Exciting phrases, easy acronyms, and memorable lists formed from dense works of systematic theology can be helpful for the everyday Christian. While these reductions of God’s Word and His nature help us understand general frameworks, they are unable to help us understand everything the Bible teaches. It is one thing...
Here’s an exercise to help you remember the eighth commandment: Visualize the number eight sideways. It looks like mini-handcuffs. This exercise helps me to recall that the eighth commandment is stealing.
Thou shalt not steal. (Exodus 20:15)
Most people think they have not broken this commandment because often people are thinking about masked men taking valuables in the wee hours of the night. They assume that if they have not stolen in that way, they do not have an issue with this commandment. But Colin Smith describes stealing as “the desire to get as much as possible while giving as little as possible.”
With this definition, we can now see how stealing happens every day through the choices we make.
You Steal by Taking from Others
I remember the first time I realized I had broken the eighth commandment. I worked for a couple who owned a kiosk in Randhurst Mall. This mini-shop sold all sorts of trinkets. Scarves dangled from the canopy, pens shone brightly in silver cans, and there were the cutest tiny stuffed animals that came in baskets, catching the eyes of people passing by on their way to the larger stores in the mall.
I do not remember all the circumstances surrounding the situation. I was a pretty straight-and-narrow, rule-following kind of kid, so I am still unclear as to how I could justify my stealing. But the enemy often tries to get the sinner to rationalize away sin (Genesis 4:7). I vaguely recall thinking I was supposed to get paid more than they gave me, or that they were not going to pay me for a few days I had worked. But I do remember that I thought it rational to take a few animals to cover the “payment I was owed.”
Apparently, I had no knowledge of invoicing. I did not think they would notice or care because there were so many other items in the kiosk. So I stole a few animals. I took them home, and I don’t even know what happened to them after that.
I do know what happened to me.
At some point, it came out that they were not paying me my last check because I quit without giving them enough notice, and because they knew about the animals.
You might think that stealing the animals was the only “real stealing part,” but how I quit my job without giving proper notice was another way of stealing from my employer. The fact that they had lots of other people that could work for them was not my business. My responsibility was to give them more notice and work what I said I would work—but I didn’t.
In that instance, I lacked integrity, which encompasses the eighth commandment of stealing.
You Steal by Not Giving to Others
For many years, I thought the Randhurst Heist was the only time I broke the eighth commandment, until I saw the commandment as a broader picture about integrity. Often, I will settle for doing a job that is “good enough” and not my best. That is stealing. Whether in my profession as a teacher and a writer, or as a wife and mother, if I am not giving all that I can give to fulfill the expectation of my calling, I am stealing from my employer, my family, and ultimately, from my God.
As a teacher, I should make sure that I am working on lesson plans and emails when I am on my computer at work, not checking Facebook there. As a writer, I need to spend time researching for articles, in order to do my best for a publisher. And as a mother, I am stealing from my family when I reserve my best for guests, whether it is in behavior or meal preparation, and do only what is “convenient at the time” for them.
What are the gifts, callings, and provisions God has given you? Walking in integrity means using what God has blessed us with to give to other people.
You Become a Giver through the Gospel
Wherever God places us, we have a God-given purpose to give to those around us. And so God invites us to join him in the work of bringing the hope of Jesus into the lives of others. By believing and living the gospel in the power of God’s Spirit, we can change from being takers to being givers, thus fulfilling the eighth commandment:
Satan is the great taker of what does not belong to him. Christ is the giver of all that He owns. The gospel is not just good advice, it is good news. It is not a set of instructions on how to change. There will be a new dynamic in your life in which you become a giver because the spirit of Jesus lives in you. (Colin Smith, The 10 Greatest Struggles of Your Life)
In Jesus Christ, the commandments are opportunities for growth and joy in him who fulfilled them perfectly, not rules to take away our happiness. When we turn from taking and start giving, we will receive the true joy that comes from living out God’s purpose, by his Spirit. Jesus Christ has said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
And that is better than a few stuffed animals any day!
In what areas can you turn from being a taker to being a giver?
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