The Eighth Commandment: Practice Giving Rather Than Getting
"You shall not steal" (Exodus 20:15).
The Eighth Commandment, which forbids theft, calls our attention to two opposite ways of thinking and living. An approach that emphasizes getting rather than giving wins all contests for popularity. But the giving approach epitomizes God's love for others.
Theft is the ultimate assertion of the greedy, lustful way of life, one that emphasizes acquiring material and intangible things with no regard for the rights and feelings of others. It scorns conventions and boundaries established by society and God. It is the epitome of selfishness.
The spiritual intent of the commandment against stealing tells us where the battle against selfishness begins. It originates when we learn to appreciate the rights and needs of others.
The right to own property
The Eighth Commandment safeguards everyone's right to legitimately acquire and own property. God wants that right honored and protected.
His approach to material wealth is balanced. He wants us to prosper and enjoy physical blessings (3 John 1:2). He also expects us to show wisdom in how we use what He provides us. But He does not want possessions to be our primary pursuit in life (Matthew 6:25-33). When we see material blessings as a means to achieve more-important objectives, God enjoys seeing us prosper.
To Him it is important that generosity rather than greed motivate the choices we make. Because they are qualities of His own character, He asks that we, from the heart, put giving and serving ahead of lavishing possessions on ourselves.
God loves cheerful givers
Jesus addressed this approach when He spoke of assisting the less fortunate with risky loans. "Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours [such as money lent to the poor], do not demand it back. And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way . . . And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men" (Luke 6:30-35, NASB).
Basing what comes next on what He has already told us about having a generous rather than a selfish heart, Jesus continued: "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you" (verse 38).
God is willing to be our partner in serving others if we replace greed with a devotion to serving. He looks at the measure of the intensity of our commitment to that giving way of life.
Paul expresses it clearly. "So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace [His favor] abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:7-8).
God rejoices when He sees us, once our own needs are met, using any additional abundance in blessings to increase our usefulness and service to others. He then can know we are beginning to understand and follow His way of life.
Changing the heart of a thief
How does all of this relate directly to the command not to steal? Paul gives us the connection. "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).
A thief must go far beyond simply ceasing his larceny to please God. Someone once wisely observed: "A thief who has quit stealing may still be a thief at heart—a thief just temporarily unemployed. He really ceases to be a thief only if and when he replaces stealing with giving." A thief has to change his heart and outlook.
Other forms of stealing
Directly taking another's possessions is not the only way to steal. Con artists use sophisticated scams to swindle their victims. Deceptive advertisements do the same. Manufacturers who misleadingly advertise their products of substandard quality cheat their customers. Laborers who bill for more hours than they work or charge more than their services are worth are stealing from those who hire them.
Then there are those who "borrow" but never return. Aren't they stealing? There are so many ways to take what is not ours that we must stay on our guard. We could be breaking God's commandment against stealing without realizing what we are doing.
Employees who do not work although paid to do so are stealing from their employers. People who delight in consuming what others produce while refusing to carry their share of the labor and responsibility or their part in the production of goods and services engage in still another form of stealing. They siphon away what others produce but make little or no contribution themselves. They take and give little in return. Notice Jesus Christ's parable of the person who refuses to assume personal responsibility: "Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.' But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed'" (Matthew 25:24-26).
The man in this parable knew that his job was to produce for his master. But, because of his own distorted outlook, he willingly chose to be unproductive. He knew the rules and responsibilities placed on him. He had no excuse for his slack behavior.
Jesus' parable continues: "So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest. Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents" (verses 27-28).
The man's employer called him "wicked and lazy." At heart he was no different from a thief. Therefore his boss gave his reward to another who had worked hard to benefit someone besides himself. Jesus used this parable to illustrate God's low opinion of self-pity and selfishness.
Can we steal from God?
The Bible helps us recognize yet another form of stealing. From the time of Abraham (Genesis 14:20) forward, the Bible shows examples of how God's faithful servants formally acknowledged who really owns everything—God. They faithfully gave Him one tenth of their increase. In the covenant God made with ancient Israel, a tenth of the people's increase was set aside for the priests to finance their spiritual service to the nation. Needless to say, this practice of tithing (meaning giving a tenth) never became popular with most people. It required faith that God would amply supply their needs if they were a giving people.
By 721 B.C., general disobedience to God's laws had become so entrenched in ancient Israel that God sent the northern 10 tribes into captivity by the hand of the Assyrians, leaving only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and scattered Levites, in the southern kingdom of Judah. They continued the pattern of disobedience and were taken as captives to Babylon in 587.
About a century later a small group of Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the city and the temple under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. But their loyalty to God soon began to wane, as it had before their captivity. Through the prophet Malachi, God reprimanded the priests for neglecting the teaching of His laws (Malachi 2:7-9).
Meanwhile, He reproved the people for keeping His tithe for themselves. "Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation" (Malachi 3:8-9).
The leaders of the Jews at that time reversed the nation's disobedience and instituted detailed regulations to force everyone to comply with the law. The physical aspects of these regulations were strict, but many people continued in woeful negligence when it came to the spiritual aspects of the law.
Later Jesus condemned their misguided priorities. He supported the Jews' continued observance of the physical aspects of the law and their faithful tithing. But He criticized their failure also to emphasize the spiritual virtues of faith, mercy and justice.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone" (Matthew 23:23). Jesus told them they should have been doing both—practicing the law of tithing along with exercising faith, mercy and justice. Jesus Christ affirmed the practice of tithing—of giving back to God a portion of what He gives us. We are not to take for ourselves the tenth that belongs to Him.
Beyond the here and now
God wants us to have confidence in the future. His Word is full of promises concerning our future in His Kingdom. If we believe those promises, we will invest our time and energy in acquiring a wealth of spiritual treasures that will last forever—treasures that no thief can take from us.
That is the advice of Jesus Christ. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal," said Jesus, "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19-20).
We need to understand and apply true values to life. We need to concentrate on building character traits that will endure beyond physical life. At the heart of it all is love. Godly love defeats the desire to steal.
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