As I was actually studying the Ten Commandments for the first time at an in depth level. I took, every time that the Greek or Hebrew word for “stealing” pops up. Any place it happened, Old or New Testament, I did a survey and for weeks and weeks, I studied it.
Because I thought that, basically, stealing was, like, for armed robbers. You know, people who, you know, steal jewelry out of penthouses, embezzlers, fraud. I just thought it was, you know, muggers down in Central Park. I thought stealing was for people who bop people over the head or people who cooked the books.
You know what I mean? Those are people that have kleptomania. But I thought, you know, these commands are tough to take. I thought when I got to number eight I would skate free but I was wrong.
As I was studying this passage, I learned that the meaning of the word “steal” is much broader. In fact, some of the uses are in Genesis 30, it’s “to take from another,” “to snatch away.” Where Jacob is ripped off by Laban.
Or it can mean to take advantage of someone unjustly. All throughout the Old Testament, stealing means to rob the poor or the widow or the orphan. You can steal by unlawful laws. Or by unjust decisions that exploit them.
Stealing isn’t just grabbing or taking. It’s cheating, bribing, extorting, or even grafting. It means, at times, that where you don’t take something, you can steal by withholding what is due to another in Proverbs 3 and Malachi 3.
It’s when you don’t pay people the fair wage that they deserve. It’s when you owe someone something and you have it and you don’t deliver it. It’s stealing.
It literally can be, you can steal by bereaving another. It’s used, literally, of a bear who is robbed or bereaved of her cubs. It’s also used of Absalom. And he didn’t steal money, he stole people’s hearts. He stole the heart of the people from his father.
Stealing can involve, not just tangible, but intangible things like loyalty and affection and stuff that belongs to others.
And, finally, stealing can mean defrauding. Trickery. You can never actually take something but you can actually deceive another’s heart or mind to get unfair advantage and you steal and behind all the stealing is, you want to get something for nothing. That’s the heart of it. You want to get something for nothing.
And so, I was studying this and praying and sometimes, you don’t know how it works, but my system is, I get up real early in the morning and I study for a few hours and then every Wednesday I take all day and study.
And then my goal is by Thursday afternoon, my outline is done, I give it to my assistant by two o’clock. She comes up with all the notes. Then I can, sort of, cook on it. Take Friday off, don’t have to think about it, my mind is free.
Get up early, for a couple three hours, look over those notes, decide on the final illustrations, really feel good, spend the day with my family, go into Saturday night church couple three hours early, and then get my heart ready. Pray through the message and go through it in my mind.
Well, that system works really well unless you get stuck on, like, Wednesday. And I’m studying and I’m stuck. I mean, I’ve got all these verses, all these books, all these commentaries, all these notes. And it won’t come together because there’s a process where God births a message in a teacher or a pastor. And it’s like, there’s a stillbirth. I can’t get it out.
And so when this happens, at times, I begin to get anxious and I’ll wake up at 1:11 and then I’ll wake up at 2:17 and then I’ll wake up at 3:15 and then you get thinking, I’m not going to sleep much. So if you’re not going to sleep you might as well pray. So I got up, got my briefcase open, and I start going over it and over it. And I’m just stuck.
And then I said, “Lord. I’m, it’s Wednesday. Do you understand it’s Wednesday, Lord? I mean, I know you made the days and by the way, tomorrow at two o’clock I gotta turn this outline in and I don’t want to put junk… I mean, this is, I mean, all Scripture is important but I got a feeling like doing these commands is, like, really important. You put them in stone. I’d like to, at least, get them, like, on paper. You know, pretty good.”
And I can’t get through. And so I remember saying, “Lord, if there’s anything in my life or my heart that is keeping me from hearing your voice on this message, would you show me? I mean, I’ll just deal with it.”
Now, I’ve been up at 1:11, I’ve been up at 2:17. This, we’re on round three. So, it’s not that I’m getting more noble, I’m getting more tired. And I realize, you know, I don’t want to fight God. And I sat quietly and I’d like to say it took hours for anything to come to my mind. It took minutes.
“Hey, Chip. You know that trip you took to Phoenix several months ago?”
“The one where you followed your son, took him to college?”
“Remember how you arranged a big meeting with a pastor of the big church and you did some interviewing?”
“You remember that, you know, the mileage, you know, when you filled out your taxes here just recently that the mileage for that, you accounted as a business trip?”
I said, “Well, yeah, I did business there and spent a couple days working with that guy and, yeah.”
And, you know, this is an inaudible voice. This is, you know how God speaks to you.
“So, would you have gone and met with that pastor at this particular time if your son wasn’t going to that particular college?”
“Maybe. Just kidding, Lord. No.”
“So you really arranged that time because this, it’s just like finding golf balls, isn’t it? You’re always trying to get something for nothing. You’re always trying to figure a way to, you know, kill three birds with one stone. Two is never good enough for you.
“So, you went there, in fact, didn’t you even, you know, put a couple hotel bills as a possible tax deduction?”
“Well, you’re getting really picky now, aren’t you, Lord?”
And I just, my conscience I thought, you know? God, if that’s the problem, I’m sorry. I’m wrong. And, you know, I just thought, you know, I’d kill two birds with one stone and I wanted to meet with that guy anyway and it was a really good meeting and it really helped me and it would have been a hundred percent, you know?
And it’s not like I was reimbursed. I was just saying that it was an un-reimbursed business expense and it’s a small percentage and this can’t really be that big a deal, is it Lord?
“Yeah, it is. It’s called stealing. It’s what you’ve been, it’s what you’ve been studying.”
And so I said, “I’m sorry. Okay, I repent, I confess, I’ll make it right tomorrow morning. Would you speak to me, I need to finish this message.”
And He did and the outline came together and there was peace restored to my soul and so the CPA there in San Jose does it for a number of Christian organizations and he did our church and a number of big organizations and so I called him.
And, “Hey, Dave, how you doing?”
He said, “Oh, great, Chip!”
And, you know, he starts to do the, hey, good to see you. And I said, “No Dave. This isn’t, like, social.” I said, “This is confession.”
And I said, “Have you turned in my taxes yet?”
And he said, “No. The fifteenth, we send them all out at one time.”
I said, “Well, I’ve got one kind of deduction, un-reimbursed business expense and, you know, it might be a technicality,” I’m still trying to fudge a little bit, “and I’m not sure if it really counts but God showed me last night, and I don’t want it. Okay?”
And I explained to him what I did and why and the primary purpose of the trip, in my heart was this. And he said, “You know what? It’s interesting. Your conscience is lining up very accurately with IRS protocol and rules.”
“So it is sin, huh?” He said, “Yep, you got it.” I said, “Well, Dave, forgive me for the poor testimony and I’d like you to mark those off.” And he said, “By the way, Chip.” He said, “Here’s how we calculate it, just for your information. You write that in, if it’s not over x amount of dollars.” And he went through all this formula. And when he got to the end and showed me how much money I saved it was like, what is it about the human heart that is so dark?
What is it about the human heart that is always trying to get something for nothing? What is it about the human heart that is always trying to fudge? What is it about the human heart? Here I’m a pastor of a church and I’m trying to figure somehow, someway to write off a few miles on a trip and a couple, you know, thirty-nine to fifty-nine dollar… And you only get a certain small percentage of that. And I sacrificed the peace of God, a full night’s sleep, and alienation from my Father to try and cut a little corner.
Has anyone else ever done that? See, that’s what it means to be a kleptomaniac. Klepto is the Greek word for “to steal.” And what I would like to do with you, you can see in your handout here. We’ve given you the meaning of the eighth command. The purpose of the eighth command is this.
The purpose is that God wants you to know that He values people and their right to own an possess personal property so highly that He put a divine boundary around what belongs to others.
Now, as much as we are warned about materialism. As much as we are warned about not letting our life become revolving around work. When we earn and when we come up with ideas and when we trust God and when we step out and that results in personal property or personal ideas or patents.
And we have earned them and worked for them and they become our property because we have worked, by the grace of God, to produce something, God takes a big border or boundary around that property and He says, that belongs to you and I’m going to tell other people they can’t mess with what rightly belongs to you.
And I’m going to say to you, you can’t mess with what rightly belongs to them. So much so that the eighth command is to act as a flashing light on the dashboard of our conscience saying, don’t take it. Don’t take it. That’s the theme. Don’t take it if it doesn’t belong to you. Respect others’ property. Respect others’ ideas. Respect the laws that protect them. Don’t steal them, don’t receive them, don’t plagiarize them, don’t defraud them.
The idea of stealing, don’t take and don’t receive anything that rightly belongs to another. And if you’re still thinking that I’m the only kleptomaniac in the room, that would mean, don’t take their money, don’t take their product, don’t take their copyrights, don’t take illegal discounts, don’t take another’s reputation, don’t take their ideas, don’t take supplies from work, don’t use phone lines that don’t belong to you, don’t use copy machines that don’t belong to you, don’t use time that doesn’t belong to you.
Don’t use or take anything without permission that doesn’t belong to you.
If your employer paid for the pencils, they’re his pencils. If he’s paying for the phone line, it’s his phone line. If he pays you for x amount of hours and you have x amount of time for lunch, the beginning of that time and the end of that time is your time and the five minutes before or the ten or fifteen minutes you come late, you are stealing from your employer.
When Bill Gates, who we all know has lots of money, makes little copyrights about software that he created and you say, he’s got billions of dollars and my buddy has it and I take it and I put it on my machine because Bill will never know the difference, I’m stealing.
When I download music off my computer that someone else has worked and created a song because I now have the technology to do it and I don’t pay the copyrights to the people who made the song or who wrote it, I’m stealing.
When I take software from our company that works on my company computer and, you know what, it would be so nice, and by the way, I could do some work at home… and I download it on my personal computer and I even do some work at home, I’m stealing.
Now, if you want to ask your employer, can I use that, can I do that, I could do a little bit more work at home. When you take, or when you receive, anything that belongs to another person, you steal.
And your faces are telling me what probably is accurate. I’m mildly relieved but discouraged for you, there’s other kleptomaniacs in the room. I probably, there is probably not a, you know what, I think we’re in a room of thieves.
You see, as long as we make stealing people who wear ski masks, and break in homes, and people that are doing devious things like snatching purses, then we’re pretty clean on the eighth command.
But when you study Scripture what you find is, the heart of the eighth command is not simply about taking. It involves taking, receiving, not just things but anything that belongs to another person.
On the bottom of your notes it says, “The roots of kleptomania.” Why do we do it? You know, we’re going to face it and I’m going to give you some Biblical material about how it works but why do we do it?
I want to give you three reasons. The first one is greed. It’s the insatiable desire to get something for nothing. And I will not ask you because you only have to go about once to get this.
But, you know, why in the world have almost everyone in this room, at some time, driven an hour and a half or two hours or three hours and heard a very boring one and a half hour presentation to get something that when we got it we thought, this is a joke.
What was it in you that really thought that you were so special that someone sent you a little envelope, “Act now, call within the next three days.” And they were really going to give you ten thousand dollars, a new car, or a high fidelity stereo system.
And then when the little person comes out with the little plastic bag, the high fidelity stereo system, before Japanese used to make good products. Remember that? And the little speakers that didn’t work? And they hand you this little box and you’re thinking, you’ve been caught at least twice because you got luggage and a radio system.
What’s behind that? Why do I have to try and figure out how to line up a ministry opportunity when I’m taking my son to college? Why couldn’t I say, I love my son, it’s a great college, it costs money. Why don’t I put gas in the car, why don’t I just accept there’s so many miles to get there? Has God provided for my needs? He provides for my needs. What is it about me that’s trying to figure out a loophole? It’s called greed. And it’s in your spiritual veins and it’s in mine.
The second reason that we steal is laziness. It’s the inherent desire to take a shortcut, to cut a corner, to get the product without the process. It started, for many of you, in elementary school. Remember the P. E. teacher, when they had P.E.? For some of you.
Remember the P.E. teacher would say, “Okay, we’re going to warm up. Here’s the gymnasium. I want everyone to run around the outside of the basketball court. I need to walk down to the office, make sure we do at least ten laps.”
And he stands there with the whistle in his mouth and everyone very carefully runs around, ooh, be very careful with that here. You know? And you go right around the edge, right? And then, pretty soon, as he doesn’t look you cut just the little bit of the corner. Then he walks out of the room, right? And he goes down to the principal’s office.
Three laps later, we got everyone doing a circle inside of the box.
I got news for you people, we got full blown born-again, Bible believing, “I love God, I want to raise a Christian family,” evangelical Christians doing circles inside the box when it comes to integrity. When it comes to being honest. When it comes to stealing. When it comes to telling the truth.
We are lazy. Inherent in the fall, we are lazy. And I’m looking for a shortcut, and you’re looking for a shortcut, and I know we have all kind of really nifty words that rationalize it. But I steal because I’m greedy. I steal because I’m lazy. And finally, I steal because of pride. There’s an adrenaline pumping adventure. There’s a power that comes to just see if you can pull it off.
And now, for some of you, you came from really, really good homes and this never entered your mind and for you I’m very thankful. But I decided when I was teaching this the very first time, we had a staff and it was a church that grew very rapidly and there’s about a core of us, we ended up with about ten or twelve pastors that we did about a ten year run and then we added another ten or twelve pastors or so after that.
And so I went to the guys I knew. I mean, we’d been together for a long time. I said, “Guys,” in staff meeting, “Anybody here ever steal anything?” And it was like we’re converted pagans. “Yeah, yeah.” I mean, everybody in the room had stole.
And I said, “Well, what?” And this one guy from North Carolina said, “I remember when my brother and I did it. We went into this hardware store and you know the axe handles, they’re full, you know the big long axe handles?” He said, “We didn’t even know what it was.” I said, “Well what did you do?” He says, “We took the axe handle and we put it down our pants leg and we walked out like this.” And I said, “Well, why did you do that?” He said, “See if we could.” I said, “Well, what did you do with the axe handle?” He said, “We didn’t know it was the axe handle. We just threw it in the creek.”
What is it about thrill of just seeing if you can get away with it?
I had another guy who came from a very difficult home and an abusive situation and he had more stories than I could ever use. He said, “But we played a game. My brothers and sisters and I and the people I ran with. We would see, the winner of the game was who could get the biggest object out of the mini-mart without being caught.” Just how big of object could you get out of the mini-mart when the guy wasn’t watching? I mean, you know, like a pack of gum, I mean you didn’t even get in the running. And I said, “Well what did you do with the stuff?” He said, “We threw it in the dumpster.”
And you know what? That sounds so crude and how could anyone do that? But you know something? A lot of stealing occurs sheerly out of the, can I get away with it?
In ancient cultures, for example, in Sparta? In Sparta it was never considered even stealing unless you got caught. In fact, in the country of Sparta, if you stole and you didn’t get caught, then you could brag and you were esteemed for how nifty and smart you were in pulling the thing off.
The Canaanite gods, that the actual gods that they worshipped, stole. They would steal here, steal here, steal and it was applauded.
So when this comes in to God’s people’s minds and heart and He says, don’t take. Don’t receive anything, any idea that belongs to someone else, it was a revolutionary concept.
Well, you ask yourself, like I do, how do we overcome this? How do we change? How do you overcome being a kleptomaniac?
And I understand that, at least I pray, that most everybody listening to my voice is saying, you know what? It’s not like I’m taking big stuff. And I know I’m not doing, are you ready for this? I know I’m not doing anything worse than anybody else. Everybody at work does it. Everyone leaves early but I work really, really hard and sometimes I do things at home and I’m sure I make up for it. I’m sure it balances…
Save it. Save it. If we’re going to break this internal pulsating desire to get something for nothing, whether rooted in greed, laziness, or pride, number one, we gotta face how we steal.
Number two, we’ve gotta break down the defense mechanisms that we have gotten very good at, even as believers.
And then number three, we need to follow God’s divine prescription.
And what I’d like to do in the remainder of our time is, okay, step one, let’s face the facts. Then step two, what’s God’s prescription? Weigh it out. And let’s walk out of here as people who, in every way say, “We’re going to be honest. We’re not going to steal.”
So let’s face up to the facts. Let me give you about three different ways, specifically, that we steal. These were drawn right from Scripture.
We steal, first, by seizure. It’s called taking. Notice Ephesians 4:28. “Let him who steals steal no longer but rather let him labor with his hands, performing with his own hands what is good in order that he may have something to share with him who has need.”
We steal by seizure. We just take stuff. One point two million times a year, muggers, robbers, and bandits take by force from fellow Americans, leaving a third of them injured. Less dramatically, employees help themselves to company supplies without permission. Auto parts, tools, staplers, postage meters, pens, pencils, notebooks, gasoline, oil, food. And padding expense accounts.
We take by seizure. Retailers lose an estimated, and this is a little bit older statistic now, ten billion a year in theft. Sixty percent by employees. We take. Stealing by seizure.
Copyrights with regard to software. How many people have written a term paper and someone else did ninety percent of the research and all you need to do is put a little footnote to say who really wrote it. But that little footnote doesn’t get on the paper. And you act like you wrote it. It’s called stealing.
Our common, among Christians, is what I call long-term borrowing. I wonder, I went, when I did this, I actually did this because I knew it was coming up. I wonder how many garden tools, in your garage, belong to someone else. I wonder, if you opened your cupboards, how many punch bowls or serving platters belong to someone else. Imagine if you went through your library, meticulously, how many books or how many tapes or how many cassettes, or how many CDs would belong to someone else? Imagine if you went through your closet, how many sweatshirts or where we were, wetsuits, or ladders, or wheelbarrows, or pieces of sports equipment are in your house that belong to someone else. But we’re born again believers so we just borrowed it.
But when you borrow it and it’s been seven years? Three years? I actually, you know what, I was so convicted, I went out to my garage and I started inspecting. And then I went to my library and I just started looking through books and thought… long-term borrowing, I’m going to suggest, is stealing. It’s just stealing. It’s not yours. I don’t mean it’s been willful and malicious. But you’ve seized it. I’ve seized it.