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"You Shall Not Steal!"

Exodus 20:15

Ephesians 4:28

Jim Davis

There was an article in the Washington Post Weekly titled: "Honesty may no longer be the best policy." The article revealed a study done by a California based foundation concluded: There is a hole in the moral ozone layer, and it is probably getting bigger." It is increasingly common for young people to lie, cheat and steal at school, on the job and in personal relationships. It revealed that American kids today are lying, cheating and stealing in unprecedented numbers.

Michael Josephson, president of the California based foundation concluded that unethical behavior is so common among the younger generation because adults have been poor examples and because society fails to impose negative consequences for dishonest words and actions. He says, "Their misbehavior is more often the product of survival strategies and coping mechanisms than moral deficiency." ("Honesty may no longer be the best policy" by Richard Morin. Washington Post Weekly, Dec 7, 1992. Page 36.)

In a survey of U.S. high school students, 36% said they would plagiarize in order to pass a test; 67% would pad their expense accounts; 50% would inflate an insurance claim; 66% would tell a lie to reach a business objective; and 59% would risk six month's probation in order to make $10 million on an illegal business deal.

Bryant Park in downtown Manhattan reopened recently after a two-year renovation project. Security guards are posted in all the new marble- and-tile restrooms, and some 200 of the new shrubs are wired with burglar alarms to discourage thieves. (U.S. News & World Report, May 4, 1992)

Asked if they would commit a crime for $10 million if they thought they could get away with it, nearly one out of four people surveyed by Money magazine said they would do it.

If you found a wallet with $1,000 in it, would you return it? Your answer may depend on your age. In the survey, people age 18 to 34 were ten times more likely to keep the money than people 65 and above. (Pulpit Helps, Oct 1994)

In the United States every 24 hours 65 murders, 299 rapes, 3,088 aggravated assaults, 4,413 auto thefts, and 8,164 burglaries are reported. (U.S. News & World Report, Nov 15, 1993)

Faith and Personal Ethics

According to a Gallop done for the Wall Street Journal there is little connection between faith and personal ethics. When I was in college the Christian bookstore on campus said that it had more Bibles stolen than any other item. This was a problem in the church in the city of Ephesus.

Ephesians 4:28
He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. (NIV)

A man was taken to court for stealing an item from a store. The man said to the judge, "Your Honor, I'm a Christian. I've become a new man. But I have an old nature also. It was not my new man who did wrong. It was my old man."

The judge responded, "Since it was the old man that broke the law, we'll sentence him to 60 days in jail. And since the new man was an accomplice in the theft, we'll give him 30 days also. I therefore sentence you both to 90 days in jail."

Paul commands us to labor with our own hands that we might have to give to others. Stealing is a sin against God for it betrays our trusting him to provide for us. It is a sin against society because it denies our love for our neighbor. It is a sin against ourselves because we reveal our insecurity and ineptness to provide for their own needs.

When we steal from others we are stealing from ourselves for we are depriving ourselves of the opportunity of using the gifts God has given each of us. The gift of our abilities has is a gift from God. As a Christian, I must take inventory of what God has given us. We must ask ourselves: Why has God me this gift?

Edmund Nenger was convicted in 1897 of counterfeiting $20 bills.  When the subject of restitution came up the only thing of value Mr. Nenger had were a few paintings in his apartment, which he had painted. The authorities seized these paintings and sold them at auction.  The paintings each sold for $5,000. How ridiculous. Mr. Nenger had not only robbed others, he had robbed himself. He could of spent his time painting portraits for $5,000 or counterfeiting  $20 bills.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (NIV)

We live in times when "things" define our personal value, and, if we buy into this materialistic value system, we will inevitably want more and more things. There will come a point that we are tested morally as to what we will do in order to get more "things."

Matt 16:26-27
What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. (NIV)

Luke 12:15
Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (NIV)

Colossians 3:5
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (NIV)

There must be a balance. It's all right to own things, but that right does not justify grabbing for everything we can get.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-12
Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep. (NIV)

The thief takes because he's not content with what he has. It's not a question of physical need but of spiritual deficiency. He sees the things the Lord has given him, shakes his fist at the Almighty, and says, "This is not enough. I deserve more, and if you will not provide it for me, then I'll just take it myself."

We rob God of his glory when we allow things to own us. Things can own us whether we are rich or poor. And giving our hearts to "things" means taking our hearts from God.

We rob God of credibility by living lives lacking in character.

Jeremiah 7:9-11
'Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, "We are safe"-- safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD. (NIV)

After F. E. Marsh preached on this subject, a young man came to him and said, "Preacher, you have put me in a bad fix. I've stolen from my employer, and I'm ashamed to tell him about it. You see, I'm a boat builder, and the man I work for is an unbeliever. I have often talked to him about Christ, but he only laughs at me. In my work, expensive copper nails are used because they won't rust in water. I've been taking some of them home for a boat I am building in my backyard. I'm afraid if I tell my boss what I've done and offer to pay for them, he'll think I'm a hypocrite, and I'll never be able to reach him for Christ. Yet, my conscience is bothered."

Later when the man saw the preacher again, he exclaimed, "Preacher, I've settled that matter and I'm so relieved." "What happened when you told your boss?" asked the minister. "Oh, he looked at me intently and said, 'George, I've always thought you were a hypocrite, but now I'm not so sure. Maybe there's something to your Christianity after all. Any religion that makes a man admit he's been stealing a few copper nails and offer to settle for them must be worth having.'"

We rob God of honor by giving him meager offerings. We buy the best for ourselves and give God what is left over.

Malachi 3:8-14
"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' "In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse-- the whole nation of you-- because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty. "You have said harsh things against me," says the LORD. "Yet you ask, 'What have we said against you?' "You have said, 'It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? (NIV)

Charles Spurgeon, was invited by a wealthy Englishman to speak at the country church where the wealthy man worshiped. It seems the congregation was trying to pay off some debt and they thought having a famous preacher speak that day might help the contribution.

So the wealthy member wrote, Spurgeon, inviting him to speak and offering to let him stay in his townhouse, his country home, or his cottage by the sea. Spurgeon, it is said, wrote back a terse note saying, "I'm not coming. Sell one of your places, and take care of the debt yourself."

This news headline catches the eye: "Thief Tries to Donate That Guilty Feeling." The Associated Press release gave these details: "A burglar who stole $7,000 in jewelry, old coins, and cash from a home here has mailed in the family's $10 church offering. An envelope with a misspelled, hand- scrawled address arrived Friday at the church. It contained the stolen sealed envelopes from a mother and her children. 'I think it's characteristic of the moral confusion of our times that someone would consider stealing from widows and children, but think it reprehensible to steal from the church,' the pastor said."

I'm sure most people who read that article found it disgusting. That thief stole from a widow, tried to salve his conscience by sending in the church offering, then kept the rest of the loot for himself. The same type of thing happens all the time. A businessman, for example, pulls a shady deal, then shows up in church on Sunday morning, places his envelope in the collection plate, and prides himself in having given the Lord 10 percent. After the service, he compliments the preacher on his message and talks piously to his friends about the way God has blessed him materially, even though it's ill-gotten gain.

"A minister in a small town was having trouble with his collections. So one Sunday he announced from the pulpit: `Before we pass the offering plate, I would like to request that the person who stole the chickens from Brother Harvey's henhouse please refrain from giving money to the Lord. The Lord doesn't want money from a thief.' "The collection plate was passed around and, for the first time in many months, everybody gave." (The Pastor's Story File, Sep 1987.)

Three Ways To Surrender.

Cultivate a thankful spirit. Thanksgiving is not a holiday for God's child; it's a lifestyle. People of character remember how much God has given them and how much more that is than they deserve.

Share whenever you can. Many early Christians were former thieves. A lot of others lost their jobs or businesses as a result of becoming Christians and, so, faced the temptation to steal.

Ephesians 4:28
He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. (NIV)

Proverbs 11:25-26
A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. People curse the man who hoards grain, but blessing crowns him who is willing to sell. (NIV)

Trust God. It is the only way we can keep our proper perspective on things. Have you noticed how each principle has a way of coming back to the first? If God is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all. That's why and how people of character keep "things" in perspective.

Matthew 6:19-21
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)

Matthew 6:33-34
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (NIV)

Conclusion:

Trust God

Put God first.

It's as simple as that.

"As the following Jewish folk tale reminds us, faith is often the path to other virtues (in this case, honesty): Once a rabbi decided to test the honesty of his disciples, so he called them all together and posed a question:

"`What would you do if you were walking along and found a purse full of money lying in the road?' he asked.

"`I'd return it to its owner,' said one disciple.

"`His answer comes so quickly, I must wonder if he really means it,' the rabbi thought.

"`I'd keep the money if nobody saw me find it,' said another.

"`He has a frank tongue, but a wicked heart,' the rabbi told himself.

"`Well, Rabbi,' said a third disciple. `I believe I'd be tempted to keep it. So I would pray to God that He would give me the strength to resist such temptation and do the right thing.'

"`Aha!' thought the rabbi. `Here is the man I would trust.'" [The Book of Virtues by William Bennett. Simon & Schuster, 1993. Page 762.]

 

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