Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Stealing Begins in The Heart
The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep. Ecclesiastes 5:12NKJV
Question 142 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the sins forbidden in the eighth commandment?” The third part of the answer states, “The sins forbidden in the eighth commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are… covetousness; inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods; distrustful and distracting cares and studies in getting, keeping, and using them; envying at the prosperity of others.” Last week we looked at the many ways we can force or pressure people into giving us what we have not earned. Today we consider how stealing, like all sin, begins in the heart.
Guarding our hearts from sin is the ongoing duty of every Christian. As long as you and I live in this sinful world, we must be vigilant in watching out for temptations. Notice how the first thing mentioned in today’s portion of the Catechism is not a particular thought or action but a state of mind: covetousness. A covetous person did not become that way overnight, but such a disposition of the heart could only come about through repeated, and no doubt at first, merely brief moments of allowing himself to desire something in a sinful way. The subtlety of sin prevents the person from seeing himself doing this more and more often, and with respect to more and more things. I believe that it is precisely this nature of the sin of coveting – that it is so infectious and contagious – that caused God to so multiply the objects of coveting in the tenth commandment. Thus, God does not merely say, “Thou shalt not covet,” but “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey,” etc., for we need multiple prohibitions against all sorts of coveting to properly keep our hearts and minds from being beguiled into this sin.
“Inordinate prizing and affecting worldly goods” refers to the sin of materialism. When I allow things to become more important to me than they should, I have already “stolen” them in my heart. So I see something that I want and I begin to become fixated on it and idolize it. Maybe the thing itself is a good thing or would even be good for me, but I think about it constantly and begin to imagine myself having it, or else I develop a plan to get it and the planning consumes all my thoughts. In my imagination the object becomes better than it really is or more important to me than it really should be. I begin to believe that the object will do such great things for me, or solve so many problems, or make me such a better person, that my love, faith, and hope begin to be in the object rather than in God. The object may be good and even necessary, but I have made it into an idol. Rather than going about getting it in a legitimate way and being thankful to God for it, desiring it for His glory, I have wanted it for myself alone.
Furthermore, when we idolize things we become distrustful of others. We see people as potential threats to our stuff, for they might want it like we do and try to take it from us, or else they might not want it at all and carelessly break it or damage it! Like the rich man in the verse quoted at the head of this article, materialistic people become consumed with worry for all of their stuff. They cannot sleep because they are afraid someone might steal their car, or they are anxious about the stock market going down, or their investments failing. Plus, material goods being temporal and finite, enough is never enough. Clothing wears out, cars need parts, houses break down. And the materialistic mind knows that there is only so much to go around. And so we become envious of the person who got what we wanted, or if we think theirs is better than ours, and on and on it goes. But contrast all of the anxiety and strife of the materialist with the man from the first part of the verse who is content with what he has, whether little or much. He has worked hard, he has a clean conscience and so he sleeps soundly, for his hope and confidence are in God. Sin always robs us of our joy! May our good God grant that you and I be content with what He gives us so that we too would know and experience His peace.