Forerunner, "Bible Study," September-October 1997

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?

1. Did Jacob know stealing is sin? Genesis 30:29-33.

Comment: 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.

2. What was the penalty in ancient Israel for stealing to avoid starvation? Exodus 22:1-4; Proverbs 6:30-31.

Comment: The penalty for thievery to avert hunger was not as severe as stealing motivated by greed. Nevertheless, any kind of stealing is shameful (Jeremiah 2:26). We should ask God to provide for our needs so that we will not be tempted to steal to survive (Proverbs 30:7-9).

3. What happens when we associate with a thief? Proverbs 29:24. Does God hear the cry of those cheated by a dishonest employer? James 5:4.

Comment: Having a thief as a partner will only bring shame and harm upon ourselves. We become liars because we share in the lies of the thief. Two principles relate to the responsibilities of the employer/employee relationship: "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work" and "a fair day's work for a fair day's wage."

4. Should we fellowship with a spiritual brother who is an extortioner? I Corinthians 5:11.

Comment: An extortioner obtains things from others by force, intimidation or undue power. Parents can train a child to extort if they give him everything he demands through his cries and tantrums. That child is stealing what he wants from his parents. Christ condemns the Pharisees for extorting from the people. They used their office to intimidate the people into giving offerings (Matthew 23:25). Christ admonishes the tax collector to avoid stealing from people by not collecting more than his due (Luke 3:12-13).

5. Is stealing sometimes hidden behind the appearance of benevolence? John 12:4-6; Acts 5:1-11.

Comment: Ananias and Sapphira not only lied against the Holy Spirit but they also stole from God by appearing to give all the money from the land they sold instead of part of it. Within the spirit of the law, they were stealing the part they retained under false pretenses.

6. Are false shepherds comparable to thieves and robbers? John 10:1-10. Are they held responsible for their actions? Jeremiah 23:1-2; Ezekiel 34:1-10.

Comment: A false minister tries to steal people from Jesus Christ, the True Shepherd, by enticing them with false doctrine mixed with some truth. A sign of a false shepherd is neglecting the flock while looking out for himself, accumulating material possessions in the process.

7. Does stealing defile a man? Matthew 15:18-20. Can a thief inherit God's Kingdom? I Corinthians 6:9-10.

Comment: Defilement comes from within a person's heart and mind. Stealing defiles because it begins in the mind with covetousness and greed spawned by a selfish character.

8. What is the opposite of stealing? Ephesians 4:28; Acts 20:35; Luke 3:11.

Comment: In contrast to getting, acquiring, taking, extorting and embezzling, God's people must give, produce, work and be resourceful. Paul advised, "For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone's bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you" (II Thessalonians 3:7-8). The eighth commandment guards our relationship with others, urges us to produce and accomplish so that we can take care of those in need. It should stir us to service and usefulness on behalf of our fellow human beings. Such an attitude is pleasing to our Judge, who wants such people in His Kingdom (Matthew 25:31-40).