“You shall not steal.”
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.
You shouldn’t take what does not belong to you. That is a basic rule which we have all been raised to adhere to. People everywhere know that you shouldn’t steal. Thieves are looked down upon and punished in cultures around the globe. God’s law is universal.
Stealing takes on various forms in a complex economy such as our own. It is not simply a matter of taking the jewels out of someone’s safe or robbing a bank at gunpoint. Stealing refers to any time when we take anything from an unwitting partner.
While all Christians should be encouraged to be generous, we, as Christians, should not “take advantage” of the charity of others (II Thessalonians 3:10). If you are in need of assistance then accepting help is a good thing. We should never be too proud to accept charity. But we should be too honest to take it when we do not truly need it. Receiving charity should be our last resort, not our first option.
Avoiding the payment of taxes is also stealing. The government, according to Romans 13:7, has the authority to gather taxes. They are not limited in this power. They are allowed to tax as much or as little as is necessary, and we are obliged to pay. In a democracy if we think taxes to be too high or unfair we may work, and work vigorously, to have them lowered to a “fair” level. But we are never free to skip payments or hide our wealth.
The converse is true as well. If we must not steal, then we also must, by the grace of God, help our neighbors to improve and protect their possessions. If your neighbor is about to make a bad purchase, warn them. If they are investing in a shaky venture, tell them you think so. Help other people to avoid being taken advantage of and unlawfully losing the possessions that God has entrusted to their care.
If we have broken this commandment, if we have taken advantage of another or cheated them out of their property, there is no reason to despair. There is reason to repent and believe that the sufferings of Jesus Christ have removed our sins. As we move this month from Lent into the celebration of Easter let each of us continue to leave our sins, our stealing and cheating and any others, at the foot of the cross. Let us cling to the grace given us in Christ, to be a new and sinless creation.