In 2008 our family went on a trip to the city of Boston. When we arrived in the city, we parked in the Boston Common Garage. We had a nice day together as a family and spending some time with friends that we hadn’t seen in a long time.
When we returned to the garage, we were putting our items back into our van and we noticed the van was a mess. So, we did what every good parent would do, and we blamed our kids for being a bunch of pigs. Upon further inspection I noticed that my laptop computer bag was unzipped, and I always zipped it. When I looked inside it, I noticed that my computer and iPod were gone. We began looking around the van, because we had all of our luggage in it, to see what else was missing. Fortunately, nothing of real value was taken.
When I finally grasped the reality that we had been robbed I experienced a flood of emotions… fear, violation, and anger. I was fearful that maybe the thieves were still around and wanted to confront us for more. I felt violated because someone broke into our car and went through our personal items. I felt anger because how and why would someone have the audacity to break into a family vehicle, go through their possessions and take what does not belong to them. Needless to say, the cops were called, nothing was ever found, and the amount stolen was too little to file an insurance claim… But now we have a story to tell… The day we were robbed in Boston.
I tell this story because it is fitting for today’s message as we are continuing our series on the Ten Commandments. For the past seven weeks I have been talking about the Ten Commandments and how each one applies to our lives. Today I will be talking about commandment eight, “Do not steal”, thus the reason for the story. Now before I get into this topic, I don’t want some of you tuning me out because you believe you don’t have a problem with stealing because you live a life of honesty and integrity. First, I want to commend you for determining in your heart to live this way and second, I want to warn and remind you as I have week after week that obedience to the commandments is not just outward obedience, it is also a spiritual and heart matter. We must be careful to protect ourselves from the subtle traps of greed, hoarding possessions and stinginess which are certainly spiritual and heart matters.
Tim Keller writes in his book COUNTERFEIT GODS, “Greed hides itself so deeply, no one should be confident that it is not a problem for them.” One of the reasons why you may feel as though you are immune to the idolatry of greed and possessions is because you may not have a lot of money thus you don’t have a lot of possessions. Let me be clear you do not need to be rich or even have a lot of possessions in order for greed and materialism to become an idol.”
“Do Not Steal”. Like the past two sermons I believe this commandment fits in the “no duh” category. Anyone who considers themselves a believer or a non-believer would generally agree that stealing is wrong. People who have dedicated their lives to taking from others are not viewed positively in our society, or any society for that matter. Jesus says in John 10:10, “A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” He is saying that a thief is someone who is committed to taking something that does not belong to them (taking possessions and life), but Jesus is committed to giving that which does not belong to us (life) and he gives it in abundance.
Nobody likes a thief, because of their lack of regard for life, possessions and God. But I think about the heart of stealing and then I begin to look at my life and I am challenged because there are ways that we do practice thievery in our lives, if we are not careful. When I think of the root of stealing, thievery, and robbery I look to the heart to see the ways that we practice thievery against God and others.
There are four ways we can break the eighth commandment on a regular basis maybe not even realize we are.
1.Steal from God (Malachi 3:8)
2.Steal from others (work, time, and materially… Iron Maiden album from Todd)
3.Greed (doing whatever it takes to get and keep what you have)
4.Not being generous with what God has given us (1 John 3:7)
Stealing from God
How do we steal from a sovereign God, who owns everything and needs nothing? Go to Malachi 3:8, 9 “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing me!” “How do we rob you?” you ask. “By not making the payments of the tenth and the contributions. You are suffering under a curse, yet you—the whole nation—are still robbing me.” Now the context of this verse is how Israel was withholding their tithes against God and not giving to Him what He commanded. Yet, I believe the verse is applicable to us today. You see, when we withhold anything from God we are stealing from him. Romans 12:1 says, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.” Everything we have belongs to God and this includes our bodies, and our very lives.
When we withhold our tithes, time, talents and our very being from God we are robbing from Him. When we use all that God has given us for selfish gain, we are not worshiping God or giving Him honor and glory.
Stealing from others
I told you the story about how we were robbed in Boston, I was also reminded of something I did as a teenager. I remember borrowing a record from one of my best friends. He put his name on the right corner of the record so that it wouldn’t get lost. I had this “great idea” that if I simply scribbled through his name the record would be mine. He confronted me on getting the record back and I told him that the record was mine. He argued and said it was his because his name was on it. I said, “I don’t see your name on it. So, it must be mine.” He didn’t buy that excuse an took his record back.
That act could have ended our friendship, but thankfully it didn’t. We are still friends today. I was not a Christian at the time, but I knew better and this was a selfish act on my part. I was not honoring my friend or respecting his possessions.
Greed: Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?
Matthew 19:16 – 30 - The Rich Young Ruler: A young rich man came to Jesus and asked him what “good thing” he must do to inherit eternal life? This meeting with Jesus was doomed from the very beginning. Why? Because the young ruler was asking what work or good act does HE have to do in order to gain eternal life? He was looking for a good moral act to be his savior and not Jesus. Then when Jesus tells the man the one work he does have to do he tells him to go and sell all his possessions and give to the poor and follow him; he went away sad because he had a lot of possessions that he wasn’t willing to part with. Jesus then talks about the difficulty of a rich person entering the kingdom of heaven because often a person of wealth seeks significance and security in his possessions and not in Jesus.
The question we need to ask ourselves right now is, “Do we look to our possessions for our significance and security or can we find significance and security COMPLETELY in Christ and the work he has accomplished for us?” Does your stuff define who you are? Are you so consumed with what you own, where you live, and what others think of you that you dedicate your whole life gathering, and protecting for yourself all you have acquired?
Matthew 6:19 – 21- Treasures of heaven: In this account Jesus informs his listeners to not lay up his or her treasures in earthly possessions that will decay, go out of style or consume your time protecting because others want to steal it. In this Jesus tells us point blank about the fleeting of our earthly possessions. What we have will decay, it will go out of style and it may be lost or stolen. He basically said, “When you die you can’t take what you have with you.” Jesus’ warning is so contrary to the western mindset. We live in a society today where there is no such thing as contentment. The world is constantly throwing discontentment at us so we will always want more. You should never be satisfied with what you have and you should always want more.
Hoarding & Generosity
Luke 12:13 - 21 – The Rich Fool: In this parable Jesus talks about a young rich man who spent his whole life gathering, protecting and hoarding his possessions. The comedian George Carlin would say, “He had so much stuff that he tore down the buildings that he kept his stuff in and built bigger and better buildings so he could put more stuff in them and spend his whole life resting and partying with his stuff.” The problem was the young man spent his whole life gathering, saving, and hoarding thus wasting his life because he died at a young age. Luke 12:15 hits the nail on the head, “And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’” In other words, don’t waste your life hoarding, acquiring and protecting because your life does not depend on your stuff. Jesus calls us to generous living and not hoarding. We should be willing for the honor of God to live lives helping and blessing rather than acquiring and gathering. 1 John 3:17, 18, “If anyone has this world’s goods and sees a fellow believer in need but withholds compassion from him – how does God’s love reside in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech, but in action and truth.” When we live generous lives we are loving in action and truth.
Proper perspective on possessions and generosity
Obviously, we live in a society of greed and materialism. So, what is the true follower of Jesus’ proper perspective on possessions, greed and stuff? I don’t think the Bible alludes to having things as necessarily being bad. It does make clear that if the stuff we own begins to own us then we have a problem. Jesus says in John 6:26 – 29 to not to waste our time, energy and resources working to acquire or invest in material things of this world. Instead we are called to invest in the spiritual things or the important things in life. Use your time, energy, resources and even possessions for the Kingdom of God.
Acts 2:42 – 47 In the ancient Church there was a practice among believers. They would meet together, pray together, worship together and live in community together. We also see that in this early church the believer’s felt compelled (maybe by the prodding of the Holy Spirit) to sell or share all their possessions so no need would go unmet in the body of Christ. Those who had a lot shared their “stuff” with those who didn’t. I believe they understood the value of community. If there was a need, the people banded together to meet it. It was as simple as that. What was the result? The Lord added to their numbers daily.
Throughout the New Testament the body of Christ gets together to meet the needs of those in need. The Church should spend more time being generous our act of worship and less time gathering, protecting and hoarding. Does God want us to sell everything and give to those in need? Maybe. Another question we should ask is are you willing to part with your possessions if that is what he is prodding you to do?
So how does this all apply to us? In closing Timothy Keller introduces the concept of deep idols (below the surface idols that is sin in our hearts that affects our basic motivation so much so that they become idols) in our lives. I believe materialism, possessions and greed are deep idols. He writes in his book Counterfeit Gods about the effects of deep idols. Our hearts are a reflection of who we are and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope that we have of ever having a changed and generous heart for the glory of God.
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I currently live on the Gulf Coast of Florida with my beautiful family. The Lord has blessed me with over 25 years of full time ministry. He is and has been faithful.