Chapter 8

You Shall Not Steal

From the booklet The Ten Commandments

King David, a man who loved God deeply, wrote, “The law of the [Eternal] is perfect, converting the soul …” (Psalm 19:7). The word convert here carries the colorful meaning of turning back to an original starting point. This word holds firm the idea of turning away from a life of sin back to living the way God lives. Of course, that is what the Ten Commandments are all about. God has given us these incredible, perfect laws so we can turn our lives around.

To this point, we have learned that with the giving of the first four commandments, God places the greatest importance on our relationship with Him. In the next three commandments, God teaches how to protect the next most important relationships: parent and child, husband and wife, our neighbor—members of the larger human race. Even more, we must not only put a high value on our relationships, we must protect the health and safety of every human life! Obedience to God’s laws is the only true way that leads to peace, happiness and a wonderfully abundant life.

Eighth Commandment Stated

With the Eighth Commandment, God protects the right of all human beings to own property. From the highest part of Mount Sinai, God thundered out to Israel, “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15). Few stop to even consider this commandment in our 21st-century world. Yet every nation on Earth is sick with an epidemic of theft.

There are the obvious thefts—street muggings, bank heists, auto theft and shoplifting. Nations go to war to steal what belongs to another nation. But there exists a more menacing kind of stealing—white-collar crime. Recognize that this is not just a problem in corporate America. The executive-suite greed at Enron and other companies reflects only the tip of the iceberg; many employees who point an accusative finger at corporate leaders think nothing about stealing from their employers. In fact, white-collar crime has permeated every level of our society.

The National White Collar Crime Center reported in 2000 that one in three American households are victims of white-collar crime. That statistic should shock us. Yet the problem is far worse. Police estimate that only 41 percent of those crimes are reported. This means that less than half of all white-collar crimes are ever prosecuted.

White-collar robberies come in many different forms. Most people are well aware of telemarketing schemes, false advertising and inflated pricing. We also suffer from a new wave of white-collar crime: The computer and advancements of the Internet have opened the door to high-tech crimes. People have their identities and credit card numbers stolen. Others have their checking accounts and savings accounts drained. Authorities are scrambling to develop new legal tools to handle this out-of-control problem. Yet we should not have to write new laws to handle it. There already is a law written with the finger of God (Exodus 31:18). It is a very simple law: You shall not steal!

We must realize that the majority of people in this world are stealing from someone. How? Few people question the attitude of getting the best of someone else. This is stealing!

In his book The Cheating Culture, David Callahan wrote, “Cheating is everywhere. By cheating I mean breaking the rules to get ahead academically, professionally or financially. Some of this cheating involves violating the law; some does not. Either way, most of it is by people who, on the whole, view themselves as upstanding members of society. Again and again, Americans who wouldn’t so much as shoplift a pack of chewing gum are committing felonies at tax time, betraying the trust of their patients, misleading investors, ripping off their insurance company or lying to their clients.”

Remember, all sin begins in the mind with wrong thinking. The problem of theft in our society shows how wrong our thinking is. Most justify their thefts by saying, Everybody does it. This will never make stealing okay! If all people would honestly measure their individual actions against the Eighth Commandment and then change, imagine the revolution in our modern world! Abundant prosperity would break out on every continent. Let’s understand this important commandment.

God-Given Right to Property

There is a very positive side to the command. According to God’s Word and His law, every human being has the right to own property. The Apostle John clearly communicated God’s desires for our personal prosperity and well-being. He wrote, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (3 John 2). God has no desire for any human being to live in poverty and squalor. In fact, God desires us to have the many good material things in this life, as long as we do not put any of them before Him. This is wonderful knowledge. The command also teaches that every human being has the duty to protect the property of other people. How? By not stealing what another owns.

This commandment shows there are two right ways you can come into possession of anything. The first is by receiving a gift from another person, which includes God. The second is by honest labor—earning something as a just return. Paul taught this easy-to-understand Bible principle. He wrote to the Ephesians, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Ephesians 4:28). God considers it theft if you obtain property any other way.

In principle, any form of gambling—in play or business—is a sin against the Eighth Commandment. Why? Gambling is the effort to obtain money or goods without honest labor. Gambling is simply robbery—taking something that belongs to someone else. Besides playing games like cards or dice for money, gambling also includes lotteries and sweepstakes. These activities spawn an insatiable lust for possession without working for it. Government-supported lotteries often offer multiple millions of dollars to their citizens. Yet, it is the poor and disadvantaged who are most hurt by lotteries. Many spend money necessary for food and clothing on lotto tickets that, considering the incredible odds, never deliver the desired life of ease.

Paul warned the young evangelist Timothy, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Timothy 6:10). Paul is speaking about avarice—the greed for gain. This kind of mind-set attracts other evils. So we should not be surprised to know that the major casinos and gambling centers attract prostitution rings, drug-trafficking and organized crime. Where is the true happiness in these kinds of lifestyles? There is none—only sorrow upon sorrow.

Just Weights and Measures

Do some deep thinking about current business and economic policies. We have built systems that thrive on theft. God cautioned the nation Israel, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meteyard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the [Eternal] your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:35-36). God intended that His people be just in business. Israel was to have an exemplary economy—an example for the whole world to follow.

Yet, what do we find in our nations today? We are plagued with business practices that are the direct opposite of just weights and measures. In principle, major industries and individual merchants use unjust weights and measures continually. There is not room enough in this chapter to cover every area of theft in our business practices. Let’s discuss a few.

Manufacturers use false advertising—making false claims—to trick buyers into unnecessary purchases. There are hundreds of infomercials promising consumers that some newly developed pill will provide miracle weight loss, weight gain, hair restoration, or increased sexual potency, to name just a few. In many cases, these infomercials contain willful lies. Other high-pressure infomercials offer exercise equipment, kitchen appliances or other work-saving products that either do not work or are made of poor-quality materials. Such practices literally rob consumers.

Major manufacturers of necessary items such as automobiles, furniture, homes and clothing use inferior materials to make their products, yet still charge a price far in excess of the real value of the product. This is stealing. Besides hurting consumers, the poor quality of a majority of our manufactured products is also causing the decrease in demand for American and British exports.

One modern industry most guilty of outright theft is the food-processing industry. Greedy for profits, modern practices for growing and packaging foods rob consumers of any real food value. Current farming methods—using chemical fertilizers and pesticides—not only destroy precious soil, but poison our foods. In addition, foods are so highly processed that the life-building vitamins and minerals God created to be in them are removed. What are the results? As food producers fill their bank accounts, people suffer from poor health. Honest medical professionals know that most of our medical maladies are the direct result of poor diets. Of course, our society is full of personal ignorance of proper diet and exercise. Nevertheless, the food industry has its part in the declining health of our nations. Knowingly robbing consumers of their health is one of the most serious thefts of all.

Banking, credit card and lending institutions are guilty of charging excessive interest rates to many people already caught in serious financial woes. Here is a prime example: Some credit card companies advertise balance transfers to lower-rate cards as the solution for those suffering from higher-interest balances. Yet, some transfer schemes only add to the problem. It is well-known that if you move balances to a card with an existing balance at a high interest rate, the credit card company will pay off the lower-interest balance first. This means that the higher interest rates on remaining balances keep mounting up. This is mugging by plastic!

Honest Work—Honest Wages

We discussed in earlier chapters that God’s purpose for human life is to build His very character in all who so desire. God will not force His purpose on anyone. We must choose God’s way! Jesus Christ plainly taught this to His disciples: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We must live our lives just as God lives His life. God does not live a life of ease. He is a working God. Christ also said, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17). God works. Jesus Christ came to this Earth and did His Father’s work. Both are still working today. We must do the same.

There is a serious warning here for both management and labor.

Employers should not defraud employees who do good work. Jesus Christ taught, “[F]or the labourer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7). Yet this is a common problem in our working world. Some businesses even require workers to work under deplorable conditions. The Apostle James warns, “Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth” (James 5:4). God requires employers to give an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work. Recognize that God hears the cries of defrauded workers.

In a similar vein, God expects laborers to give a full day’s effort for their wages. This is where labor unions violate God’s law. Many employees rob their employers when their unions sponsor work slowdowns and stoppages. Some efficient, hard-working individuals are put down or ostracized by their fellow union employees for working too quickly.

Here is the point. To take a wage without giving full effort is stealing. It is a generally accepted fact that, on average, employees are productive for only six hours in an eight-hour work day. Some employees live for the morning break, afternoon break, coffee break or smoke break. We should be more passionate about our work than our breaks. Many less-advantaged countries now outwork America and Britain. Our economies are paying a heavy price for our national laziness.

Many employees do not even think twice about stealing from their employers. Although only a few may consider embezzling millions of dollars, thousands will lift office supplies, materials, coffee, food, cleaning products and even toilet paper from their places of employment. Some employees even run personal businesses from their work place—using office equipment like computers and telephones—while on the payrolls of their employers. This is outright stealing.

Stealing From God

Stealing from other humans is not the only principle involved in the Eighth Commandment. Because God is not real to most people, humans fail to see Him as property owner. The Prophet Haggai records God’s own words: “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the [Eternal] of hosts” (Haggai 2:8). Are you robbing God? Don’t be too sure you’re not.

In Malachi 3, addressing modern-day Israel (the United States, Britain and the tiny nation of Israel), God speaks out: “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings” (Malachi 3:8). Few religious people obey God’s tithing system established throughout the pages of the Bible. A tithe is simply a tenth of one’s income. Paul shows that the ministry that is truly doing God’s work has the right to receive God’s tithe (Hebrews 7:5).

God continues: “Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation” (Malachi 3:9). A fundamental lesson all nations need to learn is that God owns the universe and Earth. God placed within the Earth matter, materials and energies—the very means to produce wealth. God is sharing His goods with all men. In essence, He gives all men the power to get wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). He expects us to return something to Him—a tenth! For more information about God’s tithing system, please write for our reprint articles “The Man Who Couldn’t Afford to Tithe” and “Ending Your Financial Worries.”

Why does God require this of men? The answer is astounding. God promises, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the [Eternal] of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10). God asks for a tenth to fill His house, or work. Why? He wants to bless us even more.

Living by God’s tithing system is a blessed way to live. In our modern world, it is a challenge, but the outcome is always truly miraculous. God says He will bless you when you begin tithing as He commands. He always keeps His word. He never breaks a promise. Thousands of case histories exist that prove God keeps His word. God blesses those who obey Him—even in financial ways. The material blessing may not be immediate. God does expect us to obey, trust and exercise faith in Him. The great God will do His part.

As a loving Father, God even protects from financial harm those who are faithful to Him. He says, “And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the [Eternal] of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the [Eternal] of hosts” (verses 11-12). These promises are certain. Even though our nations are failing God on the national level—we are suffering curses in our weather and economy—God will still bless individuals. Are you up to the challenge?

Living the Give Way

It is time for all people to seriously consider this commandment. Our eternal life is dependent upon how well we obey God’s own words, “You shall not steal.” Paul clearly understood and taught this. He wrote, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). No thief will enter into the Kingdom of God. We have outlined for you some of the ways men violate this law. It is up to you to do more self-examination.

As we examine ourselves, we must not fail to understand the positive side of this commandment. Stealing is clearly condemned. However, we must come to see that working and giving represent the positive way to live. There is certainly nothing wrong with gaining property and possessions through honest labor; however, property and possessions should not be gained to merely satisfy personal desires. God wants us to learn to share our excess with others by giving.

The spirit of the Eighth Commandment shows that we could be stealing from another by not working or not giving to someone in need. Of course, the greatest need for most people in this world today is to be given God’s precious truth. Bible prophecy shows that as times grow critically worse, the truth will be the only thing that will deliver people from the natural calamities, plagues, violence and wars to come. If you would like to know more about how you can support this great work of God, write to the address nearest you in the back of this booklet.

Paul taught the ministry at Ephesus, “I have showed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Working honestly and living the give way of life fulfill the spirit of the Eighth Commandment. God showers incredible blessings upon those who give as He does. God is the perfect example of living the give way of life. James tells us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). The very nature of God focuses on working, producing and giving. God would never steal from any other being in any form. If we truly desire eternal life, we must learn to be the same way. Let’s work hard to obey the command that says, You shall not steal.

Continue Reading: Chapter 9: You Shall Not Bear False Witness