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Monday, March 28, 2011

Sermon on stealing

March 13, 2011
Dan Williams
El Dorado, Arkansas
Sermon: "GOD'S TOP TEN, Part 8: Take It From Me
College.Avenue Church of Christ
Texts: Exodus 20:15/ Romans 13:1-10
Aim: to describe the sin of stealing.
Thesis: the opposite of the Eighth Commandment is the "Golden Rule,"
because stealing is ultimately a sin against people, not possessions.

It happened at the airport in Greensboro, North Carolina. I was on my way to
conduct a conference, was hurrying to catch my plane, and had arrived at the
security checkpoint. I placed my briefcase on the conveyor belt and was
just stepping through the metal detector when I happened to look down, and
there at my feet on the airport carpet was a crisp, new, one-hundred-dollar
bill. Because it was hidden by the frame of the metal detector the security
guard did not see me pick the money up. I looked quickly in front and behind
me and realized that, in the hustle and bustle of the crowd, no one had
noticed what I had done. So there I stood, with a one-hundred-dollar bill
in my hand. What do you think I should have done next?

I was traveling through Jackson, Mississippi when I stopped at a McDonald's
to buy my breakfast. The cashier was obviously a new recruit, and she had
trouble getting my order right. Then, when I paid for my meal, she confused
me with the unorthodox way she counted out my change. I was sure that I had
given her a ten, but she gave me change for a twenty. She slammed the cash
register shut, said "Next!", and I stood off to the side, looking at the
money in my hand and trying to figure out what she had done. What do you
think I should have done next?

One Saturday afternoon I stopped by the post office to drop a package in the
mail slot. The service counter inside had long since closed, and the lobby
outside was as quiet as a tomb. As I walked to the mail slot I happened to
glance at the table in the lobby, and there I saw a fat, black wallet,
obviously placed there and then forgotten by someone who had been examining
their mail. There were no postal workers to be found; in fact, there was
not another soul in the building. What do you think I should have done

The Eighth Commandment is clear enough: "Thou shalt not steal" doesn't seem
to leave any wiggle room, to allow any equivocation. But the lure of larceny
is such a basic temptation that all of us will find ourselves in
uncomfortable situations. No one is exempt from this struggle, not even
children! Kent Hughes describes an incident in the four-year-olds class of
his church's Sunday school:

At story-time the Story Lady, Mrs. Teune, donned her hand puppet, Ladi, and
told the children the story of Ladi's visit to the family doctor for a
checkup. While there, Ladi spied a big red pencil just like the one she had
always wanted.

As Mrs. Teune dramatized at some length Ladi's fixation on the wondrous red
pencil, the entire group of forty-five preschoolers assumed an unnatural
quiet - especially as she described Ladi's inching closer and closer to the
scarlet pen while the doctor's back was turned - and then reaching out and
touching it - and finally grasping the pencil, which she then quickly hid
under her dress!

But, alas, the doctor had seen the theft, for in a deep voice he said, "You
must not take what doesn't belong to you". Mrs. Teune was obviously
connecting with the four-year-olds, because one little boy raised his hand,
waving it insistently, and said, "Mrs. Teune, Mrs. Teune, will you tell the
story again?" And she did! - in exact detail, line by line until the fatal
filch, while every child again sat motionless. (Kent Hughes, Disciplines
of Grace, page 139-140).

Can't you just picture those four-year-olds, mesmerized by the terrible tale
of theft unfolding before their eyes? And you know why little Ladi's
impulsive grab of the doctor's red pencil struck a chord: because those
little children had a truly personal acquaintance with that temptation,
understood how it felt to see a classmate's shiny new Sesame Street toy, or
luscious-looking cookie, or enticing Pokemon pencilbox; they comprehend,
deep in their heart, the experience of wanting to appropriate their
classmate's possession for themselves. From a very early age every one of
us has felt the lure of larceny, the temptation of taking what doesn't
belong to us.

And unfortunately, all of us have experienced the outrage of discovering
that some faceless felon has filched our favorite bracelet or sweater or
wristwatch. Oh yes, the temptation of STEALING is common: all too common!
When Jesus died, he was crucified between - two thieves! There are two
different words used in the Bible to refer to a person who steals:

Kleptes - thief Lestes - robber

The THIEF operates under the cover of darkness, and specializes in sneaky,
clandestine pilfering; on the clever fraud; or the midnight breaking and

The ROBBER operates in broad daylight, and relies on force and violence. In
Rome we learned that the Italians despise the Gypsies in part because of
their rampant dishonesty. RELATE STORY of children pickpockets at the
Roman forum - I have never seen such brazen thievery!

The Eighth Commandment is clear enough: "Thou shalt not steal." Even a
child understands that stealing means to take what doesn't belong to us, or
to keep what truly belongs to another. Yet dishonesty is so pervasive in
our society, and the temptation to steal is so fundamental to human nature,
that it can assume an infinite variety of forms.

I am convinced that this commandment, like all of God's "TOP TEN," finds its
complete fulfillment in the moral teachings of the New Testament, and
unless we understand the proper perspective taught there we just might fall
short of the integrity that is demanded by Jesus. After all, there are so
many areas in which we can convince ourselves that we aren't really taking
something of value. STEALING can be as straightforward as "breaking and
entering" or as sophisticated as computer fraud (and I do hope God has a
special place in hell for computer hackers, especially those who create
nasty viruses!).

Stealing can be as blatant as a midnight "mugging," or as indirect as a
congressman who takes a bribe, and in effect is stealing the public's trust
and selling it to the highest bidder.

The automobile dealer who runs back the odometer on a used car is a thief,
and so is the tourist who "takes" a souvenir when no one is looking.

Stealing can be done by employers who fail to credit their workers with the
wages due them: James condemns some employers of his day, saying "Look!
The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out
against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord
Almighty" (5:4). God is concerned about the workingman, and the Law of
Moses contained special provisions to make sure he wasn't cheated (cf. Deut
24:14-15, Lev 19:13)!

Or it can be done by the employees who fail to give their best effort! 1 in
3 workers admits stealing on the job, costing businesses more than $25
billion a year. The average American worker admits in confidential
interviews that he or she spends more than 20 percent of their time at work
goofing off, which amounts to a four-day work week. (Hughes, page 145)

The storekeeper can steal by putting the rotten vegetables in the bottom of
the pack, by "accidentally" overcharging, or by putting 15 oz. in a 1 pound
package (cf "unjust weights" - Deut 25:13-15), and the customer can steal by
not paying his bills: every year merchants have to "write off" millions of
dollars of uncollectable debts.

Parents can steal when they lie about their children's age at the movie box
office to get a discount, and taxpayers can steal when they shade the truth
on their 1040 form.

The prophet Malachi even warned people rob God when they fail to give their
tithes (Malachi 3:10), so that they stole the gifts that rightfully are His.

And preachers can steal: I have seen my writings published by other
preachers under their own name, so that, in effect, they stole my ideas!


Speaking of preachers, you're still wondering what I did with that $100
dollar bill, aren't you? Well, in the interest of full disclosure, let me
tell you the "rest of the stories." None of those situations was as easy as
you might imagine, but not necessarily because of the Eighth Commandment!

Take that wallet, for instance. It was obvious what had happened: someone
had placed their wallet on the counter while they sorted through their mail,
then walked off with their mail on their mind. And I really wasn't tempted
by the money that was in it. But what should I DO about it? I thought
about turning it in, but the post office was closed. I considered just
leaving it there on the counter in the hope that the owner would come back,
but what if someone else came along after me in the meantime who wasn't as
honest as I am? I checked quickly to see if I recognized the name and
address, but I couldn't find one. What did I do?

I headed straight for the police station, where the first officer I saw was
Jeff Stinson. I handed the wallet to Jeff, told him where I'd found it, and
said "This is all yours - you take care of it"!

What about the lady at McDonalds? When clerks have given me too much
change, I have always tried to call it to their attention and correct the
mistake. In this case, however, I couldn't figure out what she had done
with my money, and I wasn't absolutely sure that I had given her a ten, and
she had already shut the cash drawer and was waiting on another customer. I
knew that if I brought the subject up she would just get all flustered again
and then the manager would get involved, so I just gave up, put the money in
my billfold, and left. Was I right or wrong? I don't know.

And that $100 dollar bill? I might as well admit, the first thought that
flashed through my mind was "Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers." And the
second thought that I registered was, "There's no way that I'm going to give
this money to the security guard, because he'll just keep it for himself."
But I also knew that realistically a $100 dollar bill could not have been
laying there in plain view for very long, so I held it in my closed hand as
I asked the guard, "Did anyone drop their money here just a few minutes
ago?" He pointed to a lady about twenty yards up the corridor and said,
"Yeah, that woman dropped her money clip. So he and I together caught up
with her, and when she checked her pocket, sure enough, her money was
missing. We returned the money to its rightful, and extremely relieved,
owner, and I hurried on to my plane.

In every case, I had to make a difficult decision. In every case, my
behavior was guided by a clear command of God. In every case, however, my
guideline was not the Eighth Commandment. The command that helped me the
most in each situation was the one found in Romans 13.

READ Romans 13:8-10

In each case my behavior was guided by a simple response: how would I want
someone else to act if they found my wallet, picked up my $100 bill, or were
unsure about my ability as a cashier? You see, when we focus only on
things, and on our own response to them, we are missing the point. The
Eighth Commandment is ultimately not about POSSESSIONS, but about PEOPLE:

the rightful owners of the property I covet - to steal would be to sin
against them;
the way I would want other people to treat me - to steal would violate the
"Golden Rule";
the kind of person I want to be myself -
to steal would be to make myself dishonest.

The opposite of the Eighth Commandment is the "Golden Rule," because
stealing is ultimately a sin against people, not possessions.

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