Ephesians 4:28 (ESV)
28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
Dear Friends in Christ,
A church is supposed to be a safe place, isn’t it? In fact, we often refer to the inside of a church building as a sanctuary, which, according to my computer Thesaurus, means a refuge, a shelter, a safe haven. But unfortunately it doesn’t always work out that way. At least that was the case with a church in Westbury, New York called Our Lady of Hope. Though that church was obviously named for Mary, the mother of Jesus, there was one lady attending it who was hoping to get rich by doing so. This woman had developed a pattern of pilfering from the purses of those who were sitting around her. When her fellow worshippers knelt down to pray or when they went up for Communion, she would reach into their purses and swipe their cash. I suppose she kind of regarded herself as the Robin Hood of this house of worship. She robbed from the rich so that she could give to the poor. The only problem was that she was the only poor person who was the beneficiary of her efforts.
Now I suppose there are some advantages to stealing while you are in church. For example, if you’re caught, people are more likely to be kind, understanding, and forgiving rather than willing to prosecute and condemn, especially if they sense genuine remorse on your part. Reminds me of the time some years ago when a couple of teenage girls vandalized our church and when they were caught, one of them (probably prodded by her father) asked if she could come to one of our Sunday morning services and apologize, which she did. And instead of casting rotten tomatoes or, worse yet, harsh words and sharp glances in her direction, we embraced her and forgave her.
But still it’s not a wise idea to steal from your fellow church members or from anyone else for that matter. And that’s what we spent our time talking about in my last sermon two weeks ago as we began a look at the 7th Commandment which is “You shall not steal.” In that sermon I said that all of us at the very heart and core of our being are kleptomaniacs. I took a little liberty with that word and defined it as those who love to get something for nothing. And sometimes that desire to get something for nothing pushes us to do things that are in direct violation of this commandment, whether it’s shoplifting from Wal-Mart or copying a DVD that we’ve rented from the local video store or putting someone else’s software on our computer that we haven’t purchased or paid for. The list is endless.
And the question that I want to start with today is this: Why do we do it? What really is the root cause or causes of our kleptomania? Well, let me give you 3 reasons why we do it, starting with this one: greed. Greed is the insatiable desire to want more, to feel that you just don’t have enough. It looks at what other people have and thinks, “Why do they have it and I don’t?”
Maybe you’ve heard of the ingenious way in which certain African natives catch monkeys. They cut a hole in a coconut just large enough for a monkey to stick its hand into and they attach it to a tree. Then they put a sweet little treat inside the coconut that is sure to get the monkey’s attention. When the monkey reaches in the hole and grabs its prize, the fist of the monkey can no longer fit through the hole. Of course, all the monkey would have to do it let go of the treat, but the greed of the animal is so great that it won’t do that. So it gets caught by the native and ends up on his dinner table later that night in the form of monkey stew.
Well, that same kind of greed to capture the treats of life is what drives many a person to do things that violate the 7th Commandment. But then another reason we steal is laziness. Laziness is the inherent desire to take a short cut, to get something without having to work hard for it. I believe it was laziness that led one of the fellows in my high school Algebra class to steal from me. He was the star player on our football team. He weighed 255 pounds and ran fullback. Trying to tackle him was like trying to stop a freight train coming right at you. Well, he may have been a hero on the football field but he was a failure in the classroom. So every day he would come into Algebra class, grab my homework, and quickly write down the answers. Then came the day when we had a big test and he said, “Meyer, you sit next to me and make sure I can see your answers.” Well, what was I to do? He weighed twice as much as I did and was 2 years older. I wasn’t about to get in his face and tell him he couldn’t have my answers. But apparently the teacher was aware of what was going on so when he came into class that day he moved Mr. Football Jock all the way to the other side of the room.
So we steal because of greed. We steal because of laziness. And then lastly, some people steal because of pride. They take things that are not their own for the sheer glory of being able to tell others they did it and got away with it. Recently I read about a group of pastors who were at a conference together and they got to talking about crazy things they did when they were kids. One of the pastors told of a time when he and his buddy went into the local hardware store and stole some axe handles – those wooden things to which you attach an axe head. He said they didn’t even know what they were or what purpose they served, but they stuck them down their pant legs and walked out of the store a bit stiff-legged. When one of the other pastors asked him what they did with them, he said that they just threw them in a creek. It was the thrill of getting away with it and being able to brag about it to their friends that moved them to do it. And I have a feeling that’s what’s behind a lot of the shoplifting that goes on in many stores today by teenagers.
Well, now that we’ve talked about some of the reasons why we steal, let’s turn our attention to some of the ways in which we steal. And the first and most obvious way is by seizure. We simply take or seize things that are not ours. For example, many employees are very good at helping themselves to company or office supplies without permission – things like auto parts, tools, staplers, pens, pencils, notebooks, gasoline, oil, food. My brother would certainly vouch for that. He managed several gas station/ convenience stores in Columbia, SC for many years and told me so many times about how hard it is to find good honest employees today who are: #1 – willing to work for their paycheck; and #2 – who are not going to rob him blind as so many of them had done in the past. Our text for today certainly applies to situations like that when it says: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.”
Another way we steal is by deception. Proverbs 10:2 says: “Wealth you get by dishonesty will do you no good; but honesty can save your life.” Deception can take so many different forms, from a retailer who sells fake or inferior items as though they are the real thing, the name brand, to a person cheating on their taxes, to an individual failing to disclose the things that are wrong with his car that he’s trying to sell. Have you ever done that? Have you ever said things like, “Yeah, this car runs like a dream” when deep down in your heart you know that the dream is really a nightmare? Or perhaps you’ve said, “Yeah, this car has served me well over the years. I hate to give it up but I came across a great buy at the dealership that I just can’t pass up,” when only a few days before you were telling your friends, “Yeah, I’ve got to get rid of this piece of junk because it’s starting to nickel and dime me to death.” That’s deception, my friends. And understand that when we do things like that, when we sacrifice our integrity to make a few more bucks or to get this really good deal that we even refer to as a “steal,” we are depriving ourselves of God’s blessing because one thing God will never bless is sin.
Then one more way we steal is when we rob God. Malachi 3:8-10 says: “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, `How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse–the whole nation of you–because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” I wonder how many Christians are guilty of robbing God. The most recent statistics I was able to come across indicated that in America it’s about 97.5% if you use the tithe as your gauge. In fact, the average born again evangelical believer in our country last year gave only 2.5% of their income to the Lord.
Now contrary to what you may be thinking right now, my goal this morning is not to heap a lot of guilt on you and have you leave church today mad at me or feeling really bad about yourself and down on yourself. Rather my goal is to simply help you see where we all fall short in regard to the 7th Commandment. For this is one of those commandments that we can look at and think to ourselves, “You know, I’m doing pretty well here. I’ve never robbed a bank or shoplifted from a store or burglarized a home, so God’s got to be pretty pleased and impressed with me.” But when we move beyond the letter of this law – the literal understanding of it – and start looking at the spirit of this law, as we’ve done this morning and 2 weeks ago, then we have to admit that yes, we probably have taken things that aren’t ours from our employer, subconsciously thinking that we’re entitled to them and we probably have violated copyright laws and come up with a whole host of rationalizations to justify our actions. And we probably have robbed God and failed to give him his due when it comes to our offerings. Put simply, we are guilty as charged.
So what do we do? Let me give you a few suggestions. First of all, admit it. Confess it. Own up to the fact that you are a kleptomaniac at heart for only then can God begin to do his mighty work in you. In I John 1:9 we’re told that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” And while confession is good for the soul, don’t stop there. Instead, move on to repentance, understanding that repentance is a change of mind, a change of heart that leads to a change of life. Isn’t that what happened to the fellow who was crucified next to Jesus on Calvary’s hill? And by the way, what was he? He was a thief, wasn’t he? And what did he in essence say to Jesus that day? “Jesus, save me. I need help.” Did he get help? You bet he did. For the beaten and bloodied thorn-crowned man on the center cross assured him, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
So confession, repentance, and then lastly, restitution. In other words, pay back or give back whatever you’ve taken whenever possible. That’s what Zaccheus did. He had cheated many of his fellow Jews out of their hard-earned money while working as a tax collector for the Roman government, but when he met Jesus, he had a change of mind and a change of heart that led to a change of life which moved him to make restitution and to restore to those he had cheated 4 times the amount he had taken from them. Can’t you just picture this little wisp of a man knocking on doors and delivering huge sums of cash to unsuspecting people who were financially strapped? Do you think it made them feel good? You’d better believe it. But you know what? I think it made Zaccheus feel even better because no longer did he have that heavy burden of guilt weighing him down. For now he was a new man in Christ with a new life to live for Christ. And we can be the same, my friends.
So no more stealing. No more deceiving. No more cheating. No more abusing copyrights. Instead let us trust the One who is the source and giver of all blessings for all that we need in life, knowing that since he gave us the best he had in Jesus, then he’ll most definitely and most certainly take care of all our other needs as well. Amen.