Water from the Well: November 22, 1995

The Seventh Commandment: You shall not steal

The Seventh Commandment is another example of a command which seems easy to obey, at first glance anyway. Yet God isn't simply trying to prevent bank robberies when he says, "You shall not steal" (Exodus 20:15). Human beings are good at setting up their own standards for what it actually means to break God's commandments. Most people would never commit armed robbery or burglary, but God has more in mind when he tells us, "You shall not steal." God doesn't simply want us to obey the letter of his law, but the spirit of his law as well.

Just what does God want us to do in the Seventh Commandment? Martin Luther explained it this way in his Small Catechism: "We should fear and love God that we do not take our neighbor's money or property or get it by dishonest dealing, but help him to improve and protect his property and business."

The Bible is quite clear in its teaching about worldly possessions. Earthly possessions are gifts from God. We often like to talk about "making money," but do we really make the money we have? We like to give ourselves credit for "earning money," but we often forget that our possessions don't really come from our own selves. Moses made that point clear: "You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17-18). Our possessions may come to us through our work and labor, but in the end God is the giver.

God gives other people their possessions too. In the Seventh Commandment, God asks us to respect that fact. When God says, "You shall not steal," he does more than forbid shoplifting. God forbids any misuse of his blessings, whether he has given them to us or to others. God forbids us from getting any person's possessions dishonestly, whether by stealing them outright, by lying or cheating, or by simple neglect. Returning a lost wallet or purse after taking out the money is stealing. Watching someone drop money and picking it up for ourselves--finders keepers, losers weepers--is stealing. God forbids wasting time instead of working, gambling away money in hopes of getting rich, even greedy thoughts about the possessions of others.

The fact is clear--every human being has broken God's Seventh Commandment. Every human being has misused his own God-given possessions and has desired to take the possessions God has given others. Today's world considers theft and stealing minor offenses compared to some others, yet in God's sight all sins are equal--every sin deserves punishment. Every sinner deserves the punishment for sin--everlasting suffering in hell.

Even though we all deserve God's punishment, our loving and merciful God has a different plan--a plan to save us from the suffering we deserve. To carry out his plan he sent Jesus to obey all his commandments and laws in our place, and to pay the price of our sins for us. Jesus kept both the letter and the spirit of the Seventh Commandment and every other command and law God gave. Jesus kept them all in our place. Jesus suffered our punishment and died so we wouldn't have to suffer forever. Jesus rose again from the grave to show us that our sins are forgiven and to give us the promise of a new life in heaven.

Tomorrow we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, yet often we forget our biggest reason to be thankful--we forget to be thankful to God for our Savior, for our forgiveness. Since Jesus gave up everything to save us, we want to thank him. One way we can thank him is by turning away from sin and disobedience and obeying the commandments we have so often broken. Through his death on the cross Jesus freed us from slavery to sin. Jesus gives us power to obey God's commands. God tells us, "You shall not steal." When we recognize that God has given us great heavenly blessings through Jesus, we respect his will for earthly possessions--both others' and our own. Rather than trying to take what belongs to those around us, we want to help them keep and use what God has given them to serve God. Rather than wasting the possessions God has given us, we use them to spread the good news of forgiveness to others who haven't heard it. God has given you many blessings both here and in heaven. Always thank God for those blessings.