4.10 - Eighth Commandment: Do Not Steal
“You shall not steal.“ (Exodus 20:15)
4.10.1 - To Whom does Property Belong?
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and all there is in them. He alone owns the elements, plants, animals and us as well. We are God's own. We were not made by accident, but by the grace of God, His thoughts and powers have been manifested in every creature. God is the owner of the universe. To Him alone belong all things, even gold and silver. We are just stewards of what He has entrusted to us. We are responsible for all He has given us. Our time, health, power, money, property do not belong to us, but only to Him. Do you agree?
A hundred years ago, atheistic theories that denied the realm of the spirit came to the fore. They only affirmed matter, which was claimed to evolve on its own. God was unthinkable to them. That is why communism claims that people may possess the world, not God. The ruling party seized control of all the assets and property of the people, and loyalty to that party meant sharing in these assets. But individual people were less convinced of the collective philosophy, so they worked less than they could have, and plundered the finances and the property of the country as much as possible. That is why China and other socialist countries advanced to doing non-social, private jobs. Meager economic production revealed that man was not created for any kind of social collective system. We were created to assume a life of total responsibility from the beginning. Man needs to be self-motivated, not coerced. When perestroika developed the communist systems crumbled.
In the West, capitalism means that everyone is the sole master of his own time and money. A democratic social system tries to secure some crumbs for the poor from the big cake which the rich divide among themselves. Oh, that these millionaires would recognize their responsibility before God and repent to Him! Then they would recognize the poor and think about the little ones and meet their need.
Actually communism and capitalism have similar goals. Both want to control all property and power. They only differ in the method by which they gain control over wealth. The confiscation of property in socialistic countries is no more than robbery. But the exploitation of the poor in capitalistic countries is a clever form of betrayal, aided by the use of modern media.
A Christian, however, should realize that all properties belong to the Creator. We are not owners or independent masters, but humble stewards only. Nothing belongs to us. What we already have is nothing more than a blessing from God, and we have to give an account of how we use our money, time or effort. Be aware what you do and what you spend!
4.10.2 - Loving God and Coveting Money
Jesus warns us, “No one can serve two masters; for he will either hate one and love the other... You cannot serve both God and money“ (Matthew 6:24). A Christian cannot act as though he were the master of his own money without putting it at God's disposal, or else he would be a thief who robs his master. For this reason the way we handle our money changes radically when we become Christians. Wealthy Christians shouldn't plan and live for themselves, but actually ask God what He wants them to do with the money He entrusted to them.
The developing countries, which have little industry, still need spiritual enlightenment first. The belief in the triune God reinforces responsibility, diligence and sacrificial attitudes. Only a relationship with Jesus can keep people from becoming corrupt or working only for their own families, then they see and feel the needs of others. If their attitudes are not changed, laziness, theft and terrorism will prevail. Christ is the only hope for our world!
The Bible clearly says, “Do not steal“, thereby affirming private property. So we should not envy someone his riches, for his eternal responsibility increases with his wealth. Jesus explained this commandment when He said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God“ (Matthew 19:24). The wealth of the rich cannot justify stealing from them, however, because everyone who steals bears the just judgment of God Himself.
Deep down inside we feel that we shouldn't take something which is not ours. Our consciences are very sensitive and warn us not to steal anything, big or small. We should examine ourselves carefully and see if we have something that is not ours. The Lord will definitely help you to recognize what belongs to you and what belongs to somebody else, if you ask him to help you to remember what does not belong to you. We also have to ask Jesus to give us courage to return what is not ours immediately. We need to ask God and the owners for forgiveness and remission. Stolen things will affect our conscience and destroy our relationship with Jesus. In an evangelistic meeting in Africa, people were encouraged to return all that they had stolen. At this point some policemen present laughed and looked sarcastically at one another for they knew that each one of them had stolen. These things happen everywhere and it is a special grace of God when we know our sin, regret and hate it, sincerely repent of it, confess it and make restitution. Always turn to Jesus, and He will help you to repair the damage you may have caused. Give back everything which does not belong to you quickly!
4.10.3 - Modern Stealing
Let us ask ourselves, “What is stealing these days?“ It is not just taking away things which do not belong to us but also embezzlement, procrastination and wasting time during work. Every form of cheating is stealing. Selling defective items cheaply or expensively is cheating the buyer. Sometimes the value of the merchandise is not in proportion to its price. Turning in the wrong information to the tax administration is also stealing. There are, of course, many ways to cheat in work and economic dealings. If you won't live in the presence of the holy God you will be in danger of embezzling and sinning against Him and His people.
This test of conscience also applies to land owners, bosses in business and other people in high positions when they take advantage of their employees and require them to work hard without paying fair wages to them. It is theft for banks and individuals to ask for high interest rates. But it is also a sin for someone to ask for credit when he knows he cannot pay it back. There are lots of ways of stealing, both private and public, and if we do not train our conscience in the uprightness of the Holy Spirit we will be in danger of losing our righteousness and salvation through greed for money and envy of property. Paul clearly states, “Nor thieves nor the greedy... will inherit the Kingdom of God“ (1 Corinthians 6:10).
In our modern society stealing has taken various forms. Some people will use the telephone at work for personal calls. Some people take what they see in a shop or market and do not pay for it. Others open cars and drive them away. Others distribute drugs free of charge to make the users dependent on them and then force them to pay for the drugs to support their addiction. They make the addicts steal or commit other crimes to get the money. Entering into foreign computers or copying unpaid software is a modern form of theft that infects the consciences of many.
If we do not accept a new heart from Jesus we open ourselves up to a lot of temptations. We must be sure that we don't let money-making become our supreme goal in life, or else we become materialistic and lose the joy of the Lord. Don't forget that envy and greed are still the reasons for all evil. Anyone looking for money changes the attitude of his life. His heart hardens, his love grows cold, and everything he does is out of a desire for money. Money will become the focus of his life and God is no longer his center.
Jesus preferred to live as a poor man rather than fall into the danger of riches. He had nowhere to lay His head. Judas, who betrayed our Lord, was a thief in charge of the treasury (John 12:6) and hanged himself in the end.
Paul worked diligently with his own hands. He did not want to impose himself on others. He not only earned his own living but also helped others so that the Gospel could be preached.
4.10.4 - Work and Sacrifice
Many new believers need to change their attitude to money and work honestly, because begging or waiting on help from others is not honorable and does not secure adequate income. The fourth request in the Lord's Prayer is “Give us this day our daily bread.“ This means that we pray confidently to our heavenly Father to give us a proper job and bless us with health and endurance to do it, no matter how many difficulties we may encounter.
If we truly live under God's guidance and work diligently, we do not need to steal or live off others because we will not only be blessed to support our families, but can help the needy, too, and participate with our prayerful offerings in the Lord's work as well. It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35; Ephesians 4:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:11).
Jesus once met a rich young man who was godly and kept the Ten Commandments faithfully. The Lord loved him and wanted to set him free from his hidden ties. So He said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven“ (Matthew 19:21). The young man was grieved when he heard this, for he was wealthy. He left Jesus. Money was more important to him than the Son of God. From time to time we have to test ourselves to see if following Jesus is our first priority or if we are trusting in our possessions or our deposits in the bank (Mark 10:19; Luke 18:10). Jesus wants to release us from trusting in our money. We need to yield to Him and make sacrifice our main aim in life. Just as our Lord offered Himself as a ransom for many we need to help others gladly in many practical ways. God wants to set us free from trust in money and strengthen our trust in Him.
Members of the early church loved one another in spiritual fellowship while waiting eagerly for the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. They sold their property and lived together on the income. They voluntarily served in love for each other. Unlike communism, no one was forced to share anything. Yet the early Christian church could not maintain this social system for long. Many Christians were becoming poor as Christ did not come as soon as expected. When famine swept over the land they suffered terribly. By then Paul had gathered offerings of remarkable amounts of money from churches in today's Greece and Turkey and brought them to the original church in Jerusalem.
Paul changed the meaning and esteem of work when he stated, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men“ (Colossians 3:23). Ever since, every honorable work is regarded as worship to God. So if a mother cares for her children or if a laborer sweeps the streets or if a pastor preaches on Sunday, then every good work is a direct service to God. We ought to test ourselves and ask, “Whom do we serve? Do we serve ourselves, our families, employers, state or do we live for God?“ Prayer and work together is the body of the Christian life.
4.10.5 - Islam and Property
Islam affirms the Creator's possession of all He created. It approves of individual ownership of that which God has entrusted to us. Property is a gift from God for anyone who prays regularly and lives according to the Islamic law. The oriental does not live first as an isolated, independent individual but as a member of his tribe. Property, oil wells and springs of water are entirely controlled and owned by the tribe for generations. The family has been the safe refuge to which the aged, the sicks, the crippled and even the criminal would turn. Until recently there was not much need in the Middle East for social security or life insurance, but with the rise of modern technology workers in towns were isolated and charity organizations became necessary.
Mosques and Islamic foundations are funded by the religious tax (zakat) and alms-giving (sadaqa). This wealth of money is controlled and spent without any supervision by the government because they are issued by virtue of religious regulations as though they paved the way for the Muslim to go to paradise. If someone builds a mosque on earth, he hopes he will obtain a castle in paradise.
When Islam first started, the distribution of valuable spoils of war to Muslim fighters was a sure way to win the animists who had not made up their minds yet about accepting Islam. Muhammad purposely followed this method, even with enemies, “to make their hearts used to Islam“. If a heathen did not accept Islam, he was to be murdered or enslaved. According to the Quran and the Islamic law, the slaves were the property of Muslims, and marriageable slave-girls were at the disposal of their masters and the slaves' parents had to agree to this. The slave trade flourished for a long time in the Islamic world. A civil war broke out in America to put an end to slave trade there.
4.10.6 - Severe Penalties in the Sharia for Thieves
Islam is obligated to administer harsh punishments to thieves: the thief's right hand is cut off if he is caught stealing more than a certain amount for the first time, and his left leg is removed at the second offense. This reduced the rate of theft in Islamic countries to some degree. But even though fear is the main motivation in keeping this law, there are still frequent stealing incidents in Iran, the Sudan and other Islamic countries, where hands and feet are sometimes cut off publicly. Khomeini issued a decree to cut off the thief's hand without anesthesia. The Islamic law in the Sudan was stopped for four years. At that point a hundred hand-amputated people founded an organization for those crippled by the law. They asked the government to pay them restitution and pension, for their hands were cut off under a law that no longer existed. This group included about two dozen men who also had their left legs amputated because they stole again. In the “Sudan Now“ magazine there was a picture of these men holding up the stumps of the ruthlessly amputated hands.
Severe penalties according to the Sharia do not make the thief's attitudes better or change him, but in fact they make him unable to work and expose him always to public shame. Think about what would happen in all countries of the world if everyone who stole something of value had his right hand cut off. How many people would be left with two good hands? Sharia is not applicable today.
4.10.7 - How did Jesus and His Followers Discourage Stealing?
Jesus has provided a better way to overcome stealing. He did not abolish the nation's penalties for stealing. Instead, He bore the penalty of eternal punishment on Himself so that He could atone for everyone who stole. Out of our gratitude for His suffering and sacrifice, we will never touch anything that is not ours.
The Spirit of truth has set us free from the spirit of theft. He strengthens our renewed heart to trust in God our Father so that we can ask Him to give us a decent job in order to earn our daily bread exactly as we pray in the Lord's Prayer. We do not submerge ourselves in worry because we are sure that our heavenly Father cares for us personally and never lets go of us. So the following verse applies to the follower of Christ: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need“ (Ephesians 4:28).
Jesus has endowed His followers with a new heart in which meaningful life is not seen in terms of money and possessions but in spiritual life whose bond is love and gratitude. Our Lord has set us free from stinginess and envy. He teaches us that every rich person faces a serious temptation that tries to control him. So we ought to rethink all our spending and give an account to God and to ourselves about every penny we have spent. We are stewards of what he has given us.
A Christian believer looks at the poor with love and compassion and plans to help them so that they may grow responsible for themselves and work honestly and diligently. We have to find wise ways to help the needy help themselves, unless they are too disabled to work. Every member of a church is called to participate in this regard. “For he who knows how to do good and does not, sins.“
Love for God is the overriding rule in the life of every Christian, not fear of punishment. It is the great sacrifice offered on the cross of Calvary, and not our good works that will blot away sins. We thank Jesus for motivating us to live truthfully, contentedly and diligently. Instead of enforcing laws on property or demanding taxes, Jesus changes the hearts and minds of those who follow Him according to His principle that changes the cultures of all ages. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and offer His life as a ransom for many“ (Matthew 20:28).