Last night in our small group Bible study, I had shared this cover from a 1936 edition of The Saturday Evening Post which featured a well-known Norman Rockwell painting. I’ve always enjoyed looking closely at the details found in his works.
In this one, there’s a bird being weighed on a scale. Do you see the kind and gentle-looking woman pushing the scale up with her finger? And how about the jolly ol’ butcher who is pushing it down?
Truth be told, these two sincere individuals are being sordid. Yep. They are both breaking the eighth commandment, “You shall not steal” (Exod 20:15).
That was the topic of last night’s conversation. As I’ve shared in previous posts, I’m reading through Philip Graham Ryken’s book on the Ten Commandments called Written in Stone and using it as a guide for our small group Bible studies. Chapter eleven, What’s Mine is God’s, focused on—in a word—stealing.1
Everyone knows that stealing is wrong. Even people who don’t read the Bible know the eighth commandment… theft is pervasive at every level of American society, and we all suffer the loss. Martin Luther said, “If we look at mankind in all its conditions, it is nothing but a vast, wide stable full of great thieves.
Ryken in his book consistently reminds his readers that there is much more to each of these commandments than a list of dos and don’ts that must be obeyed. The Rule-maker has a reason for the rules. And the eighth is no different, having “deep spiritual significance.”
Stealing is a sin against God in at least two ways. First, every theft is a failure to trust in His provision. Whenever we take something that doesn’t belong to us, we deny that God has given us or is able to give us everything we truly need. Therefore, keeping the eighth commandment is a practical exercise of our faith in God’s providence.
Every theft is also an assault on God’s providence for others. This is a second way that stealing is a sin against God: It robs what He has provided for someone else.
On the negative-side, stealing denies God and His providential care. But there is also something inherently positive about the commandment. It assumes that there is a right of ownership. Stewardship. By God forbidding theft, He is approving of private ownership.
Otherwise, the whole concept of stealing would fail to make any sense. Only something that belongs to someone can be stolen from him or her. But the reason that anything belongs to anyone is because it comes from God, and we do not have the right to take for ourselves what God has given to others…
So at the same time that we are forbidden to take things that don’t belong to us, we are required to use what we have in ways that are pleasing to our God. To put it very simply, the eight commandment isn’t just about stealing, it’s also about stewardship.
3 BASIC ATTITUDES
Quoting Jerry Bridges, the author then points to three possible attitudes we can take towards possessions.
The first says, “What’s yours is mine; I’ll take it.” This is the attitude of the thief. The second says, “What’s mine is mine; I’ll keep it.” Since we are selfish by nature, this is the attitude that most people have most of the time. The third attitude—the godly attitude—says, “What’s mine is God’s; I’ll share it.”
Of course, it is the third attitude that should be our heart’s cry. We are called to live generously as Christians. We know that all we have received has come from His caring hand. It was never really “ours” to begin with.
The challenge here is not just with stealing, but good stewardship. We are to do far greater things than just satisfy our own desires with what we have received.
You shall generously give… because for this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all your undertakings. (Deut 15:10)
Another convicting chapter packed with applicable truths on the Ten Commandments.
When we give, we’re making a declaration. We are declaring that we will be not motivated by money. Kent Hughes once put it this way, “Perpetual generosity is a perpetual de-deification of money.”2