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EXODUS 20:15
Series:  The Covenant - Part Eight

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
November 14, 2004

This morning we’ve come to the eighth commandment where God says, “You shall not steal.” Let’s say that together: “You shall not steal.”

The Hebrew word for “steal” is “ganab” - which originally had the idea of kidnapping. Sounds kind of like kidnapping doesn’t it? Try it with me, “ganab.” To “ganab” someone is to “nab” them.

Remember Joseph? Joseph’s brothers grabbed Joseph and threw him into a pit. They stripped him - took the coat that their father had given him - sold him for 20 shekels of silver to a caravan of Ishmaelites - spice traders on their way to Egypt. In Egypt Joseph ends up as Potiphar’s slave - stripped of his possessions - his inheritance stolen from him - his hopes and dreams shattered. (Genesis 37:17-36)

Kidnapping is the ultimate in stealing. Kidnapping someone is to take from them their life - their reputation - their goods - their productivity - their hopes - their dreams. “To steal” - ultimately when we show such disrespect for a person that we take from them what is rightfully theirs to possesses - even destroying who they are in the process.

Deuteronomy 24:7 puts the two ideas together - kidnapping and stealing, “If a man is caught kidnapping - same word - “ganab” - if a man is caught kidnapping any of his countrymen of the sons of Israel, and he deals with him violently or sells him, then that thief shall die; so you shall purge the evil from among you.” The thief is a kidnapper who’s put to death.

The focus of the eighth commandment is respect - respecting others by respecting what they possess.

Would you agree with this? In our culture, stealing is a way of life. How many of you would agree with that?

Martha Stewart - the icon of home-making and goodness in America - last month Martha began her 5-month sentence at “Camp Cupcake” - incarcerated at a prison in West Virginia - because she stole - sold stocks in a way that ripped off other people.

Corporations lie about their products - advertisements that exaggerate the quality of an item - packaging that’s twice the size of the product. Buyer beware. Because if we’re not we’re going to get ripped off.

Employees steal from employers. A report I saw said that 80% of employees steal an average of 3 hours and 45 minutes per week from their employers - all those perks of time and things we allow ourselves. (1)

Have you ever gone to buy something - a used car - a house - and wondered if the seller was telling you everything you should know? Think about all the laws - the fine print - the pages of forms and documents - that exist just because - in our tolerant and respectful society - people don’t trust each other.

There was a young lawyer who moved to a small town and opened his office right on the main street of the town. After 3 months of no business he was ready to call it quits. When another lawyer moved to town and opened an office across the street. And now both of them are doing very well. Think about how many lawyers would be out of a job if people obeyed the eighth commandment.

Our son - Andrew’s bus stop got moved again. Because some of the kids are vandalizing the people’s property where the stop was. So now they’ve moved the bus stop to an open field. Vandalism - graffiti - dropping trash on the ground - borrowing and not returning - renters damaging someone else’s property - that’s stealing. Its disrespecting them - taking from them what’s rightfully theirs - their right to control their own property - their livelihood.

We could go on with this - example after example. We live in a society where stealing is a way of life. But for Christians it shouldn’t be. We must live different.

There are two truths that I’d like to share with you - two truths that - if we can keep these in mind - we can live differently - in obedience to the eighth commandment.

Truth number one: All stuff is God’s stuff. Say that with me: “All stuff is God’s stuff”

Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.”

Think with me about what that means for us.

Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property. They kept some of the money from the sale for themselves. Brought the rest to the church as a donation. But they told the church - what? - that they’d brought the total amount as a donation. God judged them and they ended up dead. (Acts 5:1-11)

They did a generous thing - selling their property - giving a donation to the church. The right thing to do. But something got messed up in their hearts when they thought they had to lie and manipulate things for their own benefit.

In the days of the prophet Malachi God was dealing with the same issue of the heart in His people. God comes to His people and says, “You’re stealing from Me.”

The people said, “What? We’re doing all the things you asked us to do.” We’re doing the right things - mostly. They believed in God. They were going up to the Temple and doing all the services - offering sacrifices - making donations.

God gives them an illustration of what He’s talking about. God asks, “Will a man rob God? - is it possible for man to steal something from the Almighty God who possesses all of creation? That’s hard to imagine. But God says, “Yet you’re robbing Me!”

The people asked, “How have we robbed You?”

God’s answer: “In tithes and offerings.” (Malachi 3:7-12 - especially verse 8)

Stealing is not only taking something from someone - but also holding onto something that belongs to someone else. In this case the people were hanging onto the tithe that they owed God.

There are a number of observations that we could make about tithing. But, the bottom line of why God uses this illustration - why I’m sharing it this morning - is because tithing is a physical demonstration of the condition of our hearts.

God telling His people, “You’re robbing Me” is how God points to what is seriously wrong in the hearts of His people - what was seriously wrong in the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira. What many people struggle with today.

Tithing isn’t about how resourceful we are. Its not based on the size of the budget or how much money the church may or may not have. To tithe is to put God first - to set aside God’s share first. To tithe is to give to God obediently - regularly - in proportion with what He gives us.

When we actually give God the priority - take God's share off the top - then we begin trusting God that He’ll take care of our needs. That trust touches the deep part of our hearts that God is talking about. God saying to His people, “If you trusted Me you wouldn’t hesitate to give to Me.”

Hear this - thinking about all stuff being God’s stuff - looking at the world we live in - most people are struggling against each other to divide up the pieces of the pie - to get a bigger piece for themselves - to hold onto or control the piece they have. But, what’s important is not grabbing our piece of the pie at the expense of someone else - what’s important is knowing and trusting the person who owns the pie shop. Right?

If we understand that all stuff is God’s stuff then we’re freed from the need to lie and deceive and rob - disrespecting others - thinking only about ourselves at the expense of others. All we have to do is trust the God who gives generously to meet our needs.

Have you ever watched a child build a sandcastle? Ever build a sandcastle? Their imaginations run wild. They have these buckets that can be filled with sand and when they turn them over they make turrets and towers. Feathers and sticks become flags. Moats get dug. A child can spend all day doing this. We could spend all day doing this. Making something out of nothing but little grains of sand.

Imagine our world as adults - building things out of nothing. Running from place to place - answering phones - commitments and obligations. Tax Deferred Annuities become our castle walls - Capital Gains are our towers. Monuments to our achievement. Our life's work - our security.

What happens at sunset? It all gets washed away. Maybe sooner than we think. So what do we achieve? What do we gain by having a larger piece of the pie.

A child can watch the water - the tide - come in and wash away the product of hours of work - and enjoy the sunset - pick up his shovel and bucket - take his father's hand - and go home. No stress - no anxiety - no fear.

We fear the tide. The waves of years that come to collapse our little castles. Maybe we need to learn from our kids.

God owns the sand - He controls the waves. Trust Him. All stuff is God's stuff.

Truth number two: Stealing is a great opportunity.

Try that with me: “Stealing is a great opportunity.”

It would be so easy to say to ourselves, “I’m not stealing from anyone. So how does this relate to me?” We need to move beyond seeing commandment number eight as something we’re not suppose to do - and to see this as an opportunity.

Putting the eighth commandment positively: “You shall respect the possessions of others.” That’s a great opportunity to make a major difference in our society - in people’s lives.

When Ted Williams was 40 years old and closing out his career with the Boston Red Sox, he was suffering from a pinched nerve in his neck. Williams said, “The thing was so bad that I could hardly turn my head to look at the pitcher.”

For the first time in his career he batted under .300 - hitting just .254 with 10 home runs. He was the highest salaried player in sports that year - making $125,000. The next year the Red Sox sent him the same contract - same $125,000.

Williams said, “When I got it, I sent it back with a note. I told them I wouldn’t sign it until they gave me the full pay cut allowed. I think it was 25%. I never had a problem with them about money. Now they were offering me a contract I didn’t deserve.” (2) That would be stealing - taking what wasn’t rightfully his.

Williams cut his own salary by over $31,000. In a society that rewards corruption and selfishness how many people would do that?

If we really understand that everything is God’s - then our whole priority system for having and using things should change. Should be different than the society we live in.

In Genesis - God creates Adam and Eve - and gives them stewardship over the earth. The garden is there - growing and producing fruit. The animals are there - doing animal type things. God tells Adam and Eve, “fill the earth, subdue it, rule over it.” (Genesis 1:26-30)

God gives us stewardship over His world. Gives us the responsibility of managing His creation - the things God gives us - managing them according to His will. It’s okay to have stuff. But we need to think Biblically - with God’s instruction - as to how to use what He gives us. Because God is continually placing in front of us opportunities to make a difference.

Let me share two opportunities to get us started. If you ask God to show you more of these I’m sure He will. But, let me share two to get us started.

First opportunity: Compassion

Job said, “If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary, if I have kept bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless…if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing or a needy man without a garment...if I have raised my hand against the fatherless...then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint. For I dread destruction from God, and for fear of His splendor I could not do such things.” (Job 31:16-23 NIV)

Jesus said, “I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.”

They asked Him, “When did we do that?” Jesus’ answer was what? “When you did it to the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)

Scripture - cover to cover - teaches us to be generous with others. Using God given resources - not to fearfully hoard them or steal more - but to use them to care for people - in acts of unreturnable compassion for others.

Second suggestion: Justice

James 5 - starting at verse 1. James is writing about justice and the misuse of wealth. James writes - James 5:1: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabbath. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure, you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.”

In James' day - economically - there were five groups of people. On the bottom of the economic ladder were the slaves. Next up - if we could call it that - were the landless peasants who hired themselves out as day laborers and if there was no work, they starved. Thirdly, there were the farmers and artisans who might have land - or had been forced off their land and now worked on what was their land - they worked for the new land owner. Life for the laborer was cheap.

Then there were the merchants and traders who were pretty well off. In fact, some of them were pretty rich. Then at the top of the economic ladder were the large land owners and the priests. They had large, tenant-farmed estates and spent most of their time in Jerusalem enjoying themselves.

Their whole focus was on themselves - and it didn't matter what they did to accumulate the wealth to indulge themselves. They paid almost nothing in wages - or they cheated workers out of their wages. They ran people off their own land. A poor worker might have been given 1 denarius a day as wages. At the top of the ladder, the rich were easily spending 400 denari a day in self-indulgent extravagance.

James is very specific - accumulation and hoarding of wealth at the expense of others - stealing - is sin. We need to act so that justice is done - so that the rules are the same for everyone. So that people are not getting rich at the unjust expense of others. So that our consumptive lifestyle here in the United States is not killing people in other countries.

In Pompeii, Italy there's a museum of things they’ve excavated from the city. There’s a body of a woman that was found mummified by the volcanic ashes of Mount Vesuvius. The position she was found in tells a really tragic story. Her feet were pointing toward the city gate. In other words, she was facing away from safety. Her outstretched arms and fingers were straining for something that lay just beyond her reach. The treasure - that she lost her life for - was a bag of pearls.

What are we trying to grab on to? God continually places opportunities before us to live counter-culture in a way that meets the needs of others - with compassion and justice - that respects others and what they possess - that glorifies God - that demonstrates the reality of the Gospel. If we are trusting God then we should take the lead in respecting others rather than ripping them off.

1.  Jerry White, Honesty, Morality, and Conscience, page 95
2.  Jerry White, Honesty, Morality, and Conscience, page 15

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright© 1960,1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.