Not Stealing But Giving Generously
Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Romans 13:7NKJV
Question 141 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?” The first part of the answer states, “The duties required in the eighth commandment are, truth, faithfulness, and justice in contracts and commerce between man and man, rendering to everyone his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof; giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others; moderation of our judgments, wills and affections concerning worldly goods.”
In The Sermon on the Mount Jesus clearly taught that our duty in keeping the commandments includes not simply avoiding the evil behavior forbidden, but we must also do the good that is by implication enjoined therein. And of course, all of our avoiding and doing must be sincere, which is to say, from the heart. With regard to stealing then, it is not enough to simply avoid taking what does not belong to us, but we must honestly and faithfully fulfill any and all responsibility we have to manage and care for our own and others’ goods. Thus, the Catechism begins by commanding truth, faithfulness, and justice in human contracts and commerce. In order to truly not steal from others, I must communicate my true abilities and intentions in an employment arrangement. Resumes should not lie or exaggerate about our education or experience. And if I am scheduled to work eight hours, I must be faithful to do so, showing up on time and leaving on time. Likewise, if I am selling something I cannot lie, exaggerate, or “forget” pertinent information about it. And when bargaining for an item, I should not exaggerate its flaws in order to get a better price. Truth, faithfulness, and justice should mark all of our dealings with others. Such conduct honors and glorifies God.
So also does rendering to everyone their due. Here, the Catechism is referencing the Scripture quoted at the head of this article. Though it is good and right for me to take advantage of every legal tax break, I must be faithful to pay all that I legally owe. I have a friend who used to work on Andros Island in the Bahamas. Whenever he purchased anything from another nation, there was a customs charge, which after satisfying the item would be stamped “Duty Paid.” The laws of the land had placed a “duty” on the item. Biblically speaking that is not an improper word, for it is our duty to pay whatever the lawful governing power has determined is to be paid for commerce. We owe them that duty, because God is the ultimate authority ordaining and establishing all human authority. So also, if and when we find any goods that belong to another (whether our neighbor or Uncle Sam), we are to restore them to them when we can.
Notice how the Catechism also enjoins generosity as a Christian duty. We are to give and lend freely, according to our abilities and according to the needs of others. Here the Catechism seems to be referencing Rom. 13:8: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Love is a requirement God places upon us to all human beings, whether they are our spouses, neighbors, or enemies. We owe them love. If I truly love someone I will give freely to them, when I am able to do so without neglecting prior responsibilities and when the person is truly in need. Biblically, a need is not a want, nor can it be a means or occasion of sin. Thus, we are to balance James’ command to help those in need of food or clothing (Jam. 2:15), with Paul’s admonition that a man who will not work should not be given food (2 Thess. 3:10). Generosity cannot encourage sin, for if it does then it is not an act of love but of hate. If I truly love someone I will be generous for their true good, not in order to make myself feel good. Moreover, generosity flows from a heart that is not overly concerned with material possessions. Accordingly, we must be careful to heed the final part of today’s instruction commanding moderation in our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods. Life is more than possessions. Life is to be about glorifying God by keeping His commandments from the heart. May God grant that we would see such a life as truly the best and most enjoyable way to live.