You shall not steal.
The Eighth Commandment forbids theft in all its forms. In Deuteronomy the commandment is applied to the stealing of persons, land, and livestock. It is applied to the stealing of wages and the use of false weights and measures. The Westminster Larger Catechism teaches that the Eighth Commandment forbids the “neglect of duties required…receiving anything that is stolen, removing land-marks, injustice and unfaithfulness in contracts…oppression, extortion, usury, bribery, vexatious lawsuits…engrossing commodities to enhance their price…inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods, distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting…idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming, and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God hath given us (Q. 142).
Contemporary life has only expanded the opportunities to violate the Eighth Commandment. Reporting greater mileage and travel expenses to one’s company for reimbursement is stealing. Overbilling hours and artificially inflating costs is stealing. Cheating on exams is theft. With the advent of new technologies students can simply text answers to one another during tests. Plagiarism is also a form of theft. It steals the intellectual rigor and creativity of another and presents it as original. Music and other property can be stolen in various ways online. Theft in many of its forms has become so commonplace that even God’s people often excuse it as a harmless and justifiable transgression.
Like every sin, theft is ultimately a sin against God. Since God is the owner of all things, stealing not only violates our neighbor’s rights, it violates God’s divine rights. Stealing is a manifestation of a lack of trust in God’s provision. It is also a sign of sinful discontent. We steal when we believe we deserve more than what God has given us. Stealing is also the accompaniment to other sins. For instance, people will often excuse theft when because of sloth, irresponsibility, or some other sin they find themselves in want. And like all violations of God’s law, stealing is a failure to love God and neighbor.
In one of the most beautiful passages of the New Testament Paul holds forth Jesus as the One who even though he was God in the flesh chose to not take advantage of all that was his so that he might save sinners (Philippians 2:5-10). Paul writes that Jesus “thought it not robbery” (KJV) to avail himself of the full measure of his divine rights. Nevertheless he “humbled himself” by taking on a human nature and dying on the cross for thieves. Not only did Jesus never steal, he did not even presume to make use of all that rightfully belonged to him. Instead he gave.
Paul prefaces that passage with a call for Christians to have the mind of Christ. God has been unimaginably generous toward us (John 3:16). So, rather than searching madly only to acquire more and more let us look for opportunities to give. Rather than excusing what we consider minor infractions let us excel in giving.