Understanding the practical application of "You shall not steal."
Have you noticed how blurred the world has become? It has become increasingly more difficult to locate and abide by any life guidelines that represent clear boundaries and a clear direction forward. The eighth Commandment was simple: “You shall not steal.” This was a clear directive to not take what is not yours. Fast forward society several thousand years and we have quotes that call that simple statement into question, like this one: “It’s not stealing if you don’t get caught.” Then there is the more philosophic approach like this one from Mohsin Hamid: “You see, it is my passionately held belief that the right to possess property is at best a contingent one. When disparities become too great, a superior right, that to life, outweighs the right to property. Ergo, the very poor have the right to steal from the very rich.” What exactly is our Christian responsibility regarding stealing? How definitive are the guidelines, and are there any grey areas?
Steal = Kidnap
The first thing we notice about this “You shall not steal” Commandment is how broadly it applies. In Exodus 21 - the very next chapter after the 10 Commandments were given - we see the same word for "steal" in the 8th Commandment translated as “kidnap.” Exodus 21:16 tells us the penalty for kidnapping, for stealing any person, is death. What a serious consequence! Other aspects of stealing outlined by God’s Law given to Moses had to do with the general business of life and with buying, selling and trading. The penalties in these cases were still serious, as stealing from your neighbor was also stealing from God. When someone stole the ability to feed your family (such as the taking of an ox that plows the fields or sheep that supply wool) the penalty was much more serious. Stealing from your neighbor on any level led to major consequences.
And in the New Testament?
Let's look at the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus. Here stealing was still a serious crime against your neighbor. Interestingly, Jesus focused us on the “why” of thievery and not the “what.” He plainly said it is driven by a corrupted and sinful heart. And he didn’t reserve this association just for the most serious thefts. Ouch! This should make us look inwardly. Do we in any way have some level of corruption in our hearts?
Then there is the age-old question about stealing: Is stealing still wrong if I have no choice? Check out our May 10, 2021 podcast, “Is It Still Stealing if I Deserve It?” for more. We deal with this question in a way that may be surprising. We also wade through the many other issues that tend to complicate the simple right and wrong nature of stealing. The bottom line here is simple yet challenging: being a Christian requires a high integrity approach to even the small things in life. This needs to take place in a world that really doesn’t care. Join us as we gather the principles and inspiration to stand for things that matter! Study the rest of the Commandments with us to see how they are still valid for Christians today.
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