Exodus 20:15 ~ 20110904 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
09/04 Exodus 20:15 Word #8 Abundant Generosity
God is giving to us his expectations of how we, who have been purchased by him and brought into a relationship with him, should conduct ourselves, in relation to him and to other people. We must honor God above all, and we must honor others as a concrete expression of how we honor God in our hearts. We are to only worship the one true God; we must worship him in spirit and truth; we must honor his name; we must take time to enjoy his presence. In relationship with others, we are to honor those he has placed in authority over us; we are to value and preserve the gift of life; we are to reflect his covenant faithfulness in our own covenant relationships.
And then comes commandment #8:
This, like the last two, is a terse, abrupt two word prohibition in the original: no murder; no adultery; no stealing. For this to make any sense at all, we need to understand how God views the rights of individuals to own personal property, and then we can look at some examples of the application of this prohibition to some actual scenarios, we will look at the reason behind the command, then we will look to Jesus for some guidance, not only on what we are forbidden to do, but also on what we must do in relation to personal property as followers of him.
You must not steal; you must not take without permission that which belongs to someone else. Inherent in this command is the understanding that something can belong to someone. We have the right to personally own things. This is my pocketknife. It belongs to me. To take it from me without my permission is theft. Some wrongly assume that the bible mandates some sort of communistic society on its followers. The book of Acts does say on several occasions that “they had everything in common” (Acts 2:44; 4:32). We will come back to those passages and look at what they teach before we are through, but to assume that the bible denies any private ownership is to rob commandment 8 of any coherent meaning. How can you steal anything if nothing belongs to anyone? Communism is often a mechanism for the strong to say that what is yours is mine and what is mine is also mine.
God's Ownership and our Stewardship
The fact is that God owns everything. He says:
Paul said to the Athenians:
And to the Romans he said:
John who baptized said:
God's ownership of all things extends even to people.
God owns it all! This is why Malachi can say that to withhold tithes and offerings is equivalent to robbing God.
God owns everything. Whatever we have he has entrusted into our care. When he requires that we give a portion back to him, it is theft to keep it for ourselves.
Personal Property in the New Testament
God owns everything, and he entrusts it to us to manage wisely for his glory. So to appropriate for myself what God has entrusted to someone else is doubly wrong. Let's look at one of those passages in Acts to see this concept of personal property.
This passage, which says that the early believers had everything in common, clearly affirms the right to personal property. The things that were shared in common were things that belonged to an individual. It says “no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” The things legitimately belonged to their owner. The owner voluntarily shared with other believers. Some were even selling their property and giving substantial amounts so that their needy brothers were well cared for.
That this was voluntary is confirmed by what Peter says to Ananias and Sapphira in the very next verses in Acts 5
Peter affirms that the field legitimately belonged to the couple. He affirms that even after they sold it, the money belonged to them to do with as they saw fit. They were not judged because they only gave part of the money and kept some back for themselves. That would have been totally proper for them to do. What was wrong was that they lied by pretending to be more generous than they really were. Peter is very clear that the sharing of personal property was voluntary and not in any way compulsory.
Examples of Stealing
Let's look quickly at some of the concrete examples of stealing that the Old Testament gives, so that we understand what is included in this prohibition. In the next chapters of Exodus, we are told that stealing a person, or kidnapping, or being in possession of a stolen person was a capital offense. We must not steal freedom from anyone. Keep this in mind, by the way, when you are troubled over the bible's seeming acceptance of slavery – slavery in the bible is something altogether different from what we with our American history think of as slavery. We will have opportunity to deal more with that subject later in Exodus.
Stealing of livestock carried the penalty of repaying 4 or 5 times as much; if the stolen animal was returned, the thief still had to repay double. A thief who would break and enter took his life into his own hands, as the owner was authorized to defend himself with lethal force. It was considered stealing to allow your animal to graze in another man's field – you had to pay him back. If you started a fire and it got out of control and burned your neighbor's property, you were required to pay him back. If you borrowed someone's property, you were required to guard their property and keep it safe. If borrowed property was stolen from you and the thief was not caught, then you had to pay it back. If you owe someone money and you are able to pay, but you choose not to, that is considered stealing.
Stealing someone's virginity was considered theft, and the penalty, in addition to paying the bride price, was to be marriage.
What is Wrong with Theft?
So what is wrong with taking something that belongs to someone else? First of all, it violates God's right to do what he wants with what he owns. If he wants to give one person an abundance of stuff and to me next to nothing, that is God's prerogative. It is not mine to fix the apparent inequality by taking for myself what God has entrusted to someone else. As much as our hearts resonate with a Robin-Hood, it is wrong to steal from the rich and give to the poor. It is wrong to cheat on your taxes. It is wrong to steal from your employer, either by taking goods and equipment or by stealing time - not actually working during the time you are paid to work. Stealing violates God's right to distribute his own resources as he sees fit.
Stealing is wrong because it violates the basic rights of people who are created in the image of God. Whether we steal freedom or property or livelihood, we are saying that my needs or my desires are greater than your God-given rights.
When we steal, we are demonstrating our unbelief. We tell God that we don't believe him. We don't believe in him as our provider. We are telling him that he is doing a lousy job at running his universe. We have to take things into our own hands (quite literally!) to get what we think we need. By stealing we demonstrate that we refuse to trust God to provide for our needs.
Stealing violates God's right to distribute his own resources as he sees fit, it puts my desires above the desires of anyone else, and it rejects God as provider.
Jesus teaching on Stealing
Jesus has taken all the other commands to a higher level. Let's see what he has to say about the 8th command. Jesus doesn't say, as he has on some of the other commands 'you have heard that it was said do not steal, but I say to you...' But Jesus does have a lot to say on how we handle personal property. He even gives advice on how to protect your valuables from being broken in to. Here's what he says:
Every earthly investment opportunity comes with risk. Read the fine print. 'Evidence of past performance is no guarantee of future result.' Jesus offers a fail-safe investment plan that is totally secure. Jesus says:
He goes on to tell us not to worry or be anxious about present needs or future trouble, because
Jesus addresses being stolen from this way:
When a rich man came to Jesus asking how he could gain eternal life, Jesus pointed him to the commandments, including 'Do not steal.' The man claimed:
If the command is not to steal, and Jesus makes it clear that theft is a sin that comes from the heart of a person (Mt.15:19), then what Jesus commands is not merely negative; not merely a heart devoid of the desire to take what someone else has, but a heart that is positively content with what it has and overflows with generosity to others. I think we can see this if we go to what the apostles taught about stealing. Paul told the believers in Thessalonika that those that refuse to work to meet their own needs and instead presume on your generosity are stealing.
To the Ephesians, he says:
Here the connection is explicit. Stop stealing, and instead do honest work so that you can practice generosity. Whatever we have has been entrusted to us by God. God requires that we use our God-given resources first to honor him, and then to bless others who are created in his image. If we develop a God-centered outlook on life, where he takes first place in all things, and learn to find our satisfaction in him, we will be content with what we have and be eager to give and bless others. We will begin to live crucified, Christlike lives, as we are taught in Philippians 2: