The Eighth Commandment: Do Not Steal

You Shall Not Steal

“You shall not steal.”

(Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19)

For most of us, this commandment is kind of a no-brainer. I mean, we all know it’s wrong to steal. We even have laws that outline penalties for those who steal.

But, as we have seen seven times so far, what seems on the surface to be a relatively simple command hides some very difficult truths. Let’s begin with what the Heidelberg Confession says about this commandment:

“God forbids not only outright theft and robbery, punishable by law. But in God’s sight theft also includes all scheming and swindling in order to get our neighbor’s goods for ourselves, whether by force or means that appear legitimate, such as inaccurate measurements of weight, size, or volume; fraudulent merchandising; counterfeit money; excessive interest; or any other means forbidden by God. In addition God forbids all greed and pointless squandering of his gifts.”

Before we look more closely at some of those, we also need to mention a form of stealing that might not be so obvious. We find this one in Deuteronomy 24:7, “If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die.” Yes, this commandment prohibits taking persons and enslaving them. By the same token it also prohibits kidnapping and human trafficking. Baker Encyclopedia explains, “While this commandment is concerned with property, it’s most fundamental concern is human liberty…. It prohibits a person from manipulating or exploiting the lives of others for personal gain.”[1]

So let’s meddle a bit and consider some other things that are also prohibited by this commandment. Some things likely don’t really need explanation because we all know they’re wrong. This includes making/using counterfeit money; check fraud; and insurance fraud. But it may come closer to home when we talk about things like making empty promises—promising to do something, or not to do something, and going back on that promise.

What about cheating the government by collecting benefits we are not entitled to, or failure to pay taxes?

Are you guilty, as an employer, of not paying your employees the wages they are due, or withholding promised benefits?

How about you as an employee? Do you cheat your boss by coming in late and leaving early; by extending break or lunch times? By playing games on your computer rather than doing your work? Do you steal supplies—paper clips, paper, copies,…?

Are you guilty of pirating music, movies or computer software?

How about plagiarism? Have you stolen someone else’s intellectual property by using their material without giving proper credit and/or by ignoring copyrights or fair use guidelines? Have you claimed ownership of a coworker’s ideas on a project?

J.I. Packer says, “Now be honest. We have been stirring up thoughts about ways of stealing. Has it struck you that you yourself have been stealing in some of these ways? If so, God calls you now to repent (which means, change) and make restitution to those you have defrauded.”[2]

He goes on to give the example of Zacchaeus. If you recall the story found in Luke 19, Zacchaeus was a tax collector. He had become wealthy, most likely as a result of the common practice of collecting excessive taxes. Once he was confronted with his sin, he repented and said, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).  

And that brings us to the final area of stealing that we will consider. Arthur Pink explains, “The highest form of this sin is where it is committed against God, which is sacrilege. Of old He charged Israel with this crime: ‘Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation’” (Mal. 3:8-9).

Pink goes on to give examples of ways in which we defraud or rob God. These include withholding from Him the glory He is due. We rob God when we are unfaithful stewards of what He has given into our care. We rob not only God but our neighbor when we refuse to work and expect others to take care of us. We rob God when we fail to take care of our neighbor as ourselves by withholding the assistance or provisions that they need and which we are able, by God’s good grace, to provide.

Feeling convicted yet? Ephesians 4:28 warns, “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”

Apply that to yourself. In what way have you been stealing? Repent of that sin—whether of action or inaction. It may be that you, like Zacchaeus, must offer restitution to the one or the One you have defrauded. Are you willing to take that step? 

In the end, “the eighth commandment is ultimately an injunction for all of us to be good stewards. We are caretakers, and we want to use our gifts and opportunities wisely” (Matt. 25:14-30).”[3]

All that we have was given to us by God to be used to build up the Body of Christ and to advance His kingdom. How are you using your share?

[1] W.A. Elwell, and B.J. Beitzel, “The Ten Commandments,” in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol 2. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), emphasis added.

[2] J.I. Packer, Keeping the 10 Commandments (Crossway Books, 2007), p. 92.

[3] Kevin DeYoung, The Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them (Crossway, 2018), p. 137.

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