October 20, 2019

Exodus 20:15: You Shall Not Steal

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Series: The Ten Commandments Scripture: Exodus 20:15

Exodus 20:15: You Shall Not Steal

This morning, we’re going to continue our sermon series on the Ten Commandments and focus our attention on the eighth commandment, found in Exodus 20:15, which tells us, “You shall not steal.” Finally, a commandment that gives us a little breathing room, right? As long as we haven’t robbed any banks or been guilty of shoplifting recently, we can just rest easy this week. But…come to think of it…maybe not. By now in our study of the Ten Commandments, you ought to know that’s not true. Unfortunately, there are many ways to break this commandment even if you’re not a bank robber or shoplifter. In fact, many people break this commandment on a fairly regular basis without even thinking twice about it. They view their behavior as simply a normal way of living or a normal way of doing business. 

I remember last year, I purchased our family’s minivan from a guy in the North Hills. And throughout the process of me looking over the van and giving it a test drive, this guy was very friendly and helpful. He really seemed like a nice guy—and I’m sure he was in many ways. But then, once we agreed on a price and went to the AAA office to complete the transaction and have him sign over the title, he offered—as we were sitting in the waiting area—to write on the bill of sale that I was paying him a lower price than we had agreed on. This way, I wouldn’t have to pay as much sales tax for the transaction. So he was going to fudge the numbers a little bit as a favor to me. And again, this guy wasn’t someone we’d typically describe as a shady character. He had a wife and kids and seemed to be a pretty nice guy. But that just goes to show the extent to which stealing can be a part of our normal, everyday lives without us even thinking twice about it. And by the way, I did politely decline his offer. 

So, this morning, I’d like to take a closer look at the eighth commandment and consider how it relates to the everyday situations you and I face. And in doing this, I’m going to make use of a guideline for interpreting the commandments that Jesus employs and that is articulated quite well in the Westminster catechism. It says that “where a duty is commanded, the contrary sin is forbidden; and, where a sin is forbidden, the contrary duty is commanded.” So whenever one of the Ten Commandments tells us to do something—to perform a certain duty—it’s implying that we need to avoid the contrary sin. And whenever a commandment forbids us from doing something—from engaging in a certain sin—it’s implying that we need to perform the contrary duty. So in light of this, I’d like to examine the eighth commandment under two headings: the sins forbidden by the commandment and the duties required by the commandment. The sins forbidden by the commandment and the duties required by the commandment.

The Sins Forbidden by the Commandment

So first, let’s look at some of the sins the eighth commandment forbids. And these aren’t in any particular order—I’m just going to quickly go through a few of the things that came to my mind. Obviously the commandment forbids outright theft, robbery, shoplifting, and embezzlement—no surprise there. However, it also forbids a lot of things that, many times, don’t immediately come to mind. For example, it forbids lying about a product in order to sell it. Going back to the story of me purchasing that minivan, if that man had known about a major problem with the minivan but failed to disclose that knowledge and instead told me that nothing was wrong with it, that would have been a form of stealing. It’s stealing to deceive someone into thinking that you’re selling them a good product when in fact the product you’re selling them is defective in some way. This also applies not just to personal belongings you sell but also to things you sell for a company that you work for. Selling defective goods or services is a violation of the eighth commandment.  

Also, failing to be a good worker for your employer is likewise a form of stealing. This includes slacking off when you’re at work or not working the number of hours you get paid for working. It also includes fudging expense reports, stealing supplies from the office, or giving merchandise away without proper authorization. Growing up, the dad of one of my friends worked for the power company and had a pretty high-up position in the company that included the responsibility of awarding contracts to various bidders. And I remember him mentioning one time that he would sometimes give preference to which bidder he awarded a contract to based on who would mow a field that he owned personally. So if a bidder did him that personal favor, he would give them the contract even if it wasn’t in the electric company’s best interest. And I remember that he was pretty proud of his shrewdness and called it “bartering,” but really it was a form of stealing—stealing from his employer. 

Another example of stealing is for someone, such as a contractor, to do poor or shoddy work for the customer, cutting corners when they think they can get away with it. Or when a company bills a customer or another company for hours that weren’t actually worked or services that weren’t actually needed—that also is a form of stealing. I have a friend who used to work for a company that provided physical therapy and that would regularly bill the insurance or other companies in order to provide physical therapy services that weren’t actually needed. Perhaps a patient really only needed 5 hours of physical therapy, but this company would find a way to make that 10. That’s another violation of the eighth commandment. My friend ended up getting in a different industry because he didn’t feel like dealing with that those kinds of business practices any more. 

Furthermore, bringing a frivolous lawsuit against someone or against a company is a form of stealing—as is any kind of plagiarism, which is the stealing of intellectual property. Along those same lines, it’s also stealing to download pirated music or movies or software. 

It’s also possible to steal from someone even if you’re not doing anything that’s technically illegal. An example of this is taking advantage of a poor person or someone who’s in a position of financial vulnerability by giving them a loan for which you charge them excessive or predatory interest. It may surprise you to hear that, in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament, the sin that God most often condemns his people for committing—after the sin of idolatry, which is number one—is taking advantage of the poor. Instead of helping those in financial distress, the rich people in ancient Israel capitalized on their misfortune. And today, we can see that with payday loan companies and lenders that advertise that they don’t perform credit checks. Many of these companies make it insanely easy to get a loan but will then charge up to 300% interest to customers who can’t pay it back in time. To be honest, it’s shameful—and it’s a violation of the eighth commandment. In addition, it’s also stealing when the recipient of a loan fails to pay back that loan. This includes circumstances in which you accept an informal loan from a friend or family member but then fail to pay back that loan in a timely manner. 

Moreover, it’s also possible to steal from others by cheating on your taxes. And yes, that includes working for cash that you don’t report to the IRS. You may reason that the government is already spending money wastefully and has trillions of dollars anyway, but it doesn’t matter. Stealing from the government is still stealing. And finally, one more form of stealing that’s closely related to that is misrepresenting something about yourself or your circumstances to the government in order to be found eligible for certain government benefits. I used to have a job that took me to a lot of low-income neighborhoods. And it wasn’t uncommon for me to encounter a man and a woman who had been living together long-term but who didn’t want to get married because they wouldn’t be eligible for as big of a government check if they got married. So they were basically living as a married couple but refrained from getting married for the sole purpose of receiving more money from the government. And I know that was their only reason for not getting married because many of them told me. That dishonesty is a violation of the eighth commandment. 

The Duties Required by the Commandment

So as you can see, the sins forbidden by the eighth commandment are almost endless. And yet, don’t forget there’s a whole other category that we haven’t even touched on yet, and that is the duties required by the commandment. What positive duties are required by this negative command not to steal? 

Generosity in Giving to Others

And there are two of them I’d like to explore, the first of which is generosity in giving to others. You see, just about all of the sins forbidden by the eighth commandment that we looked at in the previous category flow out of greed. That’s what drives a person to take what doesn’t belong to them. Even though we didn’t actually name the sin of greed, that’s what just about all of the sins that we did name have in common. And so, as we think about the opposite of that, the opposite of greed is…generosity, right? The opposite of greedy stealing is generous giving. 

And the fact that generous giving is indeed a legitimate part of the eighth commandment is underscored by Ephesians 4:28, where Paul writes, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” So Paul repeats the command against stealing but isn’t content to just leave it at that. No, he feels compelled to bring out the implied positive component of that command which is that those who are able to do so should “labor, doing honest work [their] own hands, so that [they] may have something to share with anyone in need.” So notice that our duty isn’t just to do honest work so that we don’t have to steal. It also includes working hard enough and budgeting our money wisely enough so that we actually have a surplus that we’re then able to share with others. Generosity is an integral part of the Christian life. So are you doing that? Are you a stingy person, with your fists clenched tightly around the things you possess or are you a generous person who shares with others with open hands? Generosity is required by the eighth commandment. 

Faithfulness in Giving to God

And closely related to giving to others is giving to God, which is another requirement of the eighth commandment—faithfulness in giving to God. And the main biblical support for including this as a requirement of the eighth commandment is Malachi 3:8-10, where God says to the Israelites, 8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. So is that not provocative? By failing to tithe their money—which means giving 10% of their income—God says that the Israelites were actually guilty of robbery. They were, in fact, stealing from God. Now perhaps some of you are sitting there thinking, “Oh, I see. Very clever pastor. You’ve managed to turn the eighth commandment into a sermon on tithing.” But notice that it’s right there in the text. I’m just going through the Bible pointing out examples of stealing, and we see that the Israelites failing to tithe is plainly described as form of stealing or robbery.

I heard about a pastor one time who was preaching through Malachi and decided to be a bit dramatic when he came to Malachi 3. On the Sunday he was scheduled to preach on these verses, he stood up in the middle of the worship service—before the part of the service where he traditionally preached his sermon—and informed the congregation that a very serious problem had come to his attention. He said that the church administrator had been going over the financial records and had made the alarming discovery that someone had been stealing from the church. And, of course, you could hear everyone in the congregation gasp when he said that. It felt like all of the air had just been sucked out of the room. However, the pastor then proceeded to tell the congregation that they had caught the perpetrator and that he even had a picture of the person that he was going to show them. So he reached under the pulpit into the little cubby under there and—you guessed it—pulled out a mirror. He then proceeded to preach his sermon on Malachi 3:8-10. 

Now, I’m not going to do that for several reasons. For starters, I’m not that mean. But also, I do believe there are many people in our congregation who are faithful givers. And beyond that, I don’t believe that giving 10% of our income is absolute requirement for us as it was for Israel. As New Testament believers, we’re not under the Law of Moses. However, we should note there are several recorded instances of people tithing before the Law was put into effect. Abraham tithed, as did Jacob. So I really don’t think tithing is something that we can simply dismiss as a practice that was just for Israel and not also for us. Tithing is the standard for giving that’s consistently commended in the Bible. And there are certainly many commands in the New Testament telling us to be generous and faithful in our giving. So I do believe that 10% is the standard that should most naturally come to our minds as we think about giving as Christians. 

And just so you know, I held that conviction long before I ever became a pastor. In fact, I’ve long believed that, in light of New Testament teaching, 10% is best seen not as a the maximum for faithful Christian giving but rather as the minimum—as a starting point. So when I was in high school and didn’t have as many bills I gave 30% of my income from my supermarket job to my local church. And then as I gradually became responsible for more living expenses during college and then afterwards, I settled at the figure of 15% of my income. And Becky and I have been giving that amount throughout the eight years of our marriage. And the reason I share that with you isn’t to brag or to make you feel guilty if you’re a Christian and not giving faithfully. Rather, my goal is to encourage you. I’m able to stand here this morning and tell you that God has always been faithful in meeting Becky and I’s needs and actually allowing us to live very comfortably. And I believe that’s in large part because we’ve been faithful in our giving. 

You know, a lot of times, I think the reason people don’t give faithfully is because they put their bills first and giving second. They think to themselves, “Okay, I have to take care of this bill and that bill and this credit card payment over here and that obligation over there…and then, if I have any money left after that, I’ll tithe.” That’s the way people typically approach tithing. And, not surprisingly, they usually don’t have much money left at all to devote to the Lord—certainly not anything close to 10%. So, in their minds, their finances are too tight. They can’t afford to tithe. And perhaps that’s you this morning. If so, let me ask you a question. What if you’ve been approaching everything backwards? What if the reason you have such financial turmoil and stress in the first place is because you’re not being faithful in giving to the Lord by prioritizing tithing above your bills—giving your tithe first and then paying your bills second? 

I mean, look back at verse 10 of Malachi 3. God says, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” So God actually invites you to test him. He says that if you’ll be faithful in your giving, he won’t just provide for you—he’ll provide abundantly. He’ll “open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” And honestly, Becky and I have experienced that. God has always met our needs not just with the bare minimum but with an abundance. Again and again, when things have begun to get stressful, God’s shown up for us and provided for us in ways we didn’t expect. And I hope our experience is an encouragement for you. Before you do anything else with your paycheck, give God your first 10% and then see if he doesn’t prove himself faithful in taking care of everything else. As David says in Psalm 37:25, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.”

Extended Conclusion

So, going back to the eighth commandment, keeping this commandment requires not only avoiding the sins the commandment forbids but also practicing the duties the commandment requires. And those duties include generosity in giving to others and faithfulness in giving to God. 

And yet, as we think about all of that—as we think about what’s involved in keeping the eighth commandment—let me ask you a question: how in the world are we able to do that? If you’re anything like me, you’ve heard some things this morning that have been uncomfortable for you to hear. You’ve been reminded of things you sometimes do that you shouldn’t do. And you’ve been reminded of things you should be doing consistently that you often don’t do. And even if you do those things, I can guarantee that unless your efforts are empowered by God and a product of God’s grace, they’re not pleasing in the sight of God. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s say you regularly give impressive amounts of money to various charities and, let’s say, to our church. Have you ever thought about why you do that? What’s your motive for being so generous? What’s really going on in your heart of hearts? Are you giving that money because you want to be recognized—either publically or even in more subtle ways? Or are you giving in order to alleviate a sense of guilt you feel stemming from any number of things? Or are you giving because you want to feel good about yourself—you want to be able to think of yourself as a generous person? If so, I have to tell you that your giving falls short of what’s required in the eighth commandment. You see, God cares just as much about the heart and the motive behind your giving as he does about the act of giving itself. If you want biblical support for that, just look at the stinging rebukes Jesus issued to the Pharisees throughout his ministry. So if you’ve somehow managed to make it through this entire sermon without feeling really uncomfortable, I hope you now feel uncomfortable—because that’s how you’re supposed to feel when you encounter the weight of the demands of God’s law. 

You see, God gave us his law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, to expose our sin and destroy our pride and tear down our self-righteousness and crush our self-sufficiency...so that we’d see just how desperately we need a Savior. And in his grace, God has provided that Savior we so desperately needed in the person of Jesus. Jesus was God in human flesh and lived a life of perfect obedience to God’s law before dying on the cross to take the punishment for our sin. He served as our substitute on that cross, taking on himself the wrath we deserved, and then triumphantly resurrecting from the dead. And he now freely offers us rescue from both the penalty and the power of sin if we’ll simply look to him to provide for that rescue. That requires that we stop trusting in ourselves and in our own efforts to be right with God and look to Jesus instead. And when we do that, Jesus changes our hearts and enables us to live as God would have us live. That includes following the eighth commandment. 

For example, think about generosity for a moment. As God opens your eyes to really see the glory and wonder of the gospel, you’re able to be generous toward others not out of a mere desire for recognition or to alleviate guilt or to feel good about yourself for being a generous person. No, the gospel enables you to give to others out of a heart genuine love. As you see the love God’s shown you in the gospel and really begin to grasp the depth of that love, it enables you to show that same love toward others. And as you begin to recognize the generosity God’s shown you in the gospel—not sparing his own Son but giving him up for us all, as Romans 8:32 says—it enables you to be generous toward others. So it’s God’s love that enables your love and his generosity that enables your generosity. 

And speaking of Romans 8:32, that verse reminds us of another way the gospel helps us keep the eighth commandment. The verse says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” So the gospel reminds us of the utter and absolute confidence we can have in God to provide for all of our needs. It’s an argument from the greater to the lesser. If God’s already done the greater thing and given his own Son for our eternal needs, how could we possibly think he won’t do whatever comparatively small thing is necessary to provide for our earthly needs? Of course he will. No matter what, God’s going to take care of us. That’s the key to avoiding the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment. Whenever you take something that belongs to others, you’re almost always doing that because a lack of faith. And whenever you withhold something you should be giving to others or to God, you almost always doing that as well because of a lack of faith. You’re not trusting in God to provide for your needs. But the gospel reminds us that God’s already given his own Son and is therefore absolutely worthy of our trust and will without question take care of every need we have.

other sermons in this series

Nov 24


Exodus 20:17: You Shall Not Covet

Preacher: Josh Tancordo Scripture: Exodus 20:17 Series: The Ten Commandments

Nov 3


Oct 13