Exodus 20:15

Sermon preached on May 25, 2008 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2008. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Back in the 70's I bought an expensive pair of Koss headphones, I think at the time they were something like $80.00. I did a bit of research on headphones and they got good reviews and they were the ones that I decided to get. But the problem was that you couldn't buy them in the town where I lived. I had to wait until I went on a trip to another province. So the next trip we took I went to a nice electronics store and bought them. I paid for them by credit card. I loved them. They were great. Back then I kept track of my spending and the next month I was expecting the charge for the headphones to be on the credit card statement. But it wasn't. I didn't pay too much mind because back then things sometimes took awhile to go through. But they weren't on the next month or the month following, or the month following that.

What would you do in a situation like that? What should you do? Should you say,

"Wow. Was I every lucky. I got them for free."?

Would you just put it down to a mistake in the system and be happy about it? Is that what a Christian is to do?

A few years ago I was in a Borders bookstore looking for certain version of the Bible. I asked a clerk to help me and he looked in the computer and they were supposed to have a copy of the Bible I was looking for but neither of us could find it on the shelf. Then he said something that really surprised me. He said,

"People steal more Bibles than any other book."

What? How can that be? Isn't one of the commandments is, "You shall not steal." Don't people who steal Bibles know thata Bible know that? I think everyone would. But for whatever reason, people steal Bibles.

Even ministers have been found to steal. Recently there has been a lot of news about
plagiarism, and not just in secular fields. In September 2004, a prominent pastor in North Carolina admitted he had been preaching other people's sermons and passing them off as his own. He got caught when one of his parishioners heard a sermon on the radio, by a different pastor, which was almost exactly the same one his pastor preached. The pastor of a large Episcopal church in Michigan was suspended for 3 months in 2002 for plagiarizing sermons from the Internet. A Presbyterian minister in Missouri resigned recently when it became known that he was stealing sermons from another pastor and passing them off as his own. A United Church of Christ pastor in New Hampshire resigned after it would found that he was lifting entire sermons from the Internet and passing them off as his own. Even ministers of the gospel need to be careful they don't steal.

Of course there are lots of excuses that could be offered.
Benjamin Franklin even approved of it in some cases. He said of Presbyterian minister Samuel Hemphill, who was accused of plagiarism,

"I rather approved his giving us good sermons composed by others than bad ones of his own manufacture."

But no matter what Ben Franklin says, God says,

you are not to steal.

The application for this commandment is very wide and I think that all of us can improve our obedience to Christ by taking heed to it. Now none of us would go into a store or bank with a gun and hold it up. None of us would go in a store and steal Koss headphones. But would we do nothing when we didn't get a bill for it? Sin is very deceptive and we have to be very careful to guard against it. You shall not steal. Your first thought might be,

"Well, I don't steal so this sermon is not for me."

But is that true? Do you break this commandment in your daily living? A week or so ago Natalia got a bill from her college in Dublin for her September room and board. Apparently they had made a mistake on her original bill and didn't charge her for September, and now they wanted $600.00. Now, who of us would walk into a bursar's office at a university and if we saw $600.00 in cash sitting on a desk and there was no one around—who would take that? Not many. But what about not paying a bill that's nine months late? Natalia already got her credit and has graduated. Should she pay it? If she doesn't, it's stealing.

So, for ministers who plagerize, for students who get bills late, for people who steal Bibles, for religious people who buy things but don't really pay for them—this is for us. We're going to look at this commandment and see what it's implications are for us.

The Hebrew word that is used here
literally means, (Philip Ryken, Written in Stone, p. 170)

"to carry something away, as if by stealth."

That's it's meaning in 2 Kings 11:2 where it's used in a good sense. You'll remember the story. Wicked Queen Athaliah was determined to take the throne after her son Ahaziah was killed. She proceeded to whole royal family. In verse 2 we read,

"But Jehosheba, the daughter
of King Jehoram and sister of Ahaziah,
took Joash son of Ahaziah
and stole him away
from among the royal princes,
who were about to be murdered.
She put him and his nurse in a bedroom
to hide him from Athaliah;
so he was not killed."

She stole the boy away. She saved his life. So this word can be used in a good sense.

But in our text and in most places in Scripture, it's used in a bad sense. most often it's used in a negative way and has very evil connotations. It's
usually used in reference to taking someone else's property unlawfully and of harming them. It's grouped in with sins like murder, adultery, perjury and idolatry, (Jeremiah 7:9) and well as cursing and bloodshed. (Hosea 4:2) It's something that we are to avoid at all costs.

This commandment forbids taking what belongs to others and depriving them of it. You are not to take what belongs to others. You are not to cheat them. You are not to deprive them of the goods that God has given them.

It's a very broad command. It forbids burglary, robbery, shoplifting, embezzlement and cheating on your taxes. It forbids padding your expense account, helping yourself to office supplies, goofing off at work and failing to put in a full days work. You steal when you move a boundary marker. You steal when you fail to act justly toward anyone. You steal when you illegally
download music or movies. You steal when you use software that you haven't paid for.

The second thing we should understand about this commandment is that it has a positive side to it and it tells us that

you have a duty to act justly to others and do good to them.

One of the section headings of John Calvin's Institutes on this commandment is: (II:8:46)

"This commandment obligates us to care for other's goods."

Just before that he wrote, (Institutes, II:8:45)

"The purpose of this commandment is: since injustice is an abomination to God, we should render to each man what belongs to him. To sum up: we are forbidden to pant after the possessions of others, and consequently are commanded to strive faithfully to help every man to keep his own possessions."

Then he wrote, (Institutes, II:8:46)

"let this be our constant aim: faithfully to help all men by our counsel and aid to keep what is theirs, in so far as we can;"

Again, (Institutes, II:8:45)

"all those arts whereby we acquire the possessions and money of our neighbors—when such devices depart from a sincere affection to a desire to cheat or in some manner to harm—are to be considered thefts."

You steal when you exploit someone else. The rich often steal and the law is on their side. They don't do anything illegal but they heap up judgment on themselves from God by not treating the poor justly.

Marg and I lived in
Newfoundland for awhile and one of the sad chapters in their history is the way that some of the rich merchants exploited the poor in the 19th century. Many of the fishermen didn't have any money and they had to buy their supplies from the company store. That's what they had to do in the spring to carry on their livelihood. It was all on credit and often the fishermen didn't know how much they were paying for the goods. During the fishing season they had to sell their fish to the merchant who outfitted them. The system was rife for oppression. Some merchants exploited the fishermen by charging too much for the goods and paying too little for fish. It was virtually a form of bondage that kept the poor poor. No matter how hard they worked, no matter how much fish they caught—with the merchants controlling all the prices—the fishermen couldn't get out of debt. There's a Newfoundland Folk Song called, Hard, Hard Times' that speaks to it. It says,

"Come all you good people, I'll sing you a song. About the poor people, how they get along; They start in the spring, finish up in the fall, And when it's all over, they've nothing at all, And it's hard, hard times."

It was all legal and I'm sure that some of the merchants were in church every Sunday—but they were guilty of stealing. They didn't treat other people justly. They exploited them. James 5:1-5 says,

"Now listen, you rich people,
weep and wail because of the misery
that is coming upon you.
Your wealth has rotted,
and moths have eaten your clothes.
Your gold and silver are corroded.
Their corrosion will testify against you
and eat your flesh like fire.
You have hoarded wealth in the last days.
Look! The wages you failed to pay
the workmen who mowed your fields
are crying out against you.
The cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.
You have lived on earth
in luxury and self-indulgence.
You have fattened yourselves
in the day of slaughter."

Misery was coming upon them because they exploited the poor.

So what we should understand about this commandment is that

we are under an obligation to share what God has given us with the needy.

Not to do so is to steal from them. We see this in Ephesians 4:28 which says,

"He who has been stealing
must steal no longer,
but must work,
doing something useful with his own hands,
that he may have
something to share with those in need."

Our wealth is not to be used selfishly. Rather we are to use it to help those who are in need. In Deuteronomy 15 we are told about how we are to be toward the poor. It reads, (Deuteronomy 15:7-8,10)

"If there is a poor man
among your brothers in any of the towns
of the land that
the LORD your God is giving you,
do not be hardhearted or tightfisted
toward your poor brother.
Rather be openhanded
and freely lend him whatever he needs…
Give generously to him
and do so without a grudging heart;
then because of this the LORD
your God will bless you in all your work
and in everything you put your hand to."

In his book, The Discipline of Grace, Jerry Bridges tells us that there are three basic attitudes we can take toward our possessions.

1) What's yours is mine; I'll take it. That's the attitude of a thief.2) What's mine is mine. I'll keep it. That's the attitude of a selfish person. 3) What's mine is God's. I'll share it. That's the godly attitude that God wants us to have.

What we must remember is that God has made us our brother's keepers. We are to use the gifts that God gives us to help others and to do good to them. This does not mean that we can't have private possessions. But it does mean that we need to recognize that everything that we have has been given to us by God to be used for His glory. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust destroy,
and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,
where moth and rust do not destroy,
and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is,
there your heart will be also."

Being generous is the way of great blessing. A.W. Tozer has written, (Quote from Ryken, p. 177)

"Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality."

Be good stewards of the gifts that God has given you. Don't set your heart on possessions, either yours or others—rather see yourself as a servant of God who has been called by God to use your possessions for His glory.

The third thing we should understand about this is that

stealing is a great sin against God.

There are three ways in which this is so.

First of all,

according to His wisdom and providence God has given certain possessions to other people. Thus if you steal from them you are sinning against God.

Philip Ryken writes, (p. 174)

"Every theft is also an assault on God's providence for others… stealing is a sin against God: It robs what he has provided for someone else."

God gives men what they have. As we read in Acts 17:25, God

"himself gives all men
life and breath and everything else."

Their possessions have been given to them by God. We see the same thing in Jeremiah 27:5 where God said, (REB)

"It was I who by my great power
and outstretched arm made the earth,
along with mankind and the animals
all over the earth,
and I give it to whom I see fit."

God gives goods and riches to whomever He pleases. To deprive them of what God has given them is a great evil. It's a sin against His goodness to them and an insult to Him.

The second way that stealing is a great sin against God is that

if we steal we are not content with what God has given us.

Remember what the apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:11-12,

"I have learned to be content
whatever the circumstances.
I know what it is to be in need,
and I know what it is to have plenty.
I have learned the secret
of being content in any and every situation,
whether well fed or hungry,
whether living in plenty or in want."

We are to be content with what God has given us. In 1 Timothy 6:6-10 we read,

"godliness with contentment is great gain.
For we brought nothing into the world,
and we can take nothing out of it.
But if we have food and clothing,
we will be content with that.
People who want to get rich
fall into temptation and a trap
and into many foolish and harmful desires
that plunge men into ruin and destruction.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
Some people, eager for money,
have wandered from the faith
and pierced themselves with many griefs."

Be content with what God has given you.

The third way that stealing is a great sin against God is that

it exhibits a distinct lack of trust in Him to provide for you.

The person who steals basically fails to trust God to take care of him. Philip Ryken writes, (p. 174)

"every theft is a failure to trust in his [God's] provision. Whenever we take something that doesn't belong to us, we deny that God has given us or is able to give us everything we truly need…"

We don't have to worry about God forsaking us and leaving us destitute. In Hebrews 13:5 the apostle wrote,

"Keep your lives free from
the love of money
and be content with what you have,
because God has said,
'Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.'"

And in Matthew 6:25-30 Jesus said,

"Therefore I tell you,
do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink;
or about your body,
what you will wear.
Is not life more important than food,
and the body more important than clothes?
Look at the birds of the air;
they do not sow or reap or store away in barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not much more valuable than they?
Who of you by worrying
can add a single hour to his life?
And why do you worry about clothes?
See how the lilies of the field grow.
They do not labor or spin.
Yet I tell you that not even Solomon
in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.
If that is how God clothes the grass of the field,
which is here today and tomorrow
is thrown into the fire,
will he not much more clothe you,
O you of little faith?"

Satan may try to convince us that we have to resort to dishonesty in order to take care of ourselves—but it's a lie. He urged Jesus to turn the stones into bread. He was suggesting that His Father wouldn't take care of Him. But Satan was lying. Jesus trusted His Father and found Him to be faithful.

It's the same with you. You don't have to resort to dishonesty to gain what is necessary for your well being. God is in control of everything. I already quoted from
Jeremiah 27:5 where God declared that He is the One who made the earth and He gives the things of the earth to whom He sees fit. If you wants you to overflow in prosperity—He can do it. He can do it instantly if He chooses to. I mean, how long did it take for Joseph to go from the dungeon to being ruler over all Egypt, being only second to Pharaoh himself? It took a few hours at most.

God gives prosperity. In Job 42:10 we read,

"After Job had prayed for his friends,
the LORD made him prosperous again
and gave him twice as much as he had before"

The point is that you can trust God to take care of you.

But even more than we should all realize that being content with what we have, being generous to the needy, using our money to further God's kingdom—that those things are the way to blessing.

In Malachi 3:10-12 God urged His stingy people to,

"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse,
that there may be food in my house.
'Test me in this,'
says the LORD Almighty,
'and see if I will not throw open
the floodgates of heaven
and pour out so much blessing
that you will not have room enough for it.
I will prevent pests from devouring your crops,
and the vines in your fields
will not cast their fruit,'
says the LORD Almighty.
Then all the nations will call you blessed,
for yours will be a delightful land,
says the LORD Almighty."

And in 2 Corinthians 9:7-11 the apostle told us that God loves a cheerful giver. He then said,

"And God is able to make
all grace abound to you,
so that in all things at all times,
having all that you need,
you will abound in every good work.
As it is written:
'He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.'
Now he who supplies seed to the sower
and bread for food
will also supply and increase
your store of seed and will enlarge
the harvest of your righteousness.
You will be made rich in every way
so that you can be generous on every occasion,
and through us your generosity
will result in thanksgiving to God"

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, and perhaps some of you who are Christians too, I ask you,

Why are you robbing God?

Why are you stealing from God? In the Old Testament God complained about His people robbing Him. He said, (Malachi 3:8-9)

"Will a man rob God?
Yet you rob me.
But you ask,
'How do we rob you?'
In tithes and offerings.
You are under a curse—
the whole nation of you—
because you are robbing me."

If you're not a Christian you're robbing God by not living for Him. He has given you your life and everything else you enjoy. He has given it to you so that you will love Him and honor Him with it by using it to help others. You're not doing that. You're robbing God of glory and honor.

But there is hope for you. Go to Jesus. You see, Jesus paid the price for the disobedience of His people. We too stole from God. We haven't served Him like we should have.
We are all thieves and robbers. We have failed to give glory, honor and service to God. We have failed to praise Him like we should. But Jesus made up for that for us. He died for our disobedience. Thieves can go to Jesus and find forgiveness and acceptance. Go to Jesus today. Find true life in Him.