Don’t Steal, But Work

Ephesians 4:28

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In his sermon on the eighth commandment, Phil Ryken shares the story of a painting that was done by Norman Rockwell for the Saturday Evening Post. A woman is buying a turkey, and as it is on the scale, she is looking at the butcher, who is looking back at her. They both seem pleased, and they both seem to be sharing some kind of private joke. However, the painting shows what they are doing: the butcher is pressing down on the scale with his thumb in order to make the turkey heavier. The woman is pushing up on the scale, trying to make the bird weigh less. The reason both of them look pleased is that neither one knows what the other one is doing! However, as Cecil Myers notes (whom Ryken quotes), both of them are stealing. Both of them would be quite offended if you suggested to them that they were stealing. However, that is exactly what both of them were trying to do. Neither would rob a bank, or write a bad check. However, neither of them saw any problem with trying to get the advantage of a few cents on the weight of that turkey. That is theft.

Paul here reiterates the eighth commandment. The eighth commandment tells us that we are not to steal. The immediately preceding verse told us not to give the devil a foothold. So today we are going to explore some relatively small ways in which we are often tempted to steal. You might not think of them as stealing, but they are.

One thing that we don’t normally think of as stealing, but is, is being late for an appointment. Time is money, as the saying goes. If you agree to meet with someone at a certain time, and you don’t show up until half an hour later, you are stealing 30 minutes of that person’s time. Would you want that other person to steal 30 minutes of your time? Wouldn’t that make you impatient? Of course, there are legitimate delays: flat tire, putting out a fire, things like that. So we should find out the reason why someone is late before we blow up at them. But being late simply for one’s own convenience, well, that’s theft of time.

Here’s another way in which we might be tempted to steal: putting the best grain where the elevator operator will see it and judge your whole truckload on the basis of that very good grain, whereas most of the grain isn’t of the same quality. That is theft, since you will get a better price for your grain than the grain is worth, and it was done be deception.

Do you cheat on your income taxes? Do you not report all your income? Well, that’s theft when you don’t. Or, if you claim more business expenses than you actually had, that’s theft, too. Of course, our government steals from us all the time. But that does not justify stealing right back. God will never honor that.

Do you borrow something and just happen never to bring it back? That’s stealing. If you borrow something, take it back once you’ve finished with it. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve “conveniently forgotten” about it or not.

Notice something about the text here. The opposite of stealing is not simply to refrain from stealing. The opposite of stealing is to work such that you can give. Ultimately, the opposite of stealing is giving. Jesus Christ shows us this principle when He came to earth not to be served, but to serve, and to GIVE His life as a ransom for many. Christ worked hard on earth, being completely obedient to the law, that He might have His perfect law-keeping to give to us, that we might not have to strive in order to achieve salvation. Instead, Christ has accomplished it for us. Now, we imitate our Master. We work hard so that we can have something to give to those who are needy.

Laziness is also a form of theft. It is stealing against yourself. You might wonder how that is. Here is a story that will help illustrate: Zig Ziglar tells of a thief, a man named Emmanuel Nenger. The year is 1887. The scene is a small neighborhood grocery store. Mr. Nenger is buying some turnip greens. He gives the clerk a $20 bill. As the clerk begins to put the money in the cash drawer to give Nr. Nenger his change, she notices some of the ink from the $20 bill is coming off on her fingers which are damp from the turnip greens. She looks at Mr. Nenger, a man she has known for years. She looks at the smudged bill. This man is a trusted friend; she has known him all her life; he can’t be a counterfeiter. She gives Mr. Nenger his change, and he leaves the store. But $20 is a lot of money in 1887, and eventually the clerk calls the police. They verify the bill as counterfeit and get a search warrant to look through Mr. Nenger’s home. In the attic they find where he is reproducing money. He is a master artist and is painting $20 bills with brushes and paint! But also in the attic they find three portraits Nenger had painted. They seized these and eventually sold them at auction for $16,000 (in 1887 currency, remember) or a little more than $5,000 per painting. The irony is that it took Nenger almost as long to paint a $20 bill as it did for him to paint a $5,000 portrait! It’s true that Emanuel Nenger was a thief, but the person from whom he stole the most was himself. When you work, are you putting forth your best effort? Or are you just trying to get by? If you are just trying to get by, then you are stealing from yourself. You should be earning enough so that you can start saving money for your retirement. And, if you are saving money for retirement, then you should also have money to give to those in need.

Do you rob God? You might ask, “how could I possibly rob God?” It is quite possible to rob God. Malachi 3:8-10: “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 tithes 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.” A tithe is a tenth. I remember the only other time this has come up in a sermon, I made the mistake of recommending that we all tithe ten percent of our gross income. Well, that plain and simply doesn’t work for farmers. But let me ask you this question: could you tithe ten percent of your net profit? You might think that you won’t have enough money to go around if you do that. Do you believe the Bible? Specifically, do you believe Malachi? I always find that if I regularly tithe ten percent of my income, there is always enough money for our expenses, for saving, and for gifts. When I don’t tithe regularly ten percent, there never seems to be enough money. This is the only place in all Scripture where God tells us to test Him. You see, ultimately, stealing is a form of unbelief. Stealing is saying that I don’t believe that God will provide. And not giving a full tithe is just one way we say that we don’t trust God. Stealing is a form of idolatry, also. It takes God off His throne, and puts money there instead. But money is not even a good idol. As Proverbs tells us, wealth takes wings and flies away. About all it takes is a little bad news on Wall Street, a drop in the price of grain, a thief in the night, and poof, there goes the money. Let us not put our trust in money. Let us put our trust in the Lord, who made heaven and earth. It all belongs to Him anyway. Let us praise our Lord.

1 Comment

  1. March 1, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    I disagree with you about tithing. Please read my 19 point essay on the first page of my site and tell me where I am wrong using acceptable biblical hermeneutics. Russell Earl Kelly, author of Should the Church Teach Tithing?

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