November 11, 2018
One of the more memorable campaign ads involved toilets. According to the Chicago Tribune, our new Gov. J.B. Pritzker “improperly pocketed tax breaks by yanking the toilets out of one of his Gold Coast mansions and declaring it uninhabitable. Pritzker claimed that he had followed the rules. Rauner was also accused of some shady business practices in one of the companies he is involved in.
Lying and cheating are pretty common in our society. People lie without even thinking about it. Stealing and cheating is an everyday occurrence. We regularly hear about such things on the news.
Of course in the Ten Commandments stealing and lying are prohibited. This morning we want to consider the eighth and ninth commandments. To reflect the character of Jesus, we obey the eighth and ninth commandments.
I. CHRISTIANS RESPECT THAT WHICH BELONGS TO OTHERS. Ex.20:15
The eighth commandment is simple and clear. “You shall not steal.” All of the cultures surrounding ancient Israel had laws against stealing. What distinguishes the 8th commandment from the surrounding cultures is its simplicity. It applies to the entire nation and to every individual. And while it certainly applies to the stealing of material property, it can easily apply to all varieties of theft. The 8th commandment easily combines with the 9th commandment because theft almost always involves deception.
Consider these Old Testament examples of theft. In Dt.19:14 we read, “You shall not move your neighbor's landmark, which the men of old have set, in the inheritance that you will hold in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.” In other words neighbors were to respect property boundaries. They were not to take land that belonged to another by moving boundary markers. In Dt.25:13-15, we read, “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” A person uses false measures and balances to steal from or cheat others. In Amos 8:4-6 we read, “Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land, saying, "When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?"-- skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat?" Merchants were stealing by selling inferior products, probably using false advertising. And while, “Finders keepers, loser’s weepers,” may apply in some situations, in Ex.23:4 we read, “If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him.” You are not to steal even the lost ox of your enemy that you might happen to find. You are to return the ox. And in Lev.19:13 we read, “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning.” I have met people who were not paid according to the agreed amount. That’s stealing.
There are numerous examples of theft found in the Bible. Rachel stole the household idols belonging to her father. Joseph’s brothers kidnapped Joseph and sold him into slavery. Micah stole 1,100 pieces of silver from his own mother. King David stole Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Judas was known to steal from the common purse kept by Jesus and the disciples.
We could go on and on talking about this and that kind of stealing. What about companies that steal money from the pension funds of their workers? What about people who steal money from the government by not paying their taxes? What about employees who steal time from their employers by not working? Or employees who steal supplies from their employers? What about employers who cheat their employees? What about government leaders who siphon funds earmarked to help the poor and needy? I mean it just goes on and on. And God simply says, “You shall not steal.”
In Eph.4:28, 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.” Paul is writing to Christians. When a person becomes a Christian things change. Christ comes to live in that person. Some of those new Christians had made stealing a practice in their pre-conversion days. Stealing was normal whenever the opportunity presented itself. Things have not changed very much from Paul’s day.
According to a 2018 national retail security survey conducted with the University of Florida, “Whether perpetrated by a dishonest employee or organized retail criminals, shrink (reduction of inventory) costs retailers about 1.33% of sales, on average, a total impact on the overall U.S. retail economy of $46.8 billion….” Stealing is big business. But not for believers.
Let me mention one other kind of stealing. In Josh.7:1, we learn that Achan stole some things that had been dedicated to God. He was stealing from God. In Mal.3:8-10, God says to Israel, “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 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.”
Now I do not think that Christians are under the Old Testament tithe laws. However, I do believe that Christians are to be intentional and generous in giving to the Lord and his work. How can we who have experienced the abundant grace of God in Jesus Christ give less than the people of Israel? Some of us rarely give thought to our giving.
Let me ask a question. If you saw an item that you desire and you knew you could get away with taking it, would you do it? Christians do not do it. It doesn’t belong to us. If you are a thief it’s time to repent, make restitution. You shall not steal.
II. CHRISTIANS WALK IN TRUTH. Ex.20:16
The 9th commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Old Testament scholars generally understand the 9th command to be referring to witnesses who give false testimony in court. In Ex.23:1-2 we read, “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice.” Determining the truth about a matter is essential for a just society. Truth telling is important. Listen to Lev.5:1. “If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible.” According to this verse, there is no pleading the 5th. Similar laws are found in the cultures surrounding ancient Israel because we value the truth.
In 1Kgs.21 we read that the wicked king, Ahab wanted a vineyard that belonged to Naboth, his neighbor. Ahab offered to buy the vineyard, but Naboth did not want to sell because it belonged to his family. Ahab sulked and his wicked wife, Jezebel arranged to have two men bring a false charge against Naboth before the elders of the city. They falsely accused Naboth of cursing God and the king. The people stoned Naboth to death and Ahab took the vineyard.
A second example from the New Testament concerns Jesus. In Mt.26:59-62, we read, “Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said, ‘This man said, 'I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’ And the high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?’ But Jesus remained silent.”
But it is not just in court where truth is needed. Throughout the Bible we are to always speak the truth. In Eph.4:25, Paul writes, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” How important is it for Christians to be truthful? Very important. In Acts 5 we read about a situation in which a Christian couple named Ananias and Sapphira sold some land and brought some of the profit as a gift to the church. They gave the impression that they were giving the entire amount, when in fact they were only giving some of it. In Acts 5:3-5 we read, “Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God." When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it.” I imagine so. That is powerful.
Now some of you may be thinking, “Pastor Dave, there are a number of examples in the Bible where people tell lies and seem to be commended for it. In Ex.1:19, the Hebrew midwives lied in order to spare the lives of Jewish male babies, and God blessed them. In Josh.2, we read of how Rahab lies to protect the Jewish spies in Jericho. She is blessed for that. In 1Sam.20 Jonathan lies to his father, King Saul, in order to find out if Saul wanted to kill David. And there are other examples. What about this? Is lying ever the right thing to do?
Some say it is absolutely never right to lie. Others point out that it is never right to lie but that there are occasions when one must prioritize values. Saving human life may be a higher imperative than telling the truth. I have come to think that if I had to lie to save human lives, I would do it and confess my sin to the Lord. Along with this there may be times when because of the need to keep confidence or because of timing issues, one may try to be as truthful as the moment will allow. A person has no intention of lying, but can only say so much. As Christians, our way of life is to tell the truth.
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” In Jn.8:44, speaking about the devil, Jesus says, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” We are children of God. Since we walk in the truth, we must speak the truth.
Charles Spurgeon, known as the prince of preachers was preaching one Sunday and he suddenly “broke off his sermon and pointed at a young man, declaring: “Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for: you have stolen them from your employer.” After the service an obviously pale and agitated young man approached Spurgeon and begged to speak with him privately. He placed a pair of gloves on the table and said, “It’s the first time I have robbed my master, and I will never do it again. You won’t expose me, sir, will you? It would kill my mother if she heard that I had become a thief.” It wasn’t the first time Spurgeon seemed to have divine insight like that.
I have never had an experience like that while preaching, so don’t worry. However if you know that you have taken something, or cheated someone, or lied to someone, do not think it is a trivial matter. You are fully exposed to God. Men and women, we are not to steal or lie. Amen