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The Ninth Commandment

Exodus 20:15: “You shall not steal.” Again, the command seems cut and dried, but the Bible talks about stealing in more ways than one.  The command is simply “don’t take what is not yours”.

This commandment, “Do not Steal,” means we cannot take anything that belongs to another person.  Do you and I steal? God knows and so do we.  It’s not a matter of just stealing  physical property, like a car or a wallet,  but also stealing ideas, not giving credit where it is due, borrowing and not returning and holding back your tithe.  It’s taking, or keeping, what is not your’s to take and keep.  Stealing is not what God’s people are to do.  We’re supposed to be looking to God for our security and well-being and remembering that He can bless us, but can also withhold blessings based upon our obedience to His commands. He sees what we do—-regardless of if no one else ever finds out.  God knows our heart.

Theft is defined as the removal of something that is capable of being stolen without the consent of the owner and with the intention of depriving the owner of it permanently. The thief need not intend to keep the property himself; he could have as his intention to destroy it, sell it, or abandon—it’s still stealing.

One common way teenagers steal is shoplifting. It’s been a problem that we have had with youth at our camp for years.  Shoplifting is the act of knowingly taking goods from a store, without paying for them. Shoplifting usually involves concealing items on the person or an accomplice, and leaving the store without paying. However, shoplifting can also include price switching (swapping the price labels of different goods), refund fraud, "wardrobing" (returning clothes after they have been worn), and "grazing" (eating or sampling a store's goods while in the store).  In my life I have been astounded to learn that people I know well and am close to have shoplifted and stolen things.  Rarely can you look at someone and tell they are a thief—-it’s something that’s cleverly concealed. But once you find out that a friend steals it’s hard to see the person the same way. Stealing is not an accident. It’s a deliberate violation of someone else’s belongings.

Is stealing treated like a a disgraceful act today? Are we disgusted with theft? Do we hold those found guilty of theft guilty of breaking trust and not deserving of trust? Or do we elect them to public office?  Do we see theft as something that is totally unacceptable or something to wink at?

I appreciate all of the ten commandments, but honestly, stealing is one of the commandments that did not enter my mind as a young man.   It was simply something we, my friends and my relatives, never considered.  I saw what happened to kids that stole, we heard stories about relatives that got caught stealing, but beyond that something within me also knew that it was essentially wrong to steal! It’s kind of like cheating in a game—-what’s the point and how do you live with that? The joy of winning is bettering your opponent—not cheating.  But for the life of me, I have never understood how their could be any celebration in cheating or stealing something,  

And yes, I know that I cheated from time to time with a line call in tennis or when I committed a foul in a very competitive game  and  then denied it—-to my shame!  But I knew it was wrong then and know that it was not truly representative of what I was most of the time. Cheating and stealing should eat at souls.

A generation ago we were brought up to know that stealing was  a dangerous and cowardly thing to do, there was no future in it and so it never entered most of our minds. Why should a  man steal when he could earn it on his own merits?  That’s how most of used to think. But there is a different way of reasoning about having what you want and need today. And one of the things being suggested is that it’s not fair for one person to have more than another person—-even if the former person worked harder and sacrificed more to get it. There’s a mindset among quite a few  of our elite in leadership that if you failed to get an education, or had children without getting married or adjusting your lifestyle and habits to afford them,  that you’re still entitled to the same standard of living as ones who stayed in school longer, trained harder, and waited till they could properly provide for a family.  Somehow we think it’s okay to take from those who have more  and to give to those that less —regardless of how the ones who have less have lived or how the ones have more have sacrificed and economized.

This is the same attitude the Chinese government has. In their logic, it’s not fair that the failed ideology of communism (that has left every country that tried it bankrupt, and ecologically ruined)  means they have less, so they determined to steal western technology and know-how to catch up; orthodox communism  stifles and smoothers creativity.  And so the Chinese continue to steal $500,000,000,000 a year from the USA alone in technology secrets.  Capitalism and rewarding  folks that work hard with their own hands does produce wealth unequally and results in a trickle down affluence; socialism and communism produces misery quite equally and represents trickle up poverty.

On deeper reflection you discover that this commandment provides the necessary foundation for all human flourishing on the face of the earth. God intends for us to possess things and pass them on to our children. He also expects to work to acquire those thing. The present notion of taxing and taxing those that work, in order to give a “living allowance” for those that are not willing to work will create a nation that is totally dependent upon those that govern us for food, shelter, medical care and retirement.

“You shall not steal,” assumes that there is something to steal—something that belongs to someone else and not to me. I should not your car, your cell phone, or lawnmower—because it belongs to you and not to me. Therefore, the command, “You shall not steal,” assumes private ownership of property.   But if God himself has commanded, “You shall not steal,” and if in that commandment God himself establishes a system of private property, then it immediately follows that we are accountable to him for how we use that property. 

Karl Marx said in the Communist Manifesto, “The theory of the Communists may be summed up in a single sentence: Abolition of private property.”6 If government takes away the right to own property, then I am no longer free to act as a steward in deciding how that property is to be used, for I can no longer control the use of that property. Governments that prohibit or severely restrict the ownership of private property trapped their nations in poverty forever. We saw this in the Soviet Union until it fell in 1991, and we see it today in Cuba and North Korea. We this in China under decades of communism until economic reforms began in the late 1970s.

It’s good to work—-that’s the way our Creator wired us. And is wrong to steal what others worked hard to create, establish or save. If something is worth having, it’s worth working and sacrificing for. 

May God open our eyes to the evil of stealing and the blessedness of being content with what we have and working hard for what we want.

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