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What the Bible says about The Eighth Commandment
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Genesis 30:29-33

Jacob lived long before God gave the Ten Commandments at Sinai, yet he understood theft. Stealing is taking or appropriating another's property or ideas without permission, dishonestly or unlawfully, usually in a secret manner. The apostle Paul reiterates the eighth commandment in the New Testament (Romans 13:9), showing that it is clearly a sin to steal.

Martin G. Collins
The Eighth Commandment

Exodus 20:15

It is easy to blame our tendency to steal on the lust of human nature. It is certainly true, and if we scrupulously track our desires and rein them in before they overcome us, we will significantly reduce stealing. But what is interesting are the excuses we give ourselves and others for the stealing we do. Unless we keep our conscience razor sharp, it is easily dulled by rationalization.

It is not infrequent to hear someone at work complain, "They won't let you make an honest living any more." The blame for not being scrupulously honest is shifted to "they." People make the same justification at every level. A study of business ethics by a Harvard graduate student revealed that most junior executives place the responsibility for their unethical practices upon the expectations of management.

Sometimes we apply a double standard of judgment to what we consider the rich and the poor or small business and corporations. A child may begin a lifetime of petty theft by justifying the stealing of a toy from a "better off" playmate because "he has lots of toys and won't miss this little one." For the same reason, juries award excessively high damages because a corporation has plenty of money and can afford it, or if they are insured, the insurance company will pay it.

We also distinguish between personal property and public. In our minds, stealing from the government is different from robbing our neighbor. My wife and I once had a landlord who firmly proclaimed that he never stole from his friends!

Ultimately, what we steal from corporations or the government we must pay back in higher prices and taxes. The effect may not be immediate, but it is the only effect that can occur. Neither the corporation's nor the government's pockets are so deep that they can just absorb multiple, individually small losses.

Another double standard is making a distinction between large and small thefts. It is almost as if a small theft is excusable simply because it is small and thus of no account. Some parents, to "save" some money, unwittingly introduce their children to stealing by lying about their age to save a few cents on a bus trip or movie ticket. Hardly any thief begins his life of crime by stealing "big." They begin "small" and work themselves "up the ladder" to more grandiose and exciting adventures in thievery. One can hardly expect a child to develop honor for his parents in an atmosphere of parental thievery.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Eighth Commandment (1997)

Exodus 20:15

The eighth commandment of God's law—"You shall not steal"—reflects our sense of responsibility toward others and their possessions. It exposes whether we understand the motivating principle and purpose of the entire law of God, the principle of give rather than get (Acts 20:35). This commandment, found in Exodus 20:15 and Deuteronomy 5:19, is interwoven with the other commandments. Breaking it usually begins with covetousness. Such greed can lead to physical or mental violence and murder. It often involves fraud, deceit, and lying. Stealing to acquire the objects of our worship is spiritual adultery and idolatry against God. Succumbing to Satan's "get" way of life dishonors our spiritual Father and elevates the self above God. Would we consider stealing if we truly and deeply respected God's power and office?

Martin G. Collins
The Eighth Commandment

Leviticus 19:35-37

God states things so simply. Manufacturers have the responsibility to produce high quality, fairly priced products and pay a wage reasonable to the work performed regardless of race or gender. Certainly the manufacturer has a rightful claim to a profit, but he is not to increase his measure of profit at the expense of the consumer, the public at large, or nature. God says in Revelation 11:19 that He will destroy those who destroy the earth.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Eighth Commandment (1997)

Proverbs 28:20-22

An important lesson of life to learn is that wealth is a means, not an end in itself. Get-rich-quick schemes, cutting corners to get more for the self, and taking unfair advantage of another's ignorance will in the end destroy the perpetrator. Those who do these things to get rich are in reality seeking death because they are breaking the spirit of the eighth commandment.

God admonishes those who resort to violence in order to steal that they will be caught in the net of their own evil schemes. Their deliberate choice of evil means to achieve wealth saps their willpower to live honestly. A person who sets his will to work patiently and steadily will find his prosperity steadily increasing because God oversees the well-being of those who keep His commandments. This proverb is not a deprecation of the value of wealth but an exhortation to appreciate its proper value and to share it as God instructs.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Eighth Commandment

Ephesians 4:28

God's intention is clear. We are to gain property and possessions by honest work and/or inheritance from those who have the right to give them. We must come into possession of things in a way God approves.

The verb "labor" indicates exertion to the point of exhaustion. In addition, Paul admonishes us not merely to work to satisfy our personal needs and desires, but also to be able to give freely any excess to others in need. The admonition implies distributing the excess personally rather than indirectly through an agency. He adds in Acts 20:35, "I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

Stealing is totally against the grain of God's way of life. Our God is a working, creating God (John 5:17), and we cannot be in His image if we are gaining possessions through stealing. In the spirit of God's law, a person not only steals by taking another's possessions, but also by refusing to work in order to share and give to others in need.

This commandment does not reach its fullest expression until the ninth and tenth are added to it. Stealing frequently has its genesis in a desire to have something one has no money to purchase, or the unwillingness to work patiently until one does. Deception then enters. A person will try to acquire a desired possession in such a way that others will think he procured it honorably. We can stop this sin at any point in the process, but few make any effort to restrain their lust, deceit, and itching fingers.

Robert Kahn was correct in saying, "There are a hundred ways to steal but only one way to be honest." In order not to steal, we must be scrupulously honest. What good is it if we are one-half or three-quarters honest? What if God was honest with us only part of the time? Could we trust Him? Can others really trust us if we are only partially honest? Do we lock our doors because we trust everybody? Thievery creates distrust, fear, and suspicion, destabilizing institutions and communities.

The reason we should refrain from stealing is not just to avoid sinning. This in itself is very good, but scrupulous honesty produces integrity, wholeness. Such integrity enables us to live confidently before God and man. The apostle John writes in I John 3:18-19: "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him." Personal integrity is a major source of positive, confident living.

A conscience can be either a good or bad guide because it is educated by an individual's experiences. Practicing scrupulous honesty builds character and educates the conscience in the right direction so that it will send the right prompting at the right time. We cannot allow ourselves room to rationalize stealing. We must be scrupulously honest always, or our character will descend on a path of degeneracy.

There are hundreds of ways to steal, and dozens of excuses for stealing, but only one way and one reason and one law of integrity. That way is honor, that reason is a clear conscience, and that law is God's. He says, "You shall not steal." Never. In any way. From any one.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Eighth Commandment (1997)


 




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