The 8th: “You Shall Not Steal”


Sermon Text: Exodus 20:15
Sermon Series: “The Ten Commandments” (#9)

Main Points:
I. What is stealing?
II. Why steal?
III. What comes out of stealing?

Hearing this eighth commandment, if anyone thinks, ‘I’m alright with this because I haven’t stolen anything from anybody,’ he is wrong because the sin this commandment forbids is what every human being commits.

Let me tell you why I say so. On a TV show I watched during the past week, someone was gathering mussels from the rocks on the seashore. She wasn’t breaking any law by doing that and she looked happy with those mussels. She said, ‘Isn’t it great to live a place like this? I can collect these for free and these are amazingly delicious.’ Her words grabbed my attention and, as I thought about it, I found a major problem. Indeed, those mussels are not free; she needs to pay for them. Not to any man nor to a civil authority, but to the Creator of those mussels. Not by a worldly currency, but in appreciation and praise that are due to God who created all and owns all. So, if the woman on TV show wasn’t a Christian, thus, did not give the Creator due appreciation and praise, she in fact stole them from the Owner of not only those mussels but all things of this world, including her own life.

In this way, the unbelievers do steal from God, and sometimes, if not often, we believers also steal from God by not giving thanks to Him for all things. This means, stealing is more than taking anything that doesn’t belong to me. So, stealing is one of the most frequently committed and widely practised sins. And the eighth commandment warns us not to commit this sin, not to continue in it.

Having said, let us think about the definition of stealing in terms of our daily living. Stealing is taking someone else’s belonging without right or permission – that’s what it is. We find many examples from the Bible such as Jacob stealthily taking the blessings his father had intended to give to Esau, Jacob’s brother; Rachel, Jacob’s wife, taking her father’s idols and hiding them from her father; King David bringing Bathsheba into his palace while her husband, Uriah, had gone to fight a war, and so on. In the NT, the case of Judas Iscariot taking money from the collection bag is a typical example of stealing.

A school boy took a pencil from one of his classmates without permission, and that’s stealing. When his dad knew about it, he asked his son why? The child shrugged his shoulders, then, this dad said, ‘If you had told me that you needed one, I would’ve brought one from my work.’ That’s stealing too.

But, ‘stealing’ our Bible talks about is more than simply picking up someone else’s property. For example, Ex. 21 and Dt. 24 includes kidnapping as man stealing; Lev. 19 talks about not paying a fair wage for labour as stealing too. The Scriptures also include improper taking of such intangible qualities as dignity, respect, freedom or rights as stealing. So, biblical definition of stealing is a broader sense of taking whatever – visible and invisible – that belongs to someone else and that without permission or right to do so. In this sense, even lying and cheating are forms of stealing.

Based on this broader meaning of stealing, we can say that ‘murder’ the sixth commandment forbids is a form of stealing. Because killing someone is taking another man’s life without right to do so. Adultery in the seventh commandment is also a form of stealing for an obvious reason – that is, taking someone else’s spouse. Do you remember the punishment the OT states for anyone who committed murder or adultery? It’s capital punishment – a murder and an adulterer must be put to death according to the OT laws.

Although the same capital punishment is not specifically stated for theft, the basic and overall idea of punishment for this sin is the same, death penalty – as kidnapping which is a form of stealing, death penalty is spelled out in Ex. 21:16 and Dt. 24:7.

But in some cases of stealing, lesser punishments were stated. In case of anyone stealing someone else’s animal, then restitution should be made. For example, stealing an ox must be restored by five oxen, and a sheep by four sheep. In case anyone’s loose animal entered another’s field or vineyard and messed it up, then the restitution would be the best of the fields of the animal’s owner. But for stealing any human being, capital punishment was commanded.

But, that’s for the OT Israel and the people of the 21st century see this sin of theft/stealing differently. No longer is stealing a serious crime that deserves death penalty, not because we understand this sin better, nor because we live in a completely different world, but because people in general are ignorant of the seriousness of this sin.

Like the dad in the story I told you earlier who said to his son, ‘If you had told me, I would have brought one from my work,’ people have trivialised stealing, on the one hand, and on the other, they’ve rationalised their own sins of stealing. No longer is it a sin so serious that the life of thief is endangered or his possession vaporised. As long as it is within the boundary of ‘socially acceptable’ level, such as taking a pencil from work or pinching an orange from our neighbour’s tree or paying not the full hourly rate for labour, then people think and say, ‘That’s OK.’ Most retailers these days regard that shoplifting is a ‘fact of life.’ But, a fraud of a million dollars is way out of that ‘socially acceptable’ borderline and people readily take that fraud case to a trial and punishment.

Is this what the eighth commandment talks about? No! As you see in Ex. 20:15, there’s no such ‘level’ or ‘degree’ or ‘scale,’ but a sin that is forbidden! This commandment does not tell us not to steal what, when, where, how and from whom. I mean, there’s no such thing given here in this commandment because the focus is on the root of this sin, stealing, unlawful taking of anything that belongs to others.

Why do we steal? People in this day and age have no or little idea about the reason for the sin of stealing; and that’s why we see people having a different idea and attitude toward this sin. So, ‘Why do we steal?’ is the key to understanding of God’s message to us with this law. This is the key to understanding of why this eighth commandment is applicable to all generations.

Why do people steal? The root of this sin, stealing, is people’s unbelief, distrust in God, especially, in the area of His providence. God who is Jehovah-Jireh, the God who provides, supplies what His children need. The Bible repeatedly tells us that He knows what we need. And knowing, He provides. Yet, we distrust Him; we cannot wait for His timing. We think we need to provide for ourselves by taking others’ hands and pockets.

A typical example we find from the Bible is the case of Jacob. What did God say about him even before his birth? Jacob, the younger, would become stronger and Esau, the older, would serve the younger. But he did not wait for God’s providence, but stole the birthright from his brother Esau – although he disguised it as trade. Later on, at his uncle’s house, he could not wait for God’s provision but stole his uncle’s sheep – although he disguised it with an agreement that looked unfair to himself.

Also, in the case of Israel’s forty year wandering in the wilderness, we find people’s distrust in God’s providence. From the moment of Exodus, God had provided them all they needed. Millions of people along with their livestock walked the wilderness for forty years; God covered them with His mighty hands for that long years, feeding them and not losing anyone by starvation. Yet they spoke against God and said this, as recorded in Ps. 78:19-20: “Can God spread a table in the wilderness? … Can He also give bread or provide meat for His people?” By this complaint, Israel grumbled against God and defiled the glory of His name. Stealing is a sin of unbelief and distrust; stealing is an attempt to push God out of one’s life and take control of his/her own life from the hand of God.

A case that is completely opposite to such unbelief is the life of a believer expressed in Ps. 23. The psalmist says that he is a sheep whose shepherd leads him to green pastures and beside still waters. His shepherd provides all things he needs, even preparing a table before him in the presence of his enemies! Take a moment to picture this in your mind. In such a dreadful situation of facing multiple enemies, even to that moment of great need, his shepherd prepares, spreads a table, a treat for His beloved! So, the psalmist confesses, ‘What would I ever need anything?’ He continues and says that his cup ‘overflows’! What else would he need if his cup is already filled more than plenty?

As you can see, stealing is nothing but distrust in God, denial of God’s sufficiency. One’s distrust in the sufficiency of God is the root of this sin of stealing.

Let’s pause again and think about this point. If you don’t trust in God’s providence, if you don’t think that God does not supply you enough because He does not know your needs, then, you have an only option. And what would that option be? You seek to provide to yourself what you think you need.

On the contrary, if you know and believe that God will surely provide your need, how could you steal anything that’s not yours? In case you thought God would not provide what you needed, thus, you stole it from others, what happens when God does provide you that? Then, you end up having two of them because you’ve already stolen one. Then, you have two, rather than one, because you’ve already stolen one. Then, would you see that situation as your cup ‘overflowing’? No!

Therefore, stealing is one’s unbelief, distrust in God. This matter of ‘unbelief/distrust’ is why the OT sentenced theft, stealing with capital punishment; and this is why Jesus says in Mt. 15:19 that theft is evil of man’s heart.

What is, then, the effect, result or consequence of stealing?

Firstly, suffering of others. A thief steals at other’s expense and the one robbed suffers. Secondly, breaking of unity, love, mutual trust, companionship, fellowship among people. If you’ve ever been robbed, you’d know what broken unity would mean. The trust you once had in others suddenly disappears and suspicion toward others overclouds your heart. Stealing is powerful enough to break and shatter the unity among fellow believers. In a word, it blocks and interrupts the works of the Holy Spirit among God’s children, thus, separating people whom God through Jesus has reconciled and made as one in His Son. What an awful sin this is!

More importantly, stealing defiles the one who steals. When the Lord Jesus says stealing ‘defiles’ a person in Mt. 15:20, He doesn’t simply state that that person commits a sin. He means, rather, God’s eternal damnation, thus, expulsion from the blessings of heaven. Rev. 21:27 is a proof of this as the same word, ‘defile,’ the Lord Jesus said in Mt. 15 is used there in Rev. 21:27 and translated into English as ‘unclean’, and hear what this verse says: “But nothing unclean will ever enter it [that is, the new Jerusalem or God’s renewed kingdom], nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” It says, “nothing unclean will ever enter it.” So, stealing is not a light, trivial, sin; it is distrust, disbelief in God!

I say this not to scare you – never! – but to help you to see the true face of this sin of stealing, that is, disbelief! Also to help you to remember that your Heavenly Father is all sufficient God who knows exactly what is needed for each of us, His dear children. He would never leave any of us, any of His children alone or unprovided. If that were the case, then, He would have not sent His only begotten Son Jesus to us; He would have not let His dear Son Jesus die on our behalf to give us His eternal life!

Hear what your Heavenly Father and mine says in Rom. 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him [Jesus] graciously give us all things?

So, this eighth commandment that says, “You shall not steal,” urges you and me to repent from our disbelief and trust in God who is Jehovah-Jireh, ‘God who provides,’ all things we need for both this world and the one yet to come.

May God bless us and open our eyes to see His sufficient love and hand toward us, thus, give Him all due thanks and praise! ***

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