You shall not steal. – Exodus 20:15
One summer day when I was a child, my sister and I decided to pick some cherries. So we hiked to the nearest tree and spent the afternoon in its lofty, laden branches, filling our containers with delicious, sweet cherries. The problem was the tree was in a neighbor’s yard.
When my mother spied the fruit of our labors, we got called on the carpet.
“Where did these cherries come from?” she asked.
We told her.
“Did you ask permission first?”
“No. We thought since she lives alone, and there were more cherries on the tree than she could ever use, we’d just take some. She wouldn’t miss them.”
“Taking something that belongs to someone else without asking permission is wrong,” my mother explained. “You’ll have to go and tell her what you’ve done and pay for what you took.”
Fortunately, the neighbor was understanding and let us keep our pickings without paying.
Stealing infiltrates our daily lives without us even realizing it. We’ve been programmed to take what we think we deserve. We come up with a thousand reasons why we should have what we want. We justify wrong by convincing ourselves that it’s right. We redefine terms to our own selfish advantage.
But whitewashing it doesn’t change it. Stealing – no matter the reason, no matter that what we stole was, in our opinion, “insignificant” – is sin, and sin is an impenetrable wall that separates us from God.
“But I just ‘borrowed’ it. I was planning to return it,” we reason. Borrowing is fine if we ask permission first. While we’re borrowing it, we’re robbing the owner of the opportunity to use what is his. What happens if what we borrow gets lost, stolen, or broken? Then it’s our responsibility to fix it, replace it, or pay for it. And we’re not to be cheap in making restitution, either.
In the Old Testament, if a man let his livestock stray into another man’s field or vineyard, then he was to make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard. If a man stole one animal, he was to pay the owner back with five (Exodus 22:1).
In the New Testament, the rich tax collector Zaccheaus told Jesus, “If I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8). We’re not to be cheap in making restitution. We’re to repay with generosity and quality, even if it means we must sacrifice.
Material possessions and money aren’t the only things we can pilfer. We can purloin another person’s time, ideas, and words.
Stealing means not only taking something that doesn’t belong to us, it also means not giving someone what is due him. We rob God when we don’t give Him back a tenth of what He’s given us (Malachi 3:8–10). We steal from the government when we don’t report all our income on our tax returns. We steal from merchants when we don’t return the extra change we’ve received by mistake. We steal from nonprofit organizations when we don’t honor our pledges.
Stealing is a symptom of something more serious. It is an outward manifestation of an inward ailment, and we can’t fix the symptoms until we cure the cause. In order to stop our thievery, then, we need to examine our hearts and ask God to remove the reasons, which include selfishness, greed, discontent, covetousness, and envy (Matthew 15:19). And then ask Him to give us a generous and contented heart, for as we think in our hearts, so are we (Proverbs 23:7; Philippians 4:8).
Give me neither poverty nor riches. Give me just enough to satisfy my needs. For, if I grow rich, I may become content without You. And if I am too poor, I may steal, and thus insult Your holy name. Amen. (Proverbs 30:8-9 LB)
(c) 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.