What’s Your Price?
Dr. Jim Denison
For 28 years Bob Barker has hosted The Price Is Right, the longest-running game show on television. In fact, Mr. Barker has logged more hours on network television than any person in history.
You know how his game works—contestants guess the prices of items displayed on the stage to win. And how those prices have changed.
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 nine years, and is predicted to rise another 20 to 30 cents soon. But we’re still buying gas.
The most recent Motor Trend displays upcoming car models. Included is a “priced down” Hummer at only $58,000, and a new experimental car for $1.2 million. Someone will buy it.
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.
To help us, we’ll lay alongside this commandment Jesus’ commentary on it—the best-known story in literature, the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
What is stealing?
In Jesus’ story we find the three basic attitudes toward the eighth commandment. The first: “what is yours is mine and I will take it.”
The man in our story is traveling the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when he is attacked by a band of robbers; we’d say he was “mugged.” Jesus says, “They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead” (Luke 10:30). What’s his is theirs, and they will take it.
Most of us know how he felt. 60% of all Americans have been the victim of crime; of those, 58% have been victimized twice or more. Most of us have been down this road. Unfortunately, this happens on many levels today.
First, we steal, of course, when we take the possessions of others.
Our house 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.
Second, we steal when we take advantage of others.
48% 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.
I once knew a staff member in another church who would take friends to lunch; they would pay him, he would put the bill on his credit card, then he would turn in the receipt and get reimbursed by the church.
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.
Third, 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 through 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.
Fourth, 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.
We have the robbers’ philosophy of possessions, “What is yours is mine, and I will take it,” when we steal the possession of others, take advantage of others, or take the ideas or the reputation of others. We’re just like the robbers in the story.
But, the priest and the Levite who came by next stole from the man as well. Their attitude was, “What is mine is mine, and I will keep it.” They stole from this man the care they should have given to him, the compassion they should have shown him. They stole from him as well. Passive theft is still theft.
Let’s return to meddling. God calls us to give him a minimum of ten percent of all our goods and possessions for his purposes. Not just a tenth of our money, but of our time, talents, and abilities as well. When did you last dedicate to God at least 10% of your week?
How does God feel about those who do not obey him in this area? Listen to him: “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” (Malachi 3:8-10).