No stealing

the commandments. today.

The eighth in our series on the 10 Commandments (part of our exploration of Deuteronomy) deals with stealing within the nation of Israel. It is put very simply:

‘Neither shall you steal’ (Deuteronomy 5:19)

The Big Idea

This idea is very simple: the people were not to steal things from one another! It doesn’t need a lot of explanation.

God had entrusted things to His people’s care. Ultimately all things come from Him, but for their society to function well, each needed to look after and use the things they have well. That breaks down as soon as people start to decide to take things into their own hands and decide that actually something entrusted to someone else would be better off in their own possession.

Stealing is rooted in the desire for something which does not belong to you (more on that in Commandment 10!) and ends with a society where trust is broken. It leads to barriers between people; a society where theft does not exist requires no walls, no locks on doors, no barriers between people. A world where there is no theft is a world where people can use what they have generously instead of seeking to hold onto it over others who might take it if we aren’t careful.

That world is the one God wanted His people to live in. It is also the world He wants us to enjoy. Trust, generosity and using resources for mutual benefit; it sounds good to me!

Obeying it Today

How then do we put this commandment into practice?

Don't steal credit

Beyond the obvious that we should not steal what does not belong to us, this is perhaps something more of us might be guilty of… taking credit or praise or reward for something when it really should go to somebody else.

Whether that comes in the form of using intellectual property that does not belong to us, or not correcting someone when they thank you for something someone else has done, or claiming individual responsibility for a team triumph, it all boils down to the same thing. If we want to live in a world of trust and generosity, we must be willing to give away credit far more quickly than receiving it.

If it’s not ours, not only shouldn’t we claim it, but we should not be willing to receive it if someone tries to give it!

Don't cheat the system

You don’t have to look too far to find a loophole. Ignoring the T’s and C’s when we purchase a ticket or a use a service, bending the rules when it comes to our finances, or getting creative with the terms of our employment or working patterns. Ranging from what might seem minor to what is a lot more major, there are choices we can each make every day to live within the system or find ways round it.

And a lot of it is stuff we could easily get away with, that others might do, and that we are unlikely to get caught in.

But that shouldn’t be our standard. Trust and generosity: these are values that God wants for our lives and societies, and these should govern our choices rather than what others might think is ok. This might at times make us stick out as we say no to things that others assume ‘won’t hurt anybody’. Are we willing to be distinctive like that?

Some things we can do…

  • The opposite of stealing is giving away! An active choice to be generous, to give something away (something material, credit for something, whatever it is) can help to shape our beings towards what God is wanting for us and away from what He warns of in this Commandment.
  • Be willing to challenge (gently and kindly) if you see a system that’s in place which does skirt around what is honest and true.
  • Think about your purchases. Are their ethical options available to you that you are not taking for some things? It might not be that we are stealing physically, but that the ‘great deal’ we enjoy actually steals dignity or freedom from someone we will never meet.