It is one of the most popular maxims of our time: “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”. You will see it posted in classrooms, you will hear it from the mouth of parents, and you will see it in various forms on signs in stores:
- No Shoplifting
- Don’t Touch!
- You Break it You Bought it!
- No Trespassing
These words state a very basic principle: what other people have is there’s and we have no right to take it as our own. We are to respect the right of personal property.
But there are some people who make it their life work to find ways to take what others have. There are all kinds of “scams” all around us. There are the dishonest building contractors who come in to do a simple project and seem to keep adding more and more that “needs” to be done. There are the people “giving away” prizes on the phone . . . they are free if you will only give them your credit card number. Others find ways to make a living by hand-outs. They are experts in playing on your emotions and getting you to feel guilty enough to give them something.
We are having a real problem with this with my father. Dad is suffering from Alzheimer’s and has lost some of his reasoning ability. When he reads an envelope that says he is a winner, he believes it! He doesn’t look at the fine print or the words that say, “you may receive a notice that says . . . ” He is constantly wanting to send money to someone who is seeking to capitalize on his gullibility.
The gambling industry is really another area that is designed to take what you have. They are not really trying to find ways for you to give money . . . . they are trying to find ways they can take your money. All around us people are trying to get there hands on that which is ours.
Mark Twain tells the story,
When I was a boy, I was walking along a street and happened to spy a cart full of watermelons. I was fond of watermelons. I was fond of watermelon, so I sneaked quietly up to the cart and snitched one. Then I ran into a nearby alley and sank my teeth into the melon. No sooner had I done so, however, than a strange feeling came over me. Without a moment’s hesitation, I made my decision. I walked back to the cart, replaced the melon–and took a ripe one. [Mark Twain]
That’s the attitude many seem to have: I am entitled to what I want and if I don’t get what I want, I should be given something else.
The Positive Principle: Work for Yourself and Others
Every one of the Ten Commandments has a positive and a negative side. It is often a good idea to go through the commandments and change the positive to a negative and the negative to a positive.
- God should be the center of your life
- Worship God in ways appropriate to who He is
- Speak of God in honoring ways
- Don’t forget to make time for God
- Don’t treat or talk about your parents in disrespectful ways
- Respect Life
- Keep Your Marriage Vows
This morning we are going to look at the positive and the negative sides of the eighth commandment. The positive side is revealed to us in Ephesians 4:28, “Let him who steals, steal no longer. but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.” There are two positive statements here.
We Should Work
God designed that we should live productive lives. He wants us to work and to do something productive. Your labor may not be at a “job” (where you are getting a paycheck) but you should be doing something “useful”. We are meant to contribute to the process.
We hear allot today about interactive games, interactive television and interactive learning. What this word interactive means is that you are called upon to contribute something. You are more than a spectator. You decide what happens to characters in a game, you get involved in a TV game show, or you get involved in hands on learning exercises.
God intended for life to be interactive. We must be involved. And when you are involved you will find that life is much more satisfying and enjoyable. It may be enjoyable to watch a game . . . but it is much more fun to play the game yourself. God wants us to participate in life. That’s why He wants us to work.
The person who is working is seeking to build up society. That person is “contributing”. The person who steals is not. They are trying to take while God wants us to give. God wants us to enjoy the delight of accomplishments, he doesn’t want us to have a sense of entitlement.
We Should Work So We Can Share
God’s design is not so much that we work so that we can accumulate. He wants us to work so that we might be able to lend a hand to those around us. God blesses us so we might be able to bless others.
One winter’s night in 1935, it is told, Fiorello LaGuardia, the irrepressible mayor of New York, showed up at a night court in the poorest ward of the city. He dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench. That night a tattered old woman, charged with stealing a loaf of bread, was brought before him. She defended herself by saying, “My daughter’s husband has deserted her. She is sick, and her children are starving.”
The shopkeeper refused to drop the charges, saying, “It’s a bad neighborhood, your honor, and she’s got to be punished to teach other people a lesson.” LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the old woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you; the law makes no exceptions. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.”
However, even while pronouncing sentence, LaGuardia reached into his pocket, took out a ten-dollar bill, and threw it into his hat with these famous words: “here’s the ten-dollar bill, and threw it into his hat with these famous words: “here’s the ten-dollar fine, which I now remit, and furthermore, I’m going to fine everyone in the courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”
The following day, a New York newspaper reported: “Forty-seven dollars and fifty cents was turned over to a bewildered old grandmother who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren. Making a forced donation were a red-faced storekeeper, seventy petty criminals, and a few New York policeman.” [Jim Danielson, Kingsford MO. Leadership, Vol. 11 no. 2]
The point of the story is obviously not to condone stealing. Mayor LaGuardia was making a point. Those that are able to work should be willing to share with those who are in need.
Do you see the difference in mentality that the Christian is supposed to have from the rest of the world? We are to be people who use what we have, to make a difference. We work and we work hard so that we can be a good witness to those around us. We work and we try to work well so that we can enrich the lives of those we come in contact with. We work and save not so we can retire early . . . but so we can help in alleviating some of the suffering and pain around us.
Negative: Don’t defraud Others
Why Stealing is bad
First, stealing from others is bad because when we take from another we treat them not as people but as a means to an end. It’s really quite simple when you think about it. When something belongs to another person we have no right to take it from them. People are entitled to the fruit of their labor. When we take something from another it is important to realize that we are “taking it from another”.
I remember as a small boy that I stayed at my Grandparents one week. There was a store down the block from them that had some really cool toys. I really wanted those toys. My Aunt’s wallet sat on the table and I opened it and took out some money. To be honest, it was easy. It was easy because I was only thinking of myself. I didn’t think about what it took for my Aunt to earn that money. I didn’t think about what she may have intended to buy with that money. I didn’t stop to think that I was violating my relationship with her. I didn’t think at all.
Did my aunt find out? I never told her but I can’t help but think that she knew what happened. And the fact that she probably knew makes it all the worse. When we take something that doesn’t belong to us, we are doing an act of violence to real people.
Second, stealing is destructive. The “taker” mentality is a drain on a relationship. Thieves undermine trust. They violate the idea of respect and dignity. The person who is always taking from another forces the other person to build a wall to protect themselves. Distance is created. Relationships crumble.
It is not surprising that thieves often find themselves alone in the world. The things they thought would make them happy really end up leaving them empty.
Thieves of any sort undermine a society. Let me explain,
The negative effects of such pervasive stealing are incalculable. Everyone pays when a crime is committed, not just the immediate victims. A robbery in the elevator of an office building can rob everyone who works there of a sense of personal security. Auto thefts drive up insurance premiums for every policyholder. Shoplifting results in higher prices for all the store’s customers, not to mention the intrusion of surveillance equipment. Extortion and embezzlement bring every employee under a cloud of suspicion. And virtually every U.S. citizen is penalized in the form of higher taxes to cover additional police officers and their upgraded equipment, not to mention heavier case loads in the courts and the construction and maintenance of jails and prisons. [Schenck p. 165-66]
You see, this is true even when the “victim” is a business, and insurance company, or the government. How often have we heard someone say, “Oh, it’s O.K., they can afford it?” But a business has stockholders (and customers) that will have to absorb the loss in income and in trust. The government is people and so is an insurance company. It does not matter how bit the victim is. . . . it’s wrong!
Ways People Steal
The command not to steal tends to be one we don’t see in it’s full implications. We have a tendency to think of theft as breaking into someone’s home or running off with something that belongs to another. But truthfully, stealing can take place in a number of different settings and in a variety of ways.
There are many ways we may be guilty of stealing. I can’t think of any better way to expose these sins than to make some lists,
Overt (Obvious) Theft
- breaking into someone’s home, garage, barn, car and taking something
- writing bad checks
- using stolen credit cards
- taking someone else’s homework
- taking things from a hotel or motel
Covert (Hidden) Theft
- under-reporting your income
- paying people in cash so neither of you has to report it
- making false (or inflated) insurance claims
- hiding income in dummy corporations or in other people’s names.
- plagiarizing the work of another and calling it your own
- using copyrighted material inappropriately
Fraud (Fraud is when you cheat other people.)
- running a scam on another person
- agreeing to do something and then not doing it
- refusing to abide by the contract you agreed to
- borrowing money you don’t intend to pay back
- making personal calls at the office
- taking supplies home
- taking money for work you aren’t doing
- abusing an expense account
- not paying your employees a fair wage
- making false advertisement of your product
- charging more than something is worth
- excessive interest
- taking money from the company (embezzlement)
- selling something and not recording the sale so you can pocket the cash
- mismanagement of public funds
Ronald Nash, referring to the statement of the prominent black economist Walter E. Williams, that in 1979 the U.S was spending $250 billion annually “just to fight poverty,” responds: “Had this amount of money been distributed equally to all families below the poverty level, each of them would have received an annual payment of $34,000.00 [Quoted in Horton, PERFECT FREEDOM p. 212]
- withholding our giving (Malachi tells us those who do not bring their tithe to the temple, “Rob God”)
- not using our spiritual gifts. God gives gifts so we can build each other up. If we don’t use our gifts we are robbing the body of Christ of the building we were going to do.
- not giving God glory for His acts and taking credit for God’s work
Dr. Boice sums it up pretty well,
We steal from God when we fail to worship as we ought or when we set our own concerns ahead of his. We steal from him when we spend our time in personal self-indulgence and do not tell others of his grace. We steal from an employer when we do not give the best work of which we are capable or when we overextend our coffee breaks or leave work early. We steal if we waste the raw products with which we are working or if we use the telephone for prolonged personal conversations, rather than for the business we are assigned. We steal if, as a merchant, we charge too much for our product or try to make a “killing” in a lucrative field. We steal if we sell and inferior product, pretending that it is better than it is. We steal from our employees if their work environment harms their health or if we do not pay them enough to guarantee a healthy, adequate level of living. We steal by mismanaging other’s money. We steal when we borrow but do not repay a loan on time or at all. We steal from ourselves if we waste our resources, whether time, talents or money. We steal when we indulge ourselves in material goods while others go without the necessities of existence: food, clothing, shelter, or medical care. We steal if we become so zealous in saving or accumulating money that we rob even ourselves of necessities. [Boice, p 241, 242]
Some Simple Guidelines
- if you would be arrested or fined for what you are doing . . . it is stealing
- if you are doing something you don’t want another to know about . . . it is stealing
- if a person would not let you do something if they had ALL the facts (if they read the “find print”….like on a 0% interest credit card), it is stealing
- if you would be upset if someone was doing this to you . . . it is stealing
- if you find yourself justifying your behavior . . .it is probably stealing
Once again we are faced with the very real issue of our own need for forgiveness. If you find that you have violated this commandment there are two things you need to do. First, you need to run to the cross. It is essential that you realize that we have no hope of “earning” our salvation. We desperately need God’s grace. Come honestly to Him and claim His payment for your sin.
Second, you need to make restitution where possible. What that means is that if you stole something you need to give it back or replace it. That’s seldom and easy thing to do. It’s risky . . . but it’s right. There are great stories of a revival coming to town and factories having so many tools returned that they have to build a warehouse to store them all! There is no greater witness to the world than for the world to see a real change in people.
If we want to obey this commandment we need to take positive steps in our lives. Let me share some final suggestions many of which come from Arthur Pink [TEN COMMANDMENTS].
- give yourself to honest labor and seek to promote the public good. It is idle people who are most tempted to take short-cuts.
- combat selfishness by finding things you can do for others. It may be opening a door, bringing a meal, making a phone call, taking someone shopping. Whatever it is, consciously work at becoming sensitive to others.
- Give generously. Work to share what you have. Become a giver rather than a taker.
- Remind yourself that you represent the Lord in everything you do. People are watching how you conduct your lives. They are watching to see how you handle the “little things”. They are looking for any sign that your integrity is superficial. Strive to represent Him well.
So you see our teachers spoke with great wisdom when they said, “Keep your hands to yourself.”