Just as Moses assumes the permanence of marriage in His prohibition of adultery, so does he assume the legitimacy of private property in his prohibition of stealing. And as we have discovered with the other commandments, obedience is not as simple as it may appear — not all thieves break into houses at night. “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15).
The worst kind of theft, requiring the greatest impudence on the part of the thief, is that of stealing from God. This is done when we refuse Him the tithe. “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. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. 3:8-10).
Our financial dealings with men will never be what they must be if we are stealing from God in order to conduct our business.
Men are tempted to steal because of the heart of this sin — covetousness. Achan confessed his sin this way, “When I saw among the spoils . . . I coveted them and took them” (Josh. 7:21). Sin is like a fire; it is difficult to keep it from spreading once the fire is set. Theft is no different. Judas ended with the greatest act of treachery in the history of the world. He started by pilfering nickels and dimes. “. . . he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put into it” (John 12:6). Overt stealing is the result of open covetousness tolerated in the heart. When someone wants something desperately, it is not long before he believes he has a right to it.
But there are subtle forms of theft as well. We live in a disobedient culture, and consequently are confronted with many forms of theft which have been legalized and made “part of the system.” But this commandment is God’s law, not man’s, and man has no authority to alter it. The list below is of necessity just partial.
1. “Shrewd” business practices — “You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning” (Lev. 19:13). “Deceitful scales are in his hand . . .” (Hos. 12:7). There are many businessmen who pride themselves on their sharp business acumen who are actually boasting in a hard dealing that God despises.
2. Oppression of the poor — “Hear this, you who swallow up the needy, and make the poor of the land fail . . .” (Amos 8:4-6). One of the chief characteristics of the godly is concern for the poor and downtrodden, and refusal to participate in the scams run on them. This would include disgust over the countless bureaucrats who have made a comfortable living, thank you, while fighting poverty.
3. Extortion through strikes — “Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?” (Matt. 20:15). Jobs are not owned by the one who works at it, but rather by the one who offers it. Strikes are simply organized extortion.
4. Inflating the currency — “Your silver has become dross, your wine mixed with water” (Is. 1:22). The government loves to steal this way. They don’t take away the physical money, they just take away the value of it. Another government scam.
5. Partiality in judgment — “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor” (Lev. 19:15). Our court system is rapidly turning into a system of organizing plunder.
6. Laziness — “He who is slothful in his work is brother to him who is a great destroyer” (Prov. 18:9). Another way of stealing is through a refusal to work as hard as God requires.
What is the biblical answer to theft? How are we to respond? We must not oppose the sin of theft with platitudes. The Scriptures tell us plainly what is to be done.
1. Restitution — Zacchaeus understood far more than many modern Christians. “. . . if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (Luke 19:8).
2. Hard work — “Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread” (2 Thess. 3:12).
3. Generosity — “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” (Eph. 4:28).
4. Contentment — As Thomas Watson put it, “Study contentment.” “Let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have” (Heb. 13:5).