The Ten Commandments, Part XV: When Gain is Loss
thou steal.”Deuteronomy 5:19.It is interesting
how so few words are able to define so broad a responsibility!
Notice how the second table of the law is linked
together: “Honour thy father and thy mother, . . .Thou shalt not kill. Neithershalt thou commit adultery.Neithershalt thou steal.”Verses 16–19.[Emphasis supplied.]If you break one point, you have broken the
This linkage occurs because the second part of the law
is linked together as man’s responsibility to man.It is linked together with the first table of
the law so it becomes one whole.This is
why James says, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one
[point], he is guilty of all.”James 2:10.If you break
one link in the chain, you have broken the entire chain.It will be of no value to you if you break
This eighth commandment is brief, yet it covers many
areas of which we normally do not think.The violation of this commandment calls for a different penalty for its
violation than do the rest of the commandments for their violation.
All of the previous commandments called for the death
penalty under Mosaic Law.This
commandment does not call for the death penalty, but for restoration.It calls for the restoration of light goods
many times over.
In Old Testament times, there was not even a prison
sentence if a person was caught violating this commandment, because Israel did not operate in that way.There were basically three penalties for the
violation of the law: (1) death by stoning, (2) restoration, and (3)
a fine.These three penalties certainly
kept the prison population to a minimum!
But even though, in the Mosaic Law, there was a lesser
penalty for this violation, do not for a moment think that a lesser penalty
will be applied when the tribunal of heaven reviews one’s life in the
judgment.If our sins have not been
confessed, if our sins have not been forgiven, the death penalty will be meted
out in the final end of all things.
When the Bible says, “Thou shalt
not steal,” yet someone violates this command, it is still sin in the eyes of
God.The Bible makes it very clear that
“the wages of sin [is] death.”Romans 6:23.
As we consider the universal application of the Ten
Commandments, the eighth commandment is recognized as a universal law all over
the world, by all people, everywhere.They may not recognize or acknowledge the one true God of heaven, but
they recognize the truth that says that another person’s property belongs to
him or her and another person should not tamper with
it.From the most civilized to the most
heathenish, this law is recognized as contributing to the betterment of the
society in which we live.
“Thou shalt not steal.”On the surface, this short statement commands
respect for another’s property.This is
part of God’s plan for character development, because, as we are observant and
obedient to His law, as we recognize the prohibitions that are there, it does
something for us as well as something for society.We develop character.
Romans tells us “that the law is spiritual” and that it has
depth below the surface.The law is more
than just prohibitions written on tables of stone; it has a spiritual side as
To say that the law has a spiritual side means that it
deals with the thoughts and the intents of the heart, not just the outward
acts.This is the direction that the Law
of Moses actually goes as well.This is
the direction that God’s Law goes—from the outward to the inward, from the act
to the thoughts.
So when the commandment says, “Thou shalt not steal,” the spiritual depth says, by its very
nature, that there is more here than just a physical act.The question we have to ask ourselves is,
Just how far does it go?An insight as
to the nature of this commandment may be gathered from the writings of Ellen
Speaking of the eighth commandment, she says: “Both
public and private sins are included in this prohibition.The eighth commandment condemns manstealing and slave dealing, and forbids wars of
conquest.It condemns theft and
robbery.It demands strict integrity in
the minutest details of the affairs of life.It forbids overreaching in trade, and requires the payment of just debts
or wages.It declares that every attempt
to advantage oneself by the ignorance, weakness, or misfortune of another is
registered as fraud in the books of heaven.”Patriarchs and
When this counsel was written, there were still many
places in the world where the slave trade flourished.Whether you realize it or not, there are
still many places in the world today where the slave trade is still
Right here in the United States the slave trade is still in operation!More than 50,000
children a year disappear; many of those children disappear into the slave
trade.The people who steal them force
them into bondage of prostituting themselves, both boys and girls.It is estimated that one million children are
enslaved in prostitution in Asia.(Carol Smolenski, “Sex tourism and the
sexual exploitation of children,” Christian
Century, November 15, 1995.)When
Mrs. White talks about the eighth commandment, her counsel applies to the slave
trade; it is very applicable today.
Only those who are allowing their characters to be
transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit are in tune with the law.They begin to allow their characters to
develop so these things will no longer take place.
We in the United States are facing a time when every principle of our
Constitution will be disregarded.Men
and women will lose their sense as to what is right and what is wrong, and the
slave trade of which Mrs. White was speaking will come back in some degree of
application again.As we read the Spirit
of Prophecy, she makes it very plain that slave trade will come back with the
Sunday law.(See, for example, Christian Service, 155–158.)How this will
happen I do not know, but there will be people, when the Holy Spirit is
withdrawn, who will think that it is a good thing to have a slave or two.This is why the Law of God is so important as we come into the last days.It is God’s revealed will and what He expects
of His people in the last days.
If the world had followed the Law of God all along, we
would not have the writings of history to remind us about slavery, manstealing, and wars of conquest.In regard to wars of conquest, of which Mrs.
White says this commandment applies, I believe there are preludes that lead us
into accepting wars of conquest.One of
those avenues that leads us into wars of conquest is
When you have on your spiritual glasses, the spirit
that surrounds competitive sports is the same spirit that generates wars of
conquest.It is the spirit of the strong
prevailing over the weak; this is the spirit of competition.This is the spirit of any type of conquest
over another.Consider the names of
certain groups that are contesting with other groups.There are names such as the Warriors, the
Raiders, the Trojans, and on and on the list goes.These names hearken back to these wars of
conquest.A certain mentality is
developed through these kinds of things.
The Law of God is very comprehensive, because it is
spiritual.A study of the Bible reveals
that the ownership of material goods is not really ownership at all; it is
really stewardship.We may own a piece
of property; we may have a title deed to a piece of property, but, in reality,
it is only secondary ownership.God is
really the Owner.He is, as the Bible
says, the “possessor of heaven and earth.”Genesis 14:22.
God declares that “all the earth is mine.”Exodus 19:5.And the Psalmist says,“The earth [is] the Lord’s, and the fulness
thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.”Psalm 24:1.All belongs to God, so, in reality, man is
only a tenant, or a steward, with a definite obligation to the real Owner.Most of the world does not recognize that God
owns everything, that they are just tenants or stewards.
Once you realize, for instance,
that although you may have title to a car, that car really does not belong to
you, it belongs to God, it lessens the sting when
someone comes along and pilfers it and takes some of your goods.
Another aspect of this commandment that says, “Thou shalt not steal,” is given in Malachi 3:6: “For I [am] the Lord,
I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”Are you glad that God’s purposes for you have
never changed?Are you thankful that His
purpose is that you will be in the kingdom of heaven, and that is the reason
you are not consumed?
“Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away
from mine ordinances, and have not kept [them].Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith
the Lord of hosts.But ye said, Wherein
shall we return?”Verse
7.How are we
going to come back to God?We do not
even think that we have been away from Him!The question comes back, “Will a man rob God?Yet ye have robbed me.But ye say, Wherein
have we robbed thee?In
tithes and offerings.Ye [are]
cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, [even] this whole nation.”Verses 8, 9.
One of the greatest violations that man can ever
perpetrate, as far as this commandment is concerned, is when he begins to take
things from God that do not belong to him.
I have often found it interesting when people say, “I
pay my tithe.”No, you do not pay your
tithe.What you really do is return to
God that which belongs to Him.You have
just been given stewardship over it.You
do become a thief when you take God’s material and appropriate it for
yourself.If it were possible to list by
degrees the violation of this commandment, being a robber of God would be at
the top of the list.
There are responsibilities that we have to our fellow
man because we recognize this commandment that God has given to us.Stealing is taking property from another,
over which he has been given the stewardship of God.In doing this, there indeed is a violation
between one person and another, but do you realize that there is even a greater
violation involved in this commandment than just taking someone else’s
property?It goes far beyond that into
the realm of the spiritual.
If you take something that does not belong to you, you
are taking something that God has placed into the stewardship of another
person.In doing this, you effectually
are saying that God does not know what He is doing, that you really know more
about the stewardship of God than God knows, because He gave that property to
the wrong person when He should have given it to you.In reality, you put yourself in the place of
God when you steal something from someone else.
When such things happen, a whole series of events are
set in motion.You do not really understand
it unless you see it from God’s perspective.This is why the impact of what James says becomes so dynamic: “If you
have broken one, you have broken them all.”
There are only three ways in
which we can come into possession of anything: (1) by a gift, (2) by labor, working for it, and (3) by stealing it.The first two are legal and right—when you
receive a gift, when you labor and purchase possessions—but the last one is
wrong, and it is considered sin.
Another aspect that applies to this commandment is a
form that is so popular today that most people do not see anything wrong with
it.Many Christians, including many
Seventh-day Adventists, find themselves engaged in this activity.It encompasses betting, lotteries, or any
other type of con games.Seventh-day
Adventists and other Christians get involved with this because people are always wanting to get something for nothing, never
realizing that such forms of acquisition come under the prohibition of this
commandment and, as such, are forms of theft.Literally billions and billions of dollars are acquired in this way each
year.A Christian has to be so careful
that he or she does not get caught up in it.
As one writer put it: Gambling
stands in about the same relation to stealing as dueling does to murder.Just because a
man is willing to risk his life in an encounter does not make it right for him
to take another man’s life.Nor does the
fact that a man is willing to risk his own property in a game of chance make it
right for him to take another man’s property without the equivalent in
payment.There is nothing considerate or
brotherly in a gambling transaction.Men
gamble simply as a result of their feverish desire for quick and easy gain, at
any cost, even their own souls.
In her statement, Ellen White addressed another aspect
of theft that forbids what is called “overreaching in trade.”Everybody likes a bargain, and I am no
exception.I like a bargain too.But we do overstep our bounds when we beat
someone down on their price by haggling over some article of merchandise.
Proverbs talks about this issue: “[It is] naught, [it is]
naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way,
then he boasteth.”In other words, it is worth nothing.“That piece of junk,” the buyer insists, “is not worth a red cent.”
In other words, someone learns about an item that is
for sale, but when he talks to the owner about it, he runs it down.He tells how bad it is, outlines all the
faults that it has, and then offers a low price.
Not everybody who puts an ad in
the paper for something to sell has a lot of money in the bank.The item for sale may not be just something
extra they want to get rid of.Usually,
people, when they put an ad in the paper, are pressed to the wall.They need to raise some funds, and they need
every dollar they can get out of the item for sale.When you come along and begin to haggle and
try to beat them down on their price, if they are in a pinch, they may sell the
item for the lowered price because they need the money.But do you know what takes place in a
situation like this?You have just
stolen someone else’s stewardship from them.
We dishonor God, as Christians, when we engage in such
conduct.There is nothing wrong with
asking a person what their price is or if they can take less for the item.But our every action must be above
board.It is not necessary to steal
openly in order to transgress the law.To buy something for a lower price and sharp trading is just as much
stealing as selling something for more than it is worth or by misrepresenting
Some of you remember the 1960s.I can
remember that time.If you are too young
to remember, perhaps you have heard or read about those times.In the early 1960s,
the Cold War between two super powers, the United States and Russia, was at its height.It was also a time of the race for outer space between these two
nations.The question was, Which one would be first to put a satellite into space, a
human being into orbit, or land on the moon?
During the heat of this space race, NASA (National
Aeronautics and Space Administration) was faced with a lot of problems.One of the problems they encountered was the
need for a ballpoint pen the astronauts could use, one that would write in zero
gravity—that condition experienced when the capsules were flying around in that
In typical American fashion, ingenuity prevailed.After a considerable amount of research and
development, an astronaut pen was developed at the cost of approximately one
million dollars, and, believe me, it worked in outer space!It enjoyed a certain amount of success as a
novelty item here on the earth.Interestingly, the Soviet
Union was faced with the
same problem.They solved the problem also.Their solution?They used a pencil.
This seems a bit like the situation that we face when
we consider the eighth commandment!It
seems so easy: “Thou shalt not steal,” yet we find
that it is tremendously complex in a number of ways.
Complex or Simple
Many times we make things out to be very, very
complex.We go through all kinds of
effort in an attempt to try to solve the problem, and yet it is very
simple.The commandments can be expanded
and magnified.That is what Jesus
intended to teach when He came.
When we really get serious about our life and its
relationship to God, the questions change.Instead of asking, What is the minimum
requirement, the least that I can do to be saved, we ask, How much can I do for
God?How much am I willing to hear what
God says?How far am I willing to go to
So, when we really study this
commandment and want to hear what God might be saying, we find that there is a
lot more to this than just “Thou shalt not
steal.”If you really want to get serious
about what being a Christian is all about, you begin to see how easily the
commandment begins to become complicated.
Time and Energy
Can stolen time and energy cause us to be
thieves?Yes, they can.It does not have to be that we rob God or
another person.We can rob in many ways
other than just taking someone’s possessions.Consider some instances.
In the work place, when we have a job to do, if we are
not diligent in our work, giving labor for what we are given, we are stealing,
just as surely as though we were putting our hands in the cash box.
It is possible for married people to spend so much
time in their own pursuits, in their professions, in their hobbies, in what
they want to do, that they, in effect, steal time and attention that rightfully
belongs to the spouse.Likewise, people
can spend so much time on their jobs, in their hobbies, or even at church, that
they, in effect, steal the time and the attention that rightfully belongs to
It is this kind of theft for
which many will be held accountable in the judgment. The reason is that the
Questioner is going to inquire, “Where is the little flock I gave you?”
Suppose a business owner has a successful business
operation.The company is making money. The public likes its product.Then it comes time to decide, as it does ever
so often, what to do about employee wage increases.How much should the
employees be paid during the coming year?There can be a myriad of answers to this
question, but two distinctly different ones are these: (1) pay them what they are worth; after all, they are
the ones that help the business to succeed, or (2)
pay them as little as possible so more profit stays with the business
When employers pay as little as they can, when they
give the minimum amount with which they can get away, they have, in effect,
stolen from the employee.And in the
process, they have stolen from the family’s well being.They have stolen the education possibilities
from that employee’s children.They have
stolen that family’s hopes, and, in the process, they have become the loser.
No Bad Trade
The Book of James deals with this issue.The most important question to ask on the job
is not, What am I getting paid?The most important question to ask is, What am I becoming here?
At first thought, it can be
looked at as a warning, and it is.Do
not make a bad trade.Do not trade your
soul, your honesty, and your integrity for some material stuff.This concept is also a promise, because when
we make the right choice, we advance in the plan that God has for us.
Every time we could take
something, and we do not, it does something for us spiritually.This law has much broader application than
just the taking of things.It has to do
with the heart.We should ask ourselves,
How am I relating to all the various issues of
life?Am I dealing fairly and squarely
in every area of life?Not only in terms
of recognizing someone else’s stewardship, but also questioning whether or not
I am giving the proper time in the work place—not only as an employee, but as
an employer.Am I recognizing my
responsibilities in my family and in my home?Am I recognizing my responsibilities in the community?
I Owe, I Owe
What about owing a bill?Many people owe bills, and the promise is
always there, “I am going to pay it.I
have it in the back of my mind.I am
going to pay the bill.I will pay the
bill.”But it never happens.
What about just paying bills on time?Perhaps a bill comes due the first of the month,
but I do not get it paid until the end of the month.Does this commandment apply to this
situation?It most certainly does.Why?Because in not paying a bill on time, funds are withheld from the
treasury of the person or business collecting the money.That money could either be invested or
gaining interest, but you have taken from their resource.
Christians are under the obligation of the Law of God
to pay their bills on time. God will hold us accountable for those things.
Away With It
Whenever we do wrong, whenever we
think we have gotten away with something, whenever we think that no one has
seen us, mark it down.Someoneis keeping record—not only of the act itself
but also of the thoughts and the intents of the heart.
As we continue this series on the Ten Commandments, we
will come to one that deals with the thoughts and the intents of the
heart.God’s Law is very
comprehensive.God’s Law is very
complete.I hope that your interest has
been sparked to study the Law of God from a different perspective and in more
depth than you have in the past.
Each one of us is either becoming
more like Jesus or more like the devil, and that end result ultimately rests
with how we relate to the Law of God.
To be continued . . .
retired minister of the gospel, Pastor Mike Baugher
may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.