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Thou Shalt Not Steal
Scripture: Exodus 20:15
Track 8 of 10 in the Ten Commandments series
Running time: 35 minutes, 22 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, August 21, 2005
8th sermon in a 10-part series.
"Grace-full Words"
"Thou Shalt Not Steal"
"Ten Words to Guide our Lives"
(Exodus 20:15)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

It was actually a very rude welcome. I had moved my family 2,200 miles across the United States. Had endured seven days of journeying in and out of two emergency rooms for one of my children. I hadn't been in the state of Illinois more than about a week. Went to a church elders meeting. Came out and there, the whole right side window of my car had been smashed. They had torn a big chunk of my dashboard out and had stolen a $30.00 CB radio. And I have to admit that I was not pleased, for a few days. Then they caught the kid who did it. And I thought, "Alright!" Justice! I'll get my radio back. He'll fix my car. No! He had already sold the radio so they fined him and my insurance company paid the bill.

Now, somehow, that didn't make any sense to me. I've always kind of liked that Old Testament law, well, it's called the law of retribution. Not the law of revenge, mind you, the law of retribution. It's a pretty simple principle that I tend to think would be very helpful in any culture, including ours. It shows up just after the giving of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 22. Well, we'll just read a little piece of it and see if it might make good sense to you.

Exodus 22:1ff "If a man steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters it or sells it, he must pay back five head of cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep. Now jump down just a little bit. Exodus 22:4 "If the stolen animal is found alive in his possession - whether ox or donkey or sheep - he must pay back double. Exodus 22:5 "If a man grazes his livestock in a field or vineyard and lets them stray and they graze in another man's field, he must make restitution from the best of his own field or vineyard. And so it goes. It was a real simple principle. If you get caught stealing, the state doesn't take something from you, you just simply pay that person back in kind, and double or triple. It would make a lot of good sense.

I suspect that the young man would have been far better off to have paid me back for four radios than he ever was paying a $25.00 fine to the State of Illinois and getting a slap on the hand. I tell you that because I know.

I replaced every window in the building next to my father's restaurant, one window at a time. Every week, having to go see the owner of the business and handing him enough money for one more pane because I had taken responsibility for breaking them all out.

Now it would have been a lot simpler for me if I could have just paid a fine to someone and he could have taken care of those windows himself, but, I had to look him in the eye every week. It got old really fast. But it was good. Didn't break any more windows. Learned to respect his property.

Let me remind you where we are. We're in Exodus 20. We're talking about the Ten Commandments. They're a real simple lot of things. We're getting pretty well two-thirds of the way (three-fourths of the way) through them.

The first one is, don't have anybody ahead of Me. I don't accept any kind of rival.

The second one is, don't try to reduce Me to something you can control. Don't try to make an image of Me that you can set on a shelf somewhere as if I will bow to you whenever you need it.

The third one is, take me seriously. If you are going to wear My name. Make sure that you wear My name seriously.

The fourth one is, keep the Sabbath. Trust Me. I know what I'm doing. I'll take care of you the other six days of the week. You just let Me have that responsibility.

The fifth one is a kind of transition verse where He talks about honoring, respecting your parents, which often translates into respecting God or anyone who happens to be over you. It serves as that kind of transition from the first part of the Ten Commandments which are very vertically oriented. Our relationship with God and rolls us over into this more horizontal relationship where we talk about how we relate to each other.

And then we get that rather interesting list of things like don't murder, don't commit adultery and the one we come to today, Number 8: Don't steal. It's a real simple principal isn't it? Don't take what isn't yours.

Let me try to set a context however, for what we're trying to talk about through all of this experience. Because those laws can be just a bit arbitrary, quite honestly. I mean, after all, who is God to tell us what to do? Well, the issue is that it's a part of that covenant relationship that Israel made with God. They entered into a relationship with God in which they agreed to this particular law. And went on record as having said, "We agree with this law." Look at Exodus 24:3 When Moses went and told the people all the Lord's words and laws, they responded with one voice, "Everything the Lord has said we will do." Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said.

He got up early the next morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain and set up twelve stone pillars representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Then he sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey."

Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, "This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words."

In this covenant relationship there is an agreement. We agree to what it is that God has said and when we became disciples of Jesus we entered into a blood covenant with God. The blood of Jesus was put on us and we, in essence said, "I will do what God calls me to do."

And so, these words from God become a part of a covenant that we have. Now think about that in this sense. When I become a believer I enter into a covenant relationship not only with God, I enter into a covenant relationship with you. We're brothers and sisters. We share together at the same table. We share the same name. We live in a relationship with each other and so, just as God says, "Don't violate the covenant that you have with Me." He says, in essence, "Don't violate the covenant that you have with each other."

Think about how this set of five laws at the end of this so clearly demonstrates the need for us to treat each other with respect. Don't murder! Murder is breaking a covenant. We treat each other with dignity and respect. Don't commit adultery. Boy! does that violate every major covenant that we know anything about; a covenant of marriage, a covenant of society, a covenant of family.

Don't violate the covenant.

We're going to talk about don't steal. Don't take what doesn't belong to you. When you take something that doesn't belong to you, you violate a covenant agreement between the two of us.

And, while I'm talking about it, I'm just going to take a moment and just kind of vent. Is that alright? Well, it doesn't matter, I'm going to do it any way.

My kids used to love putting out pumpkins at Halloween time. Now you may not like that and I apologize if that bothers you, but my kids like to put pumpkins on the front steps. Now they were never "gory" and all that. They were "smiley faces". And inevitably every year, some young "yahoo" would come along and smash our pumpkin and I would get angry. And I would dream up ways to stop him. I mean, I'm lookin', ya' know, you've seen in those war movies where if you step on something and you pull your foot off it "boom!!!" I'm figuring, how could I get a hold of one of those. Well, if not that, ya' know, when you steel money from a bank and they put some blue paint in there somehow when you open the bag it sprays ya'. I'm thinkin'. . . .can I find???

I live in a community and when I put a pumpkin on my front porch, I expect you to respect the covenant between us that says, "This is mine, not yours." Leave it alone and don't violate the sacred space of my children.

Okay! I'm done venting.

But isn't it easy to see how this law becomes real? Don't steal! Don't take what isn't yours.

This was the headline. Are you ready for this? "Fairy Tale Princess Story Turns Sour After Newlyweds Lose Money." This was a Daily Herald article in Chicago back in 1996. A newlywed couple, in leaving for their honeymoon after the wedding, had climbed into the car and as some of us have done with cokes from McDonald's, they sat a black bag on the hood and in their excitement they drove off and left it sitting up there. I'm going, by the way, to get married again. I just want to invite you all. That bag was their wedding money - $12,000 in cash. I'm thinking weddings have gotten better than when I was a kid.

Well, obviously the honeymoon turned pretty sour in a hurry because they just assumed the $12,000 was gone.

A young man by the name of David Yi found the money. He was unemployed. His bills were mounting. He couldn't find work and he traced down the couple and gave them the entire $12,000 back. So there was a second article run in the Daily Herald because that was just so unbelievable. And here's the quotation when they were talking to him about it. "I guess it doesn't matter whether it's $50 or $1,000 or $1 million. It doesn't belong to you."

This young David Yi, by the way, had already been responsible for turning in $50 that he found on another occasion. And this young David Yi, who turned in $12,000 was offered more jobs than he could shake a stick at because people thought that this was a man of integrity that they should hire, and here's what he said. "I will only take a job for which I'm qualified. It would not be honest if I were to take a job I didn't know how to do just because of my notoriety."

Moses said, or God said through Moses. "Thou shalt not steal."

Some of you will remember this. Others of you will not even care, so take a nap for a second, for those of you who don't care.

It's 1959. It's the last season, the next to the last season that Ted Williams played baseball in Boston. Some of you who are ancient Boston fans will remember that this is a man who managed to hit, over his lifetime, well over 300% every season but one. That particular year, 1959, he only hit .254, which was abysmal for him. He demanded a 28% pay cut for the next year because he didn't produce. He didn't give them what they paid for. That's amazing to me. That was run, by the way, in the newspaper in Boston, just three years ago. It's such a remarkable story.

The Bible says, "Don't steal."

The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention estimates that Americans steal, shoplift, approximately $10 billion of goods every year. That, by the way, translates into approximately $25 million per day is walking out of a store in someone's pocket or coat.

I learned the hard way, to not do that. Actually, I saw it happen twice. Once I picked up a candy bar and walked out and my mother saw me eating it and wanted to know where it came from. So, I, being naive, said it came from the store. Did you pay for it? NO! All the way back to the store where I "ponied" up the whatever it was, a nickel, back in those days, for my candy bar.

I remember being in that same store when the owner, (co-owner) Bill was standing there and it was kind of a warm day and some guy with a trench coat came in the store and the next thing I saw, he went out the store with the trench coat without stopping at the register and it looked a little odd to me. And it must have looked really odd to Bill who, by the way, was a Golden Gloves Boxing Champion in the Navy. And he stepped out onto the sidewalk, so I followed him. It was marvelous for a little boy to watch. And I learned that day, shoplifting does not pay. Not if you're going to steal from somebody who's a boxing champion.

You know, that you and I, because of that $10 billion that's stolen every year must pay at least $35 more this year for our stuff and that's only for the shoplifters.

Some of you have probably seen this movie announcement. I was going to try to find it, but you know, finding those kinds of things is just too time consuming, but if you've been to the movies you've seen it. It comes on and it says, "You wouldn't steal a car. You wouldn't steal a handbag. You wouldn't steal a television. You wouldn't steal a DVD. Downloading pirated films is stealing. Stealing is against the law." They estimate, depending on who you ask, somewhere between $10 and $30 billion a year in pirated movies and CD's. Done, by the way, mostly by teenagers and college students.

And the Bible says, "Thou shalt not steal."

They estimate that approximately 20% of all revenue from a business is lost due to employee theft. 20%! That means, for every dollar you spend in a store, you're spending 20 cents more than you need to because the employees across this country have made them jack the prices up to cover the cost of their own employees stealing from them.

I remember as a kid being struck by the story. I went this week to try to see if I could verify it. I can't find exactly. . . .it's as much legend as it is anything else but you won't forget either the story of Abe Lincoln who was paid too much and walked however many miles it was to return 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 cents depending which story you read to somebody who overpaid at the store.

And the Bible says, "Thou shalt not steal."

In the world that I live in, the kind of stealing that is done is not in financial terms. The kind of stealing that is done where I live is called plagiarism. It's when you steal other people's ideas and you pawn them off as your own.

The Center for Academic Integrity found that almost 80% of college students admit to cheating at least once. The Psychological Record reports that 36% of undergraduates admit to plagiarizing written material. The Free Press put out a book ten years ago called The State of the Americans: This Generation and the Next. Said in 1969 that 58% of high school students let someone else copy their work. In 1989, twenty years later, 97.5% of high school students let others copy their work. I wonder what the statistic would be in 2005.

Education week found that 54% of students admit to plagiarizing from the Internet; and, 74% of students admitted that at least once during the past school year they engaged in "serious" cheating.

And the Bible says, "Thou shalt not steal."

There's another way that we sometimes steal, at least according to Scripture, there is. Back in the last Old Testament Book, the Book of Malachi, the last Prophet just before you move into the New Testament before about three or four hundred years when God seems to be basically silent. Malachi writes to Israel and he accuses them of stealing from God. Malachi 3:6 "I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you." says the Lord Almighty.

"But you ask, 'How are we to return?'

"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.

"But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'

"In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse - the whole nation of you - because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."

Israel was expected to give no less than ten percent of everything that they had on at least three different occasions every third or fourth year. And regularly they gave 23% of their income to God yearly. Some years it went to 33% and higher. And they obviously weren't. And so Malachi says, "you are robbing God."

And the Bible says, "Thou shalt not steal."

Are you beginning to get a picture here? You're not supposed to take what isn't yours. That's basically the idea. It's a pretty fundamental kind of thing. But it goes beyond just physical kinds of things.

2 Samuel 15. Over here in 2Samuel 15:6 we have this rather interesting story about King David's son, Absalom. Absalom was attempting to basically take over the kingdom. Here's an interesting phrase that uses the same word as Exodus 20:15 when it says, "Thou shalt not steal." 2Samuel 15:6 Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the men of Israel. "He stole their hearts."

He manipulated the way they responded to David so that he could, in fact, use them for his own purposes. There is a form of stealing that comes along when we take advantage of people. There's a form of stealing that comes along when we destroy the self-image of another person.

I'm not here in any way to defend, not even to try to excuse, but I ran into a story this last week that was absolutely amazing. I've seen this kind of story before. I've just not seen this particular one. This particular story is about Charles Manson. Some of you will remember him from the LaBianco and Tate murders in California in 1960 something. This is a kid who was born to a promiscuous 16 year-old, who was never wanted, who was given by his mother to her mother who was a religious fanatic. Who on one occasion sat in a bar with his mother and his mother sold him for a pitcher of beer. She drank the beer and walked off and left him. An Uncle retrieved him some days later. And for the rest of his teenage years, he was in and out of prison and became a murderer.

I'm not excusing it. I'm not even trying to explain it. I'm just wondering...what in the world might have been, had this been a loved child instead of an unloved one, who had some self-esteem and some value.

Some of you who have followed the Kennedy assassination know that the same thing is true about Oswald. Bad childhood and no self-esteem.

Well, on a much simpler note, huh! I was in the 5th grade. I won't even tell you what kind of kid I was in the 5th grade but you'll learn in a hurry. I was a part of the choir. Well, everybody was part of the choir. You didn't have a choice in the 5th grade. Except that after the teacher heard me sing, she said, "you can't sing." And she put me behind the piano with four other guys who couldn't sing. She thought she was punishing us. She actually gave us a playground. Can you imagine four 5th grade boys behind the piano, out of sight of the teacher? But you know what, she convinced me, I can't sing. It wasn't until I was in college that our choir teacher said, "I really think you should sing in our choir." And I said, "I can't sing." "Who told you that?" "My 5th grade teacher." One comment determined the direction of my life for the next eight years.

End of Side One. . . . . .

And the Bible says, "Thou shalt not steal."

Don't take what isn't yours. Alright. . . I gotta turn this thing around so what are you gonna do instead? The New Testament is abundantly clear what we do instead of stealing.

If you've got just a minute, let's just take over here at 2Thessolonians. We'll walk through this quickly. 2Thessolonians . . . . back in the middle of your New Testament, 2Thessolonians from the apostle Paul to the church in Thessalonica. 2Thessalonians 3. They were sitting around waiting for Jesus to return. They just thought that He would be here tomorrow and so there's no sense doing anything today. He says in 2Thessalonians 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.

We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. for even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

If a person is able and has a job, they ought to work. It's just simple. Don't steal from people, go get a job, if you can get one. If you are physically able. I understand there are limitations. That's not a blanket kind of statement, but as a general rule the biblical teaching is rather than being a thief, get a job.

Or how about this one. The book of Titus. Just a few pages on into the book. You'll pass 1Timothy and 2Timothy. You'll come to the book of Titus 2 here to a culture in which there were some household slaves. This is not your typical word for slave here but it still serves our purposes to understand our relationship with those for whom we work. Teach slaves to be subject to their masters (Titus 2:9) in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

Here is a command. Here is a statement from Paul. If you work for someone, be honest. Give a good days work for a good days pay. Be the kind of person who can be trusted. Don't steal from your employer. But behave like a Christian should.

Well, one other text maybe from 1Peter 4. Just keep going in your Bibles. 1Peter 4, a few more pages over. Peter, the apostle, 1Peter 4:15 says this, If you suffer, (and there will be suffering he's saying in this life.), it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, . . . . . . .However if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed.

You know, when a Christian suffers sometimes we want to pat ourselves on the back and say, "look at what's happening to me." Well, he says, if you're suffering because you're a thief, there's nothing valuable about that. Suffering doesn't make something right.

So here's what I think he says. Practice responsibility. Rather than stealing; just be a responsible person. Engage in society. Be a part of what makes this world a good place.

And then he says in Ephesians 4; a text that I remember stumbling on and then wondering if I was glad I found it or not. It makes such an interesting assumption.

Ephesians 4 Here Paul is writing to this church in Ephesus and in Chapter 4 he's beginning to give the real practical day-by-day stuff. And the very thing he says in Ephesians 4:28 is arresting when you first look at it.

He who has been stealing must steal no longer,. . . . .whoa! The apostle Paul believed that in the church in Ephesus, among those Christians, that there were people who were stealing. Apparently so, that's what he says, "Those of you who are stealing, stop it." And instead, do you notice what he says, work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

There is a beauty about work. Work is never just for us. Work is never just so we don't have to steal. Work, he says, provides us with something to give to somebody in need.

There is a wonderful theology of work in the Bible. Something we probably ought to look at on some Sunday morning because it's far more than just your ability to pay the rent. Everything about work in Scripture is oriented around you being able to provide for others. If God does for you, then you do for others.

Well, here's the question. We come back to it every Sunday. How does Jesus practice this commandment? If what the Bible says is don't steal and instead, we are simply trying to practice responsibility and trying to practice generosity, how does Jesus do this? Well, I'd say does it this way. He did it like this. He paid his taxes. You know, one place in American culture where more cheating goes on than maybe any other place is right there. . . .avoiding our taxes. Now I don't . . . not asking you to pay more than you owe, but when Jesus was asked, do we pay taxes or don't we, his response was, who's image is on this coin? Matthew 22. Well, it looks like Caesar to me. Then give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar. So Jesus paid taxes.

How did Jesus live out this principle of responsible, generous behavior? You remember one of the more famous stories? The story of the Good Samaritan. You've got this guy traveling down a road that's very, very dangerous and a thief comes along and beats him up and leaves him half dead. And a priest and a Levite come along and they walk on the other side of the road 'cause they don't want anything to do with him. And then a Samaritan comes along, an outcast comes along, and tends to him and takes him to an Inn and pays the innkeeper to take care of him. Have you ever thought about what that means? The thief comes along and says, "what's yours is mine and I'm gonna take it." The priest and the Levite come along and say, "what's mine is mine and I'm going to keep it." The outcast Samaritan comes along and says, "what's mine is yours. I'm going to give it."

How does Jesus practice this? He practices this spirit of generosity by helping those who are in need and teaching us the same. How does Jesus address this issue? He addresses this issue in the Lord's Prayer as a sample. Do you remember what He teaches us to pray? Give us "this day" our daily bread. He teaches us to trust God to see us through the basic needs of our life.

How does Jesus practice this? He practices it by almost rephrasing it in the Golden Rule. You remember the Golden Rule from the Sermon on the Mount? Matthew 7:12 Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Live in a covenant relationship with people and treat them with dignity and respect. Don't kill them. Don't violate their rights as a married person. Don't steal from them. It's a pretty simple kind of command, isn't it? I mean you don't even have to come to church to get this. You should be able to get this on a street corner.

Don't take what isn't yours!

Not somebody's reputation! Not somebody's self- respect! Not somebody's self-esteem! Don't take what isn't yours. . . . . .

Don't take the pumpkin off their porch. Don't take it if you haven't paid for it. Don't take it if you haven't earned it. Live like a believer. That's the call.

The call is a spirit of responsibility and a spirit of generosity.

Well, Lacey mentioned last week that we were going to do something a little different today with our offering. As a means with us helping to kind of come to grips with this whole idea of giving and sharing and being responsible. Some of you may have even brought things. She mentioned the possibility of bringing some things that you might want to get rid of in your life, maybe things that are keeping you from being everything you ought to be.

What we've done is a little different and we're going to try to make this as easy on you as possible. There are baskets and there are trays at the doors, one at each door, two at the back door. We're going to invite you over the time when there is some music playing to simply get up and take your offering and place it in the tray or something that you've resolved is in your way and you want to get rid of it and put it in the basket. We want you to have an opportunity to literally, physically participate in an offering. Now, if getting up from where you are is really inconvenient and you're just not able to do that, we understand and, you may just want to hand that to somebody and let them take it over there for you or do it on your way out, whatever would be best for you.

We'd like this to be just an opportunity for you to express your giving. If you didn't come prepared to give and you just want to sit and listen and pray, then do that, because what we're talking about is a God who not only receives, but a God who gives, and God desires today to give you peace and to take care of your life.

Father, we're grateful for everything that you do for us. We're grateful for all that you have provided for us. We're sorry when there are things in our life that get in the way and we pray that as we share, at a time of offering, that somehow we can communicate that we love you, that we worship you and we want nothing to stand between us and you. In Jesus we pray and we give today.