Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT”

Exodus 20.15

In Psalm 50.12, “The mighty God, . . . the LORD,” declares that “the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.” We recognize that it is His by right of creation. Is it not taken for granted that what you have made is yours? Therefore, what God has made is His. In Ezekiel 18.4, He explicitly declares His ownership: “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine.”

That understood, turn in your Bible to Exodus 20.15. When you find that verse in your Bible please stand for the reading of God’s Word: “Thou shalt not steal.”

I read from the Keil and Delitzsch commentary. Just as adultery was forbidden,

Property was to be equally inviolable. The command, “Thou shalt not steal,” prohibited not only the secret or open removal of another person’s property, but injury done to it, or fraudulent retention of it, through carelessness or indifference (Exodus 21:33; 22:13; 23:4-5; Deuteronomy 22:1-4).[1]

 

The old Baptist pastor and scholar, John Gill, has this to say about the 8th command:

Ver. 15. Thou shall not steal.] Which is to take away another man’s property by force or fraud, without the knowledge, and against the will of the owner thereof. Thefts are of various kinds; there is private theft, picking of pockets, shoplifting, burglary, or breaking into houses in the night, and carrying off goods; public theft, or robbing upon the highways; domestic theft, as when wives take away their husbands’ money or goods, and conceal them, or dispose of them without their knowledge and will, children rob their parents, and servants purloin their masters’ effects; ecclesiastical theft or sacrilege, and personal theft, as stealing of men and making slaves of them, selling them against their wills; and Jarchi thinks that this is what the Scripture speaks of when it uses this phrase; but though this may be included, it may not be restrained to this particular, since, besides what have been observed, there are many other things that may be reduced to it and are breaches of it; as all overreaching and circumventing in trade and commerce, unjust contracts, not making good and performing payments, detention of servants’ wages, unlawful usury, unfaithfulness with respect to anything deposited in a man’s hands, advising and encouraging thieves, and receiving from them: the case of the Israelites borrowing of the Egyptians and spoiling them is not to be objected to this law, since that was by the command of God, and was only taking what was due to them for service; however, by this command God let the Israelites know that that was a peculiar case, and not to be drawn into an example, and that they were in other cases not to take away another man’s property; and so the case of an hungry man’s stealing to satisfy nature is not observed as lawful and laudable, but as what is connived at and indulged, (Proverbs 6:30, 31), this law obliges to preserve and secure every man’s property to himself, as much as in men lies: this is the eighth commandment.[2]

I would like to do something a bit different today. I would like to deal with the implications of this command forbidding property theft under four headings:

First, POSSESSION OF PROPERTY BY INDIVIDUALS IS ASSUMED

If God forbids the theft of someone’s private property, the ownership of private property is thereby assumed, is it not? If the ownership of property is assumed, and said ownership is not only permitted by God but blessed by God, what can be said about the various economic systems and their relation to property that have been imposed upon God’s people down through the course of history?

Consider feudalism. Feudalism is defined as the economic, political, and social organization of medieval Europe, in which the land, worked by serfs attached to it, was held by vassals in exchange for military or other services given to overlords.[3] Of course, a serf was a laborer who was bound to the land and not free to move about.[4] A vassal was the supposed owner of the property, but was in fact subservient to the king and subject to him. Thus, for all practical intents and purposes wherever feudalism was found it assumes the king owns everything by divine right. It was only when England’s King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215 that the hand of the vassals was strengthened and feudalism’s eventual collapse in England was guaranteed, as individual rights, including the right to own property, began to be recognized.

Next, consider socialism. Socialism is defined as the ownership and operation of the means of production and distribution by society or the community rather than by private individuals.[5] Thus, just as feudalism effectively quashed the notion of private ownership, so does socialism. In a socialist system, the government takes resources from individuals and distributes those resources without the permission of the individuals from whom the property was taken.

Third, consider communism. Communism is defined as an economic system of the ownership of all property by the community as a whole.[6] Let me point out two practical differences related to the implementation of socialism and communism that I have observed in the 20th century: First, communists in the 20th century were distinguished from socialists by their commitment to violent revolution as the means to install the communist system, with the belief of many communist theorists that mass bloodshed was essential to bring about the changes necessary to usher in a so-called worker’s paradise. Socialists, on the other hand, were committed to the same goal while resorting to a sort of gradualism in implementing their economic system. Second, 20th century socialists seemed to be less opposed to the ownership of personal property than communists initially were. Thus, while communists were crushing all forms of ownership in the first decades of communist rule in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Ethiopia, and Cambodia, socialists in Great Britain, France, Mexico, and the Scandinavian countries took a more moderate approach while insisting on the right of the government to actually control all aspects of personal wealth.

Fourth, consider Nazism, or National Socialism. One of the most laughable of myths believed by most Americans is that communists and socialists are leftist systems, while Nazism is a right-wing economic system. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nazi is actually a German acronym for Socialist German Worker’s Party.[7] Thus, while communism is internationalist in scope and ideology, and while socialism tends to be internationalist in scope and ideology, Nazism is a very aggressive form of socialism that differs only in being both nationalistic and racist. Initial Nazi political strategy in Germany focused on anti-big business, anti-bourgeois, and anti-capitalist rhetoric.[8] Nazi hostility toward communism caused many to think of Nazism as right wing and communism as left wing. However, Nazism’s hostility toward communism sprang from its similarities as an ideological competitor for the affections of the population, not its differences. Historians agree that Adolph Hitler siphoned Nazi party members from German communists by appealing to their nationalism and their racial prejudices. In classic fashion, Nazism was like other 20th century socialist schemes in that it did not demand ownership of all means of production and distribution so long as it could control all means of production and distribution.

Finally, consider capitalism. Capitalism is the economic system in which all or most of the means of production and distribution as land, factories, railroads, etc., are privately owned and operated for profit, originally under fully competitive conditions: it has been generally characterized by a tendency toward a concentration of wealth, and, in its later phase, by the growth of great corporations, increased government control, etc.[9] None of these economic systems has ever existed without being mixed with elements of other systems. For example, even under feudalism the itinerant coppersmith or tinsmith who traveled from village to village was engaged in entrepreneurial capitalism on a small scale. Thus, if you reflect on the various economic systems, only capitalism reflects the right of the individual to both own and control private property so long as his ownership and control does not violate the rights of others to own and control their property. Only capitalism is compatible with the notion of one’s God-given right to own and control what is his. Only capitalism assumes that government does not and should not own or control everything. Am I suggesting that capitalists are spiritual or somehow godly? Not at all. No one is spiritual who is not born again, and no one is godly who is not committed to serving and glorifying God. I am observing that capitalism stands alone among the major economic systems known to man that is compatible with the Biblical notion of private property and the individual’s responsibility to exercise stewardship over what he possesses. It is not unusual for those living under feudalism, socialism, communism, or Nazism, for example, to think that their provision comes from their betters or their government. Such regimes encourage their citizens to think like that. Capitalist thinking, however, is quite different. What you do with your property is one thing, and people are different. What governments do with your property is a matter of record.

Second, SEIZING ANOTHER’S PROPERTY IS FORBIDDEN

Of course, theft can be accomplished by a variety of means, not all of them illegal. Just remember that an activity’s status under law tells nothing about its rightness under God. Allow me to review five ways in which the sin of stealing can be committed:

First, stealing can be accomplished by force of arms. This takes place during an armed robbery or when a carjacking or purse snatching takes place. The criminal usually hopes force will not be necessary, so he will resort to the threat of violence or the suddenness of his crime to steal. This is what we most normally think of when we think of the sin of stealing. In the New Testament, this is sometimes referred to as extortion. This form of theft is illegal.

Next, stealing can be accomplished by fraud or embezzlement. This occurs when the person you are stealing from is not immediately aware that you have taken his property without his permission, or you obtained his permission by somehow misleading him or telling him a lie. Taking money from your mother’s purse, taking money from the cash drawer, taking valuables from a storeroom, or siphoning gas from someone’s car would fall under this broad heading of stealing. This form of theft is illegal.

Third, stealing can be accomplished by defamation of character. When you wrongly and knowingly accuse someone of wrongdoing, you ruin his reputation as a reliable and trustworthy person, thereby depriving him of earning a livelihood, or condemning him to work for lower wages than he might otherwise earn. Libel and slander laws typically deal with this type of thing. Blackmail is also this type of stealing, where a person gives you money to keep you from ruining his reputation. Either way, taking from him or keeping him from earning what he might have earned, you have stolen what is his. Sometimes this is can be accomplished by the threat of lawsuits. Not all threats of lawsuits are wrong, but some of them are wrong. This type of theft is sometimes illegal.

Fourth, there is theft by copyright or patent infringement. One of the benefits of capitalism not well developed in other economies is the value of what is called intellectual property. That is, when you write something original, when you are the first person to think of a certain product, or when you devise a way of doing something, you can copyright or patent what you have created. Communist countries, such as China, are notorious for their unwillingness to protect intellectual property rights. Downloading music that you have not paid for, pirating movies you have not paid for, and manufacturing designer merchandise without giving the original designer his profit, are each examples of stealing that no one disputes. This type of theft is usually illegal.

However, there is yet another method of stealing. It is taking property from private individuals or corporations by means of unauthorized taxation. God’s Word recognizes government’s power to impose taxes on citizens as necessary to maintain order and provide protection from criminals and foreign invaders. However, what can be said about government, in violation of its authorizing documents, confiscating property simply because someone decided you have too much property, or confiscating your property to give to someone else because someone decided they did not have enough property? An example of this would be the United States government’s court action against John D. Rockefeller to break up his monopoly of the American oil and refining industry through his company the Standard Oil Company. Though the price of gasoline continually dropped throughout his dominance of the oil and gas industry, the powers that be decided he was too big, too powerful, and too rich, so they went after him in court. Though no one ever proved that his business enterprise was harmful to the country, his vertically integrated monopoly was broken up, with the result being gas prices constantly increasing from then until now. Some people think it is okay to steal from those who are wealthy or from corporations that have more money than most countries. However, God’s Word speaks not to who steals from whom, but about the wrongness of the act of stealing. If you did not earn it, find it, or receive it as a gift, then your possession is stolen and you are a thief. Theft by taxation is typically seen by law enforcement and courts to be legal. Some of us would disagree with the courts about that.

Third, PROPERTY ACCUMULATION AS AN INCENTIVE

Consider the whole matter of accumulating stuff. What can be said about accumulating stuff? Several things, always keeping in the back of your mind that this old world will someday perish:

First, material possessions can be the result of God’s blessings. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were men with great possessions, as was Job. Solomon certainly had great wealth. Deuteronomy 8.18 reads, “But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth.” Thus, God, as the Giver of all that is good and perfect, is ultimately responsible for every legitimate possession, spiritual and material, James 1.17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights.”

Second, possessions and the accumulation of them can be the result of hard work. Do I need a scripture reference for this, or is it patently obvious that them that goes gets? Of two people who do not make the same income, it is typically found that the one who earns more works both smarter and harder. Mass media and politicians, on the other hand, would have us believe that greater prosperity is a matter of luck, thereby justifying politicians exercising control of who has how much of what.

Third, material prosperity can also be the result of creativity and innovation. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellis, and many others, are examples of men who not only worked hard but are also men who devised innovations and concepts that have resulted in great wealth. John D. Rockefeller, who I mentioned earlier, Alexander Graham Bell, and Andrew Carnegie, are additional examples of those whose capacity to generate and accumulate was in part fueled by their creativity in the industries they worked in.

Fourth, property accumulation can be seen as preparation for the future. Proverbs 22.3 and 27.12 read, “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.” On one hand, this verse speaks of concealing yourself from an approaching band of marauders you see off in the distance. However, the principle also applies to getting ready for eventualities, such as the possibility of a layoff or diminished earnings during your old age. One approach to meeting the onset of old age is to purchase various types of insurance. Another approach is to save for a rainy day, or a rainy season. Consider the many verses in Proverbs in which the word sluggard is used and you will likely see encouragement to diligence as preparation for an uncertain future.[10] How can it be argued that accumulating wealth for such a reason is greed or a love of money? Is it wrong to want to spare your children the burden of paying your old age medical bills or the expense of burying you?

That said, the incentive to accumulate wealth can be presumptive greed. Proverbs 28.22 certainly speaks of greed: “He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him.” So, too, does First Timothy 6.10: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Notice what underlies the fixation on wealth and prosperity, in Colossians 3.5: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” It is one thing to possess material things and exercise godly stewardship over what God has given to you and enabled you to acquire and use for His glory. It is quite another thing when material things possess you.

Finally, THE RIGHT TO NEGOTIATE THE TRANSFER OF PROPERTY IS ALLOWED

Think about what you are doing when you go to the store to buy a carton of milk. At the checkout counter, you make use of cash, credit card, or debit card to trade your money for the store’s carton of milk. Thus, you are culminating a negotiation that began with the store fixing and labeling the price for the carton of milk by giving the money the store insists on. For you to obtain the store’s milk by other means, or for the store to obtain your money by other means, involves theft and is stealing. In some cultures the negotiation process is more fluid. You walk up to a vender and ask how much money he wants for his merchandise. He begins with a certain price, but you make a counter offer. Back and forth you go until you and the vender have reached a mutually satisfactory negotiation and then you exchange property. He gets your money and you get his merchandise.

The same thing happens when you exchange your hours of labor for your boss’ money, when you exchange your money for a car, when you exchange your money for a house, or you do the reverse by selling some item you have for money. So, what is money? Money is a form of your time of labor, that you can exchange for merchandise. If you get paid $40 per hour, $20 is equivalent to thirty minutes of your labor. Therefore, if your money is taken from you without receiving merchandise, or if you get merchandise without giving up your money, a theft has occurred. As well, if an exchange takes place against your will a theft may have occurred, unless the government does it. For example: You and a store agree to exchange your money for the store’s merchandise, but government intervenes and add 8 ½ percent to the agreed upon price. Another example: You and your boss agree that you will work for such an amount of money, but government steps in and increases what your boss must pay you while reducing the amount you receive. Then there are property taxes, the government charging you for simply owning property. Finally, there are inheritance taxes, the government preventing you from giving all your property to your children when you die.

I could go on and on, but I do not want this message to become a lesson in economics. What I do want you to go home with is the recognition that God’s design allows for you to possess property, and for Him to either bless or withhold blessings of property. After, it is ultimately all His, just as you are His.

By various means, men and governments have interposed themselves between you and God and between you and other people. The result affects the free exchange of goods and services, buying and selling. Sometimes that interference is legitimate, as when government taxes citizens for legitimate ends. At other times, that interference is wrong and property is improperly taken without permission. That is stealing and God forbids it. It is stealing to take money without working for it. It is stealing to take work without paying for it. Ultimately, since possessions are valued according to how much money is paid to buy something and that money is equivalent to the amount of your time spent to earn it. Therefore, stealing is the theft of a portion of another human being’s life.

God gives life, opportunity, and the means to acquire possessions. Therefore, when someone steals from another person or from a company he has stolen time from the life of another person, diminished the opportunity of another person, while taking the possessions of another person without his permission. It is a sin committed against someone who bears the image and likeness of God, and is ultimately a sin against God the He both remembers and punishes.

Thankfully, Jesus saves from sins and forgives sins that have been committed, even the sin of stealing.



[1]C.F. Keil & F. Delitzsch, COMMENTARY ON THE OLD TESTAMENT, Vol I, (Peabody, MA: reprinted by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1996), page 401.

[2]John Gill, The Baptist Commentary Series Volume I, John Gill’s Exposition Of The Old And New Testaments, Vol 5 (Paris, Arkansas: the Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., reprinted 2006), pages 431-432.

[3] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 679.

[4] Ibid., page 1656.

[5] Ibid., page 1722.

[6] Ibid., page 367.

[7] Ibid., page 1199.

[9] Webster’s, page 269.

[10] Proverbs 6.6, 9; 10.26; 13.4; 20.4; 26.16



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org