table. It is more than simply remembering what he did for us, it is enjoying the benefits of his work. We enjoy communion or fellowship in His body and blood (1 Cor 10:16), as we feed upon Him by faith, in our hearts. Here we partake of “spiritual food” and “spiritual drink” (1 Cor 10:3, 4).
Since Christ is spiritually present at His table, and since we enjoy spiritual “communion” with Him there, through the Lord’s Supper we receive His sustaining grace. Here our souls are fed. Here we find refreshment. Though we come with an awareness of weakness and failure, bruised and battered by the world, discouraged and compromised by sin, still Jesus extends His invitation and restores our honored place at His Table. Here we are renewed and strengthened. Here we “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood” (Jn 6:53). By this sacrament “Christ and all His benefits, are applied and sealed up unto us.” Here we find “medicine for poor sick souls.”
It is required of those who participate in this meal that they be sincere, instructed, and accountable members of the church of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul warns us in the strongest terms not to participate in an “unworthy manner.” It is necessary, he says, to “judge the body rightly.”
Therefore, if you are an unbeliever, if you are an unrepentant believer, living in defiance of Christ’s commands: if you do not understand and are ignorant of the meaning of the bread and cup, or if you are not a member of Christ’s church, do not participate in this meal. We invite you instead to remain among us and use this time to ask God to speak to your heart through His word and sacrament, and give you more light and understanding.
But if you are a sincere believer, walking in obedience to Christ, understanding the meaning of the Supper, and are accountable, being a communicant in good standing in an evangelical church, I invite you to come to partake of His body and blood.
Words of Institution
Come forward whenever you’re ready. The purple cups on the outside are filled with wine and the clear cups on the inside are filled with juice. Take the elements back to your seats and when everyone has been served we will partake of the elements together.
- The Lord Jesus Christ on the same night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it, gave it to his disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
- In the same manner, he also took the cup, and having given thanks as has been done in his name, he gave it to the disciples, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Drink from it all of you.”
And now may your experience be like the psalmist who said, “Surely God is my help, the Lord is the One who sustains me”; May your confidence be as the apostle who said, “The One who calls you is faithful, He will do it”. Psalm 54:4; 1 Thes. 5:24