THE TEN COMMANDMENTS IN THE 21st CENTURY
8) 'YOU SHALL NOT STEAL'
To steal is to take away something that belongs to someone else and to use it as yours. It may be money, as when a burglar beaks into your apartment and empties your purse. It may be possessions, as when you are stopped in the street and someone demands your mobile phone. It can also be time. If your employer pays you to work ten hours a day but he is out of the office today and you take a two hour lunch break so that you can watch football on the computer, that is stealing.
You can steal from a person, or you can steal from an organisation. If you make a false statement when you are filling in the form for the Government’s tax collector so that you pay less tax than you should, that is stealing. If you jump over the barrier at the railway station and get on the train without a ticket, you are stealing from the railway company. God hates stealing. He insists that we respect the rights of ownership of other people.
He is so insistent on this point that the Law of Moses says if you find someone else’s property that he has obviously lost, you have a duty by law to keep it safe and to return it to him at the earliest opportunity. See Deuteronomy 22:1-3. Even if it was your enemy’s property, you must give it back to him – see Exodus 23:4.
It is interesting to see how the Law of Moses punished a thief. In our society a thief is usually fined or sent to prison. But in the Law of if a thief stole something, say somebody’s sheep, he had to make restitution to the man he had stolen from. See Exodus 22:1, 4. Notice that if the sheep is still on his premises he repays two sheep, but if he has killed it or sold it to someone else, he has to repay four sheep. This was a good deterrent to stop people stealing sheep.
However there was another possibility in the Law of Moses. If a man stole something from his neighbour, say a cow, taking it from him by force. Suppose afterwards he repented, and wished he had not taken it. In this case he could go to the priest and confess his sin. Notice, it was a sin, because he had broken the Eighth Commandment. God, who sees everything, knew all about his theft, and God was upset about it. But of course his neighbour was also upset, because he had lost his cow. So the thief had to put things right with his neighbour as well as with God. He has to do two things. He has to go to his neighbour and make a confession to him - ‘I am sorry, I stole your cow, but now I am bringing it back’. To compensate him for the trouble he had caused, and the milk the man had lost, he adds a 20% extra to the value of the cow and gives the man that as well. See Leviticus 6:2-5. Then he goes along to the Tabernacle and brings the priest an offering for his sin, to put things right with God (verse 6, 7). Notice the difference. If he is caught with the stolen animal in his possession and he had no intention to return it, he has to pay the owner at least twice the value, and four times the value of the animal if he has already disposed of it. If he repents and apologises of his own accord, he only has to repay one fifth extra. Thus the Law of Moses encourage people to repent and put things right with each other and with God.
These rules in the Law of Moses show us that we cannot hide anything from God. He sees all that we do, and he judges us. When we take an extra hour off work, he knows about it. When we steal a pencil from the stationery cupboard, he sees us and remembers.
What does the New Testament have to say about the crime of stealing? Once more, the Apostle Paul has some advice for us. In Ephesians 4:22, 23 he says when we are baptised we become new men and women. It is like going into a shop and coming out with a new coat. We take off our old coat and put it in the rubbish bin, and we put on the new coat. The old man-coat we take off is the Adam coat. Adam was made in the likeness of God, but in character he failed to be like God. He was a sinner. We have to put on the Jesus coat, for Jesus was like God in character as well as appearance – see verse 24. Stealing belongs to the Adam man. Stealing is wrong. It hurts other people. It takes away something that was theirs, and now they cannot enjoy it any more. They may not know who it was that stole their possession, but they are left angry and miserable, and you have been the cause of that bad feeling. In contrast, says the Apostle, when we put on the new man, the one modelled on Jesus, we have to change from hurting people to helping them. Imagine a skilled pickpocket who has heard about Jesus. Before, he never needed to go out to work, because he lived by stealing. Now this man has become a Christian. It is not enough for him to say ‘I have stopped stealing from people’. Now, says the apostle, that former thief must go out to work and earn money to give to people in need – see verse 28. He does not just stop taking away from people, he has to give to them.
We live in a world where people have no moral standards. They steal and cheat and commit fraud without hesitation. As followers of Jesus we must observe scrupulously the rules of property. We must return lost things we find. We must give to people, not take away from them
So, to summarise, stealing is always wrong. It upsets God, and though we may think our crime has not been detected we cannot hide it from God. And thieves, says the Apostle in his list in 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, along with murderers and adulterers, will not inherit his Kingdom.
(NEXT MONTH: 'YOU SHALL NOT GIVE FALSE EVIDENCE AGAINST YOUR NEIGHBOUR”)