The Ten Commandments: The Eighth
…he was a thief, and had the money box; and he used to take what was put in it.
We often consider stealing to be a minor sin. Especially if it is only shaving a few dollars off of our tax returns, borrowing a few items from work, adding a few minutes on our timecards, remaining a little longer after our break ends, taking someone else’s time by being negligently late for an appointment, gaining influence or favor through manipulation, guilt, flattery, or intimidation, plagiarizing from the internet, stealing from big corporations or the rich, keeping back the love, kindness, and generosity that we as Christians owe to all people, or even removing a few coins from the money box now and then. As stated in a recent movie, “Everyone steals.”
Some of our biggest heroes are thieves. From Robin Hood to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, to Captain Jack Sparrow, we love thieves. They are dashing, daring, intriguing, cool, clever, and always one step ahead of the law. Going back to at least the tale of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods, mankind has always had a love affair with thieves (that is, as long as it’s not our stuff being stolen!). Plus, seeing how corrupt big business and government are, why shouldn’t the little guy grab his piece of the pie when he has the opportunity and ability? Coming on the heels of “Thou shalt not murder,” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” stealing does not look too bad.
But what does the Bible say about stealing? Both testaments refer to false prophets and teachers as thieves: “‘Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,’ says the LORD, ‘who steal My words everyone from his neighbor’” (Jer. 23:30). Rather than forthrightly giving God’s Word to the people, false prophets deal in the currency of stolen words. Thus, Jesus said of false teachers, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber… All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them… The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Joh. 10:1, 8, 10). The false teacher sees God’s Word as a means to meet his own ends.
Likewise, corrupt rulers are said to be thieves: “Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; everyone loves bribes, and follows after rewards. They do not defend the fatherless, nor does the cause of the widow come before them” (Isa. 1:23). When those in authority do not do their duty to justly enforce the laws equally on all their constituents, whatever caused them to pervert justice is in effect a bribe. Whether it is money, laziness, or the promise of more votes bribery is stealing. Jesus similarly rebuked the rulers of the temple when He cleansed it the second time, “And He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you have made it a den of thieves’” (Mat. 21:13). Rather than seeking God’s glory in right worship, the elders of Israel were using religion to plunder the people. They were stealing from them. The great danger of all human governments is when rulers use their power to steal wealth. Democracy is just as susceptible to the sin of stealing as any other form of government. As has been popularly and repeatedly stated, democracy ends when citizens realize that through their votes they can steal from one another.
But perhaps the most damning indictment of the evil of stealing is when we consider the fact that the greatest sin of all time, the betrayal of Christ, was in effect an act of man-stealing by Judas Iscariot, who sold Jesus to the Jews for thirty pieces of silver: “Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?’ And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver. So from that time he sought opportunity to betray Him,” (Mat. 26:14-16). The man who was merely a thief committed the worst sin the world has ever known. May God grant that we guard our hearts from the great evil of stealing!
Ray Heiple (M.Div. RPTS, D.Min. RPTS) is the Senior Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church (PCA), host for the TV program Origins (CTVN), teacher of Bible and Apologetics at Robinson Township Christian School (RTCS), and author of Preaching with Biblical Motivation (P&R, 2017), and Pocket History of the PCA (CDM, 2017).