The 8th Commandment: We’ve Got The Definition Of ‘Stealing’ All Wrong

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As with all of the Ten Commandments, there’s a negative command in the Eighth Commandment (“you shall not steal” – Exodus 20:14), but there is a positive, too. That is, we are to be those who are known for our generosity and not our taking.

And, truthfully, most of us understand that we shouldn’t steal or take things that aren’t ours. But this commandment, properly understood and applied, refers to becoming the kind of person who is naturally giving and generous. This is why the Lord Jesus Christ said, as quoted by Paul in Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

So, what is stealing, anyway?

According to the Bible, stealing is basically taking anything (or anyone) that isn’t yours. What does this look like? Here’s a list of many:

  • Robbing a bank.
  • Getting a soft drink when you ordered a water.
  • Breaking into property not your own.
  • Stealing your neighbor’s Internet signal with an open connection.
  • Pirating music by “ripping” CDs that you borrowed from a friend and didn’t pay for, etc.

But the biblical definition of stealing goes beyond the common definition.

James 5:1, generally speaking, reminds us that employers steal from employees when they fail to pay them properly for work done. Conversely, as an employee, you can steal time and true effort from your employer by surfing the Internet instead of, well, doing your actual job.

According to Jesus, you can steal from the government by not fully disclosing all of your earned income or paying taxes (Luke 20:25). You can also, aside from monetary items, steal the credit due to others for their work. As a student, you can steal the answers of other students.

You can steal from your family by staying late at work all the time. Men, you can steal from women by leading them on emotionally with no desire to commit beyond the feelings you get from her being around. And, finally, you can steal from God by not giving back through the local church in a tithe (Malachi 3).

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Do you see the point? We steal because there’s something that is bigger than God in our lives. We can’t live without whatever it is … so we go to steal.

How Do We Fight The Temptation?

Perhaps you steal because you feel like you have to have money, credit or emotions to be secure in the future. I had someone say to me one time, “How can I live without the money? If I am going to be giving so much away, how will I be taken care of?”

The 8th Commandment: We've Got The Definition Of 'Stealing' All WrongFriend, the only true way to change your heart is to thoroughly know, live out, experience, and pray through the Gospel. The God who saved you when you were His adversary will surely provide for you now that you are His child (Phil. 4:19).

Or, perhaps you steal for the reason that you need to raise your standard of living to “become happy.” For you, maybe joy and happiness includes a better sports package on cable, the high-status membership at the local athletic club, an HGTV-worthy house, and nicer vacations. Are you one of those people who always feel like “the good life” is making $40,000 more than what you’re making right now?

What should you do? Remind yourself of the Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4). This God of the Bible who took the wrath of God Himself for you is the God whose plan you get to be a part of on this earth. We are to strive toward God’s Kingdom – and not earthly possessions.

The Ultimate Question

When you truly experience the Spirit-transforming, life-changing Gospel of the Bible, it’s not a matter of must you give but what can you give. When you don’t trust in money as your god, you are free to give and not steal. When you don’t lust after other people’s things, you start to see the unsaved of the world—fellow image-bearers of God—as more valuable than anything you can possess When you see God and His Gospel as your ultimate treasure, you start to live life amply and give generously,

What we selfishly cling to, we lose. What we generously give away, we keep. It works every time. Almost no one will give faithfully and generously without planning to give faithfully and generously.

Have you ever said you’d be generous when you had more money? Be generous now. When you get more money, be more generous. God doesn’t necessarily want us to be rich (as some would have you believe); he wants us to be generous (2 Cor. 9).

So, where do you start? Don’t know how to be generous in a world of so much pain? Try praying: “God, what can I do to help my brother in need?”

For what great purpose will you give your life?

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