I was invited to write this for the Stubborn Things blog and am cross-posting it here.
Stealing makes an unspoken yet clear and outrageous claim against God: “You didn’t order the universe properly, so I will fix your mistakes by taking what is rightfully mine.” Therefore, it is a sin against God and neighbor.
Stealing is typically accompanied by other sins. The root is the pride in thinking we deserve more. Coveting leads to stealing just as unrighteousness anger and lust are precursors to the physical acts of murder and adultery and are also violations of the spirit of the law. Lying usually surrounds thefts, and the cover-ups are often worse than the crimes. In the investigation work my group does I’ve noted that people who steal don’t mind lying about stealing.
We are often clever and subtle in how we take what doesn’t belong to us. Sure, some steal the old-fashioned way. I come across those people both at work, when investigating those who steal from my employer, and in prison ministry (it keeps my life in balance). Most of us are more sophisticated, though, and pretend that we don’t steal because we aren’t physically taking property clearly belonging to another. We use our spiritual gift of rationalization* not only to justify theft but to pretend that our vice is a virtue.
Exhibit A: Those who petition Caesar to take from neighbor A by force to redistribute to neighbor B and congratulate themselves on how generous they are. That thinly disguised attempt at sanctified theft is so ingrained that people often use it to justify why they give so little back to God. It is symptomatic of our decline that we must remind people that Jesus taught to give your money. I submit, and the good folks at Dictionary.com agree, that taxes and giving have unique and irreconcilable definitions.
And yes, I used a political example. God’s commandment against stealing and his admonitions to give presuppose the ownership of private property. If it isn’t yours, there is nothing to steal and you have nothing to give. Politics should be about the ethical use of power, so our biblical worldviews should influence our voting. It is foolish to let our ideological foes tell us that parts of the universe aren’t under God’s sovereignty — especially when those shouting their misunderstanding of the “separation of church and state” issue only try to silence the religious people they disagree with.
Softballs aside, let’s look closer to home.
While Leftists steal jobs and taxes from those impacted by illegal immigration, crony capitalists are just as guilty of theft because they want cheap labor for themselves.
At a Sunday School party celebrating the birth of our Savior, a group of relatively conservative Christians lamented the fall of Napster because they could no longer download “free” music. After all, those rich record companies could afford it.
Some Bible-believing Christians concede that Obamacare is bad for many, but it helps them so they support it.
Poor driving puts our neighbors at risk. We steal some of their safety and well-being when we prioritize our schedules and convenience above our neighbors’ best interests. We don’t actually announce, “I’m running late, so I’ll risk your health, life and property to make up time,” but our actions betray us.
When speaking about leadership to professional groups I ask, “What is it called when you take something that doesn’t belong to you?” [Pause] Stealing, of course. So what is it called when you take credit for your employees’ ideas? [Uncomfortable pause] Yep, stealing.
How about stealing time from your employer? Would it be ironic and hypocritical to write about stealing on work time, even if you make it up as necessary and meet all your commitments and more? That’s a hypothetical, of course.
Then there are sins like stealing the joy of others via all sorts of selfish acts and unkind words, stealing purity via out-of-wedlock sex, stealing reputations via gossip, stealing the innocence and security of children via frivolous divorce, and more.
If we love God we shouldn’t sit in judgment of how He has ordered our lives. If we love our neighbors we shouldn’t take what belongs to them.
Thankfully, the blood of the cross can cover our many sins of stealing. God adopts, completely forgives and pours eternal blessings on all who repent and trust in Jesus. By his spirit we can be conformed more to his likeness every day and begin to only desire that which authentically belongs to us. We can also remember that it is only ours by his grace, and that when Jesus said to lay up treasures in Heaven it wasn’t marketing spin.
*Possibly not a real spiritual gift.