Use Things and Love People—Not the Reverse
The life and legacy of Moses
Dr. Jim Denison
In America, apparently no price is too high for the things we want. Who would have dreamed we’d spend $5 for a cup of coffee, or $3 billion on bottled water? But we’re drinking it. The price of gasoline hasn’t been this high in years, but we’re still buying it.
Our culture measures us by what we wear, drive, or own. Against all this materialism, we find the eighth commandment. Two words in Hebrew, four in English: “You shall not steal.” Let’s look at what the commandment means, and how to keep it today.
What is stealing?
We steal when we take the possessions of others. My family’s home in Houston was vandalized; a thief broke the window of our van in Atlanta and stole what was inside; our church has lost technical equipment to thieves in recent years. A few months ago my car wouldn’t start, so I had it towed to a local repair shop. They wanted $2,000 to replace the head gaskets; I took it to the dealership, who fixed the problem for a fraction of that cost and never had to touch the head gaskets. Stealing is taking the possessions of others.
We steal when we take advantage of others. Forth eight percent of American workers admit to taking unethical or illegal advantage of their employers in the past year. This includes cheating on an expense account, paying or accepting kickbacks, secretly forging signatures, and breaking legal statutes and codes. American industry loses $3 billion per year because of employee’s time spent in personal internet use while at work.
We steal when we take advantage of the government by cheating on our taxes, money which honest citizens must make up. In short, we steal whenever we take financial advantage of others.
We steal when we take the ideas of others. When I taught at Southwestern Seminary I heard the motto from students: if you steal from one source, it’s plagiarism; from two sources, it’s research. No, it’s not. My brother in law once worked as a custodian at a church while going to seminary. He cleaned the pastor’s office, and always knew what sermon they’d hear that Sunday from the open book of sermons on his desk on Friday.
We steal when we take the reputation of others. Remember a few years ago when someone accused Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of sexual abuse? This godly man was completely vindicated, all charged were dropped, and the person making the allegation apologized, but the damage was done to his reputation. That man stole his good name.
Shakespeare said it well: “Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands. But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed.” Before you say anything negative about any person, ask yourself first, Is it true? Is it fair? Is it necessary? To take the reputation of others is to steal.
How to keep the eighth commandment
So, how do we keep the eighth commandment?
First, we see things as God does. Material success is not the highest value in life—a relationship with God is. Jesus warned his disciples: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16.26).
As God sees things, material success is a means to an end, given for the purpose of serving God with that which he has entrusted to us. If I value God more than possessions, I’ll not offend him by stealing from you.
Second, we acquire things as God directs. Scripture gives us three ways we are to acquire possessions, a kind of philosophy of economics. We are to work hard: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4.28).
We are to invest wisely. In Jesus’ parable of the talents (measures of money), he commends the men who doubled their investments, while criticizing the man who did not (Matthew 25.14-30). And we are to pray dependently. When our need is greater than our supply, we are to pray and ask God’s help. The early Christians gave to the common good of the believing community, and their resources were “distributed to anyone as he had need” (Ac 4.35). As we work hard, invest wisely, and trust God, we acquire things as he direct. Then we will have no need to break the eighth commandment.
Third, we use things as God leads. God has blessed us with material possessions, so that we might use them to help others in his name. He gave the Samaritan a donkey and some money, to give to the man in need. We are to do the same with the donkey and the money he has given to us.
The old song says, “Loving things and using people only leads to misery; using things and loving people, that’s the way it ought to be.” If I value you more than your possessions, I’ll not steal what is yours. In fact, I’ll give to you from what is mine.
It is imperative that we see things, acquire things, and use things as God directs, that we keep the eighth commandment. For our own sakes.
What is a “lie”?
When I worked as a graphic artist during seminary, I had a customer who kept a “lie book” in his pocket. Whenever he told someone a lie he would write it down, so he could remember it the next time he saw that person.
The commentaries claim that this is the commandment of the ten we break the most often. Do you agree? Raise your hand if you’ve never lied. Be careful—don’t lie.