Crabtree Acres

No Stealing

You shall not steal. Exodus 20:15

In Romans 13:8-14 we see that all of the commandments of God can be fulfilled in one way – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If we love our neighbor as ourselves we will not harm them in any way. We will refuse to commit adultery with our neighbor’s husband or wife as we see in the last commandment we studied. We will refuse to bear false witness against them as we will see in the next lesson. We will certainly not disobey the first and most important commandment to love and worship God alone, because all of the other commandments originate with the first. Jesus has said to us that we cannot love our neighbor whom we have seen, if we do not love God whom we have not seen. The love of God fulfills all the other commands of God.

We think of stealing as taking something that does not belong to us, usually a physical object or money, from someone else. That is part of the meaning of the word “stealing”, but just as we have seen in the other commandments, there is much deeper meaning to this word. We can steal many things from other people besides their money or physical belongings. The Bible talks about things that we gain by violence or deception as being a form of stealing. We even have ways of stealing from God Himself.

There are many acts in our society that are stealing, but we call them by different names. Kidnapping is a form of stealing. We take a child or adult that belongs to one family and take them as a member of our own family. Back in the 1980s-1990s there was an epidemic of kidnapping in our nation, and it continues today. Children of all ages are being removed from their homes, sometimes by people caught up in child pornography, sometimes by desperate barren women, but mostly by other family members who have been ordered by the court to leave their children with another spouse. All of these reasons have been the result of sin that has permeated our society – selfishness, divorce, pornography and a lack of love for these children. Yet, the very heart of it all is a lack of love for God and failure to put Him first in our lives. If we love God, then we will love our neighbor (including our children) enough to leave them where they belong.

Our society has come to feel that if a person in need steals, this is somehow right for him. Our society believes in humanism, which tells us that whatever is right for me, is right and whatever is right for you is right. There are no absolute rights and wrongs in humanism, but God says to us in Deuteronomy 12:8: “You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing what is right in his own eyes.” Even the church has come to accept the idea that we are free to do what we feel is right in our own eyes as long as it doesn’t hurt someone else. We treat Christianity as just another religion and let others believe whatever they want. We believe what the world tells us, that we must be tolerant or we are not true Christians. Jesus was not “tolerant” when He said in John 14:6, “I am the Way, and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” One of my favorite books in the past was Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, yet the book is based on some principles that according to God are not correct. In the story Jean Valjean steals to provide for his family and is put in prison for many years. Somehow he escapes and again steals from a priest who has taken him in for the night. When he is caught with the silver he has stolen, the priest covers up John’s sin by lying to the police and telling them that he gave the silver to John. When John is released to the priest, the priest gives the silver to John and tells him to make amends for what he has done by going out and doing good deeds with his life to earn the favor of God. There is much more to the story, but there are at least two premises here that God does not teach in His word. One is that we can make up for our sins and earn God’s favor with good deeds; another is that stealing for good reasons makes it right. Leviticus 19:13 tells us that we are not to oppress our neighbor in such ways that will force him to do drastic things. According to this Scripture we are not to even hold their wages overnight so that he feels compelled to steal to provide for his family, but our society has a practice of holding wages for one week, two weeks, or even a month for work done before being paid. God does not bless the type of thinking that takes advantage of those who benefit us. Jean Valjean was wrong to steal; he should have looked to God as the provider for his family and trusted God to help him, not fulfill his responsibility in a wrong way by stealing.

God tells us in Malachi 3:8 that we rob God when we fail to give Him our tithes and offerings. God does not need our tithes and offerings; He owns it all, anyway. God is merely asking us to acknowledge Him as our provider and support by giving back to Him the first fruits of our labor. He is the source of everything, including our ability to work and earn what we have. We should joyfully show Him that we realize that everything comes from Him by obeying his command to give back to the church at least a tenth of what we earn. He could ask for much more that one tenth but he allows us to keep 90%; we should be grateful. In fact, gratefulness is shown in us when we give offerings on top of the 10%. We show an ingratitude and ignorance about who is really our provider by not tithing. If we give grudgingly, we also show that a true worship and appreciation to God is not in our hearts. We are not giving our tithes to earn the favor of God, but to show Him love and worship. Years ago my family raised a very large garden on an empty lot next to our house. Amy husband and I also attended a small couples’ group for Bible study once a week. In reading Malachi 3:10, I discovered that God says to test Him in this area of tithing. We are actually allowed to test God in this area. He says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there will be meat in My house, and test me now in this if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.” I decided to test God by tithing the first fruits of my garden. Most of the couples in our group were young people struggling with college debt and lower paying jobs. So the first week that the garden produced vegetables I took most of the produce to the Bible study and gave it away. You who garden know how hard this would be to do, because the first fruits of a garden are usually the best. Well, the next week I gathered twice as much as I did the first week. That is practically unheard of in gardening, but I again took a good deal of it to the study. The third week I gathered twice as much as I had the second week. During that summer I had the best garden I have ever had in my life. God certainly poured out the windows of heaven and gave me a blessing I could not contain. I have never had the same attitude about giving from that day forth. A giving heart also keeps the devourer away from us. Malachi 3:11 says, “Then I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it may not destroy the fruits of the ground; nor will your vine in the fields cast it grapes, says the Lord of hosts.” An “attitude of gratitude”, as the old catch phrase says, will keep the things away that destroy our gardens, but I also believe this attitude keeps away the devourer of our health, of our resources and other things that we need in our lives. I realize that houses burn to the ground for Christians as well as non-Christians and I realize that Christians get sick just like non-Christians, but God is there for the Christian, providing for his needs and will not let those that are grateful to Him go begging because the devourer has taken what he has.

A list of things that God calls stealing contains:

· False weights and balances –Deut. 25:13-16; Proverbs 16:11; Micah 6:10-11

· Removing landmarks (boundary markers) – Deut. 19:14; Proverbs 22:28

· Borrowing and not paying back to the lender – Psalm 37:21

· Withholding good from someone – Proverbs 3:27-28

· Using a neighbor’s services without paying them for their time – Jeremiah 22:13

· Taking from someone’s garden or vineyard more than you need for strength – Deut. 23:24-25

· Leading others away from God – John 10:1-18

· Defrauding our brother or sister in Christ – I Thess. 4:6

· Pilfering from our workplace or school (this includes stealing time on the job, stealing ideas that belong to another, copying papers that someone else produces) – Luke 16:1-13

We sometimes see the commandments of God as a string of unrelated statements, but we can soon see on closer examination that the commandments are interrelated when we see them in the heart where God sees them. Committing adultery is a form of stealing another person’s affection from the person to whom it really belongs. Coveting what another person owns is a form of stealing in our hearts. Lying is a form of stealing the truth that belongs to another. Dishonoring our parents is stealing from them the respect that God says they deserve. Again, all of the commands are summed up in one way –When we know God we must give to our neighbor the love of God that is in our hearts. God sees our hearts and knows what is real within us. He has put the commandments within His children and we have no excuse for not loving others. God also hates hypocrisy to the point of calling it an abomination. When we as Christians worship Him in our churches and offer our outward service as a sacrifice to Him, but have hearts full of disobedience to the heart of the commandments, God see this as hateful and abominable to Him. He calls us Pharisees, whitewashed tombs on the outside but full of dead men’s bones on the inside.

Jesus has a different way of seeing how we as Christians should approach this commandment. He tells us what we should do, rather than what we should not do. The Holy Spirit puts in our hearts the desire to give to others, not take from them. The main problem that Jesus had with the Pharisees was that their righteousness did not go past the outward appearances and was not in their hearts. As long as they obeyed outwardly and did not break the law of God, they thought they were righteous; but in Matthew 5:20 he tells the followers that unless their righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, they will not see the kingdom of heaven. We must have an attitude of giving in our hearts that comes from the work of the Holy Spirit. God give to us abundantly far more than we really need for ourselves and He expects us to share the abundance with those in need.

Our society has been robbed of the joy of giving since the government welfare system and programs like Social Security have been deeply installed into our thinking. We leave giving up to the government and have developed a selfish mentality that convinces us that everything we have is for our use and not to be given out to anyone else. Our children have become spoiled and have no idea of what it means to give unconditionally to others, unless they receive something back. Even at birthday parties and Christmas, “the Season of Giving”, we expect in turn to get gifts in like kind from those to whom we give. Yes, our society is generous with other nations at hard times, but we get credit for what we give deducted from our income taxes. How much would be give if we did not get these deductions, or if no one knew what we gave in order to receive the praises of men? Even in our tithes to the church we pass collections plates and some people can become very “showy” in their giving. Our family attended a church in Lexington that had collection boxes at the back of the sanctuary into which people could slip their offerings. Most of the time members were not paying attention to who was giving and who was not, and, by the way, the offerings to the church went up, not down. Jesus told us plainly that our giving should be in secret and that our left hand should not even know what our right hand was doing. Jesus promised that if we give in secret, then the Father, who sees in secret, will reward us. His reward is far greater and more permanent than the little bit of praise we may get from men who want to be praised by men themselves.

Our giving also needs to be unconditional. Years ago I would go over to our church where there was a clothing bank for people in need. The church we attended was a large church with many wealthy people, so there were pretty nice clothes dropped into this closet, along with bundles of trash that no one should have to wear. I would go over to help sort and hand out clothes for people in need who came for help. I can remember hearing some of the women who brought things into the closet say something like this: “I can’t believe that we bring such good clothes in here and they are given out to people who will not even take care of them and wash them. They wear them out and then come back for more. Can’t a list be kept so that the same people cannot come over and over to get more clothes?” Later, I started going to a small mission church in downtown Lexington to teach sewing classes to some of the women. The mission church was furnishing a place for those women who wanted to learn to sew. Sewing machines had been donated to the church so that women could sew clothes for themselves and their children. Even the material was furnished for them to use. During the lessons women were talking as they will over their work and I heard so many of them say that they did not have washing machines or even running water in their homes. I understood for the first time that the women who came to the clothing bank at my large church had to come back again and again, because they could not wash their clothes. They could not afford to go to laundromats to wash them, either. The lesson I got from all that is not to judge people based on our own conditions and understanding of what people should be able to do. If God tells us to give clothes to a clothing bank, then He handles the end results of that giving. We have no control over those results. We are to give unconditionally whatever He tells us to give and He takes care of the rest, not us. God will deal with the misuse of what we are told to give, not us. We obviously do not give to someone we know is going to misuse what we share with them. Giving twenty dollars to an alcoholic on the street is a corrupting influence that will do harm, rather than good, but those are rare occasions compared to the many times God asks us to feed the hungry, dress the naked, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and those in prison. He also tells us that taking care of widows and orphans is true religion. For too long now Christians have lost the joy of giving to these people, because we have turned over our responsibilities to our government and to other organizations instead. When we fail to show God’s love to those in need, we fail to show our love for Him.