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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

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 13:7

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 therein enjoined. 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 seek to

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 an item, I cannot lie, exaggerate, or “forget” pertinent

information about it. And when I am bargaining for that 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. After satisfying it, 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 giving will truly help the person.

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 Th. 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.

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